Cambodia: Emerging from the Shackles of History in relations with Thailand, Vietnam and China


March 16,2019

Cambodia: Emerging from the Shackles of History in relations with Thailand, Vietnam and China

By Kimkong Heng and Veasna Var

http://www.ippreview.com

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Kimkong Heng is a doctoral candidate at the University of Queensland and a recipient of the Australia Awards Scholarship. Veasna Var is a doctoral candidate at the University of New South Wales, Canberra and a Senior Fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.

Cambodia has a long history. It has both a proud past and a tragic history. The country had its period of greatness during the ancient Khmer Empire, an empire which built the fabled temple Angkor Wat, one of the seven wonders of the world. Following the Angkorian era which began at the beginning of the 9th century and collapsed 600 years later, Cambodia found itself in one of the most tragic periods in its history. For almost 500 years, the country came under the enduring pressure of foreign invasion and annexation. Both Thailand and Vietnam, its stronger neighbors, annexed large parts of Cambodian territory.

Cambodia, unable to survive by itself due to constant foreign encroachment from its two more powerful neighbors, reached out to France for protection. The French protectorate of Cambodia was then established in 1863, signalling the beginning of Cambodia’s colonial period which lasted for 90 years before the country gained its independence in 1953. Following independence, Cambodia, under late King Sihanouk’s reign, saw major development in almost all areas. Unfortunately, peace was short-lived and the process of nation building did not last very long, as Cambodia soon after found itself engaged in a series of civil wars which dragged on for more than three decades.

Starting in the 1960s, the country became a Cold War battleground and involved in the Vietnam War, was bombed by the US, and later suffered an unspeakable tragedy during the Khmer Rouge regime which lasted for almost four years and killed an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians.

The Khmer Rouge genocidal regime was so devastating that it had instilled in virtually every Cambodian a strong sense of hatred, fear, and scepticism. Although Cambodia was fortunate to have survived the auto-genocidal regime, this tragic past has profound implications for Cambodia and its people.

The memories of pain which cannot be blotted out easily and which will not fade away anytime soon have been carried over to present-day Cambodia and they still haunt the new generations of Cambodians. These bitter memories, either experienced first-hand or told from the survivors, have adversely affected the minds of Cambodian people from all walks of life. Common among them are negative thoughts and feelings towards foreigners or xenophobia.

Xenophobia in Cambodia is a serious issue which should not be ignored or taken lightly. It is a critical issue that has to be addressed carefully and quickly. If not addressed properly and timely, xenophobic sentiments may lead to large-scale violence, discrimination, and hatred. One example was a violent riot against Thai embassy and Thai businesses in Phnom Penh in 2003. This incident was obviously motivated by anti-Thai sentiments among Cambodians. At that time, there were rumors that a famous Thai actress had claimed that Angkor Wat belongs to Thailand. Without knowing whether the rumors were true or not, many xenophobic and nationalistic Cambodians began a savage attack on anything related to Thai.

Thailand and Cambodia share a common culture and history. People of both countries have made numerous claims regarding past events, lands, temples, arts, dances, and more. Each side has asserted and will continue to claim as their own relevant pieces of land, elements of arts and culture, and other claimable abstract and non-abstract things, despite historical facts.

There is no doubt a deep-rooted anti-Thai sentiment among Cambodians and perhaps vice versa. Whenever something which is controversial or uncertain happens, as long as it involves Thailand and Thai people, a sense of anti-Thai sentiments, an element of Cambodia’s broader xenophobic issue, would take centre stage. A notable example is a series of fierce border clashes between Cambodian and Thai troops over the Preah Vihear Temple between 2008 and 2011. The skirmishes were sparked by a land dispute which was in turn caused by conflicting narratives of historical facts and animosity towards each other.

All decisions, measures, and approaches to solutions of issues, be it political, economic, social, or cultural, tend to be clouded by anti-Thai sentiments which seem to exist in every Cambodians of all ages and genders. They seem to lie in hibernation inside Cambodian people and just need a small trigger to come back to life and begin, in many cases, to create problems and issues that could further exacerbate an already troubled situation. The consequences of which are generally unpleasant and harmful, easily leading to more racial discrimination, hatred, and anti-Thai nationalism. This issue of xenophobic sentiments, if not taken into account properly by both Cambodian and Thai governments and relevant stakeholders, will remain and will continue to harm Cambodia-Thailand relations and prevent harmonious co-existence between Cambodian and Thai people.

The anti-Thai sentiment is just one thing; anti-Vietnamese nationalism is another, an issue which appears to be even more serious in Cambodia. It is widely believed and known among Cambodians that Vietnamese people’s intention to encroach on Cambodian land never changes. Many Cambodian people hold a perception that Vietnam is a threat to Cambodia’s territorial sovereignty. This constant pessimistic thought about the Vietnamese, the so-called anti-Vietnamese sentiment, exists in almost every Cambodians to varying degrees. Much like the anti-Thai sentiment, this hatred towards Vietnamese people lies in a dormant state until it is “awakened” by any issue or incident involving Vietnamese.

