Cambodia: Resolving Internal Political Differences over Maps and Borders

August 15, 2015

Cambodia: Resolving Internal Political Differences over Maps and Borders

by Dr. Y. Ratana*

Cambodia borders with three ASEAN neighbors, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. The three countries had long history of joy and bitterness, peace and non peace with Cambodia. Among three neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam are more serious than Laos; territorial conflicts particularly sea and land are the major impediment to better relations.

Politicians and their political activities and associated non-governmental organizations resort to all means to further their political interests and power by streaming nationalism, racial discrimination, democracy, human rights, and freedom to thwart Cambodia’s relations with its three Indochinese neighbours.

Recently, political parties, political activists, civil society groups drew public attention on the use of wrong border maps between Cambodia and Vietnam; local and international newspapers and social media published news on the activities of these people, such as the confrontation between Cambodian people, opposition law makers with Vietnamese people and the army in some locations in Svay Rieng Province and Kandal Province. The media continue to cover news on the use of wrong map to demarcate the borders  and build the border posts. Of late,the use of map is in the front line and hotline news in recent Cambodian politics.

Hun Sen with Sam Rainsy

To explain the border issue, the government led by Prime Minister  Samdech Hun Sen has been taking several approaches including  explaining the public by national border committees and reaction units and writing letters to the United Nations, the United States, France and the United Kingdom for cooperation to provide Cambodia’s border maps and technical assistance on border demarcation in order to check and verify about the truth of maps, and using Royal Academy of Cambodia to study and explain the frustration of using the maps… according to The Cambodia Daily newspaper published on August 13, 2015:

The Constitution says that only the border maps drawn by the French between 1933 and 1953 at a 1:100,000 scale and deposited at the U.N. by then Prince Norodom Sihanouk in the 1960s can be used for border demarcation. Prime Minister Hun Sen last month wrote to the U.N. requesting the maps, but the U.N. responded last week saying it could not find them. Instead, it offered maps of the border sent by Prince Sihanouk as part of a complaint over U.S. bombing during the Second Indochina War.

The Royal Academy of Cambodia team led by Dr. Sok Touch has been studying on the issue and gathering sources of information, maps from different stakeholders as his first step. His team had  given a press conference on the information and maps in their possession. His team is under strong criticism from politicians, political activists, Cambodian associations, both local and overseas and some groups of people. They have accused him and his team of being biased and working for the Cambodian Peoples’ Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Border conflicts with Vietnam and illegal migrant Vietnamese have become the focus of political discourse in Cambodia  since 1990s. In 2005, political conflicts on the border with Vietnam became so tense that some politicians and political activists were arrested, tried and sentenced, and exiled. More recently, some political activists and opposition law makers  used the border issue to agitate the public which led  to confrontation with Vietnamese soldiers and people in some areas along the border. It has becoming a hot issue which  angered the CPP government.

The public is concerned about the way Cambodian politicians  treat each other on the border and map issue. There is common concern about the different  interpretations of maps and agreements reflecting the prevailing political disunity and solidarity among Cambodians. They call for unity and peace resolution for all conflict interests. The government side wants to explain that all they had done and have been doing  for the country; they always protect the constitution and Cambodia”s national interest. Prime Minster Hun Sen said that he was not responsible for the loss of Cambodia territory like Kampucheakrom (lower parts of Cambodia) located in Vietnam and some parts of land to Thailand because it was the result of colonial and post colonial but he was the one who came to lead the country and solving the problems he inherited from past leaders left. He always stood firm and promised that he and his CPP party is the protector of monarchy and the country, but he always received unfair treatment and injustice from the opposition and other rival groups.

Political resolution of the territorial conflicts with neighbors will continue into unknown period of times because of the lack of unity and harmony, political will from different parties and general ignorance of  history, about demarcation  and on geopolitics on the part of Cambodians. On the other hand, our  neighboring countries  are not prepared to seek win-win solutions to their border disputes. Their nationalism makes conflict resolution complex and painstakingly slow. This is further hampered by the lack of trust between these governments.

It seems in Cambodia there is no one person who can unite the Cambodian politicians except the King  Norodom Sihamoni. Cambodia may not find political unity and harmonization in the short-term. There is no  respect for a leader who had sacrificed and done so much for the nation. In stead, the opposition in Cambodia can only see some of negative parts of his policies and actions for short-term political gains.

There is a need for good education on history, national identity, religion, culture, and politics to enable Cambodia to be a modern and progressive nation founded Buddhist values of compassion, tolerance, harmony, reciprocity, and  peace.

*Dr. Y. Ratana is Vice President (Academic Affairs), University of Cambodia and Development Economist. The views expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect those of the University of Cambodia.

Time to welcome Timor Leste into ASEAN

July 31, 2015

Foreign Affairs


COMMENT: Friends of Timor Leste welcome this initiative by the Jokowi administration to push for the country’s admission into ASEAN. There are no grounds to postpone this decision and one hopes that come November 2015 ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur ASEAN leaders will welcome Timor Leste as a full and equal partner.

