Hun Sen: No one negotiates better than me

March 29, 2018

Hun Sen: No one negotiates better than me

by Ben Sokhean and Quinn Libson

Ben Sokhean, Quinn Libson and Political Analyst Meas Nee would be well advised to read Astrid Noren-Nilsson’s Cambodia’s Second Kingdom: Nation, Imagination and Democracy for a proper understanding of H.E.Cambodian Prime Minister  Samdech Techo Hun Sen’s political philosophy, his trials and tribulations, his achievements since he took control of the country in 1998, and Cambodia’s contested history since Independence in 1953. Samdech Techo Hun Sen puts democracy building in an explicitly developmental context. For the Cambodian Premier, it is peace, stability and development first. –Din Merican

Prime Minister prepares to speak at a gathering of garment workers in the capital on Wednesday. Facebook

In a boast reminiscent of US President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Hun Sen went on a tangent on Wednesday before thousands of garment workers in Por Sen Chey district extolling his negotiating prowess, calling himself one of the top negotiators in the “history of world leaders”, while reiterating that he would not actually be engaging in any such negotiations with the opposition.

The premier emphasised the role he played in negotiating with former members of the Khmer Rouge, saying “Hun Sen’s presence [at negotiations] helped to solve the problems with the soldiers”. He also posited that the job of negotiator, in some ways, is even harder than the role of a soldier on a battlefield, explaining that in battle, the lower-ranked soldiers are the ones in the line of fire, while in negotiation, it’s the high-ranking combatants – like Hun Sen – who are the ones who see the action.

“There is no one using negotiation opportunities better than me in the history of world leaders,” the prime minister told the workers, adding that he had also been carrying out negotiations for longer than any other current leaders.

Political analyst Meas Nee, however, challenged the validity of Hun Sen’s boasts, saying such talks should not just result in a “winner and loser”.

“The negotiator is a person who enables the involved parties to work with one another and solve the problem,” Nee said. “If we look at the current political crisis in Cambodia, if the leader is good, the political crisis would not be stuck in the deadlock it is today, and I think that it would be solved already.”

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Despite Hun Sen’s claim that his negotiation skills rival all others, the premier is maintaining his position that he will not entertain the possibility of talks with former members of the forcibly dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, which had previously been the only legitimate challenger to Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party in this July’s national elections. On Monday, Hun Sen insisted that there would be no pardons for jailed opposition figures or talks with the CNRP.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan pinned the blame for the lack of compromise on former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, maintaining that Hun Sen is trying to “build a culture of dialogue” with the result that “all Cambodian people are happy and welcome”. Rainsy has been out of the country since 2015, fleeing a host of politically tinged convictions against him, including some in cases levelled by the premier himself.

“The convict Sam Rainsy is the one trying to destroy the culture of dialogue until it’s dead,” Eysan said.

Responding to Wednesday’s speech, Rainsy had a message for the Premier: “[B]eing really effective in negotiations aimed at peacefully resolving national issues requires at least two fundamental skills: intelligence, which he seems to demonstrate, and courage, which he has yet to show.”

“Hun Sen seems to be only guided by fear in his continuous refusal to engage in any negotiation with the CNRP, the only credible opposition party.”


This article previously said Prime Minister Hun Sen’s speech was given on Tuesday March 27. In fact it was given on Wednesday March 28. This has  been amended. 

Modi’s Gulf Diplomacy: Signs of a changing world

February 26, 2018

Modi’s Gulf Diplomacy: Signs of a changing world

by  Balbur Puni

Modi’s upholding of the two-nation solution in Palestine was timely not only to rebalance India’s  diplomacy in the most turbulent region of the world but also to silence his critics back home

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While the national media is naturally focused on banking scams adding to thousands of crores, a major development with far reaching consequences for the country has passed unnoticed. Laying of a foundation stone for a Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi at the hands of visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi signals that the winds of change are beginning to blow even in the arid region of the Gulf. This event  in the Islam’s conservative cauldron has more than a symbolic value both for the hosts and the distinguished guest.

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Prime Minister Modi and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu

Consider also the other highlights of Modi’s recent Gulf foray. One, it comes right against the background of his rolling out the red carpet for  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu —one of the most die-hard Jew whom the world perceives as the obdurate obstructionist in the  establishment of an enduring peace in the region.

Despite the impression this red carpet carried for the international community, Modi was in Palestine soon after reinforcing the Indian stand all these years that the two state arrangement is the only enduring solution to the Palestine problem-the soaring  gangrene of the Gulf.

