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.

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

Malaysia: Foreign Minister Anifah, don’t be ridiculous

July 26, 2017

Dear Foreign Minister Anifah Aman,

You know me and I  know you too since we used to chat on the phone and exchange sms and e-mail on foreign policy, especially on matters relating to Wisma Putra and ASEAN. I have always thought of you as the most level-headed Minister in Najib’s cabinet. That has all changed after reading your comment on Malaysiakini today.

You are wasting your time trying to defend Prime Minister Najib Razak who has lost public trust at home, and blemished his standing abroad. In doing so, not once but twice, you have put your personal reputation on the line by sounding ridiculous.

It does not take a knowledge of Malaysian history to know that the UMNO-BN government led by Najib Razak is corrupt, incompetent, arrogant and dishonest; it has mismanaged our economy. That is common knowledge. I have, for example, lived under 6 Prime Ministers and I know that the 1MBD scandal is but one example of how Najib achieved the distinction of the worst of them. Everything you write below is a distortion of the facts, which are known to all Malaysians and the world at large.

ASEAN Community 2015As Foreign Minister, you should be concerned about Malaysia’s international image.  You would be well advised to worry about Malaysia’s role as the ASEAN Chair 2015 and work in earnest on your people-centered 2015 ASEAN Community project. Right now, this important regional commitment has taken a back seat because Prime Minister Najib is pre-occupied with his own political survival.

Furthermore, I find it  hard to believe that the Wall Street Journal is ignorant about what is happening in Malaysia when you assume that their researchers and journalists do not know our history and politics. The problem with people like you and your Cabinet colleagues is that you refuse to accept the views of intelligent and knowledgeable Malaysians and other observers of the Malaysian political economy. Malaysia  has become a laughing stock of the international community. If you have pride and dignity, you should resign from your post and stop being a circus clown. –Din Merican

Malaysia: Foreign Minister advises Wall Street Journal– Know and Understand Malaysian History

COMMENT by Foreign Minister Anifah Aman: The Wall Street Journal takes aim at Malaysia, but once again displays a woeful lack of knowledge and understanding of our country and its history.

Malaysia has been a democracy since independence in 1957. Elections are fiercely contested, and the opposition won five out of the country’s 13 states in 2008. Political discourse is vibrant and noisy.

The “voices of dissent” that the opposition’s former leader, Anwar Ibrahim, claims not to be able to hear are dominant in Malaysia’s online news media, which has far more readers here than the print press. If anyone doubts Malaysians’ “fundamental liberties”, they can easily see for themselves how free anyone is to criticise the government on these news sites.

Anwar mentions the recent Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) as “encroaching” on those liberties. But he fails to mention that it explicitly states that “No person shall be arrested and detained solely for his political belief or political activity”.

Pota in fact further secures the liberties of Malaysians: both their freedom to speak out, and their freedom from extremists who pose a real threat to the country. Anwar may not take this threat seriously, but the Malaysian government does.

The WSJ gives Anwar the platform to raise false and politically motivated allegations of corruption against our prime minister. Perhaps it might have been relevant for the WSJ to mention that Anwar himself was convicted of corruption in 1999. The verdict was not overturned.

He is currently in jail after a legal process that lasted years. He was first acquitted, then convicted, allowed to appeal, and only when that failed did he go to prison. If he truly believed in his innocence, he could have submitted his own DNA to the court. If the charge had been “trumped up”, as the WSJ falsely says, that would have proven it. But he did not – hardly the action of an innocent man. Far from “sowing communal and religious animosity”, the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak early on launched the 1Malaysia policy.

This is the greatest attempt in Malaysia’s history to forge a national identity that includes all races and religions, and the Prime Minister regularly attends the festivals of non-Muslims, going to churches and temples to share the celebrations of fellow Malaysians.

anifah_amanUNAnwar and the opposition, however, never supported 1Malaysia. Why not? Was it because Anwar himself had a well-documented history of rabble-rousing and extremism, as well as of spouting anti-Semitic remarks – as the WSJ well knows but again fails to mention.

