January 7 in Cambodia: One Date, Two Narratives


January 16, 2019

January 7 in Cambodia: One Date, Two Narratives

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A large parade marks the country’s 40th of Victory Over Genocide Day at National Olympic Stadium, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Jan. 7, 2019.

 

On January 7, 2019, Cambodia celebrated the 40th anniversary of its “Victory Day” over the Khmer Rouge regime, which was overthrown in 1979 by the Vietnamese army, accompanied by a number of Khmer Rouge defectors. January 7, 1979 was a historic day that marked the end of a regime that killed an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians. Despite its historic importance, January 7 has been interpreted differently, creating two dominant political narratives or myths in Cambodia: one supporting this historic day and another seeking to undermine it.

For the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen, January 7 is not only considered as either “Liberation Day” or “Victory Day” but also as a “second birthday” for the Cambodian people. However, for the ruling party’s detractors, particularly Sam Rainsy, the self-exiled leader of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), January 7 is the day that Vietnam invaded and occupied Cambodia until 1989. Both political leaders and their followers have been at odds over their interpretations of this contentious day. They have viewed it alternately as the liberation or occupation of Cambodia by its traditional enemy and neighbor, Vietnam. The “January 7” rhetoric has dominated Cambodian politics since the collapse of the Khmer Rouge.

This binary political narrative no doubt does more harm than good to Cambodian society. It has created division rather than unity, hostility rather than harmony, and tensions rather than cooperation among Cambodians. The January 7 propaganda should in fact be removed from the top of the agenda of all Cambodian political parties, especially the ruling and main opposition party. As a paper by Future Forum, an independent think tank, observes, “Cambodian politics remains locked in a battle of myths that leaves very little room or constructive discussion or legitimate dissent from either side.” This observation reflects the Cambodian political landscape where major parties are “stuck” in their own narratives of “January 7” and where familiar names like Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy have been attacking one another with historical claims and counterclaims.

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Supporting the argument of the paper from the Future Forum, this article suggests that Cambodian political leaders should move beyond the two conflicting January 7 narratives. That is, it is time for Cambodian politicians to find common ground, build consensus, and recognize flaws in their own interpretations of this historic day.

Hun Sen and his ruling party, for example, should not continue to dwell on political rhetoric that has been around for four decades. Instead, the CPP should focus its attention on addressing more relevant and pressing social issues facing contemporary Cambodia such as corruption, land-grabbing, human rights violations, illegal immigration, environmental degradation, crime, and traffic accidents. Moreover, reform policies targeted at key sectors including agriculture, education, health, and justice should be the CPP’s major political propaganda, not the controversial narrative of January 7.

Hun Sen’s CPP has to be realistic and forward-looking rather than boasting about past achievements and being myopic, if the ultimate goal is to gain popular support from Cambodians, the majority of whom were born after the Khmer Rouge regime.

After all, the CPP’s January 7 narrative does not seem to appeal to the younger generation of Cambodians, who have not experienced first-hand the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge.

Although Hun Sen’s strategic and tactical use of control, coercion, and co-option for political domination has worked effectively for him and his party, there is no guarantee that the status quo will remain unchanged, given the evidence of the 2013 national election and the 2017 local election. Thus, Hun Sen and his political elites should seek to build their political credentials beyond the repeated use of the “January 7-as-a-second-birthday-for-Cambodians” rhetoric, or they will be seen as “backward-looking” in the eyes of the new generation of Cambodians who make up a large portion of the Cambodian population.

Not unlike their political rival, CNRP politicians and supporters, especially Sam Rainsy himself, should also move beyond the January 7 narrative. Even though Sam Rainsy was reported to believe that the January 7 rhetoric is no longer an effective means to proselytize younger Cambodians, he still continues to incite anger and hate against Hun Sen and the CPP elites on the grounds of their past involvement with the Khmer Rouge. Further, he has always argued that January 7, 1979 marked the invasion and occupation of Cambodia by Vietnam, not the second birthday for Cambodians as promulgated by the CPP.

In fact, the counterclaims regarding January 7 made by Sam Rainsy and his party members against the CPP, easily seen as their exploitation and reignition of the deep-rooted anti-Vietnamese sentiment among Cambodians for political gain, have detrimental impacts on Cambodian society, at least in the long run. They result in furthering division among Cambodians, provoking violence against the Vietnamese minority in Cambodia, and damaging the already strained relations between Cambodia and Vietnam.