Youn”, a Khmer word commonly used to refer to Vietnam and Vietnamese people, is arguably a pejorative term associated with anger and hatred. Khmer people often use this word instead of its equivalents, Vietnam and Vietnamese, to refer to their eastern neighbors when they are angry or want to express negative emotions about Vietnam and its people. As noted two decades ago, “forms of Cambodian racism towards Vietnam and the Vietnamese minority in Cambodia did not develop in a historical vacuum but rather developed particularly in response to the expansionist tendencies of the pre-colonial imperial state”. Apparently, almost if not all Cambodians know or have heard stories of Vietnam’s encroachment on Cambodian territory. They are all aware of the fact that many Cambodian provinces were lost to Vietnam. In particular, it is well-known among Cambodians that Vietnam encroached Prey Nokor (formerly a Cambodian territory) and institutionalized it as a city, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.

emories and knowledge of Vietnam’s encroachment on Cambodia’s sovereign territory are passed down from one generation of Cambodians to the next and are seen to be ingrained in the minds of many Khmers. Even now Cambodian people still think that Vietnam wants to “swallow” Khmer land and that Vietnam’s wish to take over Khmer territory still remains. This line of thinking is not helpful. Not only does it fuel anger, hatred and distrust among Cambodians, but it also stirs up widespread anti-Vietnamese feelings in Cambodia.

Recognizing the deep-rooted anti-Vietnamese sentiments among Cambodians, Sam Rainsy, the exiled leader of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has always taken advantage of this issue and used it as part of his party’s main propaganda. As one of the authors of this analysis has argued in a recent article, anti-Vietnamese sentiments have always been a political tool Sam Rainsy and his party’s senior officials use to undermine their opponents, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) elites. The use of the anti-Vietnamese sentiment, another form of Cambodia’s xenophobia, is harmful, although the opposition party draws support from it. What this anti-Vietnamese rhetoric does is create tensions, division, and confrontations among Cambodians. Sam Rainsy and his party elites should begin focusing their attention on tackling other important social issues, not dwelling on using anti-Vietnamese sentiments for political gain at the expense of Cambodia-Vietnam relations and amicable existence between people of the two neighboring countries.

Moving beyond the anti-Thailand and anti-Vietnam sentiments, Cambodia still has to face other forms of xenophobia. There were memories of anti-French sentiments, particularly among older Cambodians, driven by the impact of French colonization of Cambodia. However, now there seems to be no evidence of any anti-French sentiment in Cambodia today, as all attention is given to more modern issues facing the country. Looming large are key issues such as income generation, self and family survival, education, politics, and other critical social issues.

The Cambodian government should improve law enforcement and work hard to reduce the large and growing number of unpleasant incidents such as violence, accidents, and abuses that tend to involve the Chinese diaspora living in Cambodia. The anti-Chinese sentiment has emerged from these issues.

It is particularly and surprisingly fortunate that seemingly the whole country has moved beyond discrimination and historical hatred against France whose colonization of Cambodia led to the loss of Kampuchea Krom (former territory of Cambodia) to Vietnam in 1949. Although there have been petitions demanding the decolonization of Kampuchea Krom territory, there seems to be no sign of animosity expressed towards France and the French people. Little is known why Cambodians seem to disregard the fact that the French colonialist “cut” Kampuchea Krom and gave it to Vietnam, despite numerous protests from Khmer Krom activists in Cambodia and abroad. However, that Kampuchea Krom was ceded to Vietnam by the French has obviously further intensified anti-Vietnamese sentiment among Cambodians.

Moving forward, two issues remain which could potentially become new forms of xenophobia in Cambodia, if not addressed properly and in a timely manner. The first is the incumbent government’s recent reiteration of the US bombing of Cambodia in the late 1960s and early 1970s that contributed to the rise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge which took control of Cambodia in 1975 and immediately proceeded to decimate the country and its people, wishing to create a pure, self-reliant, and sovereign Khmer nation. Hun Sen and his team’s criticism of the United States, although offering short-term benefits to their party, is also harmful. It may over time develop a sense of hatred and ill will towards the US and American people, potentially creating another form of xenophobia in Cambodian society, that is, anti-American sentiment among Cambodians, particularly those who support the current ruling party.

In reality, history is history; it can neither be denied nor changed. However, it is much better to learn from past lessons to plan for the present and future rather than let the past control the present and dictate the future. The ruling elites of the CPP, in this regard, should move beyond their recent narratives of the “US bombing” and, like the CNRP, should direct their attention to resolving pressing social issues facing Cambodia. Repeating and promulgating the damage that the US inflicted on Cambodia in the 1970s will not benefit Cambodia and its people in the long run. It only exacerbates the current poor relations between the US and Cambodia, which is certainly not a viable foreign policy option for the latter.

