The TOP Universities in CAMBODIA, 2019


March 31, 2019

The TOP Universities in CAMBODIA, 2019

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THE University of CAMBODIA, founded 15 years ago, is ranked NO.2 in 2019. We aspire to take the totem pole a few years forward. The Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, established in 2014, the first public policy school of its kind in the Kingdom, bears the name of His  Excellency Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen–Din Merican

 

Race, religion and rhetoric ramp up in ‘New Malaysia’


March 31,2019

Race, religion and rhetoric ramp up in ‘New Malaysia’

Author: Harris Zainul, Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysiahttps://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/03/30/race-religion-and-rhetoric-ramp-up-in-new-malaysia/

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After recouping the Semenyih state legislative assembly seat, it comes as little surprise that the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS) are finally formalising their cooperation. The implication of this is that political discourse will only regress further to the right. The hardening of racial and religious divides on the back of perceived Malay-Muslim victimhood is another consequence.

 

Any legislation the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government introduces will be scrutinised through racially-tinted lenses. Policies perceived as affecting the interests of Malay-Muslims can expect stronger challenges from now on. At best this would come at the cost of significantly increased political effort to pass much-needed reforms — at worst, it could see an increase in the wielding of vetoes.

In this new political landscape, UMNO are no longer shackled by the Barisan Nasional consociational model of power-sharing and PAS are free to up the stakes rhetorically. This collaboration will demand even more exclusivist policies when it comes to the Malay-Muslim agenda.

For UMNO and PAS this formalised collaboration also lends credence to its preferred narrative. They can argue that Malay privilege and the special position of Islam are only upheld through mutual cooperation of the Malay-Muslim political parties on one hand and the broad unwavering support of the Malay-Muslim electorate on the other.

By presenting an image of Malay-Muslim interests being under siege by the other parties, UMNO and PAS can expediently position themselves as defenders of everything ‘Malay and Islam’ in an attempt to consolidate votes on racial and religious grounds.

Not novel in Malaysian politics, they mirror the same sense of impending victimhood as the Democratic Action Party (DAP), a largely ethnically Chinese political party now part of the PH coalition. The DAP pushed the appointments of non-Malay-Muslims to the key positions of Attorney-General, Chief Justice, Law Minister and Finance Minister.

The political calculations for this are obvious.

Malay-Muslims constitute the largest voting bloc in Malaysia but no one political party has a significant majority over another. The Malay electorate in the 2018 election were split 25–30 per cent in favour of PH, 35–40 per cent towards UMNO–Barisan and 30–33 per cent to PAS.

Also as Article 113(2) of the Constitution states, any re-delineation of constituencies is only permissible after 8 years. The constituencies allegedly delineated along racial lines just before the 2018 election will remain so until the next election. Up for grabs then will be 134 out of the total 222 federal constituencies in Malaysia that have Malay majorities.

Coupled with the reality that the non-Malay electorate had almost completely repudiated UMNO and Barisan Nasional (BN) in the previous general election, this cements the case for UMNO to collaborate with PAS and jointly attempt to capture the Malay-Muslim vote.

In contrast, PH is constrained by its positioning as a multiracial coalition and by DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang warning that his party will leave the newfound coalition if the ideals of ‘New Malaysia’ are abandoned. The DAP commands 42 out of 125 of PH’s seats in the Dewan Rakyat, making up almost a third of their strength.

There is also the risk that even slight flirtation with any Malay-Muslim political exclusivism could come at the expense of PH’s non-Malay vote base. This stood at 95 per cent of Chinese voters and 70–75 per cent of Indian voters in the 2018 election.

Temptations to flirt with Malay political exclusivism will only rise further as UMNO and PAS increase the stakes and rhetoric. PH ought to refrain from knee-jerk reactions to appease the Malay electorate that play into the hands of UMNO–PAS. Instead, PH should understand that Cameron Highlands and Semenyih have always been traditional BN strongholds and not read too much into the results.

As of now it remains uncertain how successful the UMNO–PAS collaboration will be, and whether it poses a genuine threat to PH. In the meantime, PH should view the current racial and religious groundswell as a manifestation of the Malays’ insecurities, and perhaps, how things have not changed for the better since the 2018 election.

The unfortunate fact is that while GDP and foreign direct investment numbers matter to some in urban bubbles, it means little to many at the grassroots if it does not improve more direct ‘bread and butter’ issues such as high living costs, stagnant wages and low employment opportunities.

Without meaningfully addressing this, the sense of victimhood felt by the Malay-Muslims will only amplify, making it no wild stretch of imagination for the Malay swing electorate to revert to the familiarity of UMNO and PAS in the next elections.

There lies the foundation of any counter-narrative PH can offer to the electorate. This counter-narrative also needs to be coupled with nation-building initiatives to undermine the racial and religious bravado propped up by UMNO and PAS that seeks to appeal to the baser instincts of race and religion.

It would be unrealistic to expect PH to turn the tide around overnight. But with the elation of the May 2018 election victory quickly fading, PH would be wise to ignore the cacophony. It should focus on its mandate, remembering that there can be no legitimate government in Malaysia if it merely represents one ethnic group.

Harris Zainul is a researcher of economics, trade and regional integration at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

Sorry, Singapore: Malaysia dumps assets to cope with US$245 billion debt


March 29, 2018

Sorry, Singapore: Malaysia dumps assets to cope with US$245 billion debt

  • Malaysia is holding a fire sale of its ‘non-strategic’ assets.
  • Critics fear the moves will privilege an elite group and worsen ties with neighbouring Singapore.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Photo: Xinhua
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. Photo: Xinhua
A year into a new ruling administration, Malaysia continues to grapple with a whopping 1 trillion ringgit debt (US$245 billion) – but as it goes on a selling spree of “non-strategic assets”, questions are being asked over who is benefiting from the exercise and whether the moves could cause ties with neighbouring Singapore to take a further hit.

Government-linked investment company Khazanah, which has resolved to pare down its “non-strategic” assets, has so far got rid of its stakes in telcos, health care groups, banks and properties. Reports have indicated larger projects, such as the popular theme park Legoland, may also be up for grabs for the right offer.

 

In parliament earlier this week, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng said a tower building in Hong Kong – which once housed the Malaysian Consulate-General – was being sold for 1.6 billion ringgit (US$392 million). This came just days after Khazanah was reported to be selling the 39-storey Duo Tower in Singapore, owned by M+S – a joint venture by Khazanah and its Singaporean equivalent, Temasek Holdings. Last month, Malaysia’s Axiata Group, in which Khazanah has shares, announced it would sell its stakes in Singapore’s M1 telco.