The suggestion that Malaysia is in danger of becoming a “failed state” would be laughable – if it were not for the fact that some people take Anwar seriously and will believe what he says, no matter how wild or imaginary.

Here is what some other people have said about Malaysia recently:

  • Bloomberg rated Malaysia as the world’s 5th most promising emerging market in 2015.
  • The IMF’s latest report on our country was titled: “Favourable Prospects for Malaysia’s Diversified Economy”.
  • A Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations wrote: “Malaysian political discourse is becoming far more open than it was even a decade ago.”
  • The ratings agency Fitch recently upgraded the outlook for Malaysia.

This is the truth about Malaysia today. It is a pity that the WSJ has fallen for desperate, unfounded allegations by a politician and presented them as facts – thereby taking sides in internal Malaysian politics.

Dato’Seri ANIFAH AMAN is Malaysia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The Economist: Najib set to stay as Prime Minister

July 26, 2015

Malaysia: The Economist: Najib set to stay as Prime Minister

by The Malay Mail

Obama Najib GolfObama betting on Najib for TPPA

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is likely to remain in charge despite growing calls for his resignation over the 1 Malaysia Development Board (1MDB) financial scandal, largely due to the lack of “obvious substitutes”, The Economist has said.

In an analysis published two days ago, the London-based publication said it is unlikely that Najib, who is also UMNO President, will vacate his post as he has managed to retain at least surface support from his party.

The Economist noted that there is potential in deputy Prime Minister and UMNO Deputy President Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and his cousin and Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein — who is also an UMNO Vice-President — to take over the helm.

“But neither man seems any more likely than Mr Najib to find the vim required to rejuvenate UMNO, which has grown quarrelsome and complacent after six decades in power — and which, in stemming its ebbing popularity, has taken to exploiting old fears among ethnic Malays that their prospects are threatened by Malaysia’s Chinese and Indian minorities,” it said in an article titled Soldiering on.

Najib is facing intense backlash over the conduct of the state-owned 1MDB, which reportedly chalked up RM42 billion in debts and saddled with allegations of dubious deals that critics claim have carved out a significant chunk out of public coffers.

Earlier this month, US-based daily Wall Street Journal, citing documents from Malaysian investigators currently scrutinising the troubled 1MDB’s financials, claimed that a money trail showed that US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) were moved among government agencies, banks and companies before it ended up in what is believed to be the personal accounts of Najib.

The Economist2The bulk of the money was said to have been transferred shortly before the 13th general elections in May 2013, where the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional (BN) managed to hold on to power despite losing the popular vote.

But Najib has insisted that he has never taken any money for “personal gain” and accused former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad of conspiring with foreign media outlets against him.

The Economist said the controversy will erode Najib’s standing among Malaysians even if his name is cleared, leading to a situation where it would be hard to “imagine UMNO sticking by him until the next generation”.

But the business publication also noted that there were rumours of Najib weighing a reshuffling of Cabinet, in what is believed may be a bid to “silence” his critics and dissent.

The Prime Minister also has a fractured opposition working to his advantage, especially in the absence of opposition icon Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim who is currently serving a five-year jail term for sodomy.

“If he (Najib) can blast through this crisis his opponents may well wonder what, if anything, will bring him down,” it said.

ASEAN and the Lessons of Greece

July 25, 2015

ASEAN and the Lessons of Greece

by Dr. Munir Majid

“Thank God we don’t have a Common Currency and never should have.”

There are therefore nascent possibilities and challenges which should concentrate ASEAN minds as they consider the Greek drama in the EU’s eurozone beyond “Thank God, we do not have a single currency, and never should have.” We cannot be immunised from the unintended and unanticipated consequences of community-building. We have to have the institutions and imagination to manage them.–Dr. Munir Majid

Dr Munir MajidEUROPE has been glued to the Grexit television screen for the longest time. Going on and on for at least five years, each episode of whether Greece will remain in the eurozone or not has run longer than the longest Tamil movie of yore (although we have our own MIC version, with 1MDB trying to play catch-up).

