Cambodia–Civil Servants and the State


August 5, 2017

Cambodia–Civil Servants and the State

by David Hutt

http://www.newmandela.org

There are times when the work of a journalist in Cambodia is made so easy. Compared to some other countries, where politicians rarely say what they think (or think beyond what they are told), Cambodian officials tend to wear their innermost thoughts on their sleeves, words rolling from the tongue in almost stream-of-consciousness fashion.

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Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen delivers peace, stability and development. Young Cambodians are proud of their country

Such an occasion happened on Monday when Vong Sauth (sometimes spelled Vong Soth), the social affairs minister, spoke at a small gathering for the appointment of new civil servants. The Phnom Penh Post quoted him: “Officials eat the state’s salary, and are asked to be neutral, but do not forget that the state was born from the party, and I think all of our officials must have the clear character of firmly supporting the party.”

Oh, such honesty. By officials, he means civil servants. And by saying this, he echoed what pundits have long accused the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of doing: making civil servants’ jobs dependent upon their support of the party. Indeed, Sauth went on to say that civil servants can’t support the political opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). “If anybody does not support the CPP, submit applications of resignation, and I can help you [with that], but if you are loyal to the CPP you must vote for the CPP, and then you can stay,” he said.

Knowing where the State begins and Party ends in Cambodia entails a microscopic study. It used to be said of Prussia that it was “not a country with an army, but an army with a country”. Might Cambodia be rendered “not a country with a party, but a party with a country”?

The military, supposed to be an independent of political parties in any democratic society, is already firmly symbiotic to the CPP’s interests. Last year, Chea Dara, a high ranking military officer who was incorporated into the CPP’s Central Committee, said: “Every soldier is a member of the People’s Army and belongs to the CPP because [Prime Minister Hun Sen] is the feeder, caretaker, commander, and leader of the army… I speak frankly when I say that the army belongs to the [CPP].”

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Cambodia at Sunrise–Calm, Serene and Captivating

And now we have Sauth demanding loyalty declarations from civil servants. Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, wrote in an email to journalists that he “should be immediately fired for his outrageous remarks that demonstrate he knows nothing about either human rights or democracy.” Robertson went on: “He shows his ignorance of modern democratic principles when he fails to recognize that in a democracy, it is politicians who are elected to make decisions on law and policy, but the civil servants have different duties, such as carrying out the day to day functions of government in an impartial and professional way”.

Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly responded to Robertson by saying he was “better off focusing on his chaos-ridden, war-mongering U.S. home that was unfit for the premier’s grandchild”, as the Cambodia Daily phrased it.

Since 1979, the State has been fashioned by the CPP—or “born from the party”, as Sauth said—and, like any offspring, it shares much maternal DNA. And, although the CPP supposedly discarded its communist credentials in the early 1990s, they weren’t completely lost. As I wrote at The Diplomat:

“Not dissimilar to the reign of Norodom Sihanouk, or the Angkor “god-kings” of earlier centuries, Cambodia operates a system noblesse oblige. Education, roads, and other basic services are, typically, not provided by the state but by the ruling CPP – at least this is how the government spins it. Rather than a welfare state, Cambodia has a philanthropic party. And all of this development work comes with the express condition of voting CPP when elections come around.

In an earlier article I described the ethos this creates amongst ordinary Cambodians and the civil servants: “because basic services are doled out by the party and not the State, they have to be earned.” One might also add employment for civil servants to this.

If this is a problem now, it will become even more apparent as the next general election approaches (it is set for next year). Sauth seems to think victory for the CPP is assured: it has the human resources, money, and power, he said. In his speech, he also imparted what was discussed at an internal meeting the day before, at which, he said, Prime Minister Hun Sen laid out the party’s strategy: “This election, if there are more problems with protests, your heads will be hit by the bottom of bamboo sticks.”

Elections in Cambodia are testing anyway but added to this is the knowledge that a handover of power to another political party (if that ever happens, or is allowed to happen) also entails the reformation of much of the State apparatus. Indeed, the question for the opposition CNRP is not just whether it can win next year’s general election but whether it can take over a State that appears inseparable from the CPP. This, in fact, might be the more difficult task.

