Cambodia– Responding to Rising Voter Expectations


October 16, 2017

Cambodia– Responding to Rising  Voter Expectations 

by Kongkea Chhoeun, Australian National University

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

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As long as the Cambodian government manages to maintain satisfactory economic performance, continues its piecemeal reforms benefitting the majority of the population, and promotes some appearance of democracy in the country, it will continue to demand difficult value judgments on the part of Cambodian citizens as to whether the CPP’s actions against the media and civil society are worth fighting back against.– Kongkea Chhoeun

 

It might be easy to forget given the events of August–September 2017, but Cambodian democracy had until a few years ago been making progress. Many key indicators of democratic quality had continued to improve since the 1998 national elections, which followed the near collapse of the system in the aftermath of the July 1997 internal fighting between armed forces loyal to Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Rannariddh.

 

Competition among political parties increased, thanks to the unification of the opposition parties in 2012 ahead of the 2013 national election. The economy also continued to grow extraordinarily well. Growth has averaged 7 per cent per year since 1993, and poverty has fallen more than 1 per cent per year on average since 2003. Inequality has also declined. Vertical political accountability has been strengthened markedly, thanks to decentralisation and deconcentration. Cambodians are increasingly able to hold local leaders to account through local democratic processes.

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Sanderson Park, at Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh  has a sculpture of a dove with an olive branch in its beak. It is made up entirely from parts of AK-47 rifles.

But the 2013 polls were a turning point. Although they won the election, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lost the popular vote for the first time since 1998, seeing its popular vote plummet by more than 20 per cent. To its credit, the CPP-led government subsequently implemented various reforms aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Cambodian voters. The CPP has permitted moderate reforms, restructured the National Electoral Committee and increased public servants pay. And in August 2017, Hun Sen also promised a slew of new benefits for garment workers, including a big increase in their monthly minimum wage.

But with the carrots have come sticks.Indicators of horizontal accountability have either stalled or are in decline. Local and international NGOs and media operated with comparatively little constraint from the state before the 2013 national election period. Since then, the government has made disturbing moves that wipe out progress made in terms of political openness. Among a range of actions is the passage of legislation governing NGOs.

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Despite a boycott by the opposition, the Parliament passed the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations, which requires the nearly 5000 domestic and international NGOs that work in the country to register with the government and report their activities and finances or risk fines, criminal prosecution and being shut down. In August 2017, the government used this law to order the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to shut down its operations and repatriate its foreign staff, accusing the NDI of illegally operating in the country.

The Cambodian government has also targeted foreign and foreign-linked media. In August 2017, the government accused the Cambodia Daily of failing to pay more than US$6 million in taxes, giving the paper one month to resolve the issue or risk being shut down. The Daily is a US-owned outlet credited for its reports critical of the government. In addition, the government instructed more than a dozen radio stations across the country to cease operations, accusing them of failing to report how much and to whom they sell their airtime.

Two major factors — one internal and one external — may explain the government’s recent measures against international NGOs and media. Internally, these measures were escalated as a result of the June 2017 local government elections, the result of which represented a big boost for the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party and a serious blow to the CPP. After the June 2017 local government elections, the CPP still controlled the majority of local governments — 1156 or 70 per cent of communes. But the opposition party’s share of local governments increased about 12 fold in comparison with the last local elections held in 2012.

The external factor is the declining role of the United States as a champion of democracy. The drastic moves targeting US-based NGOs and media occurred in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump. His election and subsequent attacks on mainstream media have disconcerted democrats at home and abroad and certainly delegitimised US efforts to promote liberal democratic principles internationally.

Furthermore, the failure of the United States to pre-empt and manage democratic breakdown in Thailand, and to promote democracy in Laos and Vietnam, only serves to diminish the US role in promoting democracy in Cambodia, and potentially gives the Cambodian government an excuse to maintain the status quo.

