Managing Big Power Relations: The Case of Cambodia

July 30, 2016

Managing Big Power Relations: The Case of Cambodia

by  Veasna Var, University of New South Wales at ADFA, Canberra.

Security and stability in the Asia Pacific in the 21st century is being affected by strategic competition for influence over a wide range of vital interests in the region between China and the United States. It is clear that China’s aspiration to predominance, as a strategic equal to the U.S., has created a rivalry in the relationship between the two great powers. This competition significantly impacts on Southeast Asia in general and Cambodia in particular. Southeast Asian countries, including Cambodia, face tough decisions regarding their involvement with the two superpowers; balancing their relationship with them so that their own interests are not compromised but advanced, and the greatest benefit gained.

Cambodia consequently finds itself in a challenging strategic environment. US − China competition in Southeast Asia presents Cambodia both with dangers and opportunities. Given that both countries have played, and continue to play, an important role in boosting Cambodia’s economic and security development, Cambodia should carefully balance relations between China and the US.

Superpowers’ Strategic Interests and Cambodia’s Response

The US and China have different motivations, policy characteristics and interests in relations with Cambodia, in particular in providing aid assistance. As such, they not only compete for, but sometimes conflict in their influence. Whereas the US has been the strongest supporter of democratisation, social, economic, and political development, trade, investment, regional security, civil society, and most importantly human rights, China has taken the lead in developing infrastructure such as roads, bridges and public buildings. The key strategic interest of the US in Cambodia is to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, whereas China places greater focus on the exploitation of natural resources, furthering business ties and gaining political advantage.

The two countries also have different approaches to achieve their goals in Cambodia. While US aid is tied to strict conditions, Chinese aid has a “no strings attached” approach, leading to conflicting interests. The “no strings attached” policy of China − meaning that China does not require documented proof of the appropriate use of funds − can have the consequence of the funds at times being implicated in corruption, poor governance or human rights issues. This differs from the US policy of requiring proof of the use of funds, and conflicts with its valuing of democratic accountability. At the same time, China’s policy of non-interference in internal affairs, which differs from US interference, can in contrast be seen to promote Cambodia’s own efforts for good governance and democracy.

Most American assistance to Cambodia has not been directly provided to the government. Rather, it has been made available through USAID to local and international NGOs operating in Cambodia, and has focused on democracy and good governance. USAID has also provided for social, health care, education and economic development. The US has also provided support directly to the Cambodian government in a wide range of military cooperation areas, such as humanitarian assistance, promotion of peacekeeping, increasing maritime security and broadening Cambodia’s counter-terrorism strategy. However, assistance is subject to strict conditions and if it is assessed that democratic principles are violated, its provision could immediately cease. This was evident following the internal political turmoil in Cambodia in July 1997, when the US suspended all aid programs, including military assistance, because it considered the actions of the government to go against the principles of democracy and human rights. The diplomatic relationship between the US and Cambodia subsequently declined.

By comparison, China’s policy of ‘non-interference in domestic affairs’ means that China offers assistance without conditions being placed on democratic reform, human rights, or environmental protection. China has never addressed or criticised human rights or electoral issues in Cambodia. For example, while the U.S. and the international community overwhelmingly condemned Hun Sen’s seizure of power in July 1997, China let the domestic process reach its own conclusion.iv While this gesture garnered appreciation from the Cambodian government which regarded it as respectful of Cambodian sovereignty, it may also be considered to be potentially detrimental to ‘ordinary people’, the farmers and the workers, with the potential to result in unchecked oppression, leading to social unrest and violence as can be seen today.

Chinese aid is primarily allocated directly to the Cambodian government, usually without requirements to report development results. It has been argued that Chinese aid is not transparent, and there is no standard operating procedure regarding its disbursement. In a country where the standards of government accountability are at times questionable, there may be inefficiencies or corruption with senior government officials siphoning these funds off for personal gain. While Chinese aid does not directly impact upon Cambodian internal affairs, it does have the potential to do so indirectly, either positively, by benefiting all people, or, negatively, by enriching the few.

Prime Minister Hun Sen-The Strategic Pragmatist

China has become the largest donor and provider of foreign investment in Cambodia, greatly benefiting Cambodian development. However, China’s national interests in Cambodia are extensive. China’s cultivation of closer ties with Cambodia is primarily motivated by hard-nosed economic self-interest and the pursuit of wider strategic goals in Southeast Asia. Economically, China is thirsty for natural resources and China is heavily investing in Cambodia’s natural resources such as timber, gas, oil, rubber, fertile crop land, and minerals (gold, silver, and iron ore). It provides enhanced security for the supply of vital natural commodities.

In return for Chinese “unconditional” aid, one of China’s most important strategies is to garner support for the One China policy, of which Cambodia is one of the most loyal proponents. As a result, the Cambodian government decided to expel Taiwan’s liaison office in 1997 and declined a request from Taiwan to re-establish an economic office in Cambodia in 1998, despite the incentive of millions of dollars of Taiwanese investment that were offered. Cambodia also provides support to China regarding regional issues. For example, the Cambodian government has supported China’s opposition to multilateral negotiations regarding the South China Sea dispute. During its 2012 chairmanship of ASEAN, Cambodia backed the Chinese interest regarding the South China Sea dispute with some ASEAN member states, which resulted in the failure to issue a joint communiqué for the first time in ASEAN’s 45-year history. This has resulted in suspicion towards Cambodia by some ASEAN members. Similarly, Cambodia is reluctant to strongly criticise or protest environmental issues resulting from Chinese policies. This is best demonstrated by Chinese dam building on the Mekong, which is being tolerated despite potential environmental devastation affecting millions of Cambodians who depend on this water for drinking, irrigation, fishing, and sediments that naturally fertilise the land, in short for their food, their water, their sanitation and, in many instances, their income.