It is commendable that Indonesia, a former occupier of this little island nation, should take the initiative to raise the matter at the forthcoming August 2015 ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur. This will be seen as a final reconciliation move and as formal endorsement of Timor Leste as a sovereign and independent nation state by Indonesia.

I remember  being in Dili several years ago when the question of Timor Leste’s admission into the ASEAN community was the sole agenda for the forum organised by the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research Institute. At the time, Timor Leste was protected by a UN Peacekeeping Force which included a contingent from our Royal Malaysian Police.

There was consensus among forum delegates that Timor Leste’s membership in ASEAN should be a non-issue. We, however, agreed at the time that their officials should use the interim period to learn more about ASEAN processes and work on a campaign to convince their own citizens that ASEAN would be good for their country. I was impressed with these officials for their commitment to and understanding of ASEAN.

I am now glad that the opportunity has come to admit Timor Leste. I am sure that we can look forward to welcoming the people of this beautiful island nation into our community in Kuala Lumpur at the  November 2015 ASEAN Summit. I thank President Jokowi Widodo, Foreign Minister Retno Lestari Priansari Marsudi and officials of the Indonesian Foreign Ministry for this important initiative. Timor Leste deserves our support and encouragement. –Din Merican

ASEAN: Time Leste as 11th Member –A Welcome and Timely Move

ASEAN Community 2015

The Indonesian delegates would raise the issue of membership of Timor Leste in ASEAN during the 48th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Kuala Lumpur early next month, an Indonesian official said in Jakarta today.

The Indonesian government would persistently attempt to include the new nation into the ASEAN membership, China’s Xinhua news agency reported MI Derry Aman, Director at the Indonesian foreign ministry, as saying.

“Indonesia will raise the issue of Timor Leste membership in ASEAN (at the meeting). It is time for the ASEAN member countries to consider the membership of Timor Leste,” he said at his office.

Indonesia is the first country giving support to the membership as the new nation is located in the Southeast Asia region, according to Aman.

“Indonesia’s commitment is clear that Timor Leste will be an ASEAN member country in the future,” he revealed.

A study on the readiness of Timor Leste on the membership has been carrying out which will determine whether the new nation will be accepted into the Asean membership, according to him.

– Bernama

Open Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK

July 30, 2015


This is a government whose officials have frequently publically sneered at the concept and at the need to uphold human rights (despite being a former member of the United Nations Human Rights, a sitting non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and having a National Human Rights Commission).

In the first half of 2015, the Malaysian government has liberally utilised the Sedition Act of 1948 to detain and charge critics, journalists, academics, activists, and opposition politicians who fell afoul of what the authorities vaguely consider as “seditious.” Whatever that means.

This is the same government that has time and again relented and failed to address rising conservatism and intolerant religious dogma within the country and prefers to maintain an “elegant silence” whenever controversies or debates are related to religion.

It brags setting up and showcasing platforms promoting the concept of “moderation” and tolerance at the international and global levels, yet barely practises them with its own citizens instead preferring to allow racism, religious intolerance and discrimination to begin to mushroom and solidify institutionally to gain communal populist support. This has also led to the radicalisation of individuals and allegedly added on recruits for ISIL as well as other militant groups in the region.

This is a government that has also violated its own promises and charter to “ensure no Internet censorship” (refer to 1996 Multimedia Super Corridor Malaysia 10 Point Bill of Guarantees) and has curtailed freedom of the press numerous times.

The recent suspension of The Edge Weekly and The Edge Financial Daily and the blocking of access to the Sarawak Report website in relation to the 1MDB scandal, are themselves in contradiction with the words of the Malaysian prime minister who back in 2009 promised a new way forward in policy and politics with a “vibrant, free and informed media” which “allows people to hold public officials accountable” and that it would not be fearful of doing so. So much for that.

Those promising sunny Canaan days are now gone. Through its actions inflicted upon the media over recent years and especially within the context of the 1MDB affair, this government appears intent on continuing in not honouring those promises. It also appears that it wants to ensure its survival to remain in power at all costs. Especially now.

It is especially telling that despite the perceived loss of billions of taxpayers’ money, nobody of responsibility and consequence has resigned.

The Malaysian people are increasingly disillusioned, frustrated and angry with this administration, especially when the media are being threatened and suppressed in a perceived effort to control access to information regarding this scandal.– Azrul Mohd Khalib

Malaysia: Open Letter to Prime Minister David Cameron

From MP Tony Pua

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

David CameronWelcome to Malaysia

Welcome back to Malaysia. It is an honour that you have decided to return to my country so soon after your last trip in April 2012.

Let me first take this opportunity to congratulate you on the recent successful re-election of your government.

For all its oft-cited shortcomings, the British democratic system remains among the most free and fair in the world, with the Westminster an institution most countries like ours look up to.