Likewise, Australia and European countries have been silent on these issues so far, showing a similar unwillingness to influence internal political decisions in Cambodia. The 2014 Australia–Cambodia refugee deal tainted Australia’s reputation as an altruistic donor to Cambodia, and has certainly undermined Australian leverage in promoting reforms in Cambodian domestic affairs. And European countries have been busy cleaning up the mess in their own backyard after the Brexit vote in 2016 and the rise of populist movements across the continent.

Meanwhile, Cambodia is increasingly dependent on China, and less and less so on Western countries. China is feeding the Cambodian economy, investing US$857 million (roughly 61 per cent of total FDI) and channelling US$320 million in aid (roughly 30 per cent of total aid) to the country in 2015. By contrast, investment and aid from Western countries is either modest or on the decline.

Whatever the mix of domestic and global political influences, the consequences of the CPP’s crackdown on Cambodia’s democracy are being felt. As long as the Cambodian government manages to maintain satisfactory economic performance, continues its piecemeal reforms benefitting the majority of the population, and promotes some appearance of democracy in the country, it will continue to demand difficult value judgments on the part of Cambodian citizens as to whether the CPP’s actions against the media and civil society are worth fighting back against.

Kongkea Chhoeun is a PhD Candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

This article was first published here on New Mandala.

 

Planning for success in Cambodia


October 14, 2017

Planning for success in Cambodia

by Jayant Menon

https://blogs.adb.org/blog/planning-success-cambodia

Weak human capital is arguably the biggest challenge for Cambodia to reach middle-income status.
Weak human capital is arguably the biggest challenge for Cambodia to reach middle-income status.

Cambodia recently made the transition from a low income to a lower middle-income country, according to the World Bank’s rankings.

This is good news, but it poses a question: Does Cambodia need to rethink its model of export-driven economic growth, as preferential access for its exports to developed countries is gradually reduced or as aid flows diminish? Not necessarily, at least for now. But it should start preparing immediately.

Cambodia still has least developed country or LDC status as defined by the United Nations, and will likely retain its trade privileges for a while yet. But it will likely transition out of LDC status by around 2030 if it maintains current growth rates. With adequate advance planning, Cambodia can avoid being a victim of its own success when it does so.

That means stronger efforts to improve the tax collection mechanism, and curbing tax avoidance and evasion. Strengthening institutions to improve tax collection, and creating a culture where businesses and citizenry feel an obligation to contribute towards the provision of public goods and services, can take years, so it needs to start now.

Weak human capital is top challenge for Cambodia to reach middle-income status

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Cambodia also needs to expand the tax base, and hasten the move from direct to indirect sources of tax collection, while reducing its reliance on trade taxes. These initiatives are essential to mobilize domestic resources to fund development, given that overseas development aid and concessional financing will wane as the country gets more prosperous.

Cambodia also has several domestic obstacles to overcome, not only to prepare for a transition to upper middle income status, but to speed up that journey.

Arguably the most important challenge is weak human capital, as well as a skills mismatch. To fix this requires a much greater investment in education – not only in vocational or higher education but also at primary and secondary school. The enormity of the task that lies ahead is underscored by the World Economic Forum’s Global Human Capital Report 2017, that placed Cambodia at the bottom of the list in ASEAN.

The goal is making sure all Cambodians have at least 10 years of schooling, forming the basic building block for a much more productive workforce. Then we can talk about specialized vocational or tertiary education, and matching employee skills to employer needs.

At this stage, and based on interviews with Japanese firms operating in the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone (PPSEZ), what employers are seeking is not necessarily “trained” labor, but “trainable” labor, as skills required are quite job-specific and usually provided on-site.

Agriculture to remain backbone of Cambodia’s economy

Other challenges include the elevated cost of electricity, one of the highest in Asia. Apart from the skills constraint, the cost and unreliable supply of power is the other key factor limiting industry’s progression up the value chain from simple assembly to production of parts and components. If the former is labor intensive, the latter is energy-intensive, and remains uneconomical at current tariffs.

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Agriculture, however, will remain the backbone of the country’s economy for years to come, and during the transition to the next income bracket. Most Cambodians continue to be employed in this sector – either directly or indirectly.

