January, 2018

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Posted by: | Posted on: January 24, 2018

Facebook Corruption

Quotes & Op-Ed from BuzzFeed

facebook-fake-newsFacebook has styled itself as a neutral platform for information. But its role in spreading propaganda and fake news, as well as its relationship with the Cambodian government, shows how easily that neutrality can be exploited by autocrats.

Weeks after Kem’s arrest, Cambodia’s top court dissolved the main opposition party at the request of the government. It marked a fundamental shift in Cambodian politics, which had long incorporated a vibrant media and civil society, as well as flawed but fiercely fought elections. Democracy in the country had collapsed, and it was broadcast to millions on Facebook.

Lim Cheavutha, who is in his thirties and speaks with an easy confidence, brags about the pageviews on Fresh News with the passion of a football coach obsessing about stats. The site combines the fast-breaking headlines of a newswire with a decidedly pro-government slant, and Lim says he’s so close to Hun Sen that they sometimes message about stories well past midnight. Asked about the growth of his site, he claims extraordinary numbers that are impossible to verify because the company is privately held — more than 10 million pageviews per month and 1,400 downloads of the app a day. (Cambodia has about 4.8 million Facebook users, according to a 2017 assessment.)

Lim says he built Fresh News from scratch with just $10,000. His critics say this is untrue and that Hun Sen is simply bankrolling the site. (A spokesperson for the prime minister did not respond to requests for comment on the site’s ownership.) Lim insisted his site was independent — but then expressed pride in his cozy relationship with the prime minister and other ruling party officials. The opposition won’t return his messages, he said, though opposition officials told me they’d never heard from Lim.

In a place like Cambodia, Lim’s site couldn’t be successful without Facebook, which is where almost everyone gets their news. “Facebook is an absolute necessity for my site,” he said.

Lim said his most popular stories are about the mundane, like traffic accidents and celebrity gossip. But when it comes to politics, he’s quick to note that he alone has the ear of the prime minister.

“They trust me because if they give me the whole thing, I publish the whole thing,” Lim said. “If he [the prime minister] wants to spread news, he comes to me … that’s why I get scoops.” Despite claiming to be independent, Lim said he does not edit Hun Sen’s statements, and says he puts out quick stories himself, tapping them out on his phone, based on what message the prime minister wants to get out.

It’s clear that Hun Sen, who has spent 33 years in power, understands how important Facebook is in his country. With more than 9 million followers, he is the third most engaged world leader on Facebook, after Donald Trump and India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, according to a study by the public relations firm Burson-Marsteller. The report called his presence “unusual” in its candidness — browsing through shows plenty of selfies as well as shots of him with his family and working behind the scenes. For Cambodians, it was a change from the strongman-like figure he presented for years before.

“He’s been a zealous convert to Facebook,” said Sebastian Strangio, the author of Hun Sen’s Cambodia. “He’s using Facebook to sand down the rough edges and present a more avuncular and beneficent public image.”

“Facebook is the most important part of work as well as life,” said Duong Dara, an aide to Hun Sen and the head of his Facebook team, in a rare interview. “The new generation doesn’t have time to watch television anymore, even I don’t buy newspapers. The News Feed, I can