The recent U.S. intervention in the Mekong River region, the Lower Mekong Initiative (L.M.I.) launched in 2009, has clearly shown that the U.S. is counterbalancing China’s rising influence in Southeast Asia. Yet, disagreement on democratic practice and human rights issues has posed significant challenges for the U.S. in wishing to broaden its bilateral relationship with Cambodia. Cambodia – U.S. relations, although considerably improved since 2007 when the U.S. government lifted a ten-year ban on direct bilateral aid to Cambodia, in response to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s U.S. alleged unlawful seizure of power in 1997, are usually strained whenever there have been serious human rights violations or contested elections in Cambodia. Despite the U.S. being committed to deepening relations with Cambodia as part of its “pivot” strategy in the region, respecting human rights is still a condition of involvement.

This was evident during the 2012 meeting between U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Cambodian Minister of National Defense General Tea Banh, when the U.S., though committing to military ties, strongly emphasised democracy and human rights protection. During President Obama’s visit to Cambodia for the 2012 East Asian Summit, talks with Hun Sen, on human rights, fundamental political freedoms and elections in Cambodia, were tense. According to then U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William E. Todd, “As President Obama made clear in his meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen on the margins of the EAS, lack of progress on issues related to democracy and human rights is an impediment to the United States and Cambodia developing a deeper bilateral relationship.”

The Cambodian government faces a strategic dilemma in weighing the trade-off between the value of economic infrastructure and its impact on the ecology and the livelihood of the people; between unconditional Chinese aid and investment and between the U.S. effort to promote a stable Cambodia by improving democracy, good governance, human rights and political freedoms. These are challenging issues, as both models contain clear benefits as well as evident limitations.

China’s policy of non-interference is appreciated by the Cambodian government which regards it as respectful of Cambodian sovereignty. However, it can be seen to provide an opportunity for Cambodia to have a “free ride” on the efforts of the international community, in particular the U.S., to get Cambodia on the right track for democracy, good governance and human rights, since Cambodia can ultimately turn to China when it disagrees with these. As Sophal Ear pointedly puts it: “When Cambodia falls under pressure from international bodies to reform its human rights abuses, corruption, oppression of its people, or misuse of power, it turns to China for financial support.”xiii This dynamic was evident when in 2011 the World Bank suspended lending over mass forced eviction of villagers from Phnom Penh’s Boueng Kak Lake development area: Cambodia simply turned to China for financial support.

Excessive dependence on China has placed Cambodian foreign policy firmly under China’s influence. As noted, this was clearly seen when Cambodia used its 2012 Chairmanship of ASEAN to back China in the South China Sea dispute, an action with potential to seriously affect ASEAN’s unity. During her visit to Cambodia in November 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made an insightful comment warning Cambodia from depending only on China with the words: “you don’t want to get too dependent on any one country.”

It is good for Cambodia to have foreign investment to develop its economy independently and with ownership. However, the lack of transparency of Chinese investment can prove problematic. It seems that Chinese firms have pursued their own benefits and interests without considering the long-term environmental impact on local communities. For example, Chinese-built hydro-electric dams in Cambodia’s Mekong mainstream and tributaries seriously affect the hydrological system and thereby the communities who heavily depend on the river for their livelihoods.

Like that of China, U.S. assistance makes significant contributions to Cambodia’s development in all fields. Since renewing relations with Cambodia in 1993, U.S. involvement focuses on the upholding of democratic development, the protection of human rights, the practice of good governance, the rule of law, reducing the threat of terrorism, and bringing the country’s former Khmer Rouge leaders to justice. Cambodia’s democracy is still not yet mature; therefore, the U.S. has played an important role in building a sustainable democracy by supporting civic participation, the respect for human rights, the rule of law, and accountable governance. The U.S. has actively supported Cambodia’s political development through programs that foster democratisation and political accountability. However, the strict conditions attached to American aid have sometimes caused troubled relations.

The Way Ahead for Cambodia

Cambodia’s strategic environment continues to present a dilemma because of competition between China and the U.S. for regional and Cambodian influence. Cambodia has a tough choice of how and under what conditions to interact with the two superpowers, which requires a thoughtful and careful response to balance the two.

It seems that there are three options for Cambodia: 1) Cambodia walks a tightrope – treading a clear and wisely crafted path, balancing China and the U.S. simultaneously; 2) Cambodia aligns more closely with China at the expense of relations with the U.S. and regional partners; and 3) Cambodia aligns more closely with the U.S. at the expense of its relationship with China.

The first option arguably promises to deliver the best outcome for Cambodia. It is possible for Cambodia to benefit from both superpowers to create a better future for itself and its people. The U.S. wants Cambodia to be democratic, a free market economy committed to the rule of law which supports international norms of human rights, good governance etc. The assumption is that this will create a stable and secure Cambodia. The U.S. would expect Cambodia’s policies to be consistent with its national interests and those of other close U.S. allies, such as South Korea and Japan, also key players in boosting Cambodia’s development.

For China, the goal is to be a legitimate power in the world and to be free to establish relations with countries as it sees fit. It does not want to be told by the U.S. what it can and cannot do in its neighbourhood. Moreover, China wants to influence Cambodia to support its policies and projects within the region. In addition, China wants access to Cambodian air and sea facilities if needed. China’s desire is to invest in Cambodia. It has no desire to change the political system, nor does it support democratisation, human rights etc. which, it views as internal matters rather than international norms.