It seems that one of the CNRP’s major ards has been its anti-Vietnamese rhetoric. This is understandable, given the widespread anti-Vietnamese sentiment in the Cambodian population; however, Sam Rainsy and the CNRP politicians should no longer seek to undermine Hun Sen and the CPP by inciting hatred among Cambodians toward their Vietnamese counterparts at the expense of Cambodia’s relations with its eastern neighbor and unity in Cambodia.

The CNRP, like the CPP, should place at the top of their political agenda a plan to address common social issues in Cambodia. Political propaganda of both major parties, although the CNRP has been dissolved, should be directed toward fulfilling the needs of the majority of Cambodians. It is time for Cambodia to move forward, not dwelling too much on past events and exploiting the anti-Vietnamese sentiment, and for Cambodians to work in unity to realize the Cambodian dream – achieving greatness as their ancestors did in the Angkorian era.

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To move beyond the January 7 narratives and find common ground between parties and among Cambodians will require politicians, in particular, Hun Sen and Sam Rainsy to realize that their own version of January 7 is similarly inadequate. January 7 should be remembered as both the historic day that Vietnam liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge and the day that Vietnam placed Cambodia under a decade-long occupation. It is not possible to have one without the other.

January 7 is a historically important day that has to be remembered and commemorated as part of Cambodia’s modern history. However, this special day should no longer be understood in its current meanings, motivated by conflicting political rhetoric, which tends to divide the nation. Instead, it has to be regarded as the day when Cambodia and its people could have another chance to live, unite, and work together to achieve the Cambodian dream.

Cambodians should not forget the past as they design the future, but they should not let the past negatively affect their future either.

Kimkong Heng is a recipient of the Australia Awards Scholarship. He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the School of Education at the University of Queensland.

US Foreign Policy:The Perils of trusting America: A Reminder for Asian All Allies


January 3, 20l9

US Foreign Policy: The Perils of trusting America: A Reminder for Asian All Allies

https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/the-perils-of-trusting-america-a-reminder-for-asian-allies

Before its betrayal of the Kurds in Syria, the US had in the 1970s abandoned the trusting Cambodians and Vietnamese to their fate.

 

President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to pull all American troops out of Syria is yet another chilling reminder that those who believe in pledges and assurances made by the United States do so at their grave peril.

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While his generals and European allies may fret over the geopolitical implications of his capricious move, it is the US-backed Kurdish forces, fighting on America’s behalf against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group in north-eastern Syria, who will bear the brunt of the repercussions.

It is almost certain that Turkey, which has long labelled them as terrorists inciting its Kurdish minority to secede, will carry out its threat to move in and crush them.

Deserted by the Americans who have been funding, training and arming them, the Kurds will pay for Mr Trump’s perfidy with blood. He may have made good on his campaign promise to pull out US troops but, to the Kurds, he has just stabbed them in the back. And they say this openly, in so many words, to the world’s media.

South Korea, Japan and Taiwan must be watching this development – which is nothing short of a breach of faith – with great trepidation. So should other economies in the Asia-Pacific region which the US has been courting in its thinly-disguised attempt to contain the rise of China.

Seoul and Tokyo, especially, could not have forgotten that soon after President Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June, he called off a long-scheduled military exercise between South Korean and US forces – just like that, without any prior notice to Seoul.

Or that he has signaled more than once his aversion to keeping American troops in South Korea. No one can be sure now that he would not, in a moment of impetuosity, announce a US pullout from there as well, via Twitter at 3 o’clock in the morning.

With America’s reliability as an ally being brought into serious question, it is little wonder that Seoul and Tokyo will want to hedge their bets. Hence South Korea’s quickened pace in reaching out to the North, and Tokyo’s signals to Beijing that it is seeking a thaw in their frosty relations.

Meanwhile, thinking Taiwanese are no doubt put on notice of the dangers that await them should they allow themselves to be used as pawns by the US in its bid for strategic dominance over China. How the Trump administration ditched its friends in Syria is a wake-up call like no other.