To further reduce poverty and inequality, the agriculture sector must become more productive. To do this requires better irrigation systems, more fertilizer usage, and easier access to high-yielding varieties of crops. The size of farms and variety of their produce should also be enhanced to exploit economies of scale and scope, respectively. Land reform will be essential here.

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Another option is to pursue agro-processing to raise value-addition. Agro-processing combines agriculture and manufacturing. We can see this in products like pepper, cassava or coffee, which add value along the supply chain and boost economic returns.

Cambodia is making good progress towards upper middle-income status by diversifying its economy. There is a lot of new investment from Japanese firms in the PPSEZ that is plugging it into regional supply chains for the first time.  This trend will only continue to grow in the future, creating good jobs for more of the workforce.

Cambodia must plan carefully to preserve economic gains for next generation

While agriculture will remain important for some time yet, there is no denying the long-term trend decline in its share of economic output, and the increasing shares of services and manufacturing. These structural transformations will require reskilling of the labor force to reduce adjustment costs and unemployment.

The challenges in the labor market extend further, however, and involve demographic transitions in a young population seeking productive employment; the much-vaunted demographic dividend will only be realized if the jobs are there to be filled.

These structural changes will also result in rising urbanization as rural-urban migration increases. This must be managed by better town planning to prevent urban slums and create livable cities. One only needs to look at how Phnom Penh’s infrastructure has been stretched over recent years to appreciate the magnitude and importance of this challenge.

Cambodia’s socio-economic achievements since the early 1990s peace settlement have been remarkable. But success brings with it new challenges.If Cambodia plans carefully for graduation from LDC status, it would ensure that the hard-won economic gains are preserved for the next generation.

The Worldview from Cambodia


October 3, 2015

The worldview from Cambodia

by Chheang Vannarith

http://www.khmertimeskh.com/5083558/the-worldview-from-cambodia/

The Cambodian government, under the leadership of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), is striving to adjust its foreign policy and adapt itself to the fast-changing global geopolitics and geo-economics.

Addressing the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn underlined two key terms: multipolar world and complex interdependence.

“Today, our multipolar world has gained its prominence in global affairs, causing chaos and turbulence as competition between the major powers is becoming more confrontational,” Mr Sokhonn said.

“We are more interdependent, but more unequal; we are more prosperous, and yet millions are inflicted with poverty,” he added.

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In terms of the global economic system, there are more than two growth poles. A growth pole refers to an economy that significantly drives global growth, mainly through international trade and investment, capital flows and the spillover effects of innovation, technology and knowledge.

Emerging economies, especially BRICS economies including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, are transforming the global economy. The Asia Pacific region has become the centre of gravity of the world economy.

The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the new engine of an emerging new global economic order. The BRI will also significantly affect the global geopolitical landscape. The question is time. How long will it take China to realise this grand strategy to project its global power?

Global power shifts or transitions, as historical facts have shown, usually lead to conflicts or wars. According to the “Thucydides Trap” theory, it is forecast that China, the rising power, and the US, the status-quo power, will inevitably clash.

How can the “Thucydides Trap” be avoided? China has proposed “a new type of major power relations”, but it failed to convince the US. Trust deficit is the main stumbling block in China-US bilateral ties.

The West is relatively declining. The two black swan events, the Brexit vote in the UK in June 2016 and the election of Donald Trump to the White House in the US in November 2016, have damaged the global role and image of the West.

The Western values of liberal democracy are adversely affected as well. President Trump has attacked the freedom of the press by calling them “fake news” and alleged some journalists as “truly dishonest people”.

Rising protectionism and inward-looking political leadership puts the future of the West in an uncertain and dangerous path. Widening socio-economic inequality is partially due to the implementation of Anglo-Saxon capitalism, in which corporate governance is focusing on shareholders, not stakeholders.

Amidst global power shifts, Cambodia is softly going with China, while slightly hedging through a strategic and economic diversification strategy. The good Cambodia-Japan partnership is a case in point explaining Cambodia’s hedging strategy.

There are three reasons explaining Cambodia’s view of China. First, China gives a core “back up” to Cambodia’s ruling elites to counterbalance the pressures from the US and its allies relating to democracy and human rights.