David Hutt is a journalist and writer based in Phnom Penh. He is also the Southeast Asia Columnist for the Diplomat, and a contributor to numerous regional publications.

 

Cambodia Update–Hun Sen maintains firm grip on power


August 3, 2017

Cambodia Update–Hun Sen maintains firm grip on power

by Dr. Sorpong Peou

http://www.eastasiaform.org

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After 25 years of global peacebuilding efforts that began with the UN intervention early in the 1990s, Cambodia is still far from achieving a stable peace based on genuine democracy and respect for human rights. Government threats to, and sometimes violent crackdowns on, critics and power contenders continue unabated. After more than 30 years in power, Prime Minister Hun Sen still shows no signs of wanting to retire from his political struggles.

 

Before the 4 June 2017 commune elections, Hun Sen ramped up diatribes and displayed acts of intimidation against members of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). He rang alarm bells by saying that opposition victories would bring the country back to chaos and instability. He threatened to seize the personal property of CNRP President Sam Rainsy (who was still in exile for political reasons) and ‘burn down’ the houses of his opponents.

The threats Hun Sen issued against his opponents aimed at sending a clear message that they would not be allowed to win in future elections. Defence Minister General Tea Banh also warned that the military would ‘smash the teeth’ of those who protested a Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) win.

Even after the commune elections, in which his CPP won a majority, Hun Sen escalated the war of words, warning the opposition against taking any action that would undermine the election result. Most shocking was when he told his opponents to prepare their coffins and expressed his willingness to ‘eliminate’ between 100 and 200 of them.

There is no reason to think that Hun Sen, now 64, is beginning to mellow out and get tired of politics. Age is never a good determinant of leaders’ political lifespans in countries like Cambodia, and neither is political unpopularity or personal fatigue.

There are several reasons why Prime Minister Hun Sen will not call it quits any time soon. The first is that he cares about his political legacy, beginning with the overthrow of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in 1979 and the progress he thinks his party has since brought to the country. After all, he has presided over one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia. High economic growth rates continue to provide him with a source of legitimacy.

The second reason is that Hun Sen thinks that he has enough bullets to keep his opponents at bay. Since the violent putsch he led in 1997 that resulted in the downfall of his then co-Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh (leader of the royalist party that won the UN-organised election in 1993), he has emerged as the country’s dominant political leader. The multiparty system has been turned into a hegemonic party system. State institutions, particularly the armed forces and the judiciary, have become more personalised and politicised than ever before. Opposition officials are correct when admitting that they have no means of violence to wage any war against the ruling party, and Hun Sen knows this to be true.

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Still, what Hun Sen covets most is not absolute power — he is smart enough to know that seeking it would be self-destructive — but rather achieving enough security to remain in power comfortably. Speculation about the possibility of the CPP’s attempt to eliminate the opposition, for instance, is contradicted by the fact that the CNRP was allowed to compete in elections and win seats.

What Hun Sen fears most is the ultimate power of political democracy — the third reason why he will not retire from politics. His bellicose speeches and unstatesman-like manner reveal a great deal of truth about his insecurity rooted in hidden political weaknesses.

What makes the CPP elite feel less secure now is that their powerbase is much shakier than they want it to be. An election loss might result in greater factionalism within the party — and possibly intra-party violence. The armed forces are weakly held together at the top by Hun Sen, without whom the institution might even engage in factional warfare.

The ruling elite also think they cannot afford to lose power in a political environment where Hun Sen — and his family, as well as loyalists — feel that an election loss might subject them to prosecution, despite assurances from their foes to the contrary.

The trouble with countries like Cambodia — long afflicted by the persistence of weak state institutions, as well as a lingering history of betrayal, retribution and bloodshed — is that good intentions alone can never be a good enough foundation for trust-based peacebuilding.

The blood politics of survival is still evident in Cambodia and the hegemonic party system remains prone to tension and violent conflict. In this fragile environment, democracy is unlikely to survive or thrive unless the ruling elite’s insecurity is addressed and their powerbase begins to implode to the point where their weak domination ends.

Dr.Sorpong Peou is a Professor with the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University, Toronto.