 

Indeed, when it comes to honouring its promises and assurances, the US has a history it cannot be very proud of – from failing to return islands in the South China Sea seized by Japan from China, as agreed at the Cairo Conference in November 1943, to leaving Hungarians to their fate when Soviet troops moved in to crush their 1956 uprising which the Americans had encouraged.

Vietnam, which Washington has wooed assiduously as a bulwark against Beijing’s ambitions in the South China Sea, should also remember vividly how the US deserted its allies as the Indochina wars wound to a stop in 1975.

No doubt many who have lived through those years will recall seeing television footage of the last US Marine helicopter evacuating Americans from the rooftop of their embassy in Saigon on April 29, 1975, amid pandemonium all around them. But a more poignant and shameful debacle had taken place in Phnom Penh three weeks before that.

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In early April, the US, having instigated General Lon Nol in March 1970 to oust Prince Norodom Sihanouk in a coup, decided five years later to abandon Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge forces closing in on the capital, a “bug-out” as then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called it.

 

Then US Ambassador to Cambodia John Gunther Dean had earlier pleaded with his superiors in Washington not to do so but to no avail. He and all Americans were ordered to evacuate on April 12, which he later described as one of the most tragic days in his life, the day “the US abandoned Cambodia and handed it to the butchers”.

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Prince Sirik Matak

 

 

“We had accepted responsibility for Cambodia and then walked out without fulfilling our promise,” he said in an interview in Paris years later. “That’s the worst thing a country can do. And I cried because I knew what was going to happen.”

What happened was that after the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh, it drove two million of its inhabitants into the countryside at gunpoint. In the end, nearly all of them died from executions, starvation or torture.

But a more stinging indictment of the US action came from Prince Sirik Matak , then Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia.  Ambassador Dean, out of honour and decency, had offered him a ride on the evacuating convoy and, thereafter, asylum. Prime Minister Lon Nol had already fled to Hawaii.

Prince Sirik Matak replied in writing:

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“Dear Excellency and friend, I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion.

“As for you and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection and we can do nothing about it. You leave us and it is my wish that you and your country will find happiness under the sky.

“But mark it well that, if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad because we are all born and must die one day. I have only committed the mistake of believing in you, the Americans.”

This reply, reportedly circulated and read shamefacedly in the corridors of power in Washington, has gone into permanent record.  Its author was later captured by Khmer Rouge soldiers and killed – some reports said he was shot in the stomach and left to die over three painful days, while another had it that he was beheaded.

It is highly doubtful Mr Trump read the letter before he ordered the Syrian troop withdrawal.

Or that he would care to.

• Leslie Fong is a former editor of The Straits Times.

 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2018,  with the headline ‘The perils of trusting America: A reminder for Asian allies’

Singapore’s uphill battle to maintain ASEAN unity


December 3, 2018

Singapore’s uphill battle to maintain ASEAN Unity

by Joel Ng, RSIS

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/11/30/singapores-uphill-battle-to-maintain-asean-unity/

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As year as the ASEAN chair was marked by several milestones in the deepening of regional peace and security. Ahead of the 33rd ASEAN summit from 11–15 November 2018 that finished with Singapore’s official handing over of the chairmanship to Thailand, Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan stated that ASEAN ‘actually achieved far more than I dared to anticipate’.

 

As a small nation, Singapore cannot impose its own ideas in regional or global settings. Instead it has the much trickier challenge of convincing other players, each with their own contexts and agendas, that strengthening the multilateral framework is in their best interests.

Tensions in the South China Sea, North Korea’s long-range missile tests and threats of a US–China trade war clouded the end of 2017 and presented a considerable challenge to ASEAN’s ongoing efforts to enhance regional cooperation. Despite the uphill battle, ASEAN and Singapore have played an integral part in ameliorating tensions on all three fronts.

Most recently, the 33rd ASEAN summit made an important contribution to the easing of regional tensions, with China agreeing to participate in talks on the long-proposed South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC). China offered a timeframe of three years for COC negotiations to be completed, which Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong declared as good progress.

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The COC is perhaps the most important document related to the South China Sea disputes. With competing states attempting to apply different rules to claim legitimate sovereignty over the waters, fears have arisen that conflict could break out over misunderstandings or maritime encounters going wrong. The COC has been in gestation since the 2002 Declaration on Conduct in the South China Sea, but has barely progressed in the intervening years.