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The second issue which has arisen recently in Cambodia is the emergence of anti-Chinese sentiment which appears to be on the rise. The perceived increase of anti-Chinese feelings among many Cambodians are seen as a negative side effect of the growing Chinese presence in Cambodia, especially in the country’s coastal province, Sihanoukville. Over the last few years, Chinese investors have in large numbers flocked into Sihanoukville to invest in building casinos, apartments, theme parks, and resorts.

The Chinese’s increasing presence has implications for the Cambodian province and Cambodia at large. Not only can one see the mushrooming of high-rise buildings, casinos, restaurants, and other businesses run by the Chinese immigrants, but one can also experience or at least feel an increase in crime, violence, drug trafficking, and pollution, in the once-sleepy coastal province. There are frequent reports in the news about violence, abuses, scams, cybercrime, and violations of expected social norms and rules of law, many of which involve the Chinese living and working in Cambodia and in Sihanoukville in particular. Until October 2018, for example, 1,649 Chinese nationals were deported from Cambodia for scams and cybercrime offenses. These many incidents, together with similar stories happening in other countries, have arguably contributed to the emerging rise of anti-Chinese sentiments among the general public in Cambodia.

This new issue of anti-Chinese nationalism may not be seen as a serious issue now, but if left to develop freely and not addressed properly and timely, it is likely to lead to a big problem, consequences of which is less predictable and should raise concerns for the Cambodian government and Cambodian people. It is the duty and responsibility of the current ruling government of Cambodia to find ways to address the issue while it is still in the early stages. Although the Cambodian government, especially the ruling elites, has significantly benefited from Cambodia’s close relationship with China, it is wise to diplomatically bring this issue to the discussion table and work towards collaborating with the Chinese government to tackle this rising anti-Chinese sentiment among the Cambodian populace. It is always a good idea to make big problems small and small problems even smaller. To do so, the Cambodian government, with support from its Chinese counterpart, has to do something to deal with this emerging issue.

Xenophobia in Cambodia, whether it is a long-standing issue like anti-Thai and anti-Vietnamese sentiments or a new one like anti-Chinese sentiment, is a critical issue that needs to be addressed properly and taken more seriously than it currently is. As has been argued, Cambodian youth have crucial roles to play in improving Cambodia-Vietnam relations. Youth are the backbone of the country and the future of Cambodia. They are “Cambodian ambassadors in the making who are responsible for raising the profile of Cambodia in the region and the international stage”. They can contribute to navigating the Cambodian ship as long as they are given chanced and their efforts are recognized and valued. Thus, engaging youth in all realms of political, economic, social, and cultural life, for example, is important and is what the Cambodian government should strive for.

Cultivating and nurturing mutual respect, understanding, and tolerance between people of all nations involved is also crucial. In the case of Thailand and Vietnam, prevalent racial hatred, contempt, and discrimination resulting from awful past history and recent events can probably be minimized through the cultivation of genuine and mutual respect between Khmer and Thai people and between Khmer and Vietnamese. With respect to improving Cambodia-Thailand relations, one of these authors has also argued in an article in the IPP Review for the important role of mutual respect and the role of Cambodian youth in shaping Cambodia’s relations with Thailand. As it is argued, Cambodian people, youth in particular, “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”.

However, these cannot be done without support from the Cambodian government as well as governments of Thailand and Vietnam. All parties have vital roles to play in fostering and improving their respective relations. Efforts, commitment, and cooperation at all levels, individual, institutional, and national, are essential. These are important steps towards fostering good relations between these countries which have regarded each other as one’s own traditional enemy.

With respect to the US, the Cambodian government should stop using the rhetoric of US bombing of Cambodia. While it is true, it only worsens Cambodia’s relations with the world’s largest economy. Although Cambodia has great relations with China, its largest economic and military benefactor, it would be unwise to alienate the US and fully embrace China. The most viable approach or way forward for Cambodia is to make as many friends as possible. It is undeniably true that having two best friends, the US and China, is absolutely better than having just one friend. All Cambodian eggs should be placed on two or more baskets, not just one basket. It is safer and more secure that way.

On the issue of anti-Chinese sentiment, Cambodia should take it into account most seriously. Now it seems to be not an issue yet but it will be a problem, a big one, if no due attention is paid to it. Recently, Prime Minister Hun Sen has urged and assured that many Chinese immigrants who are working in Cambodia, particularly in Sihanoukville, will leave the country once the Chinese projects for which they work are complete. This assurance is helpful but not sufficient. The Cambodian government should improve law enforcement and work hard to reduce the large and growing number of unpleasant incidents such as violence, accidents, and abuses that tend to involve the Chinese diaspora living in Cambodia. The anti-Chinese sentiment has emerged from these issues. Addressing them would also address the recently growing anti-Chinese feelings among the Cambodian general public.