The DUO tower, in Singapore. Photo: Ole Scheeren
The DUO tower, in Singapore. Photo: Ole Scheeren

 

 

Khazanah also last year began selling shares in CIMB Bank, and dumped a 16 per cent stake in Malaysian-Singaporean private health care group IHH Healthcare. This move has raised eyebrows among analysts and opposition politicians, who have criticised the ruling Pakatan Harapan coalition for vague economic policies and failing to focus on remedying wealth inequality, with others commenting the sale reflected a cooling of interest in joint Singapore projects.

 

Khazanah, which is managed by the Minister of Finance Inc and modelled after Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, last year posted its first pre-tax loss in 13 years, partly due to its takeover of the loss-riddled Malaysia Airlines.

It attributed the 6.27 billion ringgit loss in 2018 – compared with a profit of 2.89 billion ringgit in 2017 – to both the resetting of the government’s mandate as well as global and domestic developments.

IHH Healthcare's Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital in Singapore. Photo: Bloomberg
IHH Healthcare’s Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital in Singapore. Photo: Bloomberg

 

In line with the new government’s strategy, Khazanah split its assets into “commercial” and “strategic” holdings, with managing director Shahril Ridza Ridzuan telling local media the commercial fund was “really gearing up towards being a long-term real return provider for the government”, as the government needed it as an alternative source of revenue.

 

Disgraced former prime minister and sitting Member of Parliament Najib Razak has fiercely questioned Khazanah’s new strategy, saying it was illogical to reduce investments, citing its annual growth rate of 14.7 per cent from 2008 to 2017.

 

“Even if this is to pay government debt, where is the logic in selling assets which generated a profit of 14.7 per cent each year to pay debt which has interest charges of 3.8 per cent per year?” said Najib, who served as both prime minister and finance minister when Malaysian debt rose to an all-time high. Najib is currently facing scores of charges of corruption and money-laundering over his role in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal.

Meanwhile, observers have questioned whether the asset sale strategy will truly benefit the nation, or backfire by creating oligarchies because of the administration’s concurrent focus on a Bumiputra economic agenda.

 

In Malaysia, ethnic Bumiputra – Malays and indigenous peoples – make up about 69 per cent of the population, and are constitutionally granted special privileges: affirmative action that takes the form of enhanced access to scholarships, civil service positions, land, and real estate purchases.

 

Upon coming to power last May, Pakatan Harapan pledged to chart a “new” Bumiputra-centric economic empowerment agenda that would generate growth and allow Bumiputra entrepreneurs to lead the economy – although some senior leaders such as prime minister-in-waiting and democracy icon Anwar Ibrahim have stressed that the government must focus on Malaysia and poverty eradication.

“If they are going to divest and also abide by this Bumiputra agenda, then it limits the cohort of people who can acquire assets such as government-linked companies,” said top political economist Terence Gomez of University Malaya. “Who can afford to do this – and of that group, who are the Bumiputras with the resources to invest? Is the government going to channel even more wealth to a rich elite? Divestment of assets should not be an ethnic issue.”

https://i1.wp.com/hakam.org.my/wp/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/IDEAS_WhoOwnsCorpMsiaNow.jpg

Doing so could result in an oligarchy of rich businessmen who run key national services and corporations, Gomez said.

 

 

“When countries like Indonesia democratised by turfing out draconian governments, they also began divestment exercises. But this created oligarchs, which is not a road Malaysia should go down,” he said. “Is this the reform Pakatan Harapan promised? If so, it is just creating new problems that can emerge from this divestment exercise. Wealth inequality is a problem and taking assets from the government and passing them on to only rich people who have the resources will only make the rich richer.”

The divestment strategy can be made even more problematic if the government does not clarify what it means by “non-strategic”, as it could extend to institutions such as banking or utilities which should remain under state control, Gomez said.

 

‘I love Malaysia Airlines, but we can’t afford it’, Mahathir says. Moves such as the selling of Axiata’s stake in Singapore’s M1 and the rumours of Duo Tower being sold down have also raised questions about Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad ’s often hawkish relationship with neighbouring Singapore, and whether he considers these assets unessential.

“I won’t discount the possibility that Mahathir views such joint ventures with Singapore as being ‘non-strategic’,” said Eugene Tan, a law and public policy expert with Singapore Management University. “There could be the assessment that such investments benefit the Singapore economy more than Malaysia’s public coffers. This, arguably, stems from his perception that many of the deals his predecessor entered into – especially with Singapore – were and are not necessarily in Malaysia’s best interests.

Putting it bluntly, Mahathir could be flagging that he is not confident in the Singapore economy Eugene Tan, Singapore Management University

“But it could be about something simpler: the imperative of the Malaysian government to monetise its assets in order to reduce its budget deficit – and the assets in Singapore are probably best to monetise given the returns,” he said.

 

“Mahathir could also be signalling that the prognosis for the Singapore economy may not be good in the short-term, and so it is best to strike while the iron is hot and fully capture the value of these assets,” Tan said. “Putting it bluntly, Mahathir could be flagging that he is not confident in the Singapore economy.” Singapore-Malaysia tensions put Lion City’s lawyers to the test.

 

Political analyst Mustafa Izzuddin of Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute shared a similar view, saying that besides being an economic decision, the sale of stakes in Singapore projects could also be viewed as a “political decision” that reflects Mahathir is not as “genuinely interested as his predecessor Najib was of embarking on joint ventures with Singapore”.

“If the joint ventures are not in Malaysia, as is the case with the Duo office, the Pakatan government under Mahathir are more likely to monetise it, especially if it does not bring direct domestic economic benefits to Malaysia,” said Mustafa.

 

Najib and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had entered into joint projects in Singapore and in the Iskandar region of Malaysia’s southernmost state of Johor as part of efforts to entwine the two nations with a “prosper thy neighbour” philosophy and place bilateral ties on a surer footing.

 

But the two countries have recently experienced a cooling off in ties following differences of opinion oversea and air borders, as well as disputes over water prices, though their leaders will meet on April 8-9 in Kuala Lumpur for a retreat.
In an attempt to better manage its debt of over 1 trillion ringgit, Malaysia has also cancelled or delayed several infrastructure megaprojects, including the High Speed Rail between Singapore and Malaysia, and several China-backed gas pipeline projects.

Mahathir has urged the people to be patient, saying that if Malaysians “cooperate in an atmosphere of peace and calm, then we can restore the financial position and develop our country”. 