Claimants agreed upon a draft negotiating text for the COC earlier this year, ahead of the ASEAN–China Post Ministerial Meeting in August 2018, and now China has committed to signing the COC within three years. While this may sound like piecemeal progress, it is important to remember the headwinds facing the discussion: as a much larger power, there is little incentive for China to sign anything at all.

Keeping all parties on board while pushing consensus and norms forward — at a pace that divergent parties can accept — is something ASEAN does well. With Singapore at the helm, ASEAN has helped to keep the COC moving forward without alienating any of the negotiating parties. The significant difference in 2018 has been China’s explicit commitment to a rules-based order, a position it believes distinguishes itself from the United States.

Perhaps the most surprising event of 2018 was the US–North Korea peace talks in Singapore. As recently as 2017, both sides had issued threats against the other. North Korea continued to conduct missile tests, and the murder of Kim Jong-nam had soured its previously cordial relations with Malaysia. Singapore was one of the only plausible choices as a venue because of its high security, positive relations with both sides and an avowed impartiality.

While talks were initially cancelled just weeks before they were to be held, Singapore remained alert and ready for their resumption. The country’s experience in hosting summits put it in good stead for facilitating the dialogue, regardless of uncertainties on either side. The eventually successful engagement demonstrated the importance of Singapore as an open, inclusive and highly efficient state ready to contribute to international security.

ASEAN has paddled against global currents in 2018 to offer hope that multilateral initiatives will continue to bring states closer together on common objectives. But trade tensions between ASEAN’s two largest partners — the United States and China — continue to concern the region. Progress on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) remains a priority for ASEAN to offset this concern, though negotiations will continue into 2019 after RCEP partners failed to meet the November 2018 deadline.

The initial impetus for Southeast Asia to unite as a region was to buffer individual countries against the pull of larger powers, whose efforts to draw smaller states exclusively towards them are often driven by whimsical domestic agendas. As Prime Minister Lee noted during the opening ceremony of November’s ASEAN summit, ASEAN has raised its standing in the world and made itself greater than the sum of its parts by maintaining a collective voice on global issues.

Singapore’s chairmanship offered a strong restatement of ASEAN’s aims and bolstered the frameworks that were devised to address the myriad concerns of its members. Maintaining unity in the face of these external pressures is probably the best way for ASEAN states to maintain a strong position and secure the best outcomes for their continued growth.

Joel Ng is a Research Fellow in the Centre for Multilateralism Studies at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.

A version of this article originally appeared here on RSIS.

 

Euphemisms in geopolitics


November 29,2018

Euphemisms in geopolitics

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International relations is premised on a handful of theoretical frameworks. They explain how nations relate with one another and provide an understanding of human events that take place around the world. The most familiar of these frameworks is the realist paradigm. Realism is easy to grasp – states behave rationally, and are calculative and egoistic. Realism obscures any state behaviour based on morality.

It is time for Malaysia to articulate its own narrative to describe the reality of geopolitics. We should call a spade, a spade. I applaud Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad for his speech at the recent UN general assembly when he called for nations to recognise Palestine and “stop Israel’s blatant atrocities”. Mahathir did not say “aggression” or “hostility”. Contrary to realist euphemisms, Mahathir re-introduced unambiguous truisms on the world stage. Up till then, the US narrative had dominated, especially since the notorious “undemocratic” 2000 election. What we need now is an alternative global dialogue. The views and aspirations of the developing and third world nations should be given a prominent platform.

The current ambivalent narrative is really an apology for an underlying reality. To put it simply, the ongoing discourse detailing global conflicts has been accepted as normal, even sophisticated. The following are common phrases we read on a daily basis explaining regional unrest. “Pushing back against Iran’s regional ambitions” is one example that appeared in a recent Washington Post article. It described America’s “pushing back” strategy, and Iran’s “ambition”. Another is the headline in a leading Asian weekly. It reads “The China Threat Cannot Be Ignored”. This refers, obviously, to the so-called China “threat”.

Mass media and the academia are overflowing with realist overtones in analysing world politics. We can accept, to a certain degree, that the media uses catchy headlines to attract readership. However, these realist concepts (ambition and threat) hide reality. The world of analysis has instead been dominated by US parlance. A more poignant narrative has to be re-introduced which includes the words “imperialist” and “imperialism”.