What are the lessons for ASEAN of the EU’s Greek tragedy? No doubt the first thing that will trip out is: Thank God we do not have a common currency. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface there are deep issues involved, so many currents, cross-currents and counter-currents in the management of regional integration.

I will highlight three of the more profound: fiscal discipline; national sovereignty; and community negotiation process.

Fiscal Discipline

Fiscal discipline is actually easy to define, but so difficult to uphold when the freewheeling genie has been out of the bottle for so long with no inclination of coming back in. Under the EU’s Stability Growth Pact government deficit has to be not more than 3% of GDP and debt 60%, something characterised more in the violation than the adherence. Nothing has been done about this for years.

In the case of Greece over the last five years they were supposed to be brought down, but the numbers for the fiscal deficit went up again and the country is up to its ears in debt, coming to 200% of GDP after averaging an already unsustainable 177%.

The other side of the austerity equation is unemployment which has hit 25.6%. (Unemployment in Indonesia as a result of the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis was 30%; lowest European unemployment is in Germany at 4.7%).

Youth unemployment in Greece stands at 60%. The Greek economy has shrunk by 25% since the first IMF aid package in 2010. The government and people are saying they cannot take any more, but the creditors – on whom the Greeks are dependent for more bailout and interest servicing packages like an opiate – are saying not enough has been done in a sustained fashion to bring debt and the deficit down.

The Greeks have been used to many things which the creditors now insist on taking away from them. You cannot live beyond your means forever. The chicken is coming home to roost.

From the seven main points of the agreement reached on the night of July 13 for a new bailout package of 86 billion euros, it is clear Greece is now being pushed right against the wall – including what many in the country declare to be violation of its sovereignty.

Cutting pensions

While certain requirements such as cutting pension spending and increasing revenue, through seamless imposition of the top VAT rate of 23% for instance, might be considered par for the course in these bailout situations, the insistence on the transfer of up to 50 billion euros of “valuable Greek assets” to a new independently managed fund, as a form of collateral, was felt by Greeks to be rubbing their noses in the dirt.

National Sovereignty

Alexis and Angela

Sovereignty, what sovereignty? If Greece wants to remain in the euro and needs all the bailout money, including money to service existing bailout funds, has the country got any alternative?

The Greek Prime Minister may quote Paul Krugman on the pain and damage all the austerity requirements are causing the economy, or even appeal to a European sense of history by comparing them to the punitive terms of the Peace of Versailles in 1919 (which historians assert were the root cause of the Second World War as Germany struck back to wipe off the shame), but has he got any other option?

If you need the money, what can you do? South-East Asians may remember that picture in 1998 of the then IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus standing over the cowed former Indonesian President Suharto, as he signed away Indonesian macroeconomic sovereignty. From profligacy, it might be said, to loss of an important part of national sovereignty.

In the negotiation of the new Greek bailout deal this month – which still may undergo many twists and turns – a feature has been the predominance of Germany in the EU and in the eurozone (comprising 19 of the 28 members of the EU). It is after all the largest creditor nation and economy. If pretence was set aside, it is also the most powerful country in Europe (which arrangements at the end of the Second World War were intended to avoid – but that is a different story).

Every member country has a veto of course, but in negotiating the outline and details of the rescue package for Greece, Germany has led the way all this while and its commitment is indispensable, however much the French try to give the impression of having an eminent role as well.


So, how do we look at it all from an ASEAN perspective? The first instinct – thank God we do not have a single currency – is of course to be expected. But the thinking on what has been happening in Europe and on how relevant it is to AASEAN should not end there.

We do have big states and small states. We may say our negotiating and decision-making processes are different – and national sovereignty is untouchable. But this is too pat and shallow. The process of community-building is moving ahead. The voice of bigger countries does carry greater weight. However if it is in the service of what is good for the larger whole, there is not much to be afraid of.