 

Cambodia-North Korea relations are cool at best


July 10, 2017

Cambodia-North Korea relations are cool at best

By Michele Penna@www.asiasentinel.com

With its white walls shimmering under the tropical sun and its yellow roof pointing towards the sky, the Angkor Panorama Museum (pic below) could be an awkward shopping mall stranded on the outskirts of Siem Reap, the provincial city on Tonle Sap, 320 km from the capital Phnom Penh. Instead, it is a brick-and-mortar testament to the quiet friendship between Cambodia and North Korea.

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The complex was built by the Mansudae Art Studio – a North Korean art group which describes itself as “probably the largest art studio in the world” – at an estimated US$24 million, although the price tag is not clear. As the official line goes, it is a space commemorating the fasts of the ancient Angkor civilization, featuring a 123 meter-long, 13-meter-high painting depicting life eight centuries ago. There are as many as 45,000 characters in it, which is one reason why leaflets handed out at the entrance claim that “the panorama is, absolutely, a masterpiece that will be remembered forever.”

The imposing building is a telling sign of the special relationship that once existed between the two countries, whose roots hark back to the 1960s, when Norodom Sihanouk, then Cambodia’s King, met Kim Il-sung, the late, Great Leader of North Korea. A friendship began to develop, growing stronger as Cambodia descended into the chaos of war and revolution.

When Sihanouk went into exile, the North Korean authorities remained close to him and even built him a 60-room palace close to Pyongyang – something the king never forgot. In his autobiography Sihanouk describes Kim Il-sung as “my surest and most sincere friend and the most steadfast in my support. Even more than a friend: a true brother and my only ‘true relative’ after the death of my mother.” In a 1985 interview with the New York Times he was already referring to the Korean leader as “more than a friend, more than a brother.”

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The Angkor Panorama Museum in Siem Reap, Cambodia, which was opened to the public back in December 2015, transports visitors back in time with its ‘Panoramic Hall.’ Funded by North Korea, it may well be one of the biggest overseas projects the country has ever taken on.

The ‘Panoramic Hall’ features a mural that is 120 metres long and 13 metres high, offering a 360 degree experience of the Angkorian period, which began in 802 through to 1431.

Although Kim Il-sung died in 1994 and the Cambodian monarchy is now little more than a ceremonial institution, both sides still make an effort to show they get along fine. In early May, the North Korean Ambassador told Khmer Times that the country he represents is seeking Phnom Penh’s help in spearheading its cause with other members of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Cambodia have good relations and a history of supporting each other,” he told reporters. “I am confident that Cambodia, as a friend, really understands the tensions on the Korean peninsula and would express solidarity through ASEAN towards our just cause to help find a solution diplomatically to maintain stability and peace in our country.”

Only days later Prince Norodom Ranariddh, a former Pime Minister, said he would soon pay a visit to the Hermit Kingdom to seek to ease tensions on the peninsula.

But being close to North Korea can easily turn embarrassing. The country has kidnapped foreigners, organized terrorist attacks and printed fake currency. The most recent scandal involved Otto Warm bier, an American student arrested last year for stealing a propaganda poster and condemned to 15 years of hard labor. Warmbier had been detained for a year and half when he was sent home in a coma. He died shortly after, without any explanation from the authorities in Pyongyang.

North Korean shenanigans have hit close to the Cambodian authorities, too. In 1996, Yoshimi Tanaka, a member of the Japanese Red Army who had hijacked a plane in 1970, was arrested while trying to cross from Cambodia into Vietnam. He had reportedly been helped by the North Korean Embassy in Phnom Penh, which is housed in a villa next to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s own mansion.

Six years later the ties between the two countries were again under scrutiny, as the North Korean vessel So San was caught carrying 15 Scud missiles destined to Yemen. The freighter was registered in Cambodia under the now-defunct Cambodian Shipping Corporation (CSC), a flag of convenience system set up in the 1990s to raise funds. Such schemes, which plenty of countries have deployed, allow a vessel to be registered in a foreign nation for a fee and have been extensively blamed for hiding all sorts of dirty secrets. Among CSC’s managers were Cambodian political figures as well as a North Korean diplomat.

Cooling bilateral relations further is the simple fact that, while Phnom Penh may not want to waste its connections with Pyongyang, Cambodia is not going to let North Korea get in the way of its new interests. Leaked US cables, for example, show Cambodian authorities have actively cooperated in handling North Korean defectors who seek refuge abroad – something which the Hermit Kingdom sees as a “crime of treachery against the nation.”