I am also extremely encouraged by the increasing assertiveness of UK’s foreign policy which seeks not only to serve the British national interest but equally to establish a minimum moral and ethical standards in a world increasingly dominated by greed and self-interest.

At a forum entitled “Building the world we want by 2030 through transparency and accountability” during the 69th UN General Assembly on September 24th 2014, you highlighted the fact that “the more corruption in your society, the poorer your people are.”

You admonished those who refused to deal with corruption. “Some people don’t want to include these issues in the goals. I say: don’t let them get away with it,” you said.

​Just last month, you wrote in the Huffington Post to implore the G7 to place priority on fighting corruption, using the FIFA scandal to provide the impetus. You argued eloquently that:

…at the heart of FIFA is a lesson about tackling corruption that goes far deeper. Corruption at FIFA was not a surprise. For years it lined the pockets of those on the inside and was met with little more than a reluctant sigh.

The same is true of corruption the world over. Just as with FIFA, we know the problem is there, but there is something of an international taboo over pointing the finger and stirring up concerns… But we just don’t talk enough about corruption. This has got to change.

You have since 2013 led a mission to ensure Britain’s network of overseas territories and Crown dependencies, like Cayman and British Virgin Islands, signed up to a new clampdown on tax evasion, aimed at promoting transparency and exchange of information between tax jurisdictions.

As you said, “we need to know more about who owns which company – beneficial ownership – because that is how a lot of people and a lot of companies avoid tax, using secretive companies in secretive locations.”

Yesterday, your speech in Singapore was pointed and direct. You told the listening Singapore students that “London is not a place to stash your dodgy cash”.

“I want Britain to be the most open country in the world for investment. But I want to ensure that all this money is clean money. There is no place for dirty money in Britain. Indeed, there should be no place for dirty money anywhere.”

You rightly pointed out that “by lifting the shroud of secrecy”, we can “stop corrupt officials or organised criminals using anonymous shell companies to invest their ill-gotten gains in London property, without being tracked down.”

We, Malaysians need you to make the very same points in our country. Making the above points in Singapore is good, but it is like preaching to the converted as our neighbour is ranked 7th in the 2014 Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.

The leaders of the Malaysian government on the other hand, are embroiled in a financial scandal of epic proportions.In particular, our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, whom you are to meet has been recently accused by The Wall Street Journal that he has received in his personal account cash deposits amounting to nearly US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) in 2013.

It was a damning but substantiated allegation which he has steadfastly refused to deny.

Some, if not all of the money could be linked to state-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) which is crippled by US$11 billion of debt, requiring billions of ringgit of emergency bailout funds by the Malaysian tax-payers.

I am certain that you have been briefed on leaked documents clearly points to an incriminating trail of plunder and international money-laundering across Singapore, the Middle East, the United States, Switzerland and yes, the United Kingdom.

The New York Times and other media outfits have also raised questions about how his family owns properties, in New York, Beverly Hills and London worth tens of millions of dollars.

These properties were purchased with the same opaque “shell companies” which you have rightly censured.

The sheer scale of the sums involved makes the FIFA bribery scandal look like child’s play. This is the very reason for the drastic iron-fisted actions Najib has taken over the past two weeks.

As you would have found out by now, he has sacked the Attorney-General who was leading the investigating task force on the above scandals.

He has also sacked the Deputy Prime minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin for questioning the 1MDB shenanigans in a Cabinet reshuffle designed to stifle inquiries into the subject matter.

The newly promoted Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi who is also the Home Minister, acted to suspend the country’s leading business papers, The Edge Weekly and The Financial Daily last week because they played a leading role in uncovering the multi-billion dollar scam to defraud Malaysians.

Can you ever imagine the UK Financial Times being suspended? I have on the other hand, been in a relentless pursuit to uncover the conspiracy to defraud the country at the very highest levels since 2010. Earlier in March this year, I became the first Member of Parliament to be sued for defamation by a prime minister in the country in a blatant attempt to muzzle my strident criticisms.

When that failed, I have found out last week that I’ve also become the first MP ever to be barred from travelling overseas, without any reasons, valid or otherwise, being provided.

The only plausible reason for such a drastic action against my right to travel is that I will soon be arrested for my troubles to expose the truth and highlight the staggering size of embezzlement, misappropriation and criminal breach of trust.

If the local media’s Police sources were to be believed, I am most ironically being investigated under the recently amended Criminal Penal Code for “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”. It is a ‘heinous’ crime which carries up to a 20-year jail sentence.

Mr Prime Minister,

You have written that you “need to find ways of giving more support and encouragement to those in business, civil society and the media who are working to fight corruption”.

Malaysians need your “support and encouragement” today. While we do not need your interference over our sovereign affairs, we also do not need any pretentious praise embedded into polite diplomatic speak which will lend any legitimacy desperately sought by Najib’s administration.

We also hope that the worthy mission to increase trade relations between our two countries with great historical links will not relegate your goals to “make the global business environment more hostile to corruption and to support the investigators and prosecutors who can help bring the perpetrators to justice.”