Finally, xenophobia in Cambodia is a major social problem that requires absolute attention from all stakeholders in the country. It is neither the job of the government nor the duty of Cambodian citizens alone. It is a critical issue that requires cooperation, commitment, understanding, and willingness from all parties, regardless of their political views, positions, or beliefs. Cambodian xenophobia and paranoia, no doubt, have a malign influence on Cambodia’s efforts to promote the Kingdom’s integration into the region and the world. It will definitely damage the image of Cambodia on the global stage in the long term.

It is time for Cambodians, the ruling elites and the ordinary people, to work together in unity and in harmony to solve key issues facing their country. As a saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves”. Thus, Cambodians must work collaboratively and willingly to help themselves and their country.

 

 

Cambodia’s Foreign Policy: Sovereignty, Self-reliance and Diversification


March 14, 2019

Cambodia’s Foreign Policy: Sovereignty, Self-reliance and Diversification

By Chheang Vannarith

https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50586127/cambodias-foreign-policy-sovereignty-self-reliance-and-diversification/

The annual conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation last week highlighted three key words in the formulation of Cambodia’s foreign policy in the new era: sovereignty, self-reliance, and diversification.Image result for Cambodia

Sovereignty has been regarded as the core principle and interest of foreign policy, especially amidst mounting diplomatic and economic pressures from the European Union.

Sovereignty has been regarded as the core principle and interest of foreign policy, especially amidst mounting diplomatic and economic pressures from the European Union. Prime Minister Hun Sen has continually stressed that Cambodia will never compromise or surrender sovereignty for foreign assistance. Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn has also emphasised that sovereignty is a matter of survival for Cambodia.

The concept of sovereignty is increasingly critical to the formulation of Cambodia’s foreign policy strategy and approach. Sovereignty is generally understood in the Cambodian context as the absolute, legitimate right exercised by an independent state over its territory and people, without external coercion or interference. Notably, resistance against foreign intervention is unprecedentedly high since the establishment of the Second Kingdom of Cambodia in 1993.

Protecting sovereignty is becoming more challenging for small states like Cambodia. Major powers are not keen to see small states stay neutral as they are willing to force small states to take sides if necessary. In the 1960s, Cambodia was forced to take sides, against its own will and interest.

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Now Cambodia has ASEAN to help protect its sovereignty. However, the future ability of ASEAN to provide continued protection of sovereignty to its members is uncertain due to increasing pressure from major powers. ASEAN centrality is at greater risk in the context of heightening geopolitical rivalry between major powers.

Self-reliance and diversification are the two key strategies to protect the Kingdom’s sovereignty. Reducing dependence on foreign aid could help build economic independence and national resilience. And leadership does matter in promoting self-reliance.

Dependency syndrome on external support has trapped Cambodia for many centuries due to internal weaknesses and a lack of national reconciliation and unity. Beginning after the collapse of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, Khmer rulers of the past sought support from foreign countries to protect or gain power. Since the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, Cambodia has heavily relied on foreign donors for socio-economic development. In the 1990s, some even called Cambodia an “NGO-driven economy”.

Now it is necessary for Cambodia to recalibrate its political doctrine based on the concept of self-reliance, which is very much influenced by the Buddhist philosophy of life. Cambodia should not expect other countries to protect its interests and sovereignty; it needs to rely on itself. Realistically, no country or person is more invested in the interests of Cambodia than Cambodians themselves. Cambodia will be unable to maintain its sovereignty unless it is economically independent and resilient.

Diversification is another key term being used by Cambodian policy makers and analysts alike. There are three layers of diversification at the international, national, and local levels. Internationally, Cambodia needs to build more economic and strategic partnerships, expand export markets, and make new friends. The leadership of the Ministry of Commerce has the responsibility to diversify export markets through bilateral and multilateral trade deals. Remarkably, Cambodia does not have any bilateral free trade agreement with any country yet.

Diversification is another key term being used by Cambodian policy makers and analysts alike. There are three layers of diversification at the international, national, and local levels. Internationally, Cambodia needs to value add,build more economic and strategic partnerships, expand export markets, and make new friends. The leadership of the Ministry of Commerce has the responsibility to diversify export markets through bilateral and multilateral trade deals. Remarkably, Cambodia does not have any bilateral free trade agreement with any country.

Domestic economic success defines Cambodia’s role and image abroad. The success of Cambodia’s foreign policy largely depends on institutional reforms at home. There is a need to build a new generation of career diplomats who are capable of promoting Cambodia’s political, economic and cultural relations with other countries. Currently, the government gives priority to economic and cultural diplomacy.

