Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Hypocrisy of American Politics

Two knuckleheaded U. S. politicians want to punish Cambodia for its deportation of the Uyghur asylum seekers to China. The punishment: No reduction in or elimination of some $300 million in debt, dating back to the Lon Nol era. The CIA was instrumental in Lon Nol’s coup-d’etat in 1970. That same country bombarded Cambodia for over one year from 1969 to 1970 – secretly. That same country violated Cambodia’s national sovereignty in pursuit of its own misguided foreign policy at that time, not to mention the much worse killing of countless Cambodians by U.S. bombs. The $300 million were given to Lon Nol to bolster his fight against the Khmer Rouge.

Now this country wants to punish Cambodia? What moral right, let alone legal claim, does a country like that have? How about some reparations for its acts against humanity in Cambodia?

They also want to deny Cambodia duty-free status for its garments. So the garment workers are to blame for the government’s action? What makes those two asinine men tick? The excuse with reference to the Chinese dictatorship in a cozy relationship with Hun Sen and his government comes off pretty lame.

Their own president went to China and did not mention human rights once in his talks with the Chinese government. Last I heard, China counts pretty big in U. S. foreign policy. They can’t really afford to alienate the Chinese, now can they? Did they ever introduce a similar bill to punish China? Not to my knowledge.

The only solace we can draw from this is that this bill is probably dead on arrival. Speaking of dead on arrival; did we ever hear anything about that House resolution condemning Cambodia in the aftermath of that Tom Lantos Commission hearing? Of course not; it was never called for a vote.

Meanwhile the U. S. administration announced a huge aid program entitled ‘Feed the Future’. One of its targeted country is Cambodia, as the State Department stated. Perhaps those two guys will want to cut Cambodia out of it? After all, the money will go to the Cambodian government and who knows where it will end up. Some circles are crying foul before even the first cent has been disbursed. Well, this is how some people make their money – the hacks and the professional do-gooders who are so unselfish in their concern for the Cambodian people.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Color Coding Political Preferences

An obscure ‘CPP committee order’ dated Sep. 14, 2009 was dug up by the Voice of America, which allegedly orders government officials to identify people according to their political leanings.

Civil rights organizations, opposition parties, and bloggers promptly got their knickers in a twist saying this violates people’s privacy, rights, and will be used to deprive people of their free choice in elections. According to VoA the local CPP party leaders were to win over as many non-CPP leaning people as they could.

Is the uproar justified or is it again just blowing hot air on the part of those critics to get their names in the papers or their blogs read?

Isn’t that the same thing political parties do all over the world? Local party chieftains try to get as much information on their constituents as possible in order to fashion their election campaigns so that the voters will vote for their candidates.

Let’s compare this with the U. S. election system. First voters need to register to vote. Then the two parties – Democrats and Republicans – hold primaries that determine which of their party’s candidates will run in the election itself. Some states’ primaries only allow registered party voters to vote in their party primaries. Consequently, the parties know from their party rolls who is ‘white’, the color the CPP documents uses to identify their loyal followers. They may not know their opposing party members by name (‘black’ in CPP lingo), but they do know their approximate number. Additionally, opinion polls ordered by the political parties don’t do anything different than ‘color coding’ people. They just don’t call it that. Again, they won’t know the names, but they do know their percentage of all voters within an error margin from 3 – 5%.

Then there are those ‘grey’ (the CPP term) masses out there. In the U. S. they are called ‘independents’. Both parties need to win over a substantial percentage of those for a win. In some elections they swing to the right and in others to the left – therefore, they are called swing voters.

Of course, Cambodia isn’t as sophisticated as the U. S., where mass media campaigns determine the outcome of an election. Saturation TV advertising, attack ads, etc. are still virtually unknown in Cambodia, definitely in rural areas. So village party elders admonish their constituents to vote for them. This happens in the U. S. too, although possibly in a slightly different manner. There candidates walk from door to door to introduce themselves and ask for people’s votes.