If Cambodia aligns itself more closely with China, this may offset U.S. efforts to turn Cambodia into a democratic society. It may deter respect for the principle of human rights, and the practice of good governance, and could result in the disappearance of democracy in Cambodia. It could threaten investment by and trade with the U.S. and other Western countries, including the garment sector which exports around 70 percent of its goods to the U.S. market. Cambodia would also be at risk of losing valuable anti-China allies within ASEAN and the alliance of the U.S. such as South Korea and Japan, key investors and donors in Cambodia. Also, there is the overhanging spectre of aid reduction from the international community, including the World Bank, the U.N. and Western countries.

If Cambodia aligns itself more closely with the U.S., it risks aggravating China and potentially jeopardising the projects, aid and grants which China currently provides, risking a significant development dilemma. It would likely affect respect between Cambodians and Chinese business persons, who play an important role in contributing economic development in Cambodia. At the same time, Cambodia will continue to face pressure from the U.S. for political reforms, to end corruption, and to respect human rights and the freedom of expression.

In sum, it seems unwise to align only with China or the U.S. Taking sides with either of these two superpowers presents significant risks for Cambodia. Therefore, what Cambodia must do is to tread a carefully and wisely crafted path that balances relations with China and the U.S. simultaneously. Cambodia could be a friend of both China and the U.S. and benefit from its relationship with both countries. The key strategic interest for Cambodia is that new infrastructure and the ensuring of human rights will lead to a prosperous and secure country. Both superpowers’ approaches have their benefits and Cambodia’s task is therefore to balance the needs of both and to offend neither. Cambodia must resolve its own domestic priorities, such as the elimination of corruption, cronyism, forced evictions, land evictions, the protection of human rights, the integrity of elections, etc. Separately, Cambodia must determine whether it benefits or loses from Chinese and American investment and involvement in economic, military and political affairs. Cambodia could introduce its own democratic and electoral reforms to satisfy U.S. conditions. It will benefit from acting in accordance with international commercial norms in dealing with China.

Arguably, Cambodia can be in an effective position to play the role of honest broker in reducing ongoing tensions between China and the United States, fulfilling the former Cambodian Foreign Minister (now Deputy Prime Minister) Hor Namhong’s recent aspiration to play a more active regional foreign policy role. The United States is shifting its priorities to the Asia Pacific Region, making China nervous. This provides an ideal opportunity to upgrade Cambodia’s influence. Cambodia has particularly good strategic relations with both nations, which each has actively courted Cambodia in many areas, especially in economic and military relations.

It would be wise for Cambodia to use this opportunity to reduce tension between the two superpowers and enhance international order. By fulfilling this important task, Cambodia would be seen as role model contributing to peace and stability in the region. At the same time, Cambodia could benefit from harmony and peaceful cooperation between the two superpowers. Cambodia’s ambitious foreign policy would also play a more active role if Cambodia was to mediate in regional disputes, between China and ASEAN South China Sea claimant countries, mainly Vietnam. However, this may not come to pass unless Cambodia strictly adheres to the first proposed option: that is, to tread a clear line striking balance between China and the U.S. simultaneously. Choosing the second or third option poses a potential threat to Cambodia’s foreign policy and development strategy.

It is far better for Cambodia to have two friends rather than one ally and one enemy. Cambodia should steer a clear path in its partnership with both nations. Maybe this path is not as fraught with danger as it might appear. An environment of mutual respect for independence and for common interests between Cambodia, the U.S. and China will support reaching the very best outcomes for all involved parties. Cambodia’s best long term interests lie in regional initiatives, ASEAN, Mekong regional development, and working to harmonise foreign relations as far as possible with countries in the region. China and the U.S. are both key players in the region and key observers at ASEAN. Thus, picking the U.S. or China to the exclusion of the other is not the best option for Cambodia. Cambodia’s history has shown that choosing sides may lead to disaster.


Bower, Z. Ernest. “U.S. Moves to Strengthen ASEAN by Boosting the Lower Mekong Initiative.” Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), July 24, 2012. Accessed June 12, 2016,

Burgos, Sigfrido and Ear, Sophal. “China’s Strategic Interests in Cambodia: Influence and Resources.” Asian Survey 50, no. 3 (May/June 2010).

“China-built dam in Cambodia set to destroy livelihoods of 45,000.” South China Morning Post, September 20, 2015. accessed June 12, 2016,

Ciorciari, D. John. “China and Cambodia: Patron and Client.” International Policy Center (IPC), Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy University of Michigan, IPC Working Paper no. 121 (June 14, 2013). Accessed June 13, 2016.

Ear, Sophal. Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.

Goh, Evelyn. “China in the Mekong River Basin: The Regional Security Implications of Resources Development on the Lancange Jiang.” Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies Singapore no. 69 (July 2004). Accessed June 12, 2016.

Lim, Alvin Cheng-Hin. “ Sino-Cambodian Relations: Recent Economic And Military Cooperation.” Eurasia Review, June 30, 2015. Accessed June 12, 2016.

Long, Kosal. “Cambodia- China Relations.” Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP) Working Paper no. 28 (July 2009).

Accessed June 13, 2016.

Osborne, Milton. “The Mekong: River Under Threat.” Lowy Institute for International Policy, Lowy Institute Paper no. 27 (2009). Accessed June 13, 2016.,_The_Mekong_WEB.pdf.

Paul, Marks. “China’s Cambodia Strategy.” Parameters 30, no.3 (Autumn 2000).