At the national level, Cambodia has implemented institutional reforms to diversify its sources of growth and increase its productivity. Moving from labour-intensive industries to skill-driven industries or a knowledge-based economy is a must. Cambodia is running out of time to catch up with other regional economies, especially in the context of the fast-evolving Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Early this year, a working group on digital economy was formed to conduct studies and propose policy guidelines and action plans to direct Cambodia’s future economy. Cambodia could leapfrog its economic structure if it has the right leadership and policy. It is high time for Cambodia to undergo “institutional surgery” to cut off bad, infectious parts of the governance body.

At the local level, Cambodia needs to do much more to diversify its sources of funding and development partners. Fiscal decentralisation is critical to rural development and poverty reduction. Leadership and institutional capacity building for local governments is also required. Merit-based appointment of local bureaucrats must be encouraged, at the provincial, district, and commune levels.

Chheang Vannarith is President of Asian Vision Institute (AVI), based in Phnom Penh

 

 

Building a resilient Cambodian Economy


March 10, 2019

Building a resilient Cambodian Economy

https://capitalcambodia.com/building-an-economically-resilient-cambodia/?fbclid=IwAR1-Oa4fUT_Z-LHMUPUvarQA1-asp4396Cd4V9OZFmSRL-y4tavaDgZ8ing

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Within the context of looming economic pressures by the EU, analysts have drawn quick conclusions that Cambodia’s economy is going to collapse. This piece provides an alternative view explaining why Cambodia will not face economic crisis driven by external pressures and sanctions.

Cambodia has opted for an open economy since the early 1990s based on the belief that reforms and openings are necessary for economic development. Being a least developed economy, it was granted preferential tariff schemes, and could afford to export to Europe and the US.

The decision of the EU to launch procedures to temporarily suspend trade preferences would compel the Cambodian government to speed up its reforms and diversification strategy. It can be viewed as a “positive” factor.

Improving business and investment environment, increasing productivity, and reducing barriers and cost associated with trade would need urgent attention and intervention from the state. Cambodia’s economic structure has been gradually moving from labour-intensive industries to a knowledgebased economy.

The service sector now accounts for about 50 percent of GDP. The annual growth rate of the sector has been more than seven percent from 2014 to 2018. Economic pressures from the EU will force Cambodia to accelerate its economic restructuring towards a service-driven growth.

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The advantages and strengths of Cambodia rely on its dynamic and entrepreneurial young workforce. As education reforms and skill development programmes are on the right track, Cambodia will be able to produce a new generation of young, skilled workers for the coming years.

Regional integration is one of the key pillars of its foreign economic diplomacy. As Cambodia’s economic lifeline is increasingly connected with ASEAN and Asia, its future will largely be defined by the Asian economic powerhouses. ASEAN will be the fourth largest economy in the world by 2030.

The economic pressures from the EU will not overly affect investors’ confidence as Cambodia will be able to adjust itself to changes. Foreign investors should be confident of the future economic trend and dynamics of Cambodia.

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The first drop of oil to be extracted from Cambodia’s offshore oil field territory is scheduled  for late 2019. The news follows the latest update from KrisEnergy that it has now closed invitations to contractors for the tender for the engineering, procurement, construction, installation and commissioning services for the Apsara Oil Field Project.

 

Light manufacturing, high-tech, and service industries are key areas that foreign investors should invest as the government in cooperation with development partners are pouring in more resources in building hard and soft infrastructure to support the industrialisation and modernisation of the service sector.

The eventual possibility of the EU revoking the EBA has been on Cambodia’s mind for some time now. This led to the formulation and adoption of the Industrial Development Policy (IDP) in 2015. The opening paragraph of the IDP states: “The launching of this policy connotes the necessity and the urgency to embark on a `new growth strategy’ that responds to the structural transformation of domestic economy, and the changing regional and global economic architecture.

The adoption of this policy is motivated by the following considerations:

First, the favourable geopolitical spillovers in terms of linking Cambodian economy and its industry to the region especially within the ASEAN Economic Community and regional economic liberalisation frameworks;

Second, the potential role of industrial sector in promoting growth and creating new jobs in the context of an open economy, a demographic dividend and major structural changes that are conducive for industrial growth;

Third, the critical role of industrial sector as a policy tool to enhance the performance of core economic sectors such as agriculture and services that will boost economic growth;

And fourth, the importance of the industrial sector as a focus for initiating both structural reforms and governance reforms of key national economic institutions with the aim at boosting economic productivity in long-term and avoiding falling into the “middle-income trap”.

However, Cambodia’s industrial sector remains weak and narrow as reflected by its simple structure of manufacturing and low level of sophistication that mainly focusses on garments and food processing while most manufacturing activities are still family-based and do not have the capacity to compete in the international market.

The industries feature a lack of diversity, an informal and missing middle structure, a weak entrepreneurship, an urban-centered industry, low value addition, and low-level technology application. Micro-enterprises represent 97 percent of the sector but generate a mere 30 percent of jobs, and contribute only 12 percent to the overall turnover. But with the eventual EBA revocation, Cambodia ought not be held hostage by the EU or any other trading partner.