The ruling CPP gives priority to output legitimacy, which is defined in terms of peace, political stability and economic growth than input legitimacy, which is defined in terms of free and fair elections and people’s participation.

Hence the ideals of liberal democracy as understood and practiced by the West are deemed not yet appropriate for Cambodia. Power politics, the survival of the fittest, remain the characteristics of Cambodian politics

Second, Cambodia stands to benefit from China’s economic powerhouse, especially in infrastructure development, foreign direct investment, tourism and trade. China is now the top donor and investor in the kingdom.

Third, China offers an effective balancing force against two big neighbours – Thailand and Vietnam – which are perceived as “historic predators”.

Cambodia “views its immediate neighbours, Vietnam and Thailand, as historic predators of Khmer territories, and China as playing a pivotal role in ensuring its own survival”, wrote Edgar Pang, a visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

Similarly, Terrence Chong, from the same institute, argues that “Cambodia’s fear that Vietnam and Thailand’s growing economic superiority will threaten its sovereignty has been a key reason for its embrace of China”.

Cambodia believes that complex interdependence, especially economic interdependence, will prevent major powers from going to war. Economic interest is the most decisive factor in foreign policy formation.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said in 2015: “Relations between the US and China are extremely important for the Asia-Pacific. Washington and Beijing are conscious of their complex interdependence and have been building mechanisms across their bilateral relationship to help manage their relations.”

Cambodia also stresses the critical role of ASEAN in maintaining regional peace and order by strengthening regional multilateral institutions and cooperation. Maintaining and strengthening the central role of ASEAN in shaping the evolving regional architecture serves regional common interests.

“Cambodia will continue to join hands with all ASEAN member states in the common endeavour to strengthen the community that is highly integrated, resilient, inclusive, people-oriented and people-centered for the sake of peace and prosperity of our region and the world at large,” wrote Mr Sokhonn in August this year.

Cambodia’s worldview can be understood as the following: First, a multipolar world is in the making. Second, the West is declining and the global power balance is shifting in favour of emerging economies, especially China.

Third, complex interdependence is the foundation of peace given it restrains major powers from going to war against each other. Fourth, multilateral institutions, especially Asean, play a crucial role in maintaining peace and promoting prosperity.

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

Why Cambodia is turning its back on the West


September 10, 2017

Why Cambodia is turning its back on the West

opinion September 10, 2017 01:00

By Shaun Turton, Mech Dara
The Phnom Penh Post
Asia News Network

With China throwing its support behind premier Hun Sen, both are protecting each other’s interests

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Their Forebears were abandoned by the United States and its allies; The United States bombed the Cambodian countryside, as Nixon and Kissinger expanded the war, and in the name of democracy and human rights brought tragedy and hardship to the Cambodian people. When it suited American interests, US administrations from Kennedy to Obama (and Trump too) have not hesitated to let history repeat itself.

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His Excellency  Samdech Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia

Cambodians under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen have learned well; they are naturally cautious and circumspect; and  they are  now seeking new friends and strategic partners who respect Cambodia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in their effort to build national resilience through sustainable development. The country has enjoyed peace, stability and strong economic growth for more than 2 decades and the way forward for the Cambodian people, in my view, is promising.

The Asian Development Bank has called Cambodia an “emerging tiger economy”.  From a Miracle by the Mekong, the Kingdom is a key member of ASEAN and a proud nation ready to take its place in the community of nations. As a witness to its progress for more than 25 years, I am very bullish.–Din Merican

By Shaun Turton, Mech Dara
The Phnom Penh Post
Asia News Network

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The Cambodian National Flag with the The Independence Monument in the Background, Phnom Penh

Its president imprisoned on a charge of treason and its existence under threat, the Cambodia National Rescue Party last week renewed its calls for the international community to step in and stop what’s widely seen as an all out assault on the Kingdom’s democracy.

But with China throwing its support behind the premier Hun Sen, the West’s statements of condemnation and concern, which have flooded in from embassies, NGOs and the United Nations in recent days, will have little impact, particularly in the absence of concrete measures, analysts said.