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The Indian Prime Minister’s upholding of the two nation theory in Palestine was timely not only to rebalance India’s  diplomacy in the most turbulent region in the world but also to demonstrate to his critics back home, that their Prime Minister is a deft player in international diplomacy in dealing with a tough Isareli counterpart or in assuaging wounded pride of the Islamic two third of the Gulf and even in winning and retaining their confidence in him as much as in gaining new military and industrial ties with Israel.  Not just the Jewish nation but the upholders of Islam’s dominance of the region are also counting on India’s growing role in adding to the peace process there.

On two counts Modi’s diplomacy has placed India in a beneficial position in the region. One is in supporting Israel as a growth agent of the area that needs the great talent of technology that the Jewish nation has which is so vital for a whole region that will now have to address itself to a de-cremental role of its most major source of wealth and well being-that is the oil.

It is obvious that oil is losing it’s pre-eminent position as a major source of energy in the world. There is emerging a shift from dependence on oil and gas as source of energy to solar based energy. There are clear signals of this shift the world over, including India.

Modi’s commitment of his Government to this shift in domestic energy policies, in modernising a traditional society into the digital era is also a point of criticism for his domestic opponents. But by standing abreast with global leaders in reversing climate change, in taking big strides in using solar energy and in awakening his own people to pollution whether in dealing with human waste to becoming a people aligned to digital transformation, there is this leadership role closely working with each change agent as a do or die transformation.

The Prime Minister’s Gulf tour was also well timed and well-paying for his country. The way he was received and country after country from Jordan to Iran have sought and got a wide ranging Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) from him must have silenced his domestic critics now made to eat their words questioning the “chaiwala’s” diplomatic capability.

The Gulf tour comes also in the wake of an ASEAN Summit held in New Delhi where South-east Asian nations were not hesitant to express their apprehensions about China’s growing hegemonic rule.  Their determination to resist such hegemony whether in the South China Sea or in Indian Ocean island countries was evident as the Malé political crisis broke out as the world perceived China as using economic leverage gained through large scale “loosening of its purse” as diplomatic correspondents put it in Malé or Pakistan to push forward its policy of encircling India.

Communalism was an old theme. It got a boost when his Government backed the apex court taking up the issue of human rights in the battle it launched against the Muslim practice of triple talaq.  But wherever elections were held Muslim women appeared to back the Government rather than the orthodox mullahs who sought to give a religious backing to a simple  human rights violation issue. That even as Narendra Modi touched several Muslim majority countries no one mentioned the campaign against triple talaq as anti-Islamic.

In these very countries there other signs of change. Like in Saudi Arabia women being given the privilege of driving the family car and relaxation is the rigid stand in the name of religion that women cannot go out without being accompanied by a male close relative.

Behind the curtain of black cloth women in Islamic majority countries might have read Modi’s campaign against triple talaq as a word of hope for them though there may not have been any opening for them to give expression to their feeling. Within the country itself more and more signs are there of Muslim women breaking the barriers and asserting their rights. For instance, in Kerala Muslim women are attending Friday prayers and here and there even asserting their right to lead them.

At the same time the threat to world peace from the violence breathing Islamic States (IS) and terrorism spewing Pakistan are getting isolated day by day. If Pakistan had assumed that by playing Beijing’s puppet it would corner India, Modi has by getting Oman to voluntarily give India access to Oman port of  Duqm for  military purposes also with this port within sight of the Iranian port Chabahar on the Iranian coast developed by India with a clear security angle for Indian access to Afghanistan and central Asia

What is mystery in this great diplomatic achievement is not so much India’s quiet diplomatic triumph in now having a naval presence at the mouth of the Red Sea and the vital maritime route from Indian Ocean to Mediterranean through the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea but also big blow to China’s move to encircle India by infiltrating into Maldives’ political  power structure. The mystery is why the Indian Press failed to highlight this diplomatic triumph of Narendra Modi in an area of bitter inter-Islam conflict and IS influence.

(The writer is a political commentator and a former BJP Rajya Sabha MP) 

Be Courteous to one another, Malaysians

January 28, 2018

Be Courteous to one another, Malaysians

by Dr Mohd Sani Badr

Image result for Malaysians United

 They are the future of a pluralistic and secular Malaysia

THE Rukunegara, the national philosophy, affirms courtesy and morality (kesopanan dan kesusilaan) as the most important character traits in maintaining good relationships in our plural society.

On the other hand, arrogance and causing offence to the sensibilities of others are thoroughly condemned, regardless whether committed by the rich, the powerful, or linguistic and cultural chauvinists.

Observing discussions on social media and reports in traditional media, especially in relation to partisan politics and hawkish pressure groups, this writer wonders whether Malaysians care more about being respectful of diversity than being arrogant. Or is it now the other way around?