21st-century international relations is characterised by fear and distrust. This has resulted in a feeling of insecurity between states. China, for example, invokes feelings of trepidation for many countries in the South China Sea region. Its rapidly expanding navy is considered threatening to many regional states. This feeling is exacerbated by China’s bold economic designs such the Belt and Road Initiative.However, since there is no world government, when one nation accumulates power other countries feel insecure. As a result, they are compelled to do the same. What emerges is a “security dilemma”.Classic realism accepts this as a fait accompli. There is no issue of whether it is right or wrong. It just is. Describing such a situation as a “dilemma” suggests a mood of predicament and difficulty. Due to this security dilemma, all countries are in a state of political conundrum.

The current debate on the international stage suggests constant tension between the powerful and the less powerful, i.e. an asymmetric dilemma. There is tension between equal powers as well, a symmetric dilemma. However, the narrative always avoids what is really at play: abject bullying.Global geopolitics reflects states’ behaviour based on fear, reputation and national interest.

I take issue with the concept “national interest”. Given the current state of international politics, we should be reading more about imperialism as a motivating factor. National interest is the kid gloves that academia and diplomats love to wear. The ongoing Yemen war illustrates my point.We are made to believe that the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is the result of a Sunni-Shia conflict among Muslims. However, it is more complex than that. It is not just about petty Muslims fighting over sects. Since September 2014, the civil war between the Houthi rebels in the north and the Yemeni government has escalated into a free-for-all onslaught by several players. The Arab coalition, made up of nine countries, the US, UK, France and Iran are involved in a proxy war over Yemen. What began as an internal civil war exploded into a complicated web of international intrigues, lies and imperialist aggression.

The Yemen war is not only based on religious grievances. The narrative has failed to highlight economic and political issues. Realism has sustained the discourse which highlights phrases such as “fighting for freedom”, “liberation of the true Islam” and national interest. Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the chaos and launched several attacks on Houthi rebels whom they consider infidels. But this situation does not justify billions exchanged in arms sales between US-led bullies and the coalition of Arab states. The US and Arab bombing campaigns in Yemen have created a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations recognises this but till now remains emasculated. Trade sanctions on Iran are another act of imperialist bullying.US imperialist designs are clear in the events following Donald Trump’s exit in May from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or the Iran nuclear deal).

This resulted in the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran. It was engineered to cripple its economy. European, Japanese and South Korean companies who are heavily invested in Iran are very dependent on the U.S financial system. So they are in a dilemma over whether to pull their businesses out of Iran or face the wrath of Trump.Earlier this year, Japan needed to “seek exemption” from the US in order to continue importing oil from Iran. The tables are turned now as a former imperialist power (Japan) has to seek permission from a neo-imperialist superpower (the US). Japan was worried because putting the brakes on all Iranian oil exports would result in a loss of around 165,481 barrels per day.In August, Iran’s investment contracts with European, Japanese and South Korean banks were suspended. The US had obviously denied Japan’s request. While China and Russia are still committed to their deals with Iran, the rest have halted their interaction. This is classic imperialism at work. Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, yet the US threatens others who continue to uphold JCPOA. Not only is Iran’s access to foreign financial services and facilities targeted, nations who are committed to business deals with Iran are also punished. Financial strangulation has become the imperialistic arm of US power politics.In July, Malaysia reaffirmed support for the JCPOA. Predictably, on September 14, the US treasury imposed sanctions on a Thai aviation company (My Aviation Company Ltd, Bangkok) which was acting on behalf of Iran’s Mahan Air.

The US claims the latter was ferrying troops and supplies into Syria. Mahan Travel and Tourism is based in Malaysia.In response to Trump’s recent bellowing to the UN Security Council (when he said Iran would “suffer consequences”), Mahathir declared that “smaller nations like Malaysia will suffer”. He said “we have no choice and if you do not obey them, they will take action on your banks and currencies”.

It is clear that Malaysia now joins an elite list of nations that are the object of US imperialism.While I offer no concrete solutions to the growing economic and financial war waged by the US, I suggest we re-evaluate how we look at current affairs. The inter-connectedness of the global financial system is the new imperialistic “soft power” weapon. Trump has proven to be the heavy-handed emperor. He has successfully manipulated credible powers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, punishing them for remaining in the JCPOA.Trump is the embodiment of a new archetypical leader popularly referred to as the “strongman”. In reality, the US has reached the pinnacle as an imperial power, par excellence. What Lenin wrote decades ago is now a reality: capitalist competition has transformed into a monopoly; a monopoly of trade, commodities, services and most crucially, ideology.