In past elections it was reported that some of those local party officials got a little overzealos and used strong-arm tactics to get the vote out in favor of them. Well, whenever there is political power involved, you get people who overshoot their target. Whether it is outright lying by the candidates or voter disenfranchisement of certain ethnic groups or voter blocks, to name only two widely used ploys, no democratic election anywhere has ever been 100% pure and without flaw. Vote buying is another popular tactic used throughout the third world, and even in the U. S. (keyword labor unions).

As in the previous post I refer to fellow blogger Details-are-Sketchy for her somewhat outlandish remark.

Depending on your political leanings, this is either standard political campaigning or an insidious plot to steal the 2013 national election and enslave the nation in poverty (at the behest of the Hanoi masters, no doubt).
The tracking of individual political leanings, if true, is definitely creepy, and without a doubt illegal. Such information is very likely to get abused, and in spirit the color-coding scheme urinates all over a whole raft of human rights treaties. But such thuggish campaigning is also effective at marshaling votes, and history and independent polling suggest it will work.

Ha, ha, ha. I can see that the first sentence is probably tongue-in-cheek. But with that blogger you never know.

The second one is outright stupid and blind to modern electioneering strategies and tactics. Can she be so ignorant as not to know that in a village of 100 people everybody knows where everybody stands? Illegal? Urinates over a whole raft of human rights treaties? Ha, ha, ha.

Aside from that, take all this color-coding with a grain of salt. It sounds more ominous than it is and in one form or another it is done in all Western countries as well. So keep your knickers up so you won’t stumble while running.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Murky Waters?

I have once again attracted some attention from a fellow Cambodia blogger for purported support of certain business practices. The post claims I overlooked that some of that money companies paid to the government went missing, disappeared into thin air, so to speak.

I take it these people do read more about Cambodia than average people would, so one would expect their level of knowledge to be somewhat higher. But it must have escaped them that the reports in the papers and the statements from NGOs on those payments weren’t just about transparency. They were also critical of those business practices as such, as these have increasingly become frowned upon, as they are often seen as nothing else than disguised bribes. While no country really gave a hoot about paying bribes, as it was the order of the day in the 90ies, it is now outlawed in most Western countries. It does, however, continue unabatedly in certain parts of the world.

Besides the amounts of those payments, there is not one piece of evidence that was published that would indicate part or all of it disappeared into dark channels. Show me the proof. Don’t just blather for the sake of making yourself heard. Once shown I will believe it. Now I may suspect or assume, but I don’t know, and you don’t either. Have any you of ever heard the word fairness? Only small- and narrow-minded people use the tactics of their opponents. I know it is quite fashionable to use blanket condemnations whenever it comes to the Cambodian government.

What I miss in all these blogs and most of the newspaper reports is a balanced view of things. Especially that blogger Details-are-Sketchy is quick with her condemnations and snide remarks. It would behoove her well if she sometimes used some restraint before going off half-cocked. A lot of the people who write comments there are no doubt blessed with congenital rectitude, which gives them the right to ride the high horse, giving them a moral superiority, and making them, in the end, nothing but hypocritical and self-righteous. They spew forth words of outrage and moral indignation, not to mention their tendency to judge things on appearances and hearsay without really knowing the full facts.

I am not disputing wide-spread corruption in Cambodia, not even the Prime Minister does that. Some bonehead even once suggested that I support corruption. How stupid can people be? It just goes to show that their intellectual faculties aren’t quite developed yet.

But most reporters, let alone bloggers have no well-founded insight into the real state of affairs in Cambodia. They write from their desks in some foreign country or, if in the country for just a few days, believe they have learned everything there is to know. Most expatriates don’t have any real contact with the local population or the government, apart from getting driver licenses. So what is their knowledge based on?

Regrettably, the government is not really forthcoming with their information policy either, but does that give people the right to smell corruption at every twist and turn of political life in Cambodia? And I also find it deplorable that the national budget, for instance, is not published in great detail for the public to see how funds are spent and where all those donations go.

But rest assured, you zealots, the donor nations do gather detailed information on governance and how funds are spent; and they have noted improvements. Or do you really think they would increase their aid to Cambodia year after year? After all, it reached close to $1.0 billion in 2009.