Building on a statement of support from China’s Foreign Ministry, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Jiarui met on Thursday with National Assembly President Heng Samrin to offer private assurances amid the mounting criticism, according to Samrin’s spokesman Sorn Sarana.

Jiarui, the former head of the Chinese Communist Party’s international liaison department and current vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), reaffirmed Beijing’s support following the late-night arrest of CNRP President Kem Sokha, Sarana said. He said the official, whose committee is described as a non-state organ that advises on state affairs, expressed the sentiment that “an obstacle for Cambodia is also an obstacle for China”.

“China is behind Cambodia to help and support,” he said, relating the discussion. “The success of Cambodia is also the success of China.”

 A representative from the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to messages to verify Sarana’s characterisation of the discussion, but for analysts, China’s backing was hardly surprising given Hun Sen’s long drift into Beijing’s orbit.

 

Backed by more than $1 billion (Bt33 billion) in foreign direct investment and $265 million in overseas development aid, according to 2016 figures, Chinese support insulates the premier from external pressure, at least to a certain extent, analysts said.

Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia expert at Australia’s University of New South Wales, said China had previously shown its willingness to supply military equipment and plug holes left by the withdrawal of Western aid. Cambodia, meanwhile, has repeatedly backed China’s position on the contested South China Sea.

“China will pick up the pieces if the US or other donor countries resort to sanctions or other punitive actions against Cambodia,” Thayer said, adding that nonetheless, the support was not a carte blanche endorsement of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades.

“The message was subtle but clear. China will support Hun Sen under these conditions, but if Hun Sen cannot protect Chinese interests they will support a CPP leader who can.”

The premier himself has shown no signs he’s willing to cede power should his ruling Cambodian People’s Power lose next year’s election, announcing on Wednesday that he planned to rule for 10 more years.

Eleven months out from the crucial national ballot, the government has pursued what’s widely seen as a relentless crackdown against the opposition, independent media and civil society, culminating this week with the arrest of Sokha, who faces up to 30 years in prison on a “treason” charge for what officials say is a US-backed plot to topple the government.

A well-connected observer familiar with thinking inside the CPP said the government’s virulent anti-Americanism reflected a belief that the US and US-backed organisations were supporting the CNRP, as well as frustration over Washington’s reluctance to forgive war-era debt. Nevertheless, the observer, who requested anonymity because of the tense political environment, said the escalation against the US was a gamble.

He described anxiety in the CPP about the US’s recent announcement of visa restrictions for Cambodians, which came in response to Cambodia’s refusal to accept deportees as part of a controversial US programme to sends home long-term non-native residents who are convicted of a felony.

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Phnom Penh in the Land of Temples, Smiling People, and Wonder

The possibility of trade restrictions also worried many in the party, he said. The scrapping the EU’s “anything but arms” preferential trade arrangement, or the US’s zero tariffs for travel wares could have “devastating” economic consequences given European and American markets are vital to Cambodia’s almost $7 billion garment export sector. With the minimum wage rise in Cambodia making other countries in the region more appealing to manufacturers, lead ASEAN analyst for the Economist Intelligence Unit Miguel Chanco said such moves would be a stronger tool than aid cuts, which have long been threatened but without much impact.

However, in light of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and the Myanmar military’s crackdown against ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine state – and considering the political upheaval in the US and EU – discussions of such actions were “unlikely” to feature high on the agenda, he said.

Simply put, the EU and the US have bigger domestic fish to fry. The former is dealing with the complexity of Brexit, while the latter is busy dithering on Donald Trump’s controversial domestic agenda,” Chanco said.

According to a government database, China last year provided about 30 per cent of Cambodia’s $1 billion overseas development aid budget, followed by Japan, which contributed 10 per cent, and is also second only to China for foreign direct investment.

Following Sokha’s arrest, the Japanese Embassy released a cautious statement calling on the ruling and opposition parties to “make efforts to create a suitable environment to realise a free and fair” election.

Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson urged Japan not to “soft-pedal”, and to use its central role at the UN Human Rights Council to take a strong position against threats to the legitimacy of next year’s election, noting Tokyo was a major supporter of preparations for the upcoming ballot and had led the UNTAC mission that staged Cambodia’s 1993 vote.

“I would take five statements of concern, and if I got something from Japan that was somewhat terse and tight and strong, I would match those up against the others,” Robertson said, noting Japan’s preference for closed-door diplomacy.

“Japanese critical statements are sort of like unicorns; you get a critical Japanese statement, it’s like, ‘Did I just see a magical creature?’”

A small glimpse of Japan’s behind-the-scenes courting of Cambodia emerged last month, when Hun Sen posted a video of a surprise birthday party organised in Tokyo by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, complete with a personal rendition of “Happy Birthday” and a new set of golf clubs.

Paul Chambers, a Southeast Asia expert at Thailand’s Naresuan University, said Japan’s “jousting” with rival China would likely temper the strength of any public response, and the potential of punitive action.

“If Japan were to walk away from Cambodia, Tokyo would provide a vacuum which Beijing would only be too willing to fill,” Chambers said.

Noting Toyko had “little appetite for confrontation”, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College, Los Angeles Ear Sophal said he saw little hope for anything “dramatic and coordinated” from the international community.

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A new Chinese-built bridge, on the right, spans the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh, running parallel to the bridge Japan helped construct in the 1960s.–Putting Words into Deeds is what counts.

“The last time anything serious happened in terms of aid suspension [1997], 100-200 people died,” he said, referring to the violent factional fighting in which Hun Sen ousted his royalist rivals from a coalition government.

“And, indeed,” he added, “China has already made a statement endorsing Cambodia’s actions.”

 

 

New Approaches to ASEAN Regionalism


September 4, 2017

New Approaches to  ASEAN Regionalism

by  Tan Hsien-Li, NUS

www,eastasiaforum.org

Duterte meets with Cambodian PM Hun Sen

 

Throughout its 50-year history of regional cooperation, legalisation and institutionalisation have not featured all that prominently in ASEAN’s diplomatic repertoire. Especially in its formative years, ASEAN relied on political flexibility and institutional informality, eschewing binding legal relations. Even as laws and institutions were developed in ASEAN, adherence to them remained underwhelming.

 

While ASEAN regionalism has often been lauded for achieving relative regional security, it has simultaneously been derided as weak and ineffective due to the lack of adequate implementation of its collective vision. But there are clear signs that the organisation has been adapting itself to have stronger laws and institutions since the ASEAN Charter was adopted in 2007.

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Cambodia played to the very successful WEF-ASEAN Open Forum, May 10- 12, 2017. Since joining ASEAN in 1999, the Kingdom under the leadership of Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen has been a very active contributor to ASEAN regionalism.

Alongside political flexibility, ASEAN’s ongoing legalisation and institutionalisation process is a conscious diplomatic strategy that is intended to, and will, have permanence. It is not a collective whim or reaction but a set of long-term cooperation and integration measures that member states have adopted to deal with significant geopolitical exigencies.

ASEAN’s initial foray into legalisation and institutionalisation was tentative as diplomacy and flexibility were prioritised. The five founding members expressly chose to establish the organisation through the ASEAN Declaration (1967), a non-binding instrument. It was only after about a decade of cooperation that ASEAN adopted its first legally binding treaty, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (1976), at the first ASEAN Summit. At that Summit, the member states established the ASEAN Secretariat and expanded the scope of regional cooperation beyond security to include economic development. They also developed ASEAN’s institutional capacities to attain these goals.

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Through the years, as ASEAN grew with the membership of Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, and the fields of cooperation intensified, regional decision-making modalities remained staunchly politically flexible and non-legalistic. There was a marked preference for consultation and consensus rather than actual compliance with the organisation’s ever-growing body of laws and institutions, especially regarding economic integration. Only an estimated one-third of ASEAN instruments of cooperation were actually complied with in the organisation’s first 40 years.

By the mid-2000s it was recognised that continuing this situation would be a grave strategic error for ASEAN’s reputation and competitiveness. An appointed group of eminent persons tasked with assessing the organisation’s new directions through the ASEAN Charter made three recommendations.