2018 in Environmental Review for Southeast Asia


November 10, 2018

By: Gregory McCann

ttps://www.asiasentinel.com/society/2018-environmental-review-southeast-asia/

As 2018 comes to a close it is worth taking a look at the environmental trends throughout the year, with a special emphasis on those within the last six months or so, in order to gain an understanding of what has been happening to this region’s natural heritage and so that we might know what to look for in 2019—and how to address the upcoming challenges.

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A lloincloth-clad tribesmen blockading blockading logging roads in Malaysian Borneo.

While we can say that a lot has been happening everywhere, and this is especially true for Malaysia. The country produces durian that Chinese consumers covet. This means rain forests that are currently home to tigers are being converted into plantations so that more and more of the spiky, pungent fruit can be sold to China. That means bad environmental news, with China the driver. Furthermore, clearing forests will drastically reduce the number of pollinators such as bats and other wild animals, which will in turn lower the durian’s quality.

Another fruit—palm oil—is almost always the whipping boy for conservation problems in Malaysia (and beyond), however, the country is making headway in its own sustainable certification program, which attempts to incorporate Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) into development blueprints across Malaysian Borneo. Nonetheless, huge development projects in Peninsular Malaysia are pushing the environment to the breaking point, with gargantuan Chinese-funded residential projects such as Forest City across the strait from Singapore serving as a striking case in point.

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However, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad recently shut down several Chinese Belt and Road projects.  Malaysia also wants to ban importing plastic waste, as well as single-use plastic straws. Nonetheless, serious problems remain. Even without the durians-to-China issue, tiger numbers are tumbling fast, scenic Langkawi island is coming under so much stress that it may lose its Unesco status, while in Sarawak the forest-dwelling Penan indigenous group continue to block bulldozers and fight for their traditional lands.

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Tabin Wildlife Reserve is located in the eastern part of Sabah, Malaysia

However, a rehabilitated Bornean orangutan was successfully rewilded in Sabah’s Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary, the first orangutan to fully return to the forest after such a long spell in captivity and rehabilitation, and a clouded leopard was sighted within the vicinity of a local hospital.

Across the Strait in Indonesia ecological issues are festering as well. While a new species of songbird has been identified on Rote Island, five other bird species have lost their protected status. The endemic Sumatran laughing thrush is fast disappearing, while the Helmeted Hornbill is relentlessly persecuted in Indonesia. The caged bird trade is bringing many species to the brink of extinction in the archipelago, and biologists say many forests where they work are becoming increasingly “quiet.”

Forest fires raged in South Sumatra and Riau provinces in 2018, and Chinese developers are stubbornly pushing ahead with a hydroelectric dam in the , home to the rarest species of orangutan in the world. The Critically Endangered Sumatra rhinoceros is still in big trouble but there is a movement on to save it, while a pregnant Sumatran tigress was caught and died in a pig trap in Riau.

Like Malaysia, Indonesia has a major palm oil problem, but the country’s anti-graft department says it’s ready to take action against transgressors who are felling natural forest and breaking other laws. Sadly, the Bali government wants to build an elevated highway right on top of some of its last undeveloped sandy beaches. The small volcanic island of Krakatoa in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra has spewed lava and ash this year.   Widespread deforestation, poaching, overfishing, and plastic pollution has been taking over this island nation. Indonesian Presidential contender Prabowo has said that if he is elected to office he will review China’s Belt and Road plans, which could include a cancellation of the , and a court in Aceh recently threw down its stiffest penalty to date for two men caught trying to sell a tiger pelt.

Asia Sentinel recently reported on the surprising number of wildlife to be found in Singapore today. Thailand also received high environmental marks in a recent Asia Sentinel critique, however, Thai-language media recently uncovered a story about a Vietnamese national caught with tiger bones in the kingdom— particularly worrying report as Vietnamese poachers are among the most tenacious in Asia.