The changeable predispositions of member states, however, have to be managed. Indeed, what a significant member state DOES NOT DO also affects ASEAN – as is the case now with the growing uncomfortable feeling that Indonesia under President Jokowi is not so enamoured of the regional grouping.

Indonesia therefore is critical to ASEAN. What and how it thinks, what happens in that country, have Asean impact. Thus engagement, with Indonesia particularly but also among all member countries, is most important. ASEAN needs, at this stage of its development, to have a Minister for ASEAN Affairs in each member country. The prospects and challenges need to be a focus in every national administration.

Economic management

With respect to economic management, while there is no single currency, there are threats to ALL ASEAN economies of mismanagement in ONE, especially a significant economy. Contagion is always a risk. With increased intra-regional trade (although now only a quarter of the total trade), there will be knock-on effects across the region.

Importantly – let us not forget – we are talking of ASEAN as a region, one single economy, with the prospect of the most promising growth in consumer demand and economic size (coming up to 4th in the world by 2050). ASEAN is an asset class. With the herd instincts of markets, reverse flows caused by fear of contagion can quickly develop into a regional crisis.

While global arrangements such as with the IMF remain, let us also not forget we have an untested multilateral currency swap system that includes three East Asian partner countries to address potential and actual balance of payments and short-term liquidity difficulties – the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation (CMIM). The US$240bil fund is 20% Asean and 80% China, Japan and South Korea. The commitments from each country are really promissory notes, and a country in difficulty can draw up to 2.5 times its committed amount.

Will the support always be forthcoming? Will political differences not get in the way? Not to mention an assessment of whether the country facing difficulty has exercised fiscal discipline in the management of its economy. The CMIM has an institution, AMRO (ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office), to monitor and analyse regional economies in support of its decision-making process.

The central bank governors deciding on requests for support will also rely on AMRO reports and input, and there could be conditions attached to such support, whether the 6-month Breaking Line or the One-year Stability Facility. There could be expectation, frustration, anger and discord.

There are therefore nascent possibilities and challenges which should concentrate ASEAN minds as they consider the Greek drama in the EU’s eurozone beyond “Thank God, we do not have a single currency, and never should have.” We cannot be immunised from the unintended and unanticipated consequences of community-building. We have to have the institutions and imagination to manage them.

Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid, Chairman of Bank Muamalat and Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

Cambodia’s betwixt and between Foreign Policy

July 20, 2015

Cambodia’s betwixt and between Foreign Policy

by  Leng Thearith, UNSW Canberra

Xi and Cambodia's Hun Sen

Following the 2012 ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh, the chair, Cambodia, was largely blamed for the ASEAN foreign ministers’ failure to produce a joint communiqué over the South China Sea dispute.

The sticking point was that the ASEAN claimant states — particularly the Philippines and Vietnam — insisted on using strong language to criticise China’s growing assertiveness. Manila wished to incorporate the Scarborough Shoal, claimed by China and the Philippines, in the communiqué. And Hanoi wanted the document to express criticism of Beijing’s growing provocation at sea. For Vietnam, one example of this was the cutting of a Vietnamese oil exploration cable by Chinese fishing vessels in May 2011. Another was China unilaterally granting nine oil blocks in disputed areas to foreign firms in June 2012.

But the proposals to include these respective concerns of the Philippines and Vietnam were rejected by Cambodia. Phnom Penh viewed these as bilateral rather than multilateral issues. The chair’s continuous refusal to assent to including criticism of China led to the accusation that the country had completely ignored the interests of the region as a whole in favour of its own national interest. To put it even more bluntly, some saw Cambodia as a proxy for China, ardently advancing its patron state’s interests.

Is this claim justified?