Piesse, Mervyn. “Livelihoods and Food Security on the Mekong River.” Future Direction International, Strategic Analysis Paper, (May 26, 2016). Accessed June 13,2016,

Pomfret, John. “Clinton Urges Cambodia to Strike a Balance with China.” The Washington Post, November 1, 2010. Accessed June 13, 2016,

Todd, E. William. “The US-Cambodia Relationship: A Work in Progress.” The Ambassadors Review (Spring 2013). Accessed June 11, 2016,

Tran, Mark. “World Bank suspends new lending to Cambodia over eviction of landowners.” The Guardian, August 11, 2011. Accessed 13, 2016,

Un, Kheang. “China’s Foreign Investment and Assistance: Implications for Cambodia’s Development and Democratization.” Peace and Conflict Studies 16, no. 2 (2009). Accessed June 13, 2016,

Var, Veasna. “Cambodia’s Strategic Relationship with China and the United States: Implications for Cambodia’s Development Aid.” European Academic Research 5, no. 2 (May 2016). Accessed June 12, 2016.


i. Veasna Var, “Cambodia’s Strategic Relationship with China and the United States: Implications for Cambodia’s Development Aid,” European Academic Research 5, no. 2 (May 2016): 1721-1722.

ii. Ibid.

iii. Ibid.

iv. See for example, Kosal Long, “Cambodia- China Relations,” Cambodia Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP) Working Paper no. 28 (July 2009): 6-7, accessed June 13, 2016, ; Kheang Un, “China’s Foreign Investment and Assistance:
Implications for Cambodia’s Development and Democratization,” Peace and Conflict Studies 16, no. 2 (2009): 67-68, accessed June 13, 2016,

v. See for example, “China-built dam in Cambodia set to destroy livelihoods of 45,000,” South China Morning Post, September 20, 2015, accessed June 12, 2016,; Milton Osborne, “The Mekong: River Under Threat,” Lowy Institute for International Policy, Lowy Institute Paper no. 27 (2009): 13-15, accessed June 13, 2016,,_The_Mekong_WEB.pdf
vi. See for example, John D. Ciorciari, “China and Cambodia: Patron and Client,” International Policy Center (IPC),
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy University of Michigan, IPC Working Paper no. 121 (June 14, 2013): 11-17, accessed June 13, 2016,

vii. Sigfrido Burgos and Sophal Ear, “China’s Strategic Interests in Cambodia: Influence and Resources,” Asian Survey 50, no. 3 (May/June 2010): 615.
viii. Marks Paul, “China’s Cambodia Strategy,” Parameters 30, no.3 (Autumn 2000): 95-6.

ix. Alvin Cheng-Hin Lim, “ Sino-Cambodian Relations: Recent Economic And Military Cooperation,” Eurasia Review, June 30, 2015, accessed June 12, 2016,
x. See for example, Evelyn Goh, “China in the Mekong River Basin: The Regional Security Implications of Resources Development on the Lancange Jiang,” Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies Singapore no. 69 (July 2004): 11, accessed June 12, 2016,

xi. Ernest Z. Bower, “U.S. Moves to Strengthen ASEAN by Boosting the Lower Mekong Initiative,” Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), July 24, 2012, accessed June 12, 2016,

xii. William E. Todd, “The US-Cambodia Relationship: A Work in Progress,” The Ambassadors Review (Spring 2013): 6, accessed June 11, 2016,
xiii. Sophal Ear, Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 29-30.
xiv. Mark Tran, “World Bank suspends new lending to Cambodia over eviction of landowners,” The Guardian, August 11, 2011, accessed 13, 2016,

xv. Alvin Cheng-Hin Lim, “ Sino-Cambodian Relations: Recent Economic And Military Cooperation,”

xvi. John Pomfret, “Clinton Urges Cambodia to Strike a Balance with China,” The Washington Post, November 1, 2010, accessed June 13, 2016,

xvii. See for example, Mervyn Piesse, “Livelihoods and Food Security on the Mekong River,” Future Direction International, Strategic Analysis Paper, (May 26, 2016): 6, accessed June 13, 2016,

Analysis: Clinton’s Acceptance Speech carries weight of history

July 29, 2016

Analysis: Clinton’s  Acceptance Speech carries weight of history

by Heidi M. Przybyla


In becoming the first woman to lead a major U.S. political party, Hillary Clinton’s task Thursday night was not just to claim the Democratic nomination but to serve as a vessel for American women during a monumental moment in their history.

She and a parade of speakers before her did it by keeping the emphasis on its significance for future generations. “I’m so happy this day has come,” she said. “When any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone,” said Clinton.

Her address came on the heels of a rousing speech by President Obama Wednesday night, and the challenges were clear. They boiled down to how effectively she could make a closing argument to American voters after four days devoted to combating questions about her trustworthiness.

In addition to stressing the need for “steady leadership,” Clinton shared more about her personal history. “Some people just don’t know what to make of me,” she said, before explaining how she grew up, describing her grandfather who worked in a Scranton lace mill and her mother, Dorothy, who was abandoned by her parents and ended up working as a house maid at age 14.

She also stressed the importance of her Methodist faith, as well as her early work going door-to-door on behalf of children with disabilities in Massachusetts. “No one gets through life alone. We have to look out for each other and lift each other up,” she said.

She and a parade of speakers before her did it by keeping the emphasis on its significance for future generations. “I’m so happy this day has come,” she said. “When any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone,” said Clinton.