Making matters worse, a new and improved road through Kaeng Krachan National Park will likely lead to greater disturbance to the forest’s wildlife, while a few provinces to the north a Burmese national gunned down a binturong. There is rising sentiment to build a Kra Isthmus Canal in Thailand. A large crocodile was caught off the Krabi coast, a whale shark was recently spotted of Koh Racha, and local conservationists have thus far succeeded in fending off a new marina development project in Phuket. However, the deluge of Chinese tourists into the kingdom is pushing Thailand to its breaking point, and it was largely Chinese tourists who are responsible for the closing of Maya Bay in Koh Phi Phi, which remains closed indefinitely so that it can recover.

In Laos, the Nam Theun 2 Dam has been such a disaster that its main financer, the World Bank, has thrown in the towel and walked away.  In Dead in the Water: Global Lessons from the World Bank’s Hydropower Project in Laos contributing author Glenn Hunt remarks: “For one of the pillars that was supposed to be the primary source of income, it’s been an unmitigated disaster.” With about 140 dams either under construction or on the drawing board in its quest to be the “battery of Asia,” Laos faces the potential for most disasters and large-scale environmental and social degradation in a country that has already lost its wild tigers, leopards and many other species.

Despite the tragedy that unfolded in Attapeu province when a large dam collapsed, Laos remains bullish about constructing more dams. And the dam-building frenzy is harming the environment and wildlife all around the country. And while a recent Guardian write-up describing the fantastic-look Nam Et-Phou Luey ecotourism program up in the north of the country describes a healthy tiger population in this region, perhaps the author was given old data.

Wild elephants are reportedly being skinned alive in Myanmar to satisfy a new Chinese demand—for “blood beads,” which are blood-filled chunks of elephant fat. The previous link provides a window into some twisted tastes: “The online trader wants his customers to know the elephant was skinned quickly, with blood still fresh in its veins.” Chinese demand for elephant skin used in bags in jewelry was already shocking, but things can always get worse when it comes to wildlife.

But in more uplifting news from the country, Irrawaddy dolphins are being given greater protection, and the government is also cracking down on illegal wildlife trade in the city of Yangon.

Taking note of how poorly elephants working in tourism are treated across Asia, Vietnam has launched the region’s first “ethical elephant experience.” The country has also taken an interest in seeing that its shrimp farming industry become more sustainable, while the government also recently signed a deal with the EU that promises a reduction in illegal logging (though some in neighboring Cambodia have serious doubts about this). We reported earlier this year that Vietnam’s wildlife is in rough shape, and things haven’t taken much of a turn for the better since.

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Virachey National Park—A major tourist attraction in Cambodia

And finally, Cambodia.  A recent camera-trap check in Virachey National Park so delighted the Ministry of Environment that he shared some of the photos on their Facebook page; even the Thai media took notice of the results. Asia Sentinel reported earlier this year that Cambodia is probably the last hope for Indochina’s wildlife, and this still holds true, despite the fact that nearly 110,000 snares were found in a single national park. A man was recently killed by a wild boar near the Cardamom Mountains, while Kratie province is cracking down on illegal mining, and at the same time the central government is demanding that villagers who grabbed national park land return it.

In other news from the region, the Maubere tribe of Timor-Leste is bringing back ancient customary laws to help protect its forests, seas, and coastline. Chinese demand for logs is wiping out the forests of the Solomon Islands. India is losing tigers and elephants, while two elephants were struck by a train and killed in Sri Lanka.

As always, China casts a menacing shadow over Southeast Asia, and nowhere is this more clear than on the Mekong River and in the South China Sea. The region, with the help of the US and Japan, must find a way to manage Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and beyond, and the some of the numerous dams that it has planned for the region have to be cancelled or scaled down.

Beyond that, Chinese citizens have to be educated about wildlife product consumption, including shark fins, tiger parts, bear gallbladder, elephant skin and blood, and much more, which have no known scientific value. And in a shocking and disturbing announcement,  China has said that it will lift its decades-old ban on the trading of tiger parts and rhino horn, a move that will almost certainly put these species in greater danger.  Or else one of the most biologically rich regions of the world loses everything that made it so special.

Gregory McCann is the Project Coordinator of Habitat ID, and the author of Called Away by a Mountain Spirit: Journeys to the Green Corridor. You can support his conservation projects in Cambodia and Sumatra here.