Venezuela–Will Moscow make a mockery of The Monroe Doctrine?


March 29,2019

Venezuala– Will Moscow make a mockery of The Monroe Doctrine?

by Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/3/28/is-venezuela-where-trump-finally-stands-up-to-putin

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President Trump faces a crucial test of his foreign policy and his resolve over Venezuela. His administration has made absolutely clear that the United States no longer considers Nicolás Maduro to be president, publicly backing Juan Guaidó, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly, as the country’s interim leader. Trump has gone so far as to urge the Venezuelan military not to follow Maduro’s orders. These declarations are much stronger than the “red line” President Barack Obama drew around Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

So far, Trump’s pressure has not worked. Maduro has dug in, and the Venezuelan military has not abandoned its support for him. While U.S. sanctions may be hurting, they could also have the effect of creating a siege mentality that reinforces the regime’s hold on the nation. This is what happened to varying degrees with Cuba, North Korea and Iran.

Venezuela is a complicated, divided country, and Maduro, as heir to the legacy of Hugo Chávez, does have some support in poor and rural areas. But far more significant in bolstering the regime has been Russia’s open and substantial support. Moscow now admits that it has sent military personnel to Venezuela. Two Russian military planes arrived in the country last weekend, carrying about 100 troops.

This is just the latest in a series of moves by Moscow to shore up Maduro. Over the past few years, Russia has provided wheat, arms, credit and cash to the flailing government in Caracas. Estimates of Russia’s total investment in Venezuela vary from $20 billion to $25 billion. Russia now controls almost half of the country’s U.S.-based oil subsidiary, Citgo, which has been a major source of government revenue. The Venezuelan military uses Russian equipment almost exclusively.

The Venezuelan gambit appears to be personally significant for Russian President Vladimir Putin. In recent years, as the Venezuelan economy has tanked and political instability has grown, even most Russian companies have abandoned the country, viewing it as too risky. But, as Vladimir Rouvinski writes in a report for the Wilson Center, Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft has persisted and even ramped up its support for Maduro. The company is led by Igor Sechin, who has close ties to Putin and is often called the second-most powerful man in Russia.

In other words, Putin is all-in with his support for Maduro. He is doing this in part to prop up an old ally, and because it adds to Russia’s clout in global oil markets, but above all because it furthers Putin’s central foreign policy objective — the formation of a global anti-American coalition of countries that can frustrate U.S. purposes and usher in a more multipolar world. Putin’s efforts seem designed to taunt the United States, which announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, warning foreign powers to stay out of the Western Hemisphere.

The big question for Washington is: Will it allow Moscow to make a mockery of another U.S. red line? The United States and Russia have taken opposing, incompatible stands on this issue. And as with Syria, there is a danger that, if Washington does not back its words with deeds, a year from now, we will be watching the consolidation of the Maduro regime, supported with Russian arms and money.

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The administration has been tough on Russian involvement in Venezuela. Trump himself has even declared, “Russia has to get out.” But that is an unusual statement from Trump, who has almost never criticized Putin and often sided with Russia on matters big and small.

As former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul has written in The Post, Trump has a remarkably consistent pattern of supporting Putin’s foreign policy. Trump has threatened to withdraw from NATO and has announced the removal of U.S. troops from Syria. He has publicly disagreed with his own intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow meddled in the 2016 elections, saying, “President Putin . . . said it’s not Russia. . . .I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

The big question for Washington is: Will it allow Moscow to make a mockery of another U.S. red line? The United States and Russia have taken opposing, incompatible stands on this issue. And as with Syria, there is a danger that, if Washington does not back its words with deeds, a year from now, we will be watching the consolidation of the Maduro regime, supported with Russian arms and money.

The administration has been tough on Russian involvement in Venezuela. Trump himself has even declared, “Russia has to get out.” But that is an unusual statement from Trump, who has almost never criticized Putin and often sided with Russia on matters big and small.

As former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul has written in The Post, Trump has a remarkably consistent pattern of supporting Putin’s foreign policy. Trump has threatened to withdraw from NATO and has announced the removal of U.S. troops from Syria. He has publicly disagreed with his own intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow meddled in the 2016 elections, saying, “President Putin . . . said it’s not Russia. . . .I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

(c) 2019. Washington Post Writers Group

How the UK lost Brexit battle


March 20, 2019

How the UK lost Brexit battle

https://www.politico.eu/article/how-uk-lost-brexit-eu-negotiation/?fbclid=IwAR2KYdDNVGPDmHiZK_XmE9YNzxu

 

Illustration by Zach Meyer for POLITICO

 

LONDON

The European Union set the train in motion before the result of the Brexit referendum had even been announced.

It was at 6:22 a.m. on June 24, 2016 — 59 minutes before the official tally was unveiled — that the European Council sent its first “lines to take” to the national governments that make up the EU.

The United Kingdom was leaving the European Union and Brussels was determined to seize control of the process.

In the short five-paragraph document written by Council President Donald Tusk’s chief of staff, Piotr Serafin, and circulated among EU ambassadors, the bloc’s remaining 27 national governments were urged to speak with one voice and to insist that the U.K. leave through the Article 50 process set down in EU law.

This meant settling the divorce first and the future relationship second, once the U.K. had left. “In the future we hope to have the U.K. as a close partner of the EU,” the document read. “First we need to agree the arrangements for the withdrawal.”

“We will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave” — The official Brexit campaign in 2016

This was crucial. It ran counter to declarations by the U.K.’s victorious Vote Leave campaign not to be bound by the formal exit procedure. If the U.K. agreed to the terms of its departure before its future relationship was settled, the Brexit campaigners had argued, it would deprive itself of much of its leverage.

“Taking back control is a careful change, not a sudden stop,” read the official Brexit campaign’s prospectus — endorsed by two of the political leaders of the campaign, then Justice Secretary Michael Gove and the former mayor of London, Boris Johnson. “We will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave.”

It would be the first of many battles the EU declared, and the first of many it would win, as it stuck to the strategies it laid out in the earliest days of the Brexit process.

Over the 33 months since the referendum, British officials would stage a series of unsuccessful stands, trying to dislodge the EU from its chosen course before grudgingly — and often bitterly — acquiescing amid howls of pain in Westminster.

British envoys — including Prime Minister Theresa May — would reach out to national leaders in an attempt to overhaul Brussels’ legalistic approach with a diplomatic discussion about mutual interests, flexibility and “imaginative solutions.” They would meet with no success.