Her address came on the heels of a rousing speech by President Obama Wednesday night, and the challenges were clear. They boiled down to how effectively she could make a closing argument to American voters after four days devoted to combating questions about her trustworthiness.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton delivers remarks during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center, July 28, in Philadelphia, Penn.

She also stressed the importance of her Methodist faith, as well as her early work going door-to-door on behalf of children with disabilities in Massachusetts. “No one gets through life alone. We have to look out for each other and lift each other up,” she said.

From India’s Indira Gandhi to Maggie Thatcher to Germany’s Angela Merkel, many other nations have elevated women to their highest office. Yet the United States has been slow to do the same, with Clinton’s nomination coming 100 years after Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who is among those who blazed the trail for Clinton as the first female House speaker, called the moment “transformational” because of the nation’s status as the world’s leading superpower. While “we are admiring” of other global female leaders, “there’s nothing to compare it with,” said Pelosi, a California congresswoman, of the moment when Clinton accepted the nomination.

The program Thursday night also aimed to paint a portrait of a devoted daughter, mother and grandmother.

Chelsea Clinton gave a highly personal account of Clinton as a mother, saying “every single memory I have of my mom is that, regardless of what was happening in her life, she was always, always there for me.”

Hillary Clinton sought to demonstrate that her passion for issues — like helping children and people with disabilities — can be traced from her earliest days of adulthood to her current bid for the presidency. “It’s a culmination of her work over a lifetime,” said campaign manager Robby Mook.

Clinton also cast herself as a unifying figure while drawing a contrast with Donald Trump on temperament and even suggesting he’s a danger to national security. “Don’t believe anyone who says ‘I alone can fix it,’” she said.

“A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” said Clinton, citing former President John Kennedy’s concerns that “a war might be started – not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men – the ones moved by fear and pride.”

Given her historically low levels of support from white men, the former secretary of State is counting on a huge gender advantage with women, including with younger females and some moderate Republicans.

Hillary Clinton arrives on stage to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 28, 2016.

© Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Hillary Clinton arrives on stage to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 28, 2016.

And as potentially the nation’s first female president, she also hopes to do more than just eke out a narrow win in November.

“You can look at how the Republicans have treated President Obama in a very disrespectful way. That’s why it’s very important to have a strong victory, so that the first woman president will have a Congress that cooperates, not obstructs,” Pelosi said in an interview ahead of the speech. Continue reading

Hillary Clinton accepts the nomination of her Party

July 29, 2016

Hillary Clinton accepts the nomination of her Party

Hillary Clinton accepts the nomination of her party and achieves the distinction of being the first American woman to occupy the  White House in January, 2017 as the 45th President of the United States of America  and Commander in Chief. It is clear in my mind that Hillary Clinton is my man because she is going to work hard to unite her country and build a humane society.–Din Merican


Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton to Sanders supporters: ‘I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause’
  • Clinton on Trump: ‘A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons’

Philadelphia (CNN)Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination Thursday with “humility, determination and boundless confidence in America’s promise,” taking her place in history as the first woman to lead a presidential ticket.

On a night pulsating with emotion, Clinton declared, “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.”
Still, she warned voters the nation is facing a serious “moment of reckoning” from economic pain, violence and terror. The former first lady, senator and secretary of state set her sights on the White House and blasted Republican nominee Donald Trump, portraying him as a small man, who got rich by stiffing workers, peddles fear and lacks the temperament to be commander in chief.
She quickly reached out to disappointed Bernie Sanders voters at the end of a convention dedicated to healing the deep rift from their contentious primary race. With the Vermont senator watching from the arena, Clinton told his supporters: “I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause.”
Her speech lacked the poetic sweep of President Barack Obama’s address on Wednesday, but it was in keeping with someone who presents herself as a practical, dogged policy-oriented striver who got knocked down and got straight back up.
But as she playfully batted away an avalanche of balloons on stage with her running mate, Tim Kaine, Clinton appeared proud, happy and enjoying her historic moment.
President Barack Obama congratulated Clinton at the conclusion of her speech.
“Great speech,” he tweeted. “She’s tested. She’s ready. She never quits. That’s why Hillary should be our next @POTUS. (She’ll get the Twitter handle, too)”

Does Hillary Really Have the Foreign-Policy Advantage?

July 28, 2016

Does Hillary Really Have the Foreign-Policy Advantage?

by Uri Friedman


Clinton says Trump’s wrong about the world. But she still needs to explain why she’s right.

Imagine you’ve had it with your house. Or, more precisely, you’re conflicted about it. You’ve loved living there. It’s a mid-century design—the biggest house on the block. You don’t really want to move. But the years, the kids, they’ve taken their toll on the place. In looking into what to do, you meet an interior designer with 25 years of experience and a fistful of glowing testimonials; she bounces around your home, gushing about the “life-changing” window treatments she’ll put here and the “modern, sophisticated” sofas she’ll add there.

When you ask for a second opinion, you’re floored: The guy tells you that the whole structure has been neglected for too long, and that it should be gutted and renovated. He didn’t bring testimonials and he couldn’t care less about window treatments, but he says he knows the best contractors in the world. Why tinker around the edges, he asks, when you could build your dream house instead? Why not put the bathroom where the kitchen is? No, really: What’s stopping you?

Welcome, roughly, to the emerging debate over foreign policy in the U.S. presidential election. Hillary Clinton is the interior designer. She appears to have a considerable advantage over Donald Trump when it comes to experience and knowledge. But that experience and knowledge is only a political asset insofar as voters buy into the premises of the international system that the United States has helped design and lead since World War II—the system, in other words, in which Clinton got all that experience. It’s only valuable insofar as you want to keep the kitchen where it is. If you don’t, well … the guy with the demolition equipment starts looking pretty appealing.