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That is why Malaysians must not vote UMNO Racists and bigots


Respect, politeness and arrogance are character traits inculcated mainly by parents, families, teachers and educational institutions. Have we taught our children and students sufficiently about being respectful to humanity without arrogance?

 There is an Islamic tradition on being respectful, where Mu‘adh ibn Jabal said, “The Messenger of God commanded me saying, ‘O, Mu‘adh, I command you to fear God, to speak truthfully, to fulfil the promise, to deliver what you are entrusted with, to shun perfidious actions, to care for the neighbour, to have compassion towards the orphan, to be soft-spoken, to be generous in extending greeting, to do your best no matter what you do, to curtail your fallacious hope, to cleave to the faith, to study the Quran, to love the hereafter, to be anxious in regard to the Day of Reckoning, and to act with humility.” (narrated by al-Bayhaqi).

This writer cautiously believes that many Malaysians, regardless of religious affiliation – or rather, because they are inspired by their faith – are indeed respectful of each other.

The Malaysian founding fathers called this muhibbah, which means mutual love or affectionate friendship among humankind. It is more than mere tolerance.

Merciful human relationship is a great idea from scriptural Revelation, recorded in the Quran. Its basis is the understanding that humanity originates from the common origin called nafs wahidah – a fact emphasised throughout the Quran.

There is essential unity of all people as God’s creatures. All of us belong to one human family without any inherent biological superiority of one over another. The Prophet Muhammad was quoted as saying, “Man is but a God-fearing believer or a hapless sinner. All people are the children of Adam, and Adam was created out of dust.”

In the worldview of Islam, while among Muslims there is “religious brotherhood”, between Muslims and followers of other faiths, there is “biological brotherhood” of the human race. According to this teaching, all of us are biologically brothers and sisters as we are from one living entity (nafs wahidah), whose proper name is Adam.

It is one of the wonders of God’s creation that from one person (Adam), we have grown to be so many; each individual has so many faculties and capacities, and yet we are all one. In other words, this common origin should appeal to the solidarity of humankind, as all of us are brothers and sisters.

Arising from this kinship, we humans have mutual obligations, rights and duties. In another universal verse, God says, “O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul and from it created its mate and from them twain has spread abroad a multitude of men and women. Be careful of your duty towards God in whom you claim your rights of one another.” (4:1).

Because all humankind is one, our mutual rights and dignity must therefore be treated with the full respect they deserve. This is valid even if each of us has his own religious community. It is in this context that the Prophet Muhammad states, “All creatures are equal dependents upon God (‘iyalullah), and those dearest to God are the ones who treat His dependents most kindly.”

Or in another translation: “The whole of mankind is the family of God and he amongst His family is dearest to Him, who does good to others.” (narrated by al-Bayhaqi).

Indeed, the Prophet highlights the fact that all humanity is equally under the care of God, He who feeds, nourishes and sustains them. Moreover, those dearest to God are the ones who are of benefit to others.

Thus, Islam strongly condemns all racial prejudices. Our “natural” outward differentiations – whether in terms of gender, race, language and skin colour – are deemed by Islam to be merely superficial labels.

It is a person’s inner goodness, that is, his “nurtural” ethical quality – measured according to universal religious values – that should be the basis for our esteem for him.

We should never ridicule, insult or unnecessarily be suspicious of another just because he is of a different gender, race, language or hue. Racial quarrels must, by all means, be avoided through proper understanding of one’s own religion in relation to the religions of others.

Dr Mohd Sani Badron is principal fellow/director of Ikim’s Centre for Economics and Social Studies. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.


The Koreas: President Moon Jae-in pursues the Path to Peace the Kim Dae Jung Way

January 9, 2017

The Koreas: President Moon Jae-in pursues the Path to Peace the Kim Dae Jung Way

By Stephen Costello, AsiaEast

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Image result for president moon jae-in and kim jong un

It is hard to overstate the drama that has gripped the South Korean political world during the past 12 months. But the return of pragmatic democratic leadership today offers a crucial opportunity for President Moon Jae-in to reshape the perilous security situation in Northeast Asia as well as to reinvigorate South Korea’s democracy and economy.

The political year really began in October 2016, when then President Park Geun-hye’s combination of corruption and incompetence propelled hundreds of thousands of citizens onto the streets in lively but peaceful protests. On 10 March 2017, the National Assembly voted unanimously to impeach Park. Sixty days later Moon Jae-in was elected. There may not be any other democracy today that could do this.