A conversation dating from 2006 quotes the Prime Minister’s adviser Om Yentieng as dismissing concerns that a public exposure of Phnom Penh’s dealings with the United States in managing refugees would harm bilateral relations with North Korea. Somewhat paradoxically, however, he worried that such occurrence might put the security of Mr. Hun Sen in jeopardy.

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“He did register some concern over the PM’s safety due to the proximity of the North Korean Embassy to the PM’s residence – should USG-RGC cooperation on North Korean refugees become public knowledge,” the cable reads.

These days, what remains of the old friendship are places like the Angkor museum – which upon closer inspection looks just like another way of making money. Only one third of the space in the building provides information on the temples, mostly in the form of pictures. The rest is a flea market stuffed with paintings and memorabilia. That almost everything there is on sale — at prices ranging from US$5 to over US$1000 – is a sign of how desperate sanction-laden North Korea is for hard currency.

Restaurants are also helping the regime make ends meet. Pyongyang, right in the middle of the capital, is one of four eateries set up in Cambodia by the North Koreans. Here professionally trained and smartly outfitted waitresses smile at customers, carrying dishes of dumplings in broth, fish and expensive liquors. All is done in Korean traditional costumes. About mid-dinner the lights go off for a show. The waitresses, who no doubt are selected for their beauty as well as their loyalty to the regime, dash to the stage and start singing and dancing. One swirls around with a jar balanced on her head. Minutes later, another is playing tunes on a saxophone.

Customers have a good time. They stare. They toast. They try to snap pictures, which is forbidden. But especially they pay – certainly quite a bit of money passes through this restaurant, which during the weekend is filled to the brim with both locals and tourists. The golden days may be behind the two countries but decades after King Sihanouk and North Korea former Great Leader met, the friendship they formed keeps on bearing fruits for the Hermit Kingdom.

 

Book Review: Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer


June 27, 2017

BOOK REVIEW:

Man or Monster?: The Trial of a Khmer Rouge  Torturer

by Sharon Wu

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Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, during trial proceedings at ECCC in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on 20 July 2009

In Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, Alexander Laban Hinton examines the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly known as Duch, who oversaw the torture and execution of prisoners during the Khmer Rouge’s rule of Cambodia in the 1970s. Bringing together creative ethnography, fieldwork and interviews and drawing on personal experience, this elegantly written and nuanced appraisal tackles the challenge of assessing the complexity of its central figure’s crimes, life and character, while addressing larger questions of transitional justice. writes Sharon Wu

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Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer. Alexander Laban Hinton. Duke University Press. 2016.

Perpetrators of mass crimes are easy to condemn, but harder to understand. Although their crimes may be evident, the degree of guilt and level of responsibility can be difficult to establish. This becomes all the more complex when the perpetrator is put on the stand. In his latest book Man or Monster? The Trial of a Khmer Rouge Torturer, Alexander Laban Hinton, a professor at Rutgers University and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, dives deep into the tribunal of Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly known as Duch, and elegantly tackles this exact challenge of sifting through the many shades of one mass criminal’s life and character.

From 1975 to 1979, Duch served as the Deputy and then the Chairman of S-21 (also known as Tuol Sleng), the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime’s most notorious political prison and security complex. As many as 20,000 prisoners passed through Tuol Sleng’s doors to be tortured and executed on Duch’s instruction. In July 2007, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) arrested him on charges of crimes against humanity, breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the murder and torture of over 12,000 prisoners. His eventual guilty verdict was delivered almost five years later in February 2012.

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Khmer Rouge Brutality on Cambodians will never be forgotten

But what Hinton exposes is a man more nuanced than the sum of his crimes. Born in Kompong Thom, Cambodia, Duch began his career as a school teacher. He excelled in his studies, and was observed to be incredibly meticulous and hard-working in his professional and academic pursuits. Even at Tuol Sleng, prisoners and guards alike found him to be equally scrupulous and diligent in record-keeping, experimentation in torture methods and political education sessions. He memorised French poetry, had a wife and four children, acknowledged the severity of his crimes and publicly apologised before the courtroom. The duality demonstrated by these details muddled the public’s perception of Duch and had a clear impact on his trial. Hinton captures all of these intricacies.