Already, Clinton has claimed international affairs as a key battleground against Trump, devoting her first major address of the general-election campaign to the topic. And she’s done so for understandable reasons. Foreign affairs is arguably the realm in which she can draw the sharpest contrast with Trump in terms of qualifications. In her national-security speech last week, Clinton noted that she visited 112 countries as Secretary of Sstate. While Trump was staging a Miss Universe pageant in Russia, Clinton wryly observed, she was negotiating limits on nuclear weapons with the Kremlin. Foreign affairs is also where the stakes of the election seem highest; in her speech, Clinton conjured images of a volatile Trump in the Situation Room, blustering through matters of war and peace with one finger on the nuclear button and another scrolling through Twitter. Plus, it’s where she may be able to peel off some Republican voters. Electing Trump, Clinton said last week, “would undo so much of the work that Republicans and Democrats alike have done over many decades to make America stronger and more secure.”

And yet: It’s unclear whether this strategy will pay off for Clinton. Yes, she has a record of making life-and-death decisions, while Trump doesn’t. But that fact cuts both ways. Experience is not the same thing as success, even though Clintonrarely distinguishes between the two. In his victory speech following Tuesday’s primaries, for example, Trump characterized Clinton’s foreign policy in the Senate and State Department as one that “invaded Libya, destabilized Iraq, unleashed ISIS, and threw Syria into chaos, and created the mass migration, which is wreaking havoc all over the world.” Whether or not that critique is valid, it’s a reminder that Trump can attack Clinton’s actual policy choices; Clinton can only assail Trump’s rhetoric and hypothetical actions.

Clinton has also tethered herself to a decades-old, bipartisan consensus on the rough outlines of U.S. foreign policy, which Trump has been challenging more vigorously than any major presidential candidate has in six decades. Trump has questioned the consensus on free trade by threatening to start trade wars with China and Mexico. He’s questioned the consensus on alliances by pledging to overhaul or even scrap NATO, and to risk antagonizing America’s southern neighbor by building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He’s questioned the consensus on mutual-defense pacts and overseas military bases by promising to withdraw such support unless countries like Japan pay more for U.S. military protection. He’s questioned the consensus on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons by inconsistently suggesting he would acquiesce to countries such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia obtaining nukes if it made them less reliant on American security guarantees. He’s questioned the consensus on U.S. leadership in the world by advocating for an “America first” worldview that is transactional rather than transformational. As a teleprompter-guided Trump declared in April, “We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism. The nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony.”

Experience is not the same thing as success, even though Clinton rarely distinguishes between the two.

Over the last 70 years, presidential candidates have largely acted like interior designers within the existing structure of American foreign policy. Not Trump. And while it’s not clear that most Americans agree with his views, what is clear is that his candidacy comes at a time when the public is deeply conflicted about America’s outsized role in the world. A recent Pew poll found that the vast majority of Americans support U.S. membership in NATO and the United States playing a shared leadership role in the world. At the same time, however, 49 percent of Americans say U.S. involvement in the global economy is a bad thing because it lowers wages and costs jobs in the United States, compared with 44 percent who believe it’s a a good thing because it provides the country with new markets and economic growth. Fifty-seven percent want the United States to “deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their own problems as best they can,” while 37 percent feel the “U.S. should help other countries deal with their problems.”

(The scholar Stephen Sestanovich has pointed out that the Pew results may be more indicative of partisan differences on foreign policy than of bipartisan support for the U.S. reducing its role abroad. Trump supporters are particularly likely to view U.S. involvement in the global economy as a bad thing, while Clinton supporters are particularly likely to feel the opposite.)

John F. Kennedy (Democrat) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (Republican)

Dwight Eisenhower, the celebrated World War II general and NATO commander, eventually defeated Taft in the primary, stamping out unilateralism in his party for decades to come. And he did so, in part, by making a passionate, affirmative case for internationalism and its imperfect but indispensable instruments, including the UN, NATO, and U.S. collective-security agreements (though he did want protected countries to gradually take on responsibility for their own defense rather than remain dependent on America).

Eisenhower was not calling for altruism. Every foreign-policy decision, he asserted in a speech shortly before the Republican convention, must advance the security and well-being of Americans. (In a testament to the malleability of language, he, like Trump, once labeled this philosophy “America first.”) And then he made an argument that drew on his authority as a man who had sent other men into battle: Global peace was essential to American security and well-being, he said, and “those who seem to think we have little or no stake in the rest of the world and what happens to it; those who act as though we had no need for friends to share in the defense of freedom—such persons are taking an unjustified gamble with peace.”

Why? Eisenhower argued that technological innovation, along with new production methods and labor skills, had shrunk the world and made countries far more interdependent. This applied even to the mighty United States, which depended on access to foreign markets and far-flung raw materials. America’s communist foes, he claimed, were determined to cut off these vital supply lines, and thus besiege the U.S. economy and political system. “The bleak scene of an America surrounded by a savage wolf pack could be our lot if we heed the false prophets of living alone,” Eisenhower warned.

Hillary Clinton still has work to do in making the affirmative case for internationalism—for sprucing up the house rather than gutting it. Her recentforeign-policy address included a number of assumptions whose logic Eisenhower didn’t take for granted when the U.S.-led international system was just beginning to take shape.