The EBA has been “weaponised” by the EU to compel it to make considerable concessions not directly linked to trade but to domestic politics, at a time when EU members themselves are questioning their membership with the trade bloc. Is the EU subservient to the US, and doing its bidding? It appears so, given the quick response of the US Embassy that supported EU’s action, reiterating similar demands on Cambodia.

In this aspect, the speech by Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto earlier this month in the presence of US Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo deserves a mention. It is a chilling reminder of what Cambodia has faced year after year since 1993.

“We Hungarians, the Hungarian government, has based our foreign policy on mutual respect, and we think that the world is not going to be a better place if some countries spend their time intervening in the internal politics of other countries or lecturing them. Therefore, based on principles, we have extended our veto in the EU whenever it came to criticism concerning the decisions – political decisions of the US.

For that, we have undergone and have taken on conflicts and risks but we’re not going to consent to it in the future, and that either the EU or other international organisation would criticise the sovereign political decisions of the US. At the same time, we also carry out a foreign policy that is based on openness and sincerity. So we say the same thing behind the scenes as we say here. It is easy therefore for us to discuss issues like relations to Russia or the gaining of ground by China in other places or also our relationship with Russia.

“As I also told the Secretary whenever we talk about the economy gaining ground of China, then Hungary is responsible for 1.2 percent of the EU-China trade, and I also say there is a hypocrisy concerning the cooperation with Russia as there is a lot of criticism on the surface, and below it, there is a lot of trade between Europe and Russia in billions of euros”.

Coming back to the EU and Cambodia, why has the EU ignored the gains made by the factories here, many of whom are subjected to stringent inspections and rules, and the generous benefits extended to the workers? Why are there double standards or to paraphrase Szijjarto’s words – a hypocrisy concerning the internal issues of Cambodia as there is a lot of criticism on the surface.

Yet, the EU does business with Cambodia’s neighbours whose workers’ rights are worse? Is it because it hedges on China in terms of its economy and development since Cambodia needs huge investments to boost infrastructure, and hedges less on the West, who in any case, do not invest in such projects on a scale that could replace China? Or is it because Cambodia is seen as a small economy to matter in the grand geopolitical chess game of Western superpowers who use Cambodia’s plight to enforce their own political will on Cambodia and Cambodians?

In time, it would be in the interest of the West – the US and EU, as well as China, Korea, Japan Australia, and Russia to give equal emphasis on Cambodia’s economics and politics, and not just focus on its neighbours who seem bigger but have worse-off human rights and political record. In this scenario, it may not be wrong to say that Cambodia should just abandon the EBA and no longer fight a lost cause.

It should strengthen its economy and trade while cutting corruption and bureaucracy to make the products and economy more resilient, and investor-friendly to all nations, making it a competitive economy. CapCam

 

EU- Cambodia Relations–The EU should do the right Thing– Respect Cambodia’s sovereignty


March 8, 2019

EU- Cambodia Relations

The EU should do the right thing– Respect Cambodia’s sovereignty

By Kimkong Heng
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The European Union’s coercive measures or scare tactics do not seem to yield intended results as the Cambodian government refuses to give in to the EU’s demands for improving core human rights and labour rights in the Kingdom. Xinhua

Though the European Union could succeed in withdrawing Cambodia’s EBA status, the EU also has to be prepared to accept the fact that it could fail to reverse the perceived deterioration of human rights and democracy in the country, argues Kimkong Heng. 

The European Union (EU) and Cambodia are now engaged in what can be seen as a tug of war for influence and sovereignty, respectively. Despite unequal power relations, both sides are apparently trying to strengthen their stances against one another.

While the EU demands that the Cambodian government reverses Cambodia’s democratic drift and improve the country’s human and political rights situation, the Kingdom wants the EU not to interfere in its internal affairs. Both parties appear not to understand or seemingly ignore each other’s calls and look set to proceed with their own agendas, understanding, and assumptions.

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In response to Cambodia’s crackdown on dissent and the dissolution of the leading opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the EU announced last October that it would begin a formal process to withdraw its Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme from Cambodia. On February 11, it kicked off a six-month period of intensive monitoring and engagement that could lead to the temporary suspension of Cambodia’s preferential, tariff-free access to the EU market. The EU stated that the removal of Cambodia’s EBA status is only “the option of last resort”.

Cambodia has firmly responded to the EU’s EBA threat. The country has condemned the EU’s demands, regarding it as an “extreme injustice” and “acts of interference” in Cambodia’s domestic affairs. Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly maintained that Cambodia will not “exchange national sovereignty with aid”.

As it now stands, the EU seems to have no other choice but to eventually withdraw its trade privileges from Cambodia, if no concrete measures are taken by the Cambodian government to address the EU’s concerns and demands. The Kingdom, however, is presented with limited options and the lack of willingness to manage the EU’s demands is because Cambodia views such actions as a practice of “double standards”.