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Only Cowards like Khmer Rouge  executioners dare take on innocent and helpless children

Like any other criminal of mass atrocities appearing before an international tribunal, Duch was presented with a range of dilemmas during his time as a murderous leader and again during his trial. Was he taking orders from the elite to save his own life or was he instrumental in ordering executions at S-21? Was he also a victim of the Khmer Rouge regime or was he complicit in carrying out its atrocities? Was he truly remorseful or did he publicly apologise in the hope of going free? In a shocking and bizarre  turn at the end of the trial, Duch ultimately redacted his public apology and insisted that he was not guilty for his crimes. This manoeuvre led victims and courtroom witnesses to ponder his actions as a former chairman and as a defendant. His involvement at S-21 was indisputable, but his degree of guilt and responsibility less so.

In focusing on this one particular case and this one peculiar man, Hinton further expands on the ECCC and the intricate process of bringing justice, truth and reconciliation to post-conflict Cambodia through legal mechanisms. He includes the trial’s extensive witness testimony and spoke directly with many victims, illustrating the spectrum of emotions they endured in watching the trial unfold. Unlike the ad hoc tribunals of Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Khmer Rouge tribunal was a hybrid court that combined both Cambodian and international law, and incorporated legal practitioners from Cambodia and abroad. But like the ad hoc tribunals, the ECCC also witnessed its own share of politicisation, controversy and criticism. Hinton discusses the ECCC’s decision to try only five top Khmer Rouge officials, choosing to focus only on a handful of big fish and thereby limiting the reach of the court. He also mentions the ECCC’s failure to introduce certain evidence from the years before the Khmer Rouge’s regime. Many believe this information to be crucial to understanding the defendants, but it would also implicate the United States and other Western powers for their more controversial involvement in Southeast Asia.

Man or Monster? is more than a microhistory of one specific case. Not only does it offer a detailed overview of the Khmer Rouge as a rebel group or government, but Hinton also uses Duch’s earlier life to briefly walk us through postcolonial Cambodian history, from gaining independence to the strengthening of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot to US military involvement in the region. He then draws on Duch’s time at Tuol Sleng to elaborate on the Khmer Rouge’s operations, goals and ideology as well as the various crimes and atrocities committed under their direction.

Hinton trades traditional textbook jargon for a more literary and theatrical approach in examining these court proceedings. He inserts himself into the narrative, speaking directly about his interviews, his relationships with various actors of the tribunal and his memories of visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. He succeeds in casting off dry academic and legal language, rendering this book easily readable and oftentimes thrilling. He tastefully describes the drama and intricacies of the courtroom and gives vivid personality to its many characters.

However, he falls short when discussing the actual decision to write in a more literary style. He addresses his own experimental approach three separate times — in the foreword, the final chapter and the epilogue — in each instance repeating what was already previously stated. In the last chapter, titled ‘Background: Redactic (Final Decision)’, he even writes, ‘I have tried to bear in mind the creative writing imperative “Show, don’t tell”’, and acknowledges his struggle to follow ‘this imperative’, which is at times evident. Nevertheless, these multiple explanations do not take away from the true success of the book.

Hinton does the reader a tremendous service by not reducing Duch to a single identity. The book is certainly not a sympathetic take on Duch’s character, but it is a concerted effort to create a multidimensional understanding of a complicated man acting in complicated circumstances. Duch was defined not only by his murderous actions, but also by his life before and after the Khmer Rouge. Hinton invites us to contemplate the notion that what one person, or even one nation, may think of Duch may not be an unequivocal truth, but rather one of many frames through which to examine him. Simply calling him a ‘monster’ is reductive and unhelpful: the label overlooks his agency, his actions and those of the individuals around him as well as the many dilemmas he faced in this perilous time period.

By using Duch’s trial as a case study, Hinton also addresses the many larger questions of transitional justice. How is a former war criminal reintegrated into a peaceful post-conflict society? How does a court best avoid politicisation? Do legal mechanisms truly deliver justice and foster reconciliation? These questions may never have definitive answers, but Hinton asks us to consider them regardless.