The choice in the 2016 election, Clinton declared, is “between a fearful America that’s less secure and less engaged with the world, and a strong, confident America that leads to keep our country safe and our economy growing.” OK, but why, in the 21st century, is robust American leadership in the world—yes, Clinton’s nuclear negotiations with Russia, but also her support for the U.S. military intervention in Libya—a prerequisite for safety and prosperity? There are arguments to be made on this front, but Clinton didn’t dwell on them last week. (She did offer a detailed defense of America’s unique alliance system and the benefits the country accrues from it.)

“If America doesn’t lead,” Clinton said at another point, “we leave a vacuum—and that will either cause chaos, or other countries will rush in to fill the void.  Then they’ll be the ones making the decisions about your lives and jobs and safety—and trust me, the choices they make will not be to our benefit.” Clinton vividly depicted Jumpy Trump in the Situation Room, but she didn’t take the time to paint a picture of how Americans’ lives and jobs and safety would change under, say, Chinese hegemony.

Trust me—America must lead, Clinton says. That line may have worked during past elections. But it may not be enough against an opponent who insists that America’s leaders can’t be trusted, and that America’s global leadership is a rotten deal.

ASEAN’s South China Sea ulcer

July 27, 2016

COMMENT: Why the gloom and doom about ASEAN just because the regional organisation is unable to craft and issue a joint statement on the question of the South China Sea.

That is not unusual. Members can agree to disagree and yet ASEAN can remain a cohesive and purposeful organisation to serve the common interest of its members. The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia is a key document that forms the glue that binds members and its partners reinforced by the ASEAN Charter. The ASEAN way operates on consensus, consultation, and dialogue.

ASEAN is, therefore, not structured like the European Union centered on a huge and overpowering bureaucracy in Brussels. One of the reasons for BREXIT is the United Kingdom’s desire to preserve its sovereignty and free itself from mountains of EU rules and regulations. The Jakarta based regional grouping, on the other hand,  is a collection of sovereign and independent nations, each acting in accordance with the dictates of their respective national interest, yet agreeing to come together to pursue their collective interest to preserve regional peace, security and stability, and promote trade and investment for socio-economic development. So far, ASEAN is a success story. Since 2015, it is working towards becoming an economic community.

Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures as he delivers a speech during his presiding over an inauguration ceremony for the official use of a friendship bridge between Cambodia and China at Takhmau, Kandal provincial town south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, file photo.

Cambodia’s Foreign Policy is one of equidistance and neutrality with ASEAN as one of its pillars. (pic above Samdech Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia)

South China dispute is a convenient diversion. To label it as ASEAN’s ulcer–academics are prone to using colorful descriptions and cliches–is to me a bit of an exaggeration. To suggest that Cambodia is a surrogate of China is way over the top. It is a sovereign and independent nation and an active member of ASEAN and the United Nations. As such, Cambodia has the right to pursue good relations with China, Russia and United States and other countries. Its foreign policy is one of equidistance and neutrality.

Using labels has never helped to solve problems among nations. One can easily get away by saying that in the case of its dispute with China over the South China Sea, the Philippines is a proxy of the  geo-stategic interest of United States and talking tough because Filipinos think they can rely on US military power to defend their interest. This is to deny that the Philippines may have its rights over the disputed area. What purpose is served if Cambodia, a non claimant state, is seen to be taking sides?  Rightly, Cambodia has been promoting peaceful settlement of disputes and urging China to sign a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea which is an ASEAN initiative. Lest we forget the South China Sea issue simply  put is a complex one, one that will engage our diplomats over a long time. –Din Merican

ASEAN’s South China Sea ulcer?

by Dr Mathew Davies

http://www.newmandala. org

The just concluded meeting of ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Vientiane, Lao PDR, looked like it was going to be a high profile failure.  The fear was that the meeting would repeat the 2012 experience of being unable to produce a final communiqué in the face of Cambodia’s insistence that nothing was said that would criticise China over the South China Sea.

Four years later ASEAN may have avoided such a public display of disunity but the released communiqué, together with a JointStatement between ASEAN and China on the SCS, suggest that nothing has been resolved.

The Joint Statement is an insipid document that does nothing to address the cause of the flaring tensions in the region. It is full of bland endorsements of the international legal principles that many have shown a flagrant disinterest in and calls for handling differences in a ‘constructive manner’. If the word constructive in this context is intended to cover the building of military landing strips, the placing of advanced weapons systems and aggressive military posturing, then even given ASEAN’s ability to obfuscate this is a linguistic feat to marvel at.

The Communiqué certainly contains more words on the South China Sea than does the joint statement, a whole eight paragraphs, but it is just as damning. Paragraph 174 notes that only ‘some ministers’ were concerned about ongoing issues (for which read, not the Cambodians). No mention was made of the recent Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling on the South China Sea which had so decisively rejected China’s claims in the region in favour of the Philippines.

Image result for cambodia and south china sea

Instead all states were called upon to work together to both implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and work towards building a Code of Conduct to better manage affairs. These are laudable in themselves but hardly helpful given the Declaration was agreed in 2002 and has conspicuously failed to curtail regional tensions and any Code of Conduct would seriously curtail China’s freedom of action in the region, which is completely unimaginable at this stage.

ASEAN’s continued failure to address the South China Sea in anything approaching an effective manner is not only a short term failure – it now represents a significant and ongoing risk to ASEAN’s health. This challenge will not take the form of a heart-attack, a sudden and existential shock to the system. Instead it is an ulcer, a constant pain in the guts that threatens, slowly but inexorably, to flood the system with bile. This challenge takes two forms.