An attempt to strike side deals on citizens’ rights, an effort to begin talks on the future relationship before the divorce was settled, a go at starting bilateral discussions with Dublin over the contentious issue of the Irish border — none of these would shift the direction of the talks set forth by the EU in the earliest days.

POLITICO has spoken to dozens of leading officials, diplomats and politicians in Dublin, Paris, Berlin, Belfast, London and Brussels — including in No. 10 Downing Street and chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier’s team in the European Commission —  about the nearly three years of negotiations.

The story that emerges is of a process in which the EU moved inexorably forward as Westminster collapsed into political infighting, indecision and instability.

The only concession the EU would make regarding its core principles over the course of the talks was at the request of one of its members, the Republic of Ireland — and to the disadvantage of the U.K. The rules of the single market could be bent, but only for Northern Ireland — and only to help the Republic’s unique problem on the border. For the U.K., there would be no special deals. In the words of the EU’s negotiators, there would be “no cherry-picking.”

As Westminster descends into increasing political turmoil, it has become highly uncertain whether British Prime Minister Theresa May will be able to secure parliament’s approval for the Brexit deal she struck with the EU in November.

Twenty-nine members of the government have resigned over Brexit since June last year, and party discipline has all but disappeared in both May’s Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party. The prime minister has suffered a succession of defeats, including the largest in parliamentary history, when lawmakers rejected her deal first in January and then again in March. She even promised to step down once Britain’s divorce from the European Union is seen through, although she gave no date for doing so.

May’s opponents blame the current crisis on her decision to pursue one interpretation of Brexit.

With Brexit day postponed, MPs have voted to take control of the parliamentary timetable to chart a new Brexit course. Just when and how — and even if — the U.K. will leave the EU has never been less clear.

Even if the prime minister does eventually force her deal through parliament with grudging Euroskeptic support, Brexit is far from over. Despite months of negotiations, many of the key questions raised by the Brexit vote remain unanswered. Such is the opposition in Westminster to the terms on offer, that leading figures on both sides of the talks fear that Brexit, far from settling the U.K.’s place in Europe, will continue to poison British politics for years to come, with knock-on effects for Ireland and the EU.

May’s opponents blame the current crisis on her decision to pursue one interpretation of Brexit, with little real attempt to reach out to MPs on the opposite benches of a hung parliament. But, as this story reveals, many of the unstoppable forces that led to this moment were set in motion long before the prime minister took office.

United front

he European Council’s “lines to take” were the product of months of planning. Ahead of the Brexit referendum, Tusk had spoken to every EU leader urging a united front regardless of the result. Draft political responses had been drawn up, ready to go — for either eventuality: Leave or Remain.

As it became clear what direction the U.K. had elected to take, the document was circulated among EU ambassadors by the European Council — complete with a typo in the subject line: “PEC messqges.”

Across Brussels’ gray Rue de la Loi in the Commission’s Berlaymont building, President Jean-Claude Juncker and his then chief of staff, Martin Selmayr, had worked up an even tighter, technical response that would follow shortly after as a joint statement from the heads of the four EU institutions.

In days following the referendum, the EU ratcheted up its position.

The first turn of the screw came at 11:57 a.m. on June 24, 2016, less than five hours after the result was declared, in the joint statement drawn up by Juncker and Selmayr.

Released in the names of Tusk, Juncker, then European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, then head of the Council of the EU’s rotating presidency representing national governments, the EU ruled out any talks with Britain before it triggered Article 50, as required by the EU treaties.

“We have rules to deal with this in an orderly way,” the statement read. “Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union sets out the procedure to be followed if a Member State decides to leave the European Union. We stand ready to launch negotiations swiftly.”

The leaders also urged London to trigger Article 50 “as soon as possible” and declared that the future relationship between the two sides would only be determined after the U.K. had left. They also made clear there would be costs for walking away.

The EU’s thick yellow and blue lines were set — and formalized by EU ambassadors on Sunday, June 26.

Four days later, EU leaders met in Brussels to formalize their position. The summit — first at 28 with a chastened British Prime Minister David Cameron and then at 27 a day later — would set the tone for the next two years and 10 months.

“The British government should have offered something very, very quickly” — High-ranking European official

On Brexit, EU leaders rowed in behind the heads of the institutions in Brussels, barely changing the opening positions drawn up by the Council and Commission. Only one major change was introduced — a hardening of the EU’s position.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded that a specific line on the indivisibility of the four freedoms — the movement of goods, services, capital and people — be included in the final communiqué.

Cameron had told his fellow leaders at the summit that immigration had been a driving factor in the Britain’s decision to leave, but he hoped the U.K. would stay close to the single market.

The EU’s conclusions, ruling out the possibility of carving out the free movement of people from the rest of the single market, looked like a rebuff.

National interest

ad London been prepared for Brexit on June 24, 2016, the negotiations might have played out differently.

“The British government should have offered something very, very quickly,” said one high-ranking official of a large EU country. “If the U.K. had said: ‘Here’s the plan,’ we might have accepted it.”

“The British strength was being one member state, being able to define its national interest quickly and making its move quickly,” the official said. “It did not do that.”

Instead, in the aftermath of the referendum, Cameron resigned as prime minister; Labour MPs attempted to oust their party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn; Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, vowed to hold a second independence referendum; and Martin McGuinness, then deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, called for a vote on whether the British territory should leave the U.K. and become part of the Republic of Ireland.

The seeds of the crisis Britain faced today were planted by Cameron, said Foreign Office Minister Alan Duncan. “He called the referendum too early, ran a crappy campaign and then walked out, leaving a vacuum.”

“It is a crisis caused by bad decisions on top of bad decisions, turning a short-term gambit into a long-term catastrophe,” he added. “You can trace the whole thing back to the start. The crash was always coming.”

On the morning after the referendum, Cameron announced he would be standing down to allow a new prime minister to prepare for the negotiation with the EU. “Above all,” he said “this will require strong, determined and committed leadership.”

On July 11, 2016, the Conservative Party chose Theresa May to replace him.

By selecting May — a former home secretary known for her hard line on immigration — the Tory Party put in place a prime minister whose personal definition of Brexit would put her in conflict with the goals set out by the EU.

“We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration all over again” — Theresa May in 2016

May began her premiership with a simple — if enigmatic — definition of leaving the EU: “Brexit means Brexit.” By her first Tory Party conference as prime minister in October 2016, she had clarified her position. Brexit meant controlling immigration from the EU, shrugging off the jurisdiction of EU courts and regaining the ability to strike independent trade deals.