Sharon Wu is an MSc candidate in the Conflict Studies program at the London School of Economics. She received her undergraduate degree from New York University and previously worked for an independent publisher in the San Francisco Bay Area. Find her on Twitter at @sharonlxwu.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsereviewofbooks/2017/05/08/book-review-man-or-monster-the-trial-of-a-khmer-rouge-torturer-by-alexander-laban-hinton/

Cambodia-Vietnam Ties Turn 50


June 21, 2017

Cambodia-Vietnam Ties Turn 50

http://www.eastasiaforum.com

by  Vannarith Chheang, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute

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Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung  of Vietnam (photo: Duc Tam/ VNA)

2017 marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Vietnam. Both countries have organised a series of events to commemorate their time-honoured traditional friendship that is bound by strategic convergence, common vision and shared interests.

Over the past fifty years, the relationship ebbed and flowed with changing geopolitics and domestic politics in both countries before settling since 1979. Yet anti-Vietnamese sentiment in Cambodia — mainly driven by domestic politics — has constrained both countries from deepening their strategic partnership.

Cambodia’s opposition party tends to use ‘Vietnam threat’ rhetoric to gain popular support. In an attempt to delegitimise the governing Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) ahead of the upcoming elections, former President of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has posted a series of short video clips explaining the roots of the CPP and its connections with the communist party of Vietnam. But Cambodian voters are increasingly concerned about their livelihood, social justice, good governance, human rights and environmental protection much more than the Vietnam factor.

There is political cost attached to strengthening bilateral relations with Hanoi, including potentially losing votes to the opposition. Despite this, the long-ruling CPP remains committed to maintaining and enhancing the Vietnam relationship for the sake of national and regional peace and development.

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A new bridge is now linking Vietnam and Cambodia after being inaugurated on April 24, 2017 by Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and his Cambodian counterpart Samdech Hun Sen. The Long Binh-Chrey Thom Bridge is built over the Binh Di River and connects the provinces of An Giang in South Vietnam with Cal Dal in Cambodia. It is 442 metres long and 13 metres wide and is designed to withstand speeds of 80km/h and allow cars to cross at a speed of 80 km/h.

It is clear that Cambodia is unable to enjoy peace and development without having good and stable relations with its immediate neighbours. Both countries understand that without sticking together under the ASEAN umbrella, their regional role and leverage will be weakened. As a result, Cambodia and Vietnam’s foreign policies have both focused on regional integration and community-building.

Cambodia and Vietnam also share the concern that rivalry between major powers is threatening regional peace and stability. Learning from their Cold War experience, they must stay united to survive and thrive.

In early 2017, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc visited Cambodia three times, including to attend the ground-breaking opening ceremony of Chrey Thom–Long Binh Bridge (connecting Cambodia and Vietnam), pay an official state visit and attend the World Economic Forum on ASEAN. Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen is planning to visit Vietnam later this month to commemorate 40th anniversary of his struggle against the Khmer Rouge regime. Such frequent high-level bilateral talks significantly contribute to nurturing political and personal trust, which are the foundations of the relationship.

Early in 2017 at the 4th Meeting on Cooperation and Development among the Border Provinces, both countries’ deputy prime ministers underscored the need to develop the Vietnam–Cambodia border area. They agreed to modernise infrastructure facilities, promote trade, investment, services and tourism and build border economic zones and markets.

Vietnam is now the fifth largest investor in Cambodia after China, South Korea, the European Union and Malaysia — it has invested in 183 projects with an aggregate value of US$2.86 billion. The investment projects target rubber plantations, telecommunications and banking. Vietnam is also Cambodia’s third largest trading partner with about US$3 billion over the last few years. They aim to achieve a US$5 billion trade volume in coming years. The planned construction of 116 warehouses at strategic border crossings between Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos — expected to be completed by 2035 — will improve trade flow between the two countries.

People-to-people connectivity between Vietnam and Cambodia has been markedly strengthened over the years. There are currently more than 400 Cambodian students pursuing their higher education at various universities and institutions in Vietnam. And Vietnamese are the largest group of tourists to Cambodia, accounting for 19 per cent of all visitors.