Image result for president moon jae-inMoon Jae-In is a pragmatic strategist, not an ideologue


South Koreans can be rightfully proud of this. Yet it is not clear that government leaders or the policy community at large have fully digested the country’s growth or fully recognised its middle power potential. In this sense, they lag behind much of the public.

For South Korea and Northeast Asia, the most important aspect of Moon’s election is that he is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. That makes him unique right now in Northeast Asia. His task is to advertise South Korea’s assets and insist on the country’s rightful seat at the decision making table. If the Moon government can become a channel for clear and pragmatic policies, it can then lead on critical issues such as North Korean denuclearisation and development, disaster relief, clean energy and arms reduction.

Yet to do that, impediments within South Korea’s policy space must be acknowledged and managed — some will even have to be addressed head-on. One is that conservatives fear modernism and miss the imagined certainty of the pre-democratic era. Another is that there is a persistent political and personality war among democrats that may determine how successfully Moon can shape policy debates and maintain support in the National Assembly. Moon must also cooperate with the progressive People’s Party and the Justice Party in order to push through his initiatives.

There are two other challenges that could constrain South Korean power and flexibility. One is the radically different views that persist of South Korea’s role, power and responsibilities: on one hand, a weak and dependent South Korea, and on the other, a South Korea that stands as middle power. Even the President seems torn between them; Moon recently said that the regional situation ‘is not favourable to us’ and that South Korea ‘has no power to resolve the current crisis or help relevant sides seek an agreement’. But he has also insisted for months that Seoul should be ‘in the driver’s seat’ on North Korea issues, and he has begun to cultivate his relationship with Xi Jinping.

The second challenge is the South Korea–US alliance. The relationship is long overdue for readjustment and modernisation but is encountering numerous road blocks under the Trump administration. The Trump administration is an unreliable negotiating partner, and it has become hyper-sensitive to any hint of independent ambition by Seoul. While the alliance is not at risk, it sorely needs South Korea to assume greater responsibility. But US unpredictability and Trump’s bellicosity mean statements to that effect evoke nervousness among South Korean elites, and have prevented the government from advancing solutions.

Where does that leave South Korea’s foreign policy direction? President Moon needs to focus on three key external relations opportunities.

First is South Korea’s regional relations. Moon has already begun to manage the areas in which South Korean, Chinese and Japanese interests overlap. But it would be a grave mistake for Moon to continue to urge Russia and China to punish North Korea harder. Instead, his advantage lies in his ability to offer a roadmap for infrastructure and development that integrates the North. China, Russia and Japan would directly and amply benefit from this. Moon should also encourage diplomacy and increased global interaction with North Korea, which could form the basis for the next successful regional advancement.

Second is South Korea’s bilateral relations with North Korea. South Korea’s clear interest lies in reclaiming the strategic possibilities that emerged in 2000, when the North’s proposed denuclearisation benefitted each actor and Pyongyang’s security and development were tightly linked to it. But if the government continues to pursue the false notion that maximum isolation and pressure can lead to negotiations with Kim Jong-un, then it can make no progress.

Third is South Korea’s alliance with the United States. Due to mistakes of past US and South Korean presidents, the North Korea issue now largely defines bilateral relations. This was clear before Moon was elected. If he is to be a true friend to the United States rather than a Trump enabler, he will quickly take up leadership on Peninsular issues (which Trump has abandoned).

While the United States will eventually return to positive engagement on Peninsular issues, this may take five years or more, and Moon doesn’t have time to wait. Too much of South Korea’s agenda and its immediate security depend on him moving now. Trump has shown himself to be malleable — particularly if others arrange for the US’s advantageous participation. That possibility — rather than fuelling Trump’s non-strategic, ‘tough guy’ impulses — is where Seoul and Washington’s roles can be mutually reinforcing.

With its US ally temporarily drained of diplomatic and institutional capacity, and with broad public support, South Korea’s leadership has never possessed this level of capability, stability and flexibility. How and whether it is used will greatly impact regional dynamics in coming months and years. Will the government use its unprecedented power to play a decisive and positive role in 2018?

Stephen Costello is an independent analyst and consultant and the producer of AsiaEast. He was formerly director of the Korea Program at the Atlantic Council and director of the Kim Dae Jung Peace Foundation. His column appears at The Korea Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @CostelloScost.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2017 in review and the year ahead.