“We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration all over again,” she said, to the ovation of Tory members.  “And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That’s not going to happen. We are leaving to become, once more, a fully sovereign and independent country.”

She would spell out in a later speech at Lancaster House in January 2017 that that also meant leaving the single market and the customs union.

If the EU didn’t accept her red lines, “no deal was better than a bad deal.”

But even as May staked out her position, she was also making a commitment that would define the rest of the negotiations.

In the same speech, on the first day of the Tory Party conference, May reiterated a promise she had made in a newspaper interview published that morning: The U.K. would trigger Article 50 before the end of March 2017.

“That duly forfeited at a stroke any leverage over how that process would run,” said Ivan Rogers, former U.K. ambassador to the EU, in a lecture at Liverpool University in December 2018. “And it gave to the 27, who had, by the morning of June 24th, already set out their ‘no negotiation without notification’ position, the first couple of goals of the match in the opening five minutes.”

Jonathan Faull, a British former director general at the European Commission, who led a task force on the strategic dilemmas posed by the U.K.’s EU referendum, agreed: “It was not entirely inevitable … but much of what followed should have been obvious from the way Article 50 is written and how we know the EU works.”

For Matthew Elliott, the Vote Leave campaign’s chief executive, May’s decision to trigger Article 50 was a defining moment. “Vote Leave always had a plan — the key plank of which was not to trigger Article 50 pre-emptively, but to instead use the time after the referendum to prepare and plan,” he said. “It is deeply regrettable that the advice wasn’t heeded among officials.”

May had planted her flag. The question was how the EU would react.

Ireland plans

russels was not the only European capital where politicians and civil servants had been preparing for Brexit.

One adviser on European affairs to a prominent EU27 leader said Dublin had begun lobbying other EU countries in the months before the referendum to ensure Ireland was protected in the event of decision by the U.K. to leave.

“If there is one player which made Ireland go to the top of the agenda, it was Ireland,” the adviser said.

The Irish were pushing on an open door. EU members were always going to give priority to the vital interests of a member state over those of a country that had decided to turn its back on the Union — just as they had sided with Cyprus over the Turkish Cypriots, despite Brussels’ support for a peace deal for the divided island that the Turkish Cypriots had accepted and the Greek Cypriots voted to reject.

That Ireland felt the need to reiterate its commitment is illustrative of how the country’s leaders saw Brexit as an existential threat.

Northern Irish peer Paul Bew, one of the chief architects of the Good Friday Agreement, said Dublin’s preparation was typical of the Irish in their long history of negotiations with Britain. “They are on top of the detail, and we [the British] are incurious. The people at the top of the U.K. government are also paralyzed by imperial guilt.”

The contrast with London was stark. While Cameron refused to allow officials to prepare for a Leave vote — barring officials from putting anything on paper — Ireland had produced a 130-page Contingency Plan with an hour-by-hour checklist.

On the morning the referendum result was announced, then Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny made a statement intended to reassure the markets and Irish citizens. Its central thrust was blunt: Ireland would remain a committed member of the EU. The point was so important he repeated it.

“Ireland will, of course, remain a member of the European Union,” Kenny declared. “That is profoundly in our national interest.” His government, he said, had “prepared to the greatest extent possible for this eventuality.”

That Ireland, which joined the bloc along with the U.K. in 1973, felt the need to reiterate its commitment is illustrative of how the country’s leaders saw Brexit as an existential threat.

Not only do the two countries share a lengthy and complex colonial history, they remain uniquely intertwined. The two countries share a common travel area — a mini Schengen — a language, and of course, a common land border, one with a violent history quieted by a delicate peace agreement that Brexit threatened to unravel.

Hard border

he problem posed by the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was evident long before the U.K. voted to leave.

On June 9, 2016, two weeks before the referendum, former U.K. Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair visited Northern Ireland to warn that the future of the union was “on the ballot paper” and that a Leave vote risked the return of border controls with the Republic of Ireland.

The Republic of Ireland and the U.K. had agreed a common travel area in the 1920s and joined the EU together in 1973. There had never been a moment when one country was in the EU and the other not.

And yet, for all its preparations, Dublin had not come up with a solution.

In Cameron’s statement to the House of Commons on June 27 he said the British and Irish governments would start discussion that week to “work through the challenges relating to the common border area.”

In early scoping exercises, according to “Brexit & Ireland,” by Tony Connelly, Europe editor at the Irish broadcaster RTÉ, Dublin had proposed a U.K.-Ireland bilateral trade agreement for agriculture to avoid the return of a hard border.

This had been rejected out of hand by the EU as illegal.

The Anglo-Irish talks went on for months. Even as May was setting out her “red lines” at the Tory Party conference, Irish and British civil servants were meeting in the Foreign Office in London for a two-day summit, with Brexit on the agenda.

“There was always a worry that the Irish were the Brits’ Trojan Horse” — Senior EU official

These bilateral talks — taking place before the Brexit negotiations had officially started — soon caught the attention of Brussels, where officials were becoming concerned.

“From the autumn onwards, they had their diplomacy on the ground, taking everyone through the details of the Good Friday Agreement,” said one senior EU official intimately involved in the negotiations. “But there was always a worry that the Irish were the Brits’ Trojan Horse.”

A few days after May’s speech at the party conference, Michel Barnier, the Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, arrived in Dublin. The message was clear: Stop negotiating with the British.

From then on, it would be Brussels that took on responsibility for the Irish border.

United front

he appointment of Barnier, a tall, suave former French minister and two-time European commissioner, is credited as one of the primary reasons the EU was able to maintain a united front in the face of Brexit.

“As soon as we had found our ‘face,’ it was a second-rate problem,” explained one Europe adviser to a major EU27 leader. “This is the main reason the U.K. was not seen as a threat.”

A second senior official, a sherpa for an influential EU leader, added: “Brexit is a lose-lose game. We want to focus on the future of the Union and let Barnier settle the accounts of the past.”

That it would be Barnier who would be tasked with the talks was not obvious the morning after the referendum. In the aftermath of the vote, control of the negotiations was the subject of a turf war between the EU’s major institutions. Should it be the Council leading the talks — or the Commission?

“[Barnier is] a politician who is reassuring for France, but is identifiable in Germany” — Europe adviser in major EU government

In the end it wasn’t much of competition. The Council of the EU — the institution representing national governments — was the first out of the gate, with the appointment of the little-known but well-liked Belgian civil servant Didier Seeuws to coordinate its response. Juncker and Selmayr then laid their trump card: Barnier.