We pray for your wisdom to speak resolutely on Britain’s zero tolerance against corruption and money laundering. For Malaysia, the façade of a moderate Westminster-like democracy masks many ugly truths of social injustice, political oppression and extensive corruption.

Like you, I’ve had the immeasurable privilege of completing my degree in the best university in the UK, which ranks among the best in the world (if not the best). We completed the same course in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) but I was 6 years your junior.

While you received a first class honours and I missed the cut, I hope that our alma mater has embedded in us the moral fortitude to play our little roles in building a better world.

I will end my letter with a quote from our fellow alumnus and PPEtony-pua2 graduate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who most pertinently said, “sometimes I think that a parody of democracy could be more dangerous than a blatant dictatorship, because that gives people an opportunity to avoid doing anything about it”.

Thank you for listening, Mr Prime Minister. – July 29, 2015.

* Tony Pua is DAP Selangor Chairman and Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya Utara


Note: I congratulate my MP Tony Pua for penning this Open Letter to you, Mr.  Cameron. Your visit is poorly timed. One would have thought you would have postponed it to a much better time, not now because Malaysia is in a political crisis. The desperate Malaysian Prime Minister will use your visit to boost his image. However, now that you have come to our country those of us who were  educated in Malaysia in 1950s  and abroad have enough “British” manners to receive you and your delegation with respect. We warmly congratulate you on your recent electoral success. 

During your brief stay in Kuala Lumpur, we hope you will convey a message to your idiotic and insecure Malaysian counterpart that he must listen to the voices of the Malaysian people and serve them well.  Right now he cannot be trusted to do the right thing. When no one is watching, he puts his hand in the till to the tune of USD 700 million and maybe more. When he is caught, he fails to respond  with dignity.  He is not attempting to solve our country’s political, economic and social problems. In stead, your Malaysian counterpart is compounding them with his divisive politics.

Mr. Najib should be reminded that we put him there because we voted for his coalition in 2013, although his coalition lost the popular vote,  and we intend to throw his coalition out should he decide to hold our next general elections, barring massive rigging and cheating at the polls. In a democracy, power belongs to the people, that is Democracy 101. –Din Merican

David Cameron under Fire for Talks with Scandal Ridden Premier Najib Razak

July 29, 2015

Foreign Affairs: David Cameron under Fire for Talks with Scandal Ridden Premier Najib Razak

by Beh Lih Yi in Jakarta

David Cameron

David Cameron under fire ahead of talks with scandal-hit Malaysian leader

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak sacks Deputy and country’s top attorney after questions over claims he took millions from government investment fund.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is facing criticism for pushing ahead with a visit to Malaysia this week at a time when the south-east Asian nation’s leader is embroiled in an escalating corruption scandal and has stepped up a crackdown on dissent.

Malaysian Premier Najib Razak has been urged to resign after media reports alleged some US$700m linked to a troubled state investment fund (1MDB) had ended up in his personal bank accounts.

Razak has denied taking any public funds for personal use, and his government has lashed out at criticism by mounting a crackdown on dissent that has seen two newspapers suspended and a British-based whistleblowing website blocked.

MuhyiddinFormer Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia

On Tuesday, the Malaysian Premier removed his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin, who has openly criticised him over the scandal, just hours after the government sacked the country’s top attorney, who had been leading an official investigation into the corruption allegations against Najib.

Politicians and activists who have criticised the government have also been hit with travel restrictions, with one prominent opposition MP barred from leaving the country.

“There could have been a better time for the visit,” Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Malaysia’s opposition leader, told the Guardian ahead of Cameron’s arrival in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday, the final stop of a four-nation tour of south-east Asia.

The MP, who is also the wife of jailed opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim, called on Cameron to raise the scandal and human rights issues when he holds talks with Najib, and said he should also meet opposition parties to get “a better idea” about the political turmoil engulfing the former British colony.

“He must not only meet with the government but the opposition as well,” she said. “He should talk about freedom, the suspension of the newspapers and the use of the sedition law – something that is so repressive – and the welfare of the former opposition leader [Anwar].”

Liew Chin Tong, a lawmaker from the opposition Democratic Action party, said Cameron must tell Najib categorically to “respect the rule of law as well as human rights”.

Cameron is hoping to boost trade ties between the UK and the region during his visit that also includes stops in Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam. Efforts to fight jihadist group Isis are also on the agenda during his stops in Muslim-majority Indonesia and Malaysia.

Michael Buehler, a south-east Asian expert at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said Cameron would not be “entirely honest” if he ignores the corruption claims during his visit, as business and politics remain closely linked in the region.

“One cannot talk about business without also mentioning the political conditions in these countries. Cameron’s visit is indeed untimely, given the escalation of the corruption scandal in the country,” Buehler said.

Writing in the Daily Mail last week about the trip, Cameron himself vowed to put the fight against graft top of his agenda after claiming critics were “wrong” to say the UK should avoid doing business with countries with barriers to trade, including corruption.