Thus, while the world’s largest trading bloc criticizes the Southeast Asian nation for engaging in human rights violations, the latter sees such criticism as an injustice and interference. Each side no doubt sees the same issue from different angles, the result of which is a failure to engage in channels of dialogue at both bilateral and multilateral levels.

In this regard, it seems sensible that both parties take a step back and rethink their own approach. The EU’s coercive measures or scare tactics do not seem to yield intended results as the Cambodian government refuses to give in to the EU’s demands for improving core human rights and labour rights in the Kingdom. Cambodia’s “sovereignty-maintaining approach” does not seem to turn out to be effective, either.

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If both sides proceed with their plans and stick to their own terms, it will lead to a lose-lose scenario that is in no one’s interests. Clearly the suspension of Cambodia’s EBA status will definitely damage relations between Cambodia and the EU. Cambodia will draw closer to China, its closest ally and largest economic and military benefactor, at the expense of its relations with the West. The EU, together with the United States, surely would not want Cambodia to alienate them and fully embrace Beijing.

Cambodia also does not want to break with the West, but the incumbent government led by the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) seems to have other more important priorities than its diplomatic relations with the EU and the US. Political domination and maintenance of peace and sovereignty are seen as number one priorities for the CPP-led government.

As argued in a recent article in the Bangkok Post, the CPP is “willing to lose the EBA status in exchange for getting rid of the opposition party” so that its dominance in Cambodian politics will not be undermined. This statement has implications for the EU.

Rather than moving ahead with its forceful approach to suspend Cambodia’s EBA trade benefits, the EU should perhaps consider alternative measures that would have consequences for the ruling elites, not the ordinary Cambodians. It is agreeable that withdrawing Cambodia’s EBA privileges will most likely have negative impacts on nearly one million Cambodian garment workers, most of whom are women. The chance that such measures would adversely affect the financial standing of the CPP elites is slim.

Thus, it is arguably more judicious that the EU direct its actions toward the CPP leadership rather than threaten the mainstay of Cambodia’s economy. The EU should try to understand Cambodia and what Hun Sen’s government wants and is willing to lose. For the time being, losing the EBA benefits perhaps does not cause great concern for the Cambodian government in the same way as losing votes and political domination.

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Whether one likes it or not, a warning by Prime Minister Hun Sen that the withdrawal of EBA scheme from Cambodia could amount to the West’s third mistake may become true, if the EU succeeds in withdrawing the Kingdom’s EBA status but fails to reverse the perceived deterioration of human rights and democracy in this Asian country.

The EU, taking into account this scenario, may consider rethinking its approach to dealing with Cambodia. Instead of jeopardizing its relations with the Kingdom and compelling this small and open economy to have no hesitation in further embracing China, the EU as a major international actor has the responsibility to bring about hope and prosperity to people of all nations, and Cambodians are no exception.

Kimkong Heng is a doctoral candidate at the University of Queensland and a recipient of the Australia Awards Scholarship.

 

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn slams EU over EBA’s review


March 5, 2019

Cambodia –EU Relations

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn slams EU over EBA’s review

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, speaking to Cambodia’s Ambassadors, Permanent Representatives and Consuls  General in an annual conference at ministry’s office in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. KT/ Chor Sokunthea

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn has lambasted  the European Union for applying a double standard with Cambodia over a review of Every Thing but arms preferential status, saying that they failed to act against Laos and Myanmar.

Speaking to dozens of Cambodia’s Ambassadors, Permanent Representatives and Consuls Generals in an annual conference at ministry office in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Mr Sokhonn said that the EU acted improperly against the Kingdom.

“I want to say double standards because they use this issue to pressure Cambodia. We can say that they behave improperly,” Mr Sokhonn said, referring to the EU’s move to review the Kingdom’s EBA access.

Image result for Cecilia Malmström

He said that he discussed with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström about more than 800,000 workers and two million other people who received benefit from garment sector in Brussels in January.

“Ms Malmström raised about pluralism as she accused us of dissolving the CNRP, so she meant it is no longer pluralism in Cambodia.”

Mr Sokhonn said that the EU failed to act against Laos and Myanmar.

“Laos has the EBA like us. If we talk about pluralism, is Laos a pluralism country? Why don’t you pressure Laos? Why do you still keep the EBA for Laos?”, Mr Sokhonn said, noting that bilateral free trade agreement between the EU and Vietnam has still existed even though Vietnam is a one-party system.

“They close their eyes not to see the government’s achievement. They want to see a perfect democracy,” he said. “Myanmar is also threatened to be sanctioned by the EU but so far they have not taken any action against that country.”

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“Why don’t they do something against Laos and Myanmar,” Mr Sokhonn inquired.