“The decision to appoint Barnier and to do so quickly was a big decision,” said the Europe adviser to a major EU27 leader. “This was a decision taken by Juncker. I don’t think he saw all the consequences, but it was a very good decision. Seeuws was a coordinator, not a leader. We needed a political guy. That was clever.”

A Frenchman and a member of Merkel’s center-right European People’s Party, Barnier had the endorsement of the German chancellor and the French president. He also knew the U.K. and the City of London well, having been in charge of EU financial regulation in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

“He’s a politician who is reassuring for France, but is identifiable in Germany,” the Europe adviser explained. “He’s a Brussels man, but from a national capital.”

Most important, he had enough stature to allow national leaders to step back from the process.

No matter how hard May and her officials tried to turn the Brexit talks into a diplomatic discussion, a negotiation among equals, Barnier would ensure it remained an institutional process — between the U.K. and the much larger EU.

Brexit would be — in the words of Pascal Lamy, a former head of the World Trade Organization — not a negotiation, but an “amputation.”

“The Brits always want to make it a political discussion, but it’s just the reverse of an accession negotiation,” explained one EU aide. “It’s not a negotiation. We unwind EU law in your domestic system.”

Even ardent Brexiteers in the U.K. would come to share this view. In March 2019, former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith would complain bitterly about the way the talks had gone. “The negotiations up to now have been less a kind of negotiation and more of a process which allowed the European Union to get their way,” he said.

France’s diplomatic establishment schools its officials in the idea of a “rapport de force” — the balance of power in any relationship. As long as the negotiations remained between Brussels and London, there would be no question who had the upper hand.

“The EU, while strategically myopic, is formidably good at process against negotiating opponents” — Ivan Rogers, former British ambassador to the EU

And that was maintained by controlling the process. There would be no negotiation without notification, no future relationship without the divorce agreement, and no divorce agreement if the money, citizens’ rights and the problem of the Irish border weren’t sorted out first.

“The EU, while strategically myopic, is formidably good at process against negotiating opponents,” said Rogers. “No one was paying much attention to how the EU was patiently constructing the process designed to maximize its leverage.”

At every turn, Barnier pressed home his advantage, and the U.K. — with little alternative — bowed to the inevitable.

“We don’t need to create rapport de force. It was there on the day it [Brexit] was triggered,” was how one French official put it.

Upper hand

owhere was the imbalance of power more important than on the Irish border.

By February, 2017 — before Britain had even triggered Article 50 — Brussels had taken ownership of the problem and come up with the beginnings of a solution.

In a confidential Brexit note, titled “Brexit and the Border between Ireland the U.K.,” the Commission proposed a soft land border for goods — and no border controls for agriculture and food. In effect, the island of Ireland would be treated as unified when it came to food and farming. Northern Ireland would be subject to EU law even after it had left.

The kicker: This meant there would have to be border controls within the U.K. — between Britain and Northern Ireland.

“Ireland asked for something,” one European Commission official said. “But so did the EU: single market integrity in Northern Ireland.”

According to Connelly’s “Brexit & Ireland,” the memo “acknowledged the sensitivity of this idea,” because of the fury it would cause among unionists in Northern Ireland. “As the Commission’s Irish interlocutors have indicated,” the note stated, “insisting on such a solution could harm the peace process.”

But it was the only way under EU law, the Commission concluded, given the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU’s customs union.

The discussion about the border was part of the EU’s work on its Brexit negotiating “bible,” in preparation for the U.K.’s official declaration of departure. It was published, after extensive consultation with national governments, at the April leaders’ summit shortly after Theresa May triggered Article 50 on March 29, 2017.

Like a balloon slowly expanded from its original form, the negotiating guidelines were simply a blown-up version of the statements published by the EU in the hours after the result was announced. As the talks dragged on, the balloon continued to expand but never substantially changed shape.

There must be a “balance of rights and obligations” the agreement declared. “The integrity of the single market must be preserved, which means the four freedoms are indivisible and excludes any cherry-picking,” it read.

“Where we are now has been obvious for a long time” — Senior official at No. 10 Downing Street

Crucially, it also declared there would be a “phased approach” to the negotiations. Only after the divorce had been settled could work on the future relationship begin.

It was exactly what Vote Leave had feared. Britain would have to agree to settle its bills and agree to the EU’s solution to the Irish border before talks could start on what kind of relationship would come next. This would deprive the U.K. of much of its leverage in the discussion about the future relationship.

“Where we are now has been obvious for a long time,” said a senior member of Theresa May’s Downing Street operation. “By setting up the sequencing like they did, and putting Northern Ireland in the first phase, this was always going to happen. It was their choice, it doesn’t say anywhere in Article 50 that it had to be like this.”

Irish wins

hen the EU’s negotiating “bible” was published in April 2017, Brussels was still publicly toying with “creative solutions” for the Irish border. It also restricted its commitment to the “aim” of no hard border between the Republic and Northern Ireland.

Yet the frenzied Irish diplomacy had already resulted in three substantial achievements.

First, Enda Kenny visited the U.K. prime minister in July 2016, the month that May took office, and won a public assurance that there would be no return to the borders of the past.

Second, the border problem had been put explicitly on Brussels’ agenda — a top-ticket divorce item that needed to be resolved before the U.K. could depart.

Third, Dublin had persuaded the EU as early as April 2017 to confirm that should Northern Ireland ever reunify with the Republic it would automatically become a member of the EU.

“We just could not believe the British had accepted the text” — Senior EU official

The British were furious, but the EU had proved it had Ireland’s back.

In November 2017, after the U.K. had failed to propose a solution to the Irish border, the Commission unveiled its proposal: a “backstop” to ensure that whatever happened in the future, the border would remain open.

Barnier’s team had concluded that the only way to protect the EU single market while avoiding a hard border in Ireland was for the U.K. to ensure that there would be “no regulatory divergence” between Northern Ireland and the rules of the single market and customs union.

For May, already struggling politically, the implications were deadly. Doing so would require one of two painful compromises, each of them anathema to political factions supporting her government.

The entirety of the U.K. would have to abide by EU rules (something hard-line Brexiteers would never accept), or Northern Ireland would be subject to different laws to the rest of the country (a measure to which the Northern Irish unionists whose votes she depended on were sure to object).

Bending the rules

he reaction in London was apoplectic. The Commission had proposed bending the rules of the single market to apply bits of EU law to Northern Ireland, but not the rest of the U.K.

