Category Archives: Cambodia

In Cambodia Racist Rhetoric Brings Death Threats to Human Rights Activist

Opposition protesters from Cambodia's National Rescue Party gather in downtown Phnom Penh, December 2013.  Image: Vicky Han

Opposition protesters from Cambodia’s National Rescue Party gather in downtown Phnom Penh, December 2013. Image: Vicky Han

PHNOM PENH – Cambodia, a nation once traumatised by the ‘Killing Fields’ of the Pol Pot regime in the 1970s, has come a long way since then in rebuilding  the nation from year zero including the holding of elections, and the  creation of a multi-party system.

But the recent flood of hate-mail and death-threats sent to Mr Ou Virak, the president of CCHR (The Cambodian Centre for Human Rights) in the capital Phnom Penh, points to a society still dangerously divided over ethnic and racial issues.

 Attacks on human rights activists in Cambodia and around the world mostly come from the agents and the guardians of the status quo – the police, army, militias, and from private security companies deployed by major corporations seeking to block workers rights. Continue reading

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Filed under Cambodia, Current Events, Foreign policy, GMS, Governance, SLIDER, Vietnam

China & Southeast Asia: Unbalanced Development in the Greater Mekong Subregion

By Xiangming Chen and Curtis Stone

Integrating with Southeast Asia is a key component of China’s multi-pronged regionalisation around its borders as its global rise continues. Below, Xiangming Chen and Curtis Stone consider the ambition of China’s ‘Go Southwest’ strategy to extend its economic interests and influence into Southeast Asia, and explore how China’s regional assertion reinforces the larger trend of new spatial configurations in light of increasing globalisation. The authors show how simultaneous globalisation and regionalisation unleashes a dual process of de-bordering and re-bordering where the traditional barrier role of borders is yielding more to that of bridges, as small, marginal, and remote border cities and towns become larger centers of trade and tourism. This article examines China’s effort to engage Southeast Asia and many of China’s footprints within and beyond the cities of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). Inter-country and intra-regional trade provides the starting point for examining the extent of economic integration in the GMS, and also its unbalanced development.

Going Southwest

In a coffee shop in central Vientiane on a hot summer day in 2012, two young Chinese businessmen from northwestern China, sipping ice-cold Latte, talked about the prospect of a new venture to explore copper in the mountains of northern Laos: ‘If we make $100 and they [Laotians] get $5, they should be happy’. On the outskirts of Yunnan’s capital city of Kunming, China’s fourth largest airport behind Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou (also the world’s fifth largest airport in occupied area), Changshui International Airport, which is expected to have flown 38 million passengers by 2020 and 65 million by 2040, was opened with much fanfare in June 2012. While seemingly disparate, this pair of anecdotes reveals the ambition of China’s ‘Go Southwest’ strategy to extend its economic interests and influence into Southeast Asia.

Integrating with Southeast Asia is a key component of China’s multi-pronged regionalisation around its borders as its global rise continues. China’s regional assertion reinforces a larger trend of new spatial configuration as an inherent part of increasing globalisation driven by China. This simultaneous globalisation and regionalisation unleashes a dual process of de-bordering and re-bordering where the traditional barrier role of borders is yielding more to that of bridges (Chen). As a result, once small, marginal, and remote border cities and towns have become larger and lively centers of trade, tourism, and other flows. China’s effort to engage Southeast Asia leaves many striking footprints within and beyond the cities of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) facilitated Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), which was launched in 1992 and consists of China’s Yunnan Province (with the later addition of Guangxi Zhuang Auto-nomous Region), Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Trade with the GMS Countries

Inter-country and intra-regional trade provides the starting point for examining the extent of economic integration in the GMS as well as its unbalanced development. China’s trade with each of the GMS countries has grown since 1990, most rapidly since 2000 (see Figure 1). Given the size of their economies, Thailand, followed by Vietnam, led the smaller GMS countries in trade with China. However, the total volume of China-Myanmar trade rose by $5.9 billion from 2001 to 2011, while China-Laos trade increased by $1.2 billion (Figure 1). Much of China’s growing trade with Myanmar and Laos occurred through cooperation across international boundaries. The role of Yunnan and its capital city of Kunming in China-GMS trade cannot be understated. Yunnan’s GDP skyrocketed from $33 billion in 2000 to $160 billion in 2012, and the province aims to double that to $320 billion by 2017 through even stronger cross-border economic and trade ties. Kunming acts as the origin and core of economic activities that reach into the bordering countries of Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, and beyond.