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The  Neak Loeung Bridge located in the Prey Veng Province is 2,220 metres long, 13 metres wide and 37.5 metres above the water level. It will have two wide lanes for traffic. When completed it will facilitate trade between Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

Looking ahead to the next fifty years, Cambodia–Vietnam relations will evolve in tandem with the speed of ASEAN community building. ASEAN provides institutional and diplomatic leverage for its member states to strategically manoeuvre and collectively hedge against major powers to minimise risks while maximising interests where possible. Collectively advocating for a rules-based regional order will help smaller countries like Cambodia and Vietnam to protect their legitimate interests.

To reduce ‘Vietnam threat’ perceptions in Cambodia, both countries need to promote engagement at all levels. Right now there is a lack of academic or intellectual dialogue between the two countries. Exchange programs among students, youth leaders, future leaders and community leaders need to be further promoted. Political parties in Cambodia should not use Vietnam for their own political gains — such a strategy is obsolete and does not fit into the evolving dynamics of ASEAN regionalism.

Differences over the management of the Mekong River and the South China Sea dispute need to be resolved the ASEAN way — through consultation and consensus. Cambodia and Vietnam might have different views on these complex issues, but they need to respect each other’s national interest and position without harming bilateral friendship and ASEAN unity.

Vannarith Chheang is a Visiting Fellow at ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore

Mutual Respect– The Foundation for Better Cambodia-Thailand Relations


June 15, 2017

Mutual Respect–The Foundation for Better Cambodia-Thailand Relations

by Kimkong Heng

http://ippreview.com/index.php/Blog/single/id/467.html

Image result for Hun Sen and Prayuth Ocha

The relations between Cambodia and Thailand can be appropriately labelled as a love-hate relationship, given the long history of bilateral ties between the two neighboring countries. However, racial hatred, arguably, seems to have prevailed among many, if not most, of the people of both countries, at least during the three-year Cambodian-Thai border dispute that started in July 2008 over the territory surrounding the 11th century Preah Vihear Temple (known as Phra Viharn in Thailand). The deep hatred and open hostility should come as no surprise if one examines the ancient and modern history of the relations between the two countries.

However, given their current political, economic and diplomatic relations, both countries can enhance their generally troubled relationship through a reciprocal exchange of mutual respect. There are many possibilities ranging from government-to-government initiatives to people-to-people connectivity programs to cultivate and nurture mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance between the people of both nations. Only when a sense of mutual respect is prevalent among Cambodian and Thai people, can harmonious bilateral relations between the two neighbors be maintained and strengthened.

From the Cambodian historical perspective, Thailand was a major threat to Cambodia’s land, although it is less of a threat compared to its Vietnamese counterpart to the present-day Cambodia. Every Cambodian, young and old, knows that Thailand was Cambodia’s traditional enemy and that Cambodia was the victim of devastating Thai (called Siam by most Cambodians) attacks on numerous occasions. There were two infamous invasions of Cambodia by the Siamese. One was the Siamese invasion of Angkor in 1431 and another was the invasion of Longvek, an ancient Cambodian capital (now located in Kampong Chhnang province), in 1593. The collapse of both ancient Khmer cities marked the downward trajectory of the Khmer Empire which was already in decline from the 13th to the 19th centuries, a historical period which saw Cambodia’s vast territory lost to Thailand and Vietnam until Cambodia became a French colony in 1863 under King Norodom’s reign.

Under the French, Cambodia-Thailand relations seemed to have been restored and improved, with a number of treaties signed between Siam and France, on Cambodia’s behalf. Following Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953, however, Cambodia-Thailand relations deteriorated when Thailand in 1954 occupied Preah Vihear by force. Cambodia then responded to the Thai invasion by bringing a legal case against Thailand before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1959. The ICJ in 1962 ruled that Cambodia was the rightful owner of Preah Vihear Temple. Relations between both countries could not be worse at that time.

Three decades later, after Cambodia’s UN-sponsored national election in 1993, the two neighbors began to establish good relations with each other. However, their seemingly good relationship was brief and fragile. In 2003, a violent riot broke out after a Thai actress was reported to have awkwardly claimed that Angkor Wat should be returned to Thailand. The incident saw the bilateral relations between the two neighbors descend to the worst possible level, once again. When their bilateral ties later seemed to normalize and improve, both governments again broke off their diplomatic relations. This was a result of Thai troops being stationed in a disputed area of land adjacent to the Preah Vihear Temple after the temple was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2008. Thailand’s troop deployment invited Cambodia to do the same, which led to a series of fierce border clashes and skirmishes between 2008 and 2011, despite several talks and meetings between the two governments.