The proposal was designed to answer the goals laid out by Brussels and Dublin: to protect the integrity of the single market and maintain an open border. It ensured the price for Brexit would be paid by the British and not the Irish who otherwise faced the “ghastly choice,” in the words of one high-ranking EU official, of erecting border controls with Northern Ireland or diluting its membership of the single market and customs union.

Olly Robbins, Theresa May’s chief negotiator, travelled to Brussels to complain.

“Among our many arguments was a key democratic deficit point,” said one U.K. official who was in the room with Robbins. “You will leave Northern Ireland with no say in the laws governing it. That is tyranny and will be unsustainable.”

But the EU were immovable — and eventually, in December 2017, the British agreed to the proposal.

In Dublin they could not believe the U.K. had agreed, one senior EU27 official said. “I remember being in a taxi that Sunday night. We just could not believe the British had accepted the text. We knew it would not be acceptable to the unionists. The truth is, Brexit was always going to poison the atmosphere and it has.”

The Irish backstop would remain the key sticking point for the rest of the negotiations, even after May convinced the EU to widen its scope to ensure the whole of the U.K. remained in the customs union.

Ultimately, it caused May’s deal to be rejected in parliament in January 2019 — the largest government defeat ever. That raised the prospect of the U.K. crashing out without a deal, plummeting Northern Irish politics further into crisis.

“There were a number of missteps, but the two most serious were on the sequencing and the language on the backstop,” said former Brexit Secretary David Davis. “By giving way on the sequencing right at the start we broke the linkage with the future relationship that was vital. From December 2017 onward [after the backstop was agreed] it went from a standard, fairly tough negotiation to a struggle to escape from the positions [May] fell into.”

One senior Downing Street official said the U.K. had warned the EU about the risks the backstop posed domestically, but felt it had no choice but to agree. “It didn’t feel like we had much choice, it felt like it would all fall apart quite quickly if we didn’t. But that sowed the seeds for where we are now.”

Asked directly whether the EU knew what it was getting itself into, one senior official close to Barnier said: “Oh, we know what we’re getting ourselves into. We just have no choice.”

Salzburg reality check

or the U.K., the reality of its position finally came crashing down in September 2018, at special EU summit in the Austrian town of Salzburg.

On, Wednesday September 19, May’s most senior advisers were relaxing on a rooftop hotel bar. The mood was light. Hopes were high. May was due to address EU leaders the following day and had one-to-one meetings lined up with key leaders Donald Tusk and Ireland’s Leo Varadkar.

By lunchtime the next day, the prime minister — and British diplomacy — would be publicly humiliated, her best-laid plan for Brexit rejected.

May had started her tenure riding high in the polls — the dominant, domineering figure in British politics. Parliament was rarely consulted; only because of a court order did the prime minister seek the chamber’s consent before triggering Article 50.

It all went wrong for May after she called a snap election in the hope of securing the strong majority she would need to push through whatever deal she struck with Brussels. The plan backfired. In a stunning rebuke, voters stripped the Conservative Party of its majority.

As the leader of the largest party, May remained prime minister, but she became reliant on the votes of the conservative Northern Ireland Democratic Unionist Party, a fiercely pro-union party that had opposed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to the island.

Weakened, May became unable to soften her red lines — or compromise on the Irish border — without losing the support of the hard-line Brexiteers in her party or the Northern Irish unionists. Her red lines kept her in power, but they made it nearly impossible for her to strike a deal with the EU.

“She drew bloody red lines which she has consistently tried to blur afterwards,” one of the EU’s most senior Brexit officials told POLITICO shortly after the deal had been agreed. “It wasted a lot of time because it made every single step very painful.”

Forced retreat

s the negotiations dragged on, Britain was repeatedly forced to retreat. May would make a stand, only to be forced to back down as the EU pressed on relentlessly.

Efforts to whittle down Britain’s financial accounts with the EU were rejected, until May finally agreed to honor them in full. Rows over the role of the European Court of Justice protecting EU citizens’ rights dragged on. British pride was badly piqued when the EU made clear the U.K. would not remain full partners in EU programs it had once played a leading role in, such as Galileo, European defense or security. The law was the law, and Britain would be a third country.

British concessions were large and small. Staff at the U.K. parliamentary representation in Brussels — UKREP — were left exasperated after each visit from David Davis, May’s first Brexit secretary.

On each occasion, Davis demanded that they prepare to host the joint press conference with him and Barnier on British soil in the city. But every time, despite the staff going to great lengths to ensure the U.K. could put on a press conference at the last minute if necessary, Davis always, eventually, relented to take questions in the European Commission.

The first significant blurring of Theresa May’s red lines came in December 2017, with her acceptance of the backstop.

“It was every bloody time,” said one British official. “Every time. And every time we ended up at the Commission.”

There were other small indignities. Before the negotiations started there had been, in London at least, talk of alternating the negotiations between the British capital and Brussels. By the end, no technical talks had taken place in London.

Officials from both sides often met in meeting room 201 of the European Commission’s “Charlemagne zone” on floor five of the Berlaymont building, one EU official said. On the side of the wall outside the room sits a picture of Conwy Castle in Wales, a building renovated using EU structural funds — a neat statement of the EU’s position on Brexit.

Climbdown

he first significant blurring of Theresa May’s red lines came in December 2017, with her acceptance of the backstop.

Then came May’s Chequers proposal, in July 2018. For May, the proposal — named after the prime minister’s country retreat — was a huge climbdown. It envisioned the whole of the U.K remaining, to all intents and purposes, in the EU’s single market for goods.

It would allow the U.K. to avoid a border being erected — on the island of Ireland or in the Irish Sea. But it was politically costly. May’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, and her Brexit secretary, David Davis, both resigned in protest, along with six other junior members of the government.

It was this proposal that May had brought to Salzburg, in an attempt to break the deadlock by appealing directly to EU leaders.

Doing so was a gamble — and an enormous miscalculation. At the leaders’ summit, Donald Tusk quickly dismissed any chance it would be accepted. The Chequers proposal was “not acceptable” he said. “Especially on the economic side of it.”

French President Emmanuel Macron broke with diplomatic niceties, attacking British Brexiteers as “liars” and dismissing May’s proposal as a “brave step” that remained “not acceptable.”

“The Chequers plan cannot be take it or leave it,” he added.

“The big loss is that they have not settled the question for the future” — Senior official close to Michel Barnier

In Westminster, the episode became known known as the “disaster of Salzburg,” epitomizing months of failure. “Salzburg was the moment British diplomacy came crashing down,” said one U.K. diplomat.