“Many in South East Asia have led the battle against corruption, which costs the global economy billions of pounds a year. Britain is joining them in that fight – I’ve put the issue at the top of the global agenda,” he wrote.

Najib’s move against the deputy premier came in an unexpected cabinet reshuffle just two days after Muhyiddin broke ranks and openly urged Najib to tell “real facts” over the scandal and answer questions over whether he received the money.

Announcing the decision, Najib said “differences of opinions shouldn’t be expressed openly” among his cabinet members, according to the Malay Mail Online website.

The cabinet reshuffle was seen as an attempt to shore up support for the beleaguered Najib in the cabinet, as an internal tussle within the ruling party in the coming days could put pressure on the Malaysian leader to resign.

Foreign Policy: Cambodia- China Relations

July 15, 2015

Foreign Policy: Cambodia – China Relations

According to conventional wisdom, the international system leaves small states less room for maneuver. Cambodia is no exception. Since the kingdom won its independence from France in 1953, it had been preoccupied with protecting that independence, as well as its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

During the Cold War, Cambodian foreign policymakers  tried various approaches, from neutrality to alliances with major power(s) and, worst of all, isolationism. Yet Cambodia remained a victim of power politics, and ended up with a civil war and some of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.

Early in the 21st century, China has emerged as a regional and global power. China’s power and influence can be felt in all corners of the globe, most evidently in continental Southeast Asia. In this context, the Cambodia-China bilateral relationship has experienced a remarkable transformation over the last decade or so. Although rooted in mistrust due to the involvement of China in Cambodia’s civil war and social strife, especially Beijing’s support for the Khmer Rouge regime, bilateral ties have noticeably consolidated and improved since 1997.

In December 2010, the two countries upgraded their bilateral ties to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership of Cooperation.’ Cambodia continues to attach great economic and strategic importance to China’s rise.

Economically, China plays an increasingly important role in the socio-economic development of Cambodia as its primary trading partner, largest source of foreign direct investment, and top provider of development assistance and soft loans. Noticeably, two-way trade between Cambodia and China grew from $2.34 billion in 2012 to around $3.3 billion in 2013. Recently, the two countries agreed to boost their bilateral trade to reach the target of $5 billion by 2017. Similarly, Chinese investment in Cambodia in 2013 rose 65 percent, to $435.82 million compared to $263.59 million in 2012. More importantly, Chinese loans and grants to Cambodia reached $2.7 billion in 2012, making it one of the latter’s largest donors. Moreover, Cambodia will reap enormous benefits from new Chinese initiatives such as the Maritime Silk Road and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Militarily, China is the biggest source of assistance to Cambodia’s armed forces in various forms. In May 2012, Cambodia and China signed a military cooperation agreement in which China agreed to provide $17 million to Cambodia to build military hospitals and military training schools for the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and promised to continue training military personnel in Cambodia. The latter is, according to Cambodian Defence Minister Tea Banh, a “great contribution to improving the Cambodian army’s capacity in national defense.” It is worth noting that Chinese military assistance increased remarkably at a time when Cambodia badly needed to build up its defense forces due to the increasingly tense border dispute with Thailand from 2008 to 2011.

Victim of Location

In geopolitical and strategic terms, Cambodia had been a victim of its location as a country sandwiched between two powerful and historically antagonistic neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. The history of Cambodia vividly suggests that over the six hundred years following the fall of the Khmer Empire, Thailand and later Vietnam regularly defeated Khmer armies and annexed Khmer territories. The two countries had always attempted to impose their suzerainty over Cambodia. Cambodia’s acceptance of the French protectorate in 1863 was an escape from suzerainty.

The eruption of a border conflict with Thailand from 2008 to 2011 reminded Cambodian leaders that its stronger neighbors remain a security threat to the kingdom’s territorial integrity. It also prompted Cambodian leaders to rethink the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) role in maintaining peace and stability in the region. In fact, since becoming a member of ASEAN in 1999, the regional grouping has always been the cornerstone of Cambodia’s foreign policy. Cambodian policymakers were convinced that ASEAN would be a crucial regional platform through which their country could safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as promote its strategic and economic interests. However, it seems that Cambodia’s confidence in ASEAN has faded due to the grouping’s ineffective response to the Cambodia-Thailand border dispute.

Most recently, Cambodia has had problems with its neighbor to the east, Vietnam, apparently due to sensitive issues related to border disputes and illegal migration, as witnessed by tensions that culminated in a violent clash on June 29, 2015 between Cambodian border activists and Vietnamese residents along the border. In an unprecedented move, Cambodia’s foreign ministry sent a dozen protest notes to urge Vietnamese authorities to halt all activities along the border that undermine the status quo.