First ASEAN from 1967 has always been about protecting the sovereignty of its members from the encroachment of great powers – as Alice Ba has memorably put it the ‘regional resilience’ of Southeast Asia. ASEAN was founded in the belief of regional self-determination – in the wake of colonialism and amidst the Cold War it was a call to ensure that Southeast Asian states remained in the driving seat of Southeast Asian affairs.

Today, with ASEAN member Cambodia serving as a surrogate for China against the interests of other ASEAN members, it no longer seems to be that the organisation serves the interests of the region.

Failure in the South China Sea to offer even the most tepid of support for member states claims against a rising China, especially the more moderate of those claims, strikes at the heart of what ASEAN was designed to achieve. If ASEAN cannot talk of member states sovereign claims against external great powers, what is the value of ASEAN to those members?

Second ASEAN’s own quest for centrality in Asia-Pacific security is revealed to be a fruitless quest when there is so much reason to question even ASEAN’s relevance to the most pressing of regional security issues. ASEAN has always sought to spread the norms of consensus decision making that it is supposed to follow internally across the Asia-Pacific as a way to exert some sort of pacifying effect on the great powers of the region. Yet if those same norms are now preventing ASEAN’s ability to engage in a meaningful way with China in what way can they be said to be positive and worthy of others following?

The South China Sea issue, then, is not an external threat to ASEAN, but an internal health risk – a sore that if not addressed will continue to leach its poison into the regional organisation and the faith that its members have in it.

The challenge is not a superficial one. It is not about whether ASEAN will unite in the defence of an American designed international order as was the wish of Obama at the Sunnylands Summit or whether it will continue to forge its own path.

The challenge is about whether ASEAN can continue to be valued by its members for the reasons it was created – whether it has the strength of purpose to defend its members from external interference, whether it can continue as a vehicle for regional self-determination rather than a generator of regional discord, and whether it can choose centrality over irrelevance.

As with any health risk, this challenge needs to be confronted sooner rather than later and with a coherent measured response, not a random assortment of lowest common denominator actions. I fear that the prognosis has just deteriorated.

Dr Mathew Davies is head of the Department of International Relations in the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs.


America would be Trump’s banana republic

July 24, 2016

America would be Trump’s banana republic

by Fareed Zakaria

Over the years, I have watched campaigns in third world countries in which one candidate accuses the other of being a criminal, sometimes even threatening to jail his opponent once elected. But I cannot recall this happening in any Western democracy until this week. The Republican convention has been colorful and chaotic, but above all, it has been consumed by a vigilante rage, complete with mock prosecutors, show trials and chanting mobs. The picture presented to the world has been of America as a banana republic.

We have descended so far so fast that it is sometimes difficult to remember that this is not normal. It was only eight years ago that the Republican nominee, John McCain, interrupted one of his supporters who claimed that Barack Obama was an Arab and thus suspicious to explain that his opponent was in fact “a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

Contrast that with the tenor of this campaign, which has been set from the top by Donald Trump, who has repeatedly insisted that Hillary Clinton deserves to be in jail. He even promised that were he elected, his Attorney General would reopen the books and “take a very good look” at possibly indicting her, himself having concluded that she is “guilty as hell.” That might have happened in a Latin American country — 30 years ago.

The (just concluded Republican) convention (in Cleveland, Ohio) has been dominated by hatred of Clinton because it is the party’s only unifying idea right now. People have chosen a candidate who does not believe in the ideology that has inspired Republican leaders for decades — free markets and free trade, low taxes, limited government, deregulation, welfare state reform and an expansionist foreign policy.

In a breathtaking interview with the New York Times, Trump announced that he might not honor NATO’s guarantee of security to the United States’ European allies, practically inviting Vladimir Putin to destabilize Eastern Europe. That is a break not just with seven decades of Republican foreign policy but also with a core American commitment that has kept the peace since 1945. It is the most reckless statement made by a presidential candidate in modern times.

And yet, it is hardly surprising. Trump doesn’t even pretend to have an ideology. His main idea is that he is great, and if the country elects him, he will make it greater. “Share my glory,” cries Evita in the Andrew Lloyd Webber production, which is what Trump promises his supporters as well. It is ironic that Trump rails against Latino immigrants given that his campaign seems to mirror those of Latin America’s Peronists, believing in the strongman above any set of ideas.

The Peronist feel is reinforced by the cringe worthy emphasis on Trump’s children, who were filmed throughout the convention smiling beatifically and waving at adoring crowds from the royal box. (Bill Maher makes a similar point.) In good dynastic fashion, they are his key deputies in business and the campaign. As The Post pointed out, “there are as many Trumps speaking . . . as sitting senators.” In fact, a highlight of every evening has been a speech by a member of the family. And while the family got pride of place, Trump retainers were also showcased. Not one of the Republican Party’s five living former nominees (two of whom were presidents) spoke, but the manager of Trump Winery got a nice slot, as did an assistant to the kids.

The Republican Party has given itself up to a single family and its business interests. Its convention has become a prime-time platform for the enhancement of that family’s fame and fortune. Whatever happens to the party, the country and the world, the Trump brand will come out of this election with even greater global celebrity… Fareed  Zakaria

The Republican Party has given itself up to a single family and its business interests. Its convention has become a prime-time platform for the enhancement of that family’s fame and fortune. Whatever happens to the party, the country and the world, the Trump brand will come out of this election with even greater global celebrity, and thus with many more possibilities to affix its name to condos, golf clubs, suits and phony self-improvement courses. In fact, win or lose, one consequence of this election could be that, finally, Donald Trump will be worth what he claims.