August 13, 2016
Cambodia bashing on the rise–Stop It
by Chir Vichara,
The Cambodian government has been taken to task and heavily criticized recently by some of the local media, political parties, civil society and NGOs – who all like to put their own spin on things – over two major events, Kem Ley’s assassination and the South China Sea issue.
Central Market, Phnom Penh, 1960
Firstly, it is obvious that the senseless and heinous daylight assassination of Mr. Kem Ley, the popular social commentator, has produced wild and outrageous allegations while the crime is being investigated, raising the question of to whom the crime benefits?
His corpse has been politically and almost physically hijacked in a bid to build up accusations against the designated culprit. The hijackers immediately swarmed in to capitalize on this sad event, with some taking control from the family when it came to organizing the religious ceremony.
Others portrayed themselves as Mr. Ley’s genuine supporters. The sudden show did not fool anybody because it did not fit with recorded history, which tells us that only recently those same people insulted Mr. Ley for creating a new political party they considered a potential rival.To complete their takeover of events, they allowed no outsiders to pay their traditional respects to the dead.
Government officials, mindful of this time of sorrow and sadness, let them spin the ceremony at will and avoided any move that would offer these hijackers the alibi they need to commit violence, which would have spoiled the bereaved family’s traditional mourning.
Phnom Penh in Peace (2016)
Some said the officials’ absence from the ceremonies was yet more proof of their guilt. This proliferation of outrageous lies and behavior reveals a dangerous moral and intellectual decline, which could quite easily lead to violence.In this case and context, whatever move was made by government officials would have been damned.
Secondly, the foreign media, scholars and experts, more so than diplomats, jumped into the troubled waters of the South China Sea disputes to bash Cambodia at will.
Cambodia is a non-claimant state in the issue, for the simple reason that it maintains a sovereign, independent and neutral position in apparent contrast to the interests of the claiming states, but well in line with the Cambodian constitution and the ASEAN Charter (and also The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South East Asia).
Phnom Penh will host WEF ASEAN Conference in 2017
Many ASEAN members are known to share the same balanced stance. This position of principle may have coincided with that of China and in the eyes of the hawks, Cambodia had committed lese-majeste, allegedly for kowtowing to big brother China and not to them.
Since the ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh in 2012, when the host refused to kneel down to the selfish demands of one or two claimant states, Cambodia was tagged the black sheep of ASEAN, and was regarded as the closest ally of China and held responsible for ASEAN’s potential split or deadlock over a traditional communiqué.
Again, in recent ministerial meetings, it became the scapegoat of the war of communiqués. Before a compromise was finally reached, made possible by the first interested parties themselves, recognizing that the disputes concerned only the Philippines and China, some big mouth and small head went even as far as to suggest expelling Cambodia from the regional grouping, a show of ugly arrogance unprecedented in Asean history.
Fair-minded people would have recalled that ASEAN, not being a military alliance, is run on the principle of consensus and non-interference. No one seems to admit that Asean has no unity, no solidarity, no common foreign policy, no conflict resolution mechanism etc.
Cambodia experienced this first-hand when the Preah Vihear conflict erupted between Thailand and Cambodia in 2008. When the Thai armed forces crossed into Preah Vihear and fighting erupted, some ASEAN members looked away or stayed neutral.
After several rounds of theatrical bilateral talks between two unequal partners, the tribunal in The Hague was the only recourse for Cambodia, a ruling which was practically ignored by everyone. And to save face or for selfish interests, no one lobbied to have it mentioned in subsequent ASEAN communiqués and everyone was happy to look to other more pressing issues.
In the case of the South China Sea disputes, hypocrisy again prevails among ASEAN members. Those who have competing territorial claims urged the group or individual country to support their personal interests.
The non-claimant states, quite reluctant to express themselves very publicly to avoid antagonizing any one party, resorted to mild diplomatic subterfuge, while Cambodia got all the blame for being consistent with its position of principle. Everyone advocates the international rules of law, but in reality, “might is right” remains relevant.
The foreign policy of every country is dictated by self- interest; diplomats and statesmen know very well where their national interests are. But the media and the scholars are adamant in their conviction of self-righteousness. For these so-called pundits, it is a crime for smaller nations to even think in terms of their own national interests, so their bashing spree will continue to flood the media outlets.
In summary, both Mr. Ley’s death and the accusations over the South China Sea have only one goal – to discredit the Phnom Penh government from inside and outside. Change seems to be the motto to brainwash Cambodian youth, but beware that change might bring an uncontrollable situation.An unstable ASEAN because of the South China Sea will not lead to any positive outcome.