Somewhat unusually, between July 2014 and June 2015, Cambodian authorities deported 2,058 illegal Vietnamese immigrants. Dynamic political developments in Cambodia in the aftermath of the July 2013 general elections – particularly the diffusion of the foreign policy-making process with the stronger influence of Cambodia’s opposition, a more vocal civil society voice in national politics, and the negative historical perception of Vietnam in Cambodia – play an important part in the prickly relationship. A general strategic misalignment between Phnom Penh and Hanoi is the underlying factor.

Regardless, while the reasons for the deterioration of Cambodia-Vietnam relations remain uncertain, it is certain that the more perceived unease or threat Phnom Penh has from its neighbors, the closer Cambodia will grow to China. This explains Phnom Penh’s inconsistency on the South China Sea, with its latest position actually that of Beijing.


Broadly, Cambodia might opt for alternatives by strengthening its relations with other major powers, such as Japan, India, and the United States. However, there are certain challenges and constraints for Cambodia in pursuing this approach. Japan has long been one of its most important development partners. However, the problem for Japan in the eyes of Cambodian foreign policymakers is that the former’s military and strategic role in the region is limited due to its pacifist constitution and perceived lack of a foreign policy independent from the United States.

As for India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East Policy sounds promising as far as India’s increasing engagement in Southeast Asia is concerned. However, there is a perception in the region that India still lacks both the capacity and the commitment to successfully implement its policy.

Finally, although the United States has been playing a crucial role in maintaining and promoting peace and stability in Asia, there remains a huge gap in Cambodia-U.S. relations. The gap is the result of a strategic misalignment between the two nations, a trust deficit between the two countries’ leaders, and other sensitive issues hindering the bilateral relationship including the United States’ focus on human rights and democratic values.

Therefore, Phnom Penh might believe that a provisional alignment, rather than fully bandwagoning, with China is the best short-term strategic option given its security and development objectives. However, it is clear that Cambodia-China bilateral ties are asymmetric and the smaller side – Cambodia – will, to a certain extent, experience strategic risks and vulnerabilities. It might have to compromise its sovereignty and foreign policy autonomy to please China.

As a result, Cambodia must develop strategies for the medium and long terms. In the medium run, Cambodia must be a proactive member of ASEAN and play a role in promoting that organization’s centrality in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, Cambodia must create a favorable environment to consolidate its relations with other major powers in Asia and beyond.

In the long run, Cambodia must adopt a self-reliant and omnidirectional foreign policy. As a small state, Cambodia must seek a large number of friends in the region while maintaining the freedom to be itself as a sovereign, independent, and prosperous nation. Cambodia must promote a rules-based regional order so that all states, regardless of their size, approach international affairs with similar assumptions. It is key for Phnom Penh to ensure the equality and survival of small countries.

It is crucially important to emphasize that while there are different reasons Cambodia cannot execute all its strategic choices at the same time in the short run, the realization of the first option by no means affects the chance to implement the two other options.

Ultimately, Cambodia’s provisional alignment with China will depend on the foreign policy behaviors of Thailand and Vietnam toward Cambodia, ASEAN’s relevance in meeting the security need of its members, its capability to withstand perceived threats from neighboring countries, and the availability of sufficient support from the international community to ensure the small kingdom’s survival, sovereignty, and pursuit of prosperity.

The author is a PhD student at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, the Australian National University; and a research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies (CISS). 

South Africa’s Foreign Policy: Engaging Cambodia, ASEAN and the World

July 15, 2015

KH-Cambodia-UniversityDistinguished Lecture @The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh-July 2, 2015

South Africa’s Foreign Policy: Engaging Cambodia, ASEAN the World

by HE Ambassador Ms. Robina P. Marks

South Africa-Freedom 1994

We defend the rights of people who are marginalized, excluded or stigmatized on any of these grounds whether it is in the African union or the united nations. We believe that we all have the right to live a life that is free from discrimination, sexism, or religious prosecution. But most of all, we believe that a nation that does not learn from its mistakes is doomed to repeat them again and again. And this is the message  that we share with the world wherever we are.–Ambassador Ms. Robina. P. Marks

It gives me great pleasure to address you on this event, the first of its kind, where we’ve partnered with this university to share with you the foreign policy objectives of my own country, South Africa.

We at the Embassy of South Africa are proud to be associated with The University of Cambodia that has for years produced responsible citizens who continue to play various leadership roles in society. I am also pleased to see that the motto of this university is ‘in pursuit of knowledge and wisdom’. It is therefore more than appropriate that I address you here today, in your pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, about my country, South Africa.

I have 4 countries that I am responsible for-Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. But Cambodia is the country that is closest to my heart, because we share difficult memories of the past. Both of our countries have seen wideSouth African Ambassador scale atrocities and human rights abuses; but both of our countries have also worked hard to reconcile with the past so as to focus on building our countries in a way that will enable it to create a better life for its entire people.

You might know that South Africa was isolated, and rightfully so, from the rest of the world for many, many years because of a system that the White minority rule imposed on the indigenous people of South Africa a system that was called Apartheid. This system was meant to segregate people on the basis of the colour of their skin.