Viewing Cambodia’s political development from the inside out–A REJOINDER


March 4, 2019

Viewing Cambodia’s political development from the inside out–A REJOINDER

 by Sim Vireak

facebook/Robert Kleiner Photography

This is in response to the article written by Kimkong Heng and Veasna Var entitled “Reversing Cambodia’s democratic drift” which appeared in East Asia Forum. The article raised three major points namely the alleged sham election, the decrease of legitimacy and the growing state autocracy.

I wish to reflect upon the nuances of the development of democracy in Cambodia through historical comparison and debate on the nature of autocracy.

Cambodia’s democracy should be viewed as still in the elementary school level if compared to other advanced and established democracies as discussed by Soun Nimeth , which appeared in Myanmar Times. He argued that viewing it from the nation-building perspective, Cambodia is among the top scorers. Its political development comprises three elements in tandem namely peace, strong economic growth and a certain level of democratisation, which is currently a rare case in the region.

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Calling the 2018 election a “sham election” is rather a misplaced argument. Out of the 8.3 million registered voters, 83 percent went to vote, which is relatively high if compared to other countries with a non-compulsory electoral system. For instance, the Philippines had 60.6 percent in 2013, India 58.19 percent in 2009, the US 41.59 percent in 2010 and 55.7 percent in 2016, and Japan 53.68 percent in 2017.

Image result for cambodia elections july 2018

 

Nearly 1.5 million people voted in favour of another party than the Cambodian Peoples’ Party (CPP). If we consider the exceptionally high number of invalid votes of over 500,000, we can consider that more than two million voters (out of some 7 million) expressed a preference different from that of the CPP. The number of invalid votes is also a good indication of freewill and secrecy of ballot.

Compared with previous elections, there are two major historical developments that should deserve attention.

Firstly, it is the first election that was held with zero incidence of violence. There was less tension as contending political parties did not instigate class division, racial hatred, xenophobia and ultra-nationalism.

Secondly, there was absence of post-electoral confusion. Previously, after every general election, Cambodia’s government would be stalled by prolonged electoral deadlock, if not violence. Allegations on vote irregularities such as voters’ list, name duplication, voter registration and management, etc. were common. Such confusion had been neutralised thanks to the digitalisation of voters’ list, which was technically supported by Japan and the EU.

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Arguing that the government’s legitimacy is under threat and is drifting towards autocracy does not reflect reality on the ground.

The authors got mixed up between the concept of “approval rating” and “legitimacy.” It is normal that the approval rating of President Trump, President Macron and Chancellor Merkel are decreasing but that does not mean that their legitimacy is under threat. Besides, legitimacy is not for outsiders to decide but for the Cambodian people.

Touching on arguments of autocracy, the high level of freedom of expression and freedom of association should be cited.

Media criticism is becoming a part of life for every Cambodian. Far from being autocratic, the government has been very sensitive towards public opinion.

The case in point is the violent incident involving land issues in Preah Sihanouk province. Four military police officers were disciplined after the probe and Preah Sihanouk provincial governor was publicly criticised by the Minister of Interior for the violent clashes with people. Recently, two deputy provincial governors were officially removed following the Supreme Consultative Council’s meeting last week.

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Another incident involved the sacking of Ratanakkiri Provincial Military Police Chief Kim Raksmey after criticism on his handing out of $500,000 to his children at a birthday party.

Online media freedom is reaching the level of frenzy. Social media users in Cambodia are free to say practically almost anything you want against the government’s underperformance. Any foreigner who can read Khmer on Facebook would immediately understand that the language used in social media is clearly not an expression that can be used by people under suppression.

The two foreign affiliated radios, Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA) in Khmer, can be heard uninterrupted daily throughout the country along with their online webcast. The RFA and VOA are free to broadcast their daily tirades against the government, in the likes of animosity between President Trump and CNN. Their popular radio programme can be accessed anytime over the Net and also on Facebook. It is estimated that of the country’s 29.2 million mobile phone connections, 52 per cent have 3G or 4G broadband coverage.

Cambodia continues to be an “NGO paradise” with more than 5,000 operating freely and their voices are impactful. If they are under pressure, they should have voiced support for the EU as it launched procedural action to withdraw Cambodia’s trade preferences under the Everything But Arms scheme – an action the EU claims as necessary to save the opposition and civil society groups. The reality is that none of the civil society organisations operating in Cambodia have voiced their support for the EU’s latest action. So is the EU barking up the wrong tree?

Labeling Cambodia as autocracy stems from the misperception of Cambodia’s political development and the gross over-expectation of a performance beyond that of an elementary-level democracy. On top of that, geopolitical interests are also at play. These factors, indeed, exert pressure on the political, economic and strategic choices of Cambodia. However, it should be fair to say that such discussion should be separated from the context of the state’s legitimacy.

Sim Vireak is strategic advisor to Asian Vision Institute (AVI) based in Phnom Penh.

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