The U. S. once found that about $500 million a year are lost due to corruption. One of their agencies (I forgot which one and couldn’t bother to research that) had undertaken a study in 2001 (was it?) and had come up with that number. Both the previous and the current ambassador mentioned that figure in public. Whether this number is correct or not is subject to interpretation. U. S. government reports aren’t the most accurate ones as we all know. Just take the reports on Iraq and Afghanistan. They are oftentimes miscalculated and misinformed. They certainly aren’t the gospel. Corruption by its very nature is done in secret. So I wonder how do people come by their findings – by asking people on the street?

This number is used time and again by all people who feel called upon to condemn and criticize everything the Cambodian government does. If you analyze that number, you will find that it is grossly exaggerated, especially the past few years. People are just wont to paint pictures with really broad brushstrokes, without bothering with the finer details. Well, I guess you can’t expect more from people with half-assed knowledge, much less experience.

So, before you people get up onto that soapbox, take a deep breath and reflect on the things you write about first. Sometimes things aren’t what they appear to be.

And then there is this guy who obviously has it in for me. Judging from his comments, he must be a very immature young man. He is certainly the most vile and mean-spirited character I have encountered on the Internet in a long time. His accusations and insults directed at me, without knowing one iota about me, clearly puts him in a category of its own, a category that is normally reserved for gangbangers and similar scum. Only the anonymity of the Internet allows him to write his comments this way. He wouldn’t dare look people in the face and repeat them. But then, the Internet brings out the worst in some people. He fits right in with the people who comment on KI-Media. If he does live in Cambodia, I wonder what made him come here. He is probably one of those losers who didn’t make it in the West. Go home, buddy, do your good deeds in your home country. You are not needed here, much less, what you contribute to Cambodia, and I doubt very much that you contribute anything at all.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Head in the Sand?

Global Witness reports and, needless to say, lambastes the Cambodian government for the export of an estimated 796,000 mt of sand per year to Singapore. GW fears a long-term negative impact on the environment and the livelihood of locals. I am sure this is true if that figure of 796,000 mt were a nearly accurate estimate. This number would translate into 25,677 mt per day. This is an enormous amount of sand, not to mention weight since the sand is still wet.

Now I know there are several dredging boats at work in Koh Kong. If they operated 24/7 they would dredge about 1,070 mt/hour. This number seems very high and I am wondering whether they based their report on actual on-site observation, measurements, and shipping data. Depending on the size of the vessels this volume would translate into a veritable shuttle with about 10 vessels leaving every day. Somehow, I tend to believe they maybe misplaced a comma?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What’s Wrong With That?

I am talking about the payments Total and BHP Billiton made to the Cambodian government for offshore exploration rights and mineral excavation rights, respectively. Similarly it appears some NGOs and Global Witness are up in arms about research to extract oil from the Tonle Sap. What rankles them most, judging from their statements, is the fact that both Total and BHP paid money to the government in connection for these rights. Ok, BHP is investigated by the SEC in the U.S. whether these payments constituted a bribe or whether it was a legitimate concession fee. Obviously, the deal with Cambodia did not come to fruition as the company withdrew its operations from the country. The Japanese company hasn’t paid anything yet but most likely will at a later date.

But the payments Total made should not raise any eyebrows. This is customary and quite within a country’s rights to sell exploration rights, which will usually lead to a partnership once oil has been found. The oil company will surely recover this comparatively paltry amount in no time.

Sorry, I can’t see anything wrong with BHP either. But then, admittedly, I don’t know all the facts, but neither do the people who go on barricades clamoring for transparency. It now has come to the point that whenever a payment is made to the government people raise their heads and cry foul, assuming that most of those funds will disappear in some government official’s pocket. Granted, Cambodia doesn’t have the best of reputations when it comes to corruption, but can’t we just wait for all the facts to come out first?

Then this Global Witness spokesman gave a telephone interview, speaking from London, where I am sure he is completely in the know, fearing that oil extraction in the Tonle Sap region will have negative environmental consequences or will not be of benefit to the people. He doesn’t even know exactly where this is going to happen. The Japanese responded that the area is not in the protected zone and an environmental impact study will be made. Shouldn’t that be enough?