And in this terrible system, whites and blacks were not able to live in the same neighborhood, marry, or go to the same schools and places of worship. It was an offense to do any of these things, and Black people had to carry a pass-an identity card-that indicated who they were and where they belonged. And so all of us were classified on the basis of the colour of our skins, shape of our noses, texture of our hair.

This system also meant that the best jobs were reserved for white people, and the most menial jobs for black people. Black people were also not allowed to vote in the country of their birth, and so you had the peculiar situation that 5 million people, out of a population of about 40 million, made decisions for the whole country. The apartheid government was also very repressive system, and so many of us who protested against apartheid were imprisoned, banned, or died under mysterious circumstances. In fact, the cause of death for many black anti-apartheid prisoners were often cited as accidental cause of death, and that they slipped on a bar of soap while they were in the shower, or that they fell from a high building. But we knew what the truth was. And with the help of the international community, we were able to end apartheid, and start our transition into a new democracy that is non-racial and non-sexist. In fact our constitution is considered to be one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, because we have made human rights and socio-economic rights the basis of our constitution, we had our first democratic elections in 1994, and Nelson Mandela was the first black President of the new South Africa

Nelson Mandela Quote

We consider Nelson Mandela to have been the father of our nation-and his legacy to us is his commitment to turn away from the anger and bitterness of the past to allow for peace and reconciliation. The world joined us in mourning the death of this great man in 2013, and his funeral was attended by the highest number of heads of state ever recorded for a funeral. We also convened a memorial service here in Phnom Penh, and I was extremely touched by the way in which many ordinary people came up to me and told me that his ideas and his life had also inspired him.

But there are other things that you may not know about us. Ours is a country of close to 50 million people, we have 11 official languages and we are also known as the rainbow nation. A rainbow nation, because of the diversity of our cultural backgrounds, and we come in all colours of the rainbow! We are located at the Southernmost tip of Africa, and we are also called the Cradle of Humankind, because it was in South Africa  that the oldest remains of a human being were discovered. But we are also a country of inventors-we performed the world’s first heart transplant and more recently, also the world’s first penile transplant. We have one of the oldest mountains in the world, known as Table Mountain, which was declared one of the seven wonders of the world. We have the oldest wine industry after Europe, and our wines are highly sought after-we also have the world’s longest wine route and the highest bungee jump in the world.

We are the recipient of three Nobel Peace awards, for Nelson Mandela, FW De Klerk and Chief Albert Luthuli. Ours is also a country that has some of the largest mineral deposits in the world- gold, diamonds, platinum to name just a few. In fact the largest diamond ever discovered was found in SA, and today it is part of the Queen Elizabeth’s throne! We are home to one of the largest national game parks in the world, where you can experience our wildlife-lions, cheetahs, the African elephant and tigers. In fact, Kruger National Park is twice the size of Switzerland! You might also know that we hosted one of the most successful FIFA World Cup in SA in 2010, and we attract many tourists.

world, but that we are all united in one important sense-that we are dependent and connected to each other as people, but also countries to ensure that we build and contribute to a better life for all of our people. And that it is only through cooperation that we are able to build our countries, and therefore build a better world for current and future generations.

This is also the basis for our presence here in Cambodia. Like you, the textile industry and tourism are strong pillars of our economy. We also share with you the World Bank’s assessment that you represent an attractive investment destination, with sound macroeconomic policies in place, supported by steady economic growth. And so there’s a lot that we can do to learn and grow with each other.

This also explains why, at the centre of our foreign policy is the concept of fostering people to people relations with Cambodia, with common interests as a testimony of the global community in which we live in.

Our Foreign Relations Policy instructs us to pursue the vision of an African Continent, which is prosperous, peaceful, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and united, and which contributes to a world that is just and equitable. We are committed to promoting South Africa’s national interests and values, the African Renaissance and the creation of a better world for all.

South Africa’s relations with Africa and the world are driven by our commitment that peace and stability are critical for us to deal with our key challenges of fighting unemployment, poverty and inequality. We pursue peaceful means of resolving conflicts whenever we are given an opportunity to do so. In this regard we are driven by our experience and pain of apartheid discrimination which denied peace to the majority of the country’s citizens.

We continue to nurture our historical relations with countries whose foreign policies were concerned with the human rights and dignity of our people at a time which supported us in ending apartheid. It is partly this orientation which drives what many see as a ‘look to the East and South’ slant in our foreign relations. Our relationship with Asia is an important one to us, and one that continues to grow. We see Asia, the tiger, and Africa, the lion, as the last two frontiers of economic growth, and we have a lot to offer each other. It therefore makes sense to us that our trading patterns have also shifted-today; China is our largest trading partner, followed by Japan, the US, the UK and Germany. The old orientation to Europe has shifted to Asia, who, like Africa, has weathered the financial crises very well.

