And that’s why we can’t have nice things…

July 19, 2012

Oh dear. And it was all going so well. Cambodia has been convulsed with delight over its chairmanship this year of the 10-nation Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). International exposure and legitimacy for the kingdom!

But sadly, it has got the exposure, but not the legitimacy. In fact, it has ended up looking distinctly small-time, a lickspittle satellite of the political bruiser to the north: China.

To put it bluntly, Cambodia is China’s bitch. China’s direct investment in Cambodia was $1.2 billion in 2011, almost 10 times that of the US, according to the government.

And what China really, really wants is most of the South China Sea, including bits that are only a few miles from the shores of ASEAN states like the Philippines and Vietnam. Disputes over the territory, which may well be bloated with oil, have been simmering for years. ASEAN wants to present a united front against China’s territorial claims; China wants to split the grouping. And $1.2 billion a year buys you a lot of splitting.

So ASEAN foreign ministers met last week in Phnom Penh, with the South China Sea one of the most pressing issues. And Cambodia, predictably, buckled to Chinese pressure and tried to keep the matter off the agenda.

At one point, when Philippine Foreign Minister Albert del Rosario began to raise the issue, his microphone went dead. Just a  ‘technical glitch’, said Cambodia, to widespread disbelief.  At another point, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan was reportedly cut off in mid-address by Hor Namhong, Cambodia’s foreign minister, as he tried to bring up the topic. For the first time in ASEAN’s 45-year history, the bloc failed to come up with a closing statement, which, for ASEAN, is practically unthinkable.

Reuters quoted a diplomat as saying “It was one of the most heated meetings in the history of ASEAN,” while another described Cambodia, as “the worst chair.”

This actually matters a great deal. Last month Beijing said it had begun “combat-ready” patrols around waters claimed by Vietnam. These people are not messing around. Conflict could happen at any time. And poor, stupid, greedy Cambodia has been made to look shockingly inept at the same time.

Perhaps if some of China’s money was washing around the impoverished countryside, helping to make Cambodians’ lives better, then that would be one thing. But, somehow, it is not. There are a lot of Lexuses on the streets of Phnom Penh though. Armani is believed to be opening a shop here soon. But taxi drivers only make $4 a day and children are dropping dead of easily preventable diseases. Some people have a lot to answer for.

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One Response to “And that’s why we can’t have nice things…”

  1. Nicola said

    With your recent blogs I think that there is only one thing for it – Rupert for President! Or King if you prefer – the poor lovely Cambodians deserve better than their current leadershipand although I don’t think you would necessarily be my first choice to take control….you are there, you are raising the issues and even you look to be a better bet than what they have at present!!

    If you need any ministers in your goiverment then I’m sure we’ll all chip in – you know a diverse mix of people so we could fill most roles. I’m definitely up for it and I wouldn’t need a Lexus – a tuk tuk would suffice.

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