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Filed under ASEAN, Cambodia, China, Current Events, Economic development, Energy, Foreign policy, GMS, Governance, Mekong River, Myanmar/Burma, Regional Relations, Thailand, Uncategorized, Vietnam, water

The Code of Conduct for the South China Sea: A Waiting Game

On June 30, 2013, following the China-ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Bandar Seri Begawan, capital of Brunei, China released a joint-statement with ASEAN in a post-meeting press conference, indicating that they have agreed to hold “official consultations” on a proposed Code of Conduct (CoC) to govern South China Sea “naval actions”. All parties agreed to move forward with consultations in upcoming meetings to be held in China during September later this year.

Misleadingly or mistakenly billed as a significant paradigm shift by many English language news outlets, this development should not have come as a surprise to anyone. As early as November 2012, China already issued a joint statement with ASEAN at the 15th ASEAN-China Summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, marking the 10th anniversary of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and agreeing to “keep momentum of dialogue” in moving towards a formal Code of Conduct (COC).  China also reiterated this commitment in April this year, following the 19th China-ASEAN Senior Officials’ Consultation.

For the casual observer, keeping track of the ins-and-outs of numerous ASEAN-China agreements and cryptic diplomatic sparring over South China Sea (SCS) disputes can be daunting. News reporting differs greatly depending on its country of origin and the same story can be told in a hundred different ways leaving entirely different impressions of what happened. The following is a breakdown of the important historical, political, and legal considerations necessary to understand what the Code of Conduct for the SCS is, why it is important, and how it may eventually come about. Continue reading

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Filed under ASEAN, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Current Events, Energy, Foreign policy, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Philippines, Regional Relations, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, water

A Day at the Fair: Impressions from the China-South Asia Expo

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After much excitement on the part of merchants and nervous anticipation on the part of the local authorities, Kunming’s 1st Annual China-South Asia Expo came to a close on Monday. By all accounts the Expo was a great success and went off without a hitch. Fellow ExSE blogger Brian Eyler and I both attended the trade expo on Monday afternoon; the following is a record of our visit.

Monday was not only our most ideal time to attend the Expo, but it also was perfect for most other Kunmingers as they had the day off in honor of Dragon Boat Festival. Therefore, the lines were long and pavilions packed, and it took us more than 45 minutes to finally enter the Expo itself. Our first stop was the Main Hall, where the opening ceremonies were held. Flags from every country represented at the Expo and throngs of visitors taking a rest on the floor. A looped video promoting China-South Asia ties was playing in English with Chinese subtitles. However the English was worded awkwardly and sounded like it was copied directly from Google Translate. Both Brian and I agreed that future consideration towards the translation of materials might make a better impression on international visitors to the Expo given English is designated as the normative language communication between China and South Asia.  In the Main Hall we were stopped by a friendly group of local Expo volunteers who wanted us to be part of their souvenir photo collection. Continue reading

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Filed under ASEAN, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Culture, Current Events, Laos, Myanmar/Burma, Yunnan Province

Human Rights in Cambodia 2012

On April 19, the US Department of State released the “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” its annual collection of human rights assessments for all the nations of the world. Cambodia’s entry (pdf here) is not particularly riveting when read as-written, appraising rights victories and abuses in a dispassionate, diplomatic monotone; however, it does succeed in shedding light on several important emerging trends. The overarching narrative is a complicated amalgam of land concessions, corruption and impunity, set against a backdrop of rapid economic growth. Continue reading

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Where have all the fish gone? Killing the Mekong dam by dam

The Mekong, a river of wildly majestic fast-flowing currents flowing through six countries, has long enchanted explorers with its rich biodiversity second only to the Amazon.

It is home to the Giant Catfish, and at least 877 fish species sustaining food security for around 65 million people which make the Mekong the world’s most important centre of freshwater fisheries.

“For the people born on the Mekong, the river is like their blood—the principle of life,” says Dorn Bouttasing, a Lao environmental researcher.

Surely it is unthinkable that man would want to endanger or destroy the basis of such extraordinary natural wealth? Such invaluable natural resources, their infinite value defies any attempt to measure with a crude price tag.

My documentary Where Have All the Fish Gone? (Eureka Films) looks at the four Chinese hydropower dams that have been already built on the Lancang (The Chinese name for the upper Mekong), but its main focus is on the Lower Mekong basin shared by Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

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Filed under Cambodia, China, Current Events, Economic development, Energy, Environment and sustainability, Food, Foreign policy, GMS, Governance, Laos, Mekong River, Sustainability and Resource Management, Thailand, Vietnam, water