Greetings from Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh for Xmas and 2018

December 23, 2017

Greetings from Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh for Xmas and 2018

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Dr. Kamsiah Haider in Kuala Lumpur and Din Merican in Phnom Penh wish all our friends and associates around the world a Merry Christmas 2017 and prosperous New Year, 2018. We are indeed grateful for your warm friendship and support we enjoyed during 2017. We forward to working with you in the coming year and together we can make our world a better place.
Image result for Din Merican and Kamsiah Haider
We have little time for politicians and ideologues as they are a crop of egoistic, misogynistic  and greedy people. All we have to do is to look at Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan and other places to see for ourselves their handiwork. People are their victims, especially women, children and the elderly. They have lost the moral high ground and we must put our differences aside and work hard for peace.
On the occasion of Christmas and the New Year 2018, may we ask Michael Jackson to sing for us his famous song, Make The World a Better Place. –Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican.

Cambodia: Democracy Update

December 9, 2017

Cambodia: Democracy Update

by Sorpong Peou

In recent months, the Cambodian government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen has taken stronger steps to guarantee a win in the national election scheduled for July 2018. Hun Sen’s objective is simple — to prevent his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) from losing power by whatever means necessary.

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Prime Minister HE Samdech Techo Hun Sen– sustaining economic economic growth and maintaining national security. World Bank October 2017 Update is positive

Hun Sen has relied on a combination of three tactics — coercion, co-option and control — to maintain his domination over Cambodia’s politics in the name of protecting national security. Those who cannot be co-opted into the CPP’s sphere through material rewards can be coerced into submission, and those who do submit are still kept under tight control.

The CPP is also resource-rich, well equipped with coercive means and in control of state institutions, especially the armed forces and the judiciary. Those who have refused to defect to the CPP or who resist it face acts of intimidation and threats of punishment.

Disarming the CPP’s political opposition involves taking pre-emptive action to make it difficult for opposition leaders to mobilise effective political support far ahead of the 2018 election. Hun Sen has been successful in suppressing the political opposition and shutting out any help offered to his opponents. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been the primary target. The recent jailing of its president, Kem Sokha, is a good example of Hun Sen’s tactics. The recent decision by the Supreme Court to dissolve the CNRP ensures the CPP will not face any credible challenges in 2018.

Any organisations, domestic or foreign, perceived as politically supportive of or sympathetic to opposition parties are also viewed as potential targets by the CPP. Media outlets have come under pressure, especially those that broadcast news produced by foreign media agencies such as Radio Free Asia and Voice of America. The government recently shut down The Cambodia Daily, a major English language newspaper in the country, and sent its owner a bill of several million dollars for its failure to pay taxes. In August 2017, the government closed the US-funded National Democratic Institute and expelled its staff from Cambodia.

Hun Sen claims these ‘legal’ actions against the CPP’s political opponents and its critics are about protecting national security. Is this true?

The answer is no. Since the end of the Cold War, Cambodia has not encountered any serious external threat. In fact, the country has been blessed with goodwill from countries around the world. Cambodia did the right thing when it joined ASEAN in 1999. In spite of some unresolved territorial disputes and minor border clashes between Cambodia and two of its fellow ASEAN members, Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodian relations with its neighbours have been relatively peaceful. Western democracies may want to see regime change, but evidently have not done anything credible to undermine the CPP.

The unarmed opposition to the CPP does not pose any threat to Cambodian national security either, but it has threatened to undermine the ruling party’s political dominance. Although the CPP won in the 2013 national election, it lost 22 seats to the CNRP, giving the opposition more leverage over the ruling elite. In spite of good economic growth, ratings of Hun Sen’s performance among urban populations remain low. If elections were free and fair, the CPP would end up losing.

While they have done a lot of good for the country, including taking part in the war against the murderous Pol Pot regime and helping many Cambodians to enjoy the fruits of economic growth, the CPP elite have reason to worry about their political future.

Hun Sen and other top CPP leaders have been accused of human rights violations and rampant corruption and thus can never be sure of what might happen to them if they were to lose power. Hun Sen has already been threatened with legal action — another reason why the CPP has tightened control over the security forces and the judicial system, using the courts to prosecute any serious opponents threatening its survival.

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Cambodia remains an attractive tourist destination

Cambodia’s politics of survival is likely to continue unless or until members of the CPP elite and those in the opposition see their common problem: the inherent weakness of Cambodia’s state institutions, which perpetuates the toxic dynamics of threat and counter-threat. Both sides tend to demonise each other. They keep engaging in the nasty politics of character assassination, killing any possibility of advancing a common interest or any hopes for solidifying the culture of dialogue.

Cambodian leaders have a big choice to make. Either they continue along this current trend with no end in sight, or they band together to build the country’s democratic state institutions for the benefit of their own nation. Working together is certainly the only way out and the best option, but this is likely to fall on deaf ears. This is the tragedy of survival politics in Cambodia — a real threat to democracy and its national security.

Sorpong Peou is President of Science for Peace, based at the University of Toronto, and Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration, Ryerson University.