One of the reasons Cambodia sought to join ASEAN was to gain protection from its neighbours Thailand and Vietnam. These larger neighbours have throughout history worried Cambodian leaders, including the late King Ang Duong, the late King Norodom Sihanouk, General Lon Nol, Pol Pot, and even Prime Minister Hun Sen. General Lon Nol and Pol Pot chose strong external allies (the US and China, respectively) to counter the threat from its neighbours. On the other hand, Hun Sen has chosen a more nuanced foreign policy approach by hedging against both China and ASEAN, particularly Vietnam.

Since Cambodia was admitted into ASEAN in 1999, its strategy has been partly driven by an expectation that ASEAN would act as a counter against Cambodia’s neighbours. But the country was disappointed by ASEAN’s muted response to the armed conflicts between Cambodia and Thailand surrounding the Preah Vihear temple. When Phnom Penh called for ASEAN support in 2008–10, ASEAN countries — particularly the Philippines and Vietnam — showed little interest, even though their indifference went against the main regional principle of ASEAN; that is, the prevention of armed conflicts and disputes between member states.

The reaction of Manila and Hanoi towards Phnom Penh’s request for ASEAN intervention is worth analysing. The Philippines initially seemed as if it would take a bold stance. Manila accused the Thai government of attempting to avoid the agreements it had reached with Cambodia, but thereafter Manila claimed its position had been misrepresented by the media. Meanwhile, a Vietnamese spokesperson made a formal statement that the Vietnamese government expected both Cambodia and Thailand to resolve the conflict peacefully and amicably, a statement Cambodia was not expecting. Hanoi may have reckoned that an interventionist stance as per Cambodia’s request would harm its economic interests in Thailand.

Sensing that ASEAN had not taken the security interests of its smaller members seriously, Phnom Penh started losing faith in the association — seeking to attract the attention of the other ASEAN states by defying Vietnam and the Philippines on the South China Sea issue at the 2012 ASEAN Summit. But this does not necessarily mean that Cambodia decided to completely abandon the ASEAN countries and opt for China. In fact, Cambodia recognises that ASEAN, and especially Thailand and Vietnam, is vital to its interests. These interests, furthermore, are best served by maintaining a balance between China and ASEAN countries.

If Cambodia were a Chinese proxy, such a balance would be unnecessary: Cambodia’s strategic security would be totally underwritten by its patron, China. Phnom Penh would be unable to maintain close relations with other countries, especially China’s enemies and competitors.

But the Cambodia–Vietnam relationship remains strong, as Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent visit to Hanoi showed. In December 2013, he visited Vietnam amid rising tensions in Cambodia after accusations of irregularities in the national election held earlier that year. Despite his party’s declining popularity, partly due to Cambodia’s close relations with Vietnam, Hun Sen still managed to visit to Hanoi and meet senior political leaders. More surprisingly, he publicly spoke in the Vietnamese language to create a sense of amity and indicate his willingness to draw closer to Vietnam.

The position of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the largest opposition party in Cambodia, towards Hanoi is also interesting. The CNRP, notorious for its hostile policy towards Vietnam, has recently promised to grant Cambodian citizenship to Vietnamese immigrants born in Cambodia if it wins the national election.

Maintaining a balance between China and ASEAN will likely remain the cornerstone of Cambodian foreign policy. Without such a balance, Cambodia risks being cursed by its geography.

Phnom Penh cannot afford to be a Chinese proxy. While China is of great economic interest to Cambodia, Vietnam is also vital to Cambodian security given the country’s geographical proximity. Balancing its foreign policy between China and Vietnam (and ASEAN as a whole) would be the wisest option for Cambodia. At the same time, the fiasco of the 2012 ASEAN summit should demonstrate to other ASEAN members the necessity of responding to the security concerns of its smaller members.

Leng Thearith is a PhD candidate in Political and International Studies at the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defense Force Academy (ADFA).

The author would like to express his sincere gratitude to Professor Leszek Buszynski, currently a Fellow Researcher at the Hedley Bull Center, for his valuable advice and comments on the article.



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