They first advised that for ASEAN to fully realise its primary goal of economic, socio-cultural and political–security cooperation, the informal association needed to become a reliable and ‘structured intergovernmental organisation’ with legal obligations. ASEAN needed to be an entity comparable to other international organisations in an intensely legalised global order. This included taking on legal personality and pursuing legal endorsement of the fundamental values of the international community, human rights and democracy.

Second, they advised that ASEAN should be more actively visible in the international order to take advantage of the economic opportunities brought about by regional economic integration. A coherent economic bloc would attract more foreign investment and enable the region to compete against China and India.

Third, they noted that the overt lack of respect for rule of law and institutions not only tarnished ASEAN’s reputation but also prevented member states from reaping the expected rewards of cooperative endeavours.

Since ASEAN already possessed adequate hard and soft laws, member states simply needed to work on implementing and complying with these commitments in a timely fashion. Further, monitoring and dispute-settlement mechanisms needed to be established across all areas of regional cooperation. In particular, the ASEAN secretary-general and the secretariat were to monitor regional legal and institutional compliance.

These strategies formed the core of the ASEAN Charter as it mapped out the trajectory for the tri-pillared (political-security, economic and socio-cultural) ASEAN Community. In the first decade of this transition, there has been an unsurprising tendency to backslide due to path dependencies. Monitoring oversight has not been exercised by the ASEAN secretary-general or the secretariat, and none of the ASEAN dispute settlement mechanisms have yet been used.

In particular, enthusiasm for legalisation and institutionalisation has not yet emerged in national or ASEAN Secretariat departments that deal less directly with law or handle sensitive issues such as internal economic policies, forestry and agriculture. These departments are understandably more protectionist and are reluctant to move to a structure of rules and institutions. It is unsurprising therefore that the launch of the ASEAN Community was fraught with defensive justifications that the full attainment of community goals needed more time and resources beyond the formal deadline of 31 December 2015.

But ASEAN’s strategic legalisation and institutionalisation is not slated for failure — there are procedural and reputational safeguards that compel progress.

For one, the charter is ASEAN’s first constituent treaty that lays a strong foundation for compliance with regional laws and institutions. It is a permanent fixture in ASEAN regionalism unless it is superseded by a subsequent constituent treaty, which is unlikely due to the grave credibility costs in a highly legalised contemporary international order. The cornerstone ASEAN Community Vision 2025 document reinforces the norms articulated by the Charter.

If they default on the charter and other ASEAN laws, and fail to comply with regional agreements, ASEAN states will be unable to attain the economic profit promised by cooperation. This is in addition to the loss of goodwill and potential retaliatory action when such commitments are broken. Recalling that economic disputes are increasingly resolved through adjudicatory mechanisms, ASEAN’s economic partners would likely use the settlement mechanisms stipulated in ASEAN treaties rather than pursue lengthy diplomatic negotiations to resolve disagreements.

Today, network governance plays a central role in intra-ASEAN relations. A genuine reformative effort can be seen among the officers who work on ASEAN issues in the national ministries and the ASEAN Secretariat. For example, in customs procedures, officers are keen to regularise procedures in line with the rule of law and institutions. Networks of shared experiences among regional counterparts are increasingly built through capacity-building initiatives jointly organised by regional and external stakeholders. Even more encouraging has been the recent establishment of dedicated monitoring units in the ASEAN Secretariat to build each of the three pillars of the ASEAN Community.

The officers of ASEAN and its member states are demonstrating an increasing adherence to the rule of law despite considerable obstacles. Slow as the progress might be, the transformative power of law and institutions once they are set in motion cannot be ignored. Greater familiarity and usage will reinforce and bring more uniformity to regional legalisation and institutionalisation. As this strategy evolves, its particular characteristics will go on to define a unique new model of ASEAN regionalism in the global order.

Tan Hsien-Li is an Assistant Professor at the Centre for International Law, National University of Singapore.

This article appeared in the most recent edition of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Strategic diplomacy in Asia’.

 

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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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.