“It was a big misunderstanding, a big mistake,” agreed the senior adviser to an EU leader intimately involved in the negotiations.

Westminster had underestimated the EU’s determination to ensure the Brexit talks remained a bureaucratic process — and not be sucked into political horse-trading with the U.K. “It misread the legal nature of the EU,” one senior French official said. “This is what makes it strong.”

The British “seemed to think this was the moment it would be taken out of Barnier’s hands to become a political negotiation,” the adviser continued. “That was the last time the U.K. thought it could all be sorted out politically.”

MPs take control

 feel like, when people look back at this, they’ll realize this was the real beginning of the end,” texted one member of May’s inner circle. It was 10:20 p.m. on March 25, 2019, and MPs had just voted to begin the process of “indicative votes” on alternative Brexit plans.

With less than three weeks until Brexit day — already kicked down the road into April after parliament had twice voted down the deal May struck with the EU in November — the prime minister had formally lost control.

A third vote on her deal had been pulled because she just did not have the numbers.

For many around May, that a crash would come had been obvious for months. As far back as July 2018, senior figures inside No. 10 Downing Street had warned that her deal, as it was shaping up, was unsustainable. There was just no way a majority in parliament could be assembled for the Brexit the EU was offering.

In truth, the trains had been set in motion far earlier — the collision was the culmination of decisions taken by both sides within the hours, weeks and months that followed the referendum. The EU’s determination not to cut London a special deal; Cameron’s decision to walk away; May’s sweeping promise not to raise a border in Ireland, while at the same time drawing incompatible red lines — something had to give, and it would not be Brussels.

The result, some of the most senior figures in Brussels and London admit, is an outcome in which the  negotiations will have fallen short of their limited ambitions — even if a deal is eventually forced through a recalcitrant House of Commons in the coming days or weeks.

The contentious Irish backstop — the root cause of the crisis — has become so toxic for the largest party in Northern Ireland, the DUP, that it risks permanently undermining power-sharing until it is removed and replaced.

Throughout the negotiations, the divisions in Northern Ireland have deepened, and the peace process has been damaged — as the Commission predicted in February 2017.

Most important, few of the major questions created by Britain’s decision to leave the EU have been answered. “The big loss is that they have not settled the question for the future,” one senior official close to Barnier admitted.

Should the EU have resisted the temptation to press home its overwhelming advantage? Should it have allowed the U.K. some cherry-picking? Should it have made Dublin share some of the costs of Brexit by imposing a border with Northern Ireland instead of the backstop?

Many in the U.K. might think so, but few in Brussels, Dublin or any other European capital would agree. “History will judge,” said the senior official.

Paul Taylor and David Herszenhorn contributed reporting.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the institution that appointed Didier Seeuws as Brexit coordinator.

Linking BRI with Cambodia’s rectangular development


March 29, 2019

Linking BRI with Cambodia’s rectangular development

Khmer times:
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in Beijing, capital of China, May 17, 2017. Xinhua/Rao Aimin

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious international cooperation and connectivity project initiated by China in 2013. Cambodia is one of the staunchest supporters of the initiative with the expectation that BRI will contribute to peace and shared prosperity. As a small and open economy, Cambodia is committed to building an open and inclusive international system.

The second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation will take place in late April this year to further expand and deepen international collaborations and partnerships based on the spirit of peace, cooperation, openness, transparency, inclusiveness, equality, mutual learning, mutual benefit and mutual respect by strengthening cooperation on the basis of extensive consultation and the rule of law, joint efforts, shared benefits and equal opportunities for all.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen will lead a big delegate consisting of deputy prime ministers, ministers and other senior leaders to attend the forum in Beijing. Cambodian leaders will also have a number of bilateral meetings with some key Chinese business leaders who are interested in investing in Cambodia. BRI is a key framework, or even a catalyst, to encourage and facilitate the investment inflow from China to the Kingdom.

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In the joint statement of the first forum, the leaders stressed of forging joint endeavour on BRI and urged to build synergy between BRI with other connectivity initiatives. From the Cambodian perspective, building synergy between BRI with the five-year development plan, called Rectangular Development Strategy, is the priority of bilateral cooperation between Cambodia and China.

The Rectangular Development Strategy Phase IV prioritises four pillars namely human resource development, economic diversification, private sector and job development, and inclusive and sustainable development. At the core of the four pillars is the acceleration of the governance reform, which refers to institutional reform and capacity building, strengthening accountability and integrity in the public administration, strengthening of work effectiveness, and strengthening of private sector governance.

Under the BRI cooperation framework, China should further align BRI with key development areas of Cambodia. So far, Chinese development assistance and investment projects concentrate on hard infrastructure and labour-intensive industry. Both countries need to expand their areas of cooperation to include human resource development, digital economy and sustainable development.

The Chinese companies and factories should build vocational training centres or schools to build and transfer skills to local workers. Due to lack of local skilled labour forces, most of Chinese companies choose to bring Chinese workers, which costs more than hiring local workers. Chinese companies should also provide on-the-job training to build the capacity of local workers in order to improve productivity. In this regards, Chinese companies can learn a great deal from Japanese companies in terms of skills development and knowledge transfer.

Digital economy is the future economic sector of Cambodia. The key challenges facing Cambodia to realise a full-fledged digital economy are the lack of human resources and digital infrastructure, and the lack of public and private investment in innovation and entrepreneurship. Mega Chinese private companies like Huawei and Alibaba could help Cambodia to build the necessary infrastructure and human capital to help the Kingdom fully harness digital economy and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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In terms of inclusive and sustainable development, China and Cambodia should work closely together to link BRI with the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the National Sustainable Development Goals. Chinese investments need to further link with rural development and poverty reduction. Some investment projects relating to land grabbing, serious environmental degradation, and socio-economic exclusion need to be reviewed. Environmental and social impact assessment needs to be seriously conducted before deciding on investment or development projects.

The success of BRI depends very much on the quality of the projects and the perception and participation of the local community. Both countries still need to double their efforts to ensure that development projects under BRI really benefit the local people. People-centred development approach should be at the core of BRI and Cambodia-China partnership.

Suos Yara is Member of Parliament from Cambodia.

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  • Image result for benny widyono

The quintessential UN diplomat-DR. Benny Widyono

When career diplomat Benny Widyono died in his sleep in the United States on March 17, the world lost a beautiful bloke, a distinguished diplomat, a United Nations governor of Siem Reap Province and an Ambassador and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps as UN Ambassador to Cambodia.

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