I am not knocking Global Witness in general, but sometimes it seems they just seem to jump the gun a bit. Additionally, we don’t know either where the monies go that governments of other countries reap in for mineral rights. Sometimes governments auction off rights to the highest bidder; even telecom frequencies were sold this way. Now all of a sudden, it is not all right because this is Cambodia? Of course, the companies’ reticence doesn’t help either. They surely don’t win any PR awards this way.

Monday, May 3, 2010

257 Military Trucks on the Political Chessboard

The U. S. had recently announced that it would withhold a shipment of used military trucks as Cambodia had purportedly not abided by international law and its own agreements when it extradited 20 Uygurs back to China. The Uyghurs, as we all know, are a persecuted Muslim minority in NE China whose religious and political freedom have been restricted by the Chinese government. However, Uyghur groups also staged a number of terrorist attacks in the 1990s in their fight for autonomy from China. Consequently, the Chinese government labels those groups terrorists. In 2007 Chinese troops killed 18 Uyghurs and claimed that Uyghurs planned to sabotage and disrupt the 2008 Olympics.

It was on those terrorist grounds that China requested the extradition of those Uyghur refugees from Cambodia. Cambodia obliged and promptly sent them back. Although it was claimed that this was in no way connected to the deportation of those Uyghurs, the subsequent Chinese aid agreements with Cambodia worth 1.2 billion may be subject to one’s individual interpretation.

Now, the previous U. S. government had detained 22 Uyghurs in Guantanamo until Nov. 2009 when 9 of them were released and sent to Palau. Previously five had been sent to Albania. See for exact details.

It must be borne in mind that despite the U. S.’s claim that they were enemy combatants and, therefore, had no right to due process, it was clear to people familiar with their history that they were caught in the crossfire of the war on terror in Afghanistan and were held on the mere suspicion of being Al Qaida fighters – no hard evidence was ever presented. Human Rights organizations had clamored for their release, just as they condemned Cambodia for that deportation for the same reason.

Although there has been a new U. S. administration in office, observers know that much of George Bush’s policies are continued under Barack Obama. It does seem hypocritical at best and downright cynical when the U. S. government, and it doesn’t matter which administration it is, condemns other nations for human rights abuses (which admittedly exist in Cambodia), but continues to infringe, curtail, or abrogates rights altogether itself.

On the occasion of the Shanghai expo the Chinese government now pledged to donate 257 brand-new (not used) military trucks to Cambodia. You can’t blame Cambodia for taking them. After all, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, do you? But some are busy saying Cambodia is playing a dangerous game, obviously remembering Sihanouk’s seesaw tactics, which in the end led to his downfall in 1970. Although it looks somewhat similar, the circumstances are vastly different. At that time, the Americans wanted to contain and push back Communism. Now it is about regional economic dominance. Let’s face it the U. S. is not a major player in Cambodia. That role has long been taken over by the Chinese, followed by the South Koreans. The Chinese don’t so much look at the Americans as their main rival in the region as at Vietnam, which also has very close ties to both Cambodia and Laos and likes to play that game. I would say it is just a plain old thumbing of the nose at the Americans when Cambodia accepted that generous gift. Calling this rivalry a power struggle is a bit of a stretch, Mr. Ou Virak. Cambodia has taken a side some time ago. The government accepts everything it can get their hands on, especially if there are no strings attached. If the Chinese are the ones handing the goodies over, so much so good. If it’s the American, just as well. But so far, the Americans have noticeably been absent from that game. They leave the field to the Chinese and others.

The U. S. is busy getting its economy back on track, they have their hands full with the drawing down of troops in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the nuclear threat of Iran, not to mention huge oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, immigration reform, to name a few. Cambodia is certainly not one of their political or economic priorities. As for sphere of influence, the U. S. lost that a long time ago after the debacle of the Vietnam War, although it is slowly clawing its way back into the Vietnamese economy, but it is far from its previous dominance, in not only SE Asia, but the world as a whole.

China has become an economic world power; without it, the global economy would grind to a standstill. So those 257 trucks are nothing in the great scheme of things. Hey, and these are new. The Americans just wanted to get rid of their old junk. How generous!