Our Foreign Policy is also articulated in our commitment to focus our international relations and cooperation towards building a better Africa and a better world. Politically and economically, we are the largest and most significant economy in Africa, and are also the only African country that serves on the G20. We also currently chair the G77 plus China, and we have served twice in the UN Security Council. We are also the first country to voluntarily dismantle our nuclear program. Sa is respected as a credible, impartial partner in many countries who are going through a reconciliation and nation building process, because it is important for us to share our lessons and best practices. So that is just a brief background on South Africa.


Our foreign policy is based on an African concept called UBUNTU, which means, ‘I am, because you are’. Using this concept is a reminder to us that we live in a multi polar worfd

Allow me to share with you our immediate and long term priorities as we seek to operationalize our stated vision and commitment towards building a better Africa and a better world.

Africa and African Union

Our economic and political efforts as a country, while also recognizing the internal challenges we face as a country, are deployed with the recognition that we are first an African country and that we should support all efforts aimed at the attainment of prosperity to Africa. We cannot talk about the realization of prosperity in Africa without peace and stability. It is South Africa’s stated intention, working together with other African countries, regional organisations and the African Union, that there should be no African child who cannot realize their dreams because of circumstances of war or insecurity in their country. As such, we aim to be part of the African countries that positively strengthen the African institutions so that we can reach the targets outlined in the Agenda 2063 framework document. Of course, your equivalent for the African Union is the ASEAN, and we continue to cooperate with each other. This relationship goes back all the way to the historic Bandung Conference in 1955, which was the first time that Africa and Asia came together to seek cooperation with each other. Therefore the spirit of Bandung is still with us today as we seek partnerships.

Enhancement of our strategic partnerships

We actively continue establishing geostrategic partnerships through strengthening South-South relations while also advancing strategic relations with the formations of the North. With the changing global trends, it is important for South Africa to diversify its relations particularly with other emerging economies in order to open up new ways of finding sustainable solutions to global challenges.

Our participation in formations such as G20, BRICS, IBSA, G-77 and others is guided by our desire for a World that is fair and equitable. With our BRICS partners we are forging ahead creating credible institutions, such as the New Development Bank.  Europe and North America also remain South Africa’s strategic regions and we are encouraged to see that in both regions there is widespread recovery following the crippling economic crisis that started in Europe.

Our structured bilateral relations with both countries of the South and the North also provide us with a platform to engage in sustainable partnerships for development, including through the promotion of trade and investment; the establishment of joint projects for infrastructure development; and the sharing of technical skills that can help upscale delivery to our stated five national priority areas.

Creation of a fair Global Governance system

One of the foundations of South Africa’s foreign policy is our firm belief in multilateralism and collective solutions for shared challenges. Former President Nelson Mandela once said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done”. While this was in reference to our struggle against apartheid regime, this saying also provides an instructive lesson for the current global governance structures. These remain imbalanced and not reflective of the current global realities.

With reference to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), we remain resolute in our call for the reform of this important institution that is tasked with global security matters. In fact, many of the agenda items of the UN Security Council deals with issues and yet we are not one of the permanent members.

The current composition of this institution makes it difficult for the UNSC to respond to global crises in a responsible manner. We belief that the 70th anniversary of the U.N. this year provides an opportunity to make a meaningful progress on the reform the UNSC. We shall not rest until this important institution and others are reformed because we believe that transforming these is not only good for the institutions themselves, but will also provide testimony to the stated principle of sovereign nations participating in foreign relations as equal partners.

South Africa is of the view that multilateral cooperation is more relevant than ever before in seeking lasting solutions to global problems. That is why we will continue to ensure that the voice of the South is heard in such fora as G20, while also enhancing our constructive engagement with partners on such issues relating to an equitable global trade regime as well as on issues of global climate change.

The world has an immense capacity to resolve global problems through cooperative means. South Africa’s membership of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) also provides an opportunity for us to advance this position. It is our view that non-governmental organizations have an important strategic role to play in international relations as they contribute the type of skills and practical experience that are valuable to resolving global challenges.

Strengthening South Africa’s participation in Economic Diplomacy

Economic Diplomacy has become the central pillar of relations among nations and as a country we are forging ahead utilizing the resources we already have while also developing new skills in this area. We aspire for a South Africa that continues to attract international trade and investments which will enable us to participate in the on-going initiatives aimed at positioning Africa as a major economic continent. One of the key objectives is to expand Africa’s industrial base.

In conclusion

We have been able to turn away from our painful history of apartheid to a country that respects the human rights of everyone, irrespective of their sexual orientation, race, gender, physical ability or religion. We respect our cultural diversity, because we believe that that is what makes us stronger as a nation.

We defend the rights of people who are marginalized, excluded or stigmatized on any of these grounds whether it is in the African union or the united nations. We believe that we all have the right to live a life that is free from discrimination, sexism, or religious prosecution. But most of all, we believe that a nation that does not learn from its mistakes is doomed to repeat them again and again. And this is the message  that we share with the world wherever we are.


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