As close neighbors and ASEAN members, the two countries could not need each other more in terms of trade, national security, strategic cooperation, and cultural and human exchange.

With ASEAN mediation (although no effective action was taken), domestic political developments in both countries, and the ICJ Judgment on Cambodia’s request for a reinterpretation of the 1962 judgment in November 2013, the Cambodian-Thai border conflict was resolved, and bilateral relations improved. Two years later Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Thai counterpart, Prayuth Chan-ocha, signed a series of agreements aimed at cementing bilateral ties between both countries. They agreed to develop border facilities, manage migrant labor, and triple their current trade volume to USD 15 billion by 2020.

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Thailand must respect Cambodia’s Sovereignty over Preah Vihear Temple

Nevertheless, a resurgence of nationalism in both countries, often manipulated by politicians, is likely to impact their bilateral relations. As Kimly Ngoun has noted, many issues such as the historical legacy of hostility and mistrust, different constructions of history by Cambodian and Thai elites, and political propaganda about national territory and sovereignty, remain to be addressed, otherwise future conflict between Cambodia and Thailand is inevitable.

All things considered, genuine and mutual respect between the people of both nations should be cultivated and nurtured. In addition to efforts at the institutional and governmental levels to salvage the troubled relationship between the two countries, individuals have crucial roles to play. As argued in another article, Cambodian youth have played a pivotal role in shaping Cambodia’s relations with Vietnam. And Thailand should not be an exception. Cambodian people, particularly the younger generation, therefore, should not dwell on their dark history; instead, they should use lessons from history to help them make informed and impartial judgments when dealing with issues concerning Thailand and its people. They should, moreover, focus on developing themselves by engaging in different forms of personal and professional development. Only when each and every Cambodian is more educated, pragmatic, open-minded, and culturally competent, will Cambodia be more competitive and well-received in its neighboring countries’ eyes and on the international stage.

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Thus, everyone, both Cambodians and Thais, have a vital role to play in improving and fostering good relations between the two old rivals. In this regard, Cambodian people must learn to embrace the culture, values, and aspirations of their Thai counterparts, although those Thai cultural aspects, as claimed by Cambodians, originally derived from Khmer culture. This cultural acceptance must be a collective effort requiring mutual respect. The Thai side must also pursue the same initiative — respecting Cambodian culture, values, and aspirations despite having very similar cultural identity and practices.

There are a myriad of options and actions which can be taken to promote this free and frank exchange of mutual respect. One option both governments have pursued but will still requires their serious attention is to improve border facilities and security to enhance trade, tourism, and mobility. This of course implies the demarcation of both land and maritime borders. With more development projects geared towards areas along the Cambodian-Thai border, chances are high for citizens of both countries to interact economically, culturally, and socially, leading to better mutual understanding and trust.

New initiatives for cultural and educational exchanges or projects involving youth engagement and interactions, such as study exchange programs and youth group camping, should be further encouraged and implemented. Moreover, initiatives to enhance business and investment and to improve deep institutional ties and physical infrastructure links between Cambodia and Thailand are essential because, in their absence, people-to-people links would be difficult, if not impossible. The mutual exchange of respect and understanding must therefore be fostered at all levels, although the emphasis should be targeted at the grassroots level by fully engaging individuals and the youth of both countries.

The cultivation of mutual respect among the people of Cambodia and Thailand is clearly a prerequisite for the long-term healthy relationship between the two former enemies. As close neighbors and ASEAN members, the two countries could not need each other more in terms of trade, national security, strategic cooperation, and cultural and human exchange. To instill respect for one another, people of both nationalities must learn to be more outward-looking yet less self-important in their perceptions of their neighboring counterparts. It is probably wise for them to remember an old Khmer saying which goes, “In times of trouble, a good neighbor is better than a faraway relative.” Good neighbors must show one another mutual respect.

*Kimkong Heng is Assistant Dean at the School of Graduate Studies and a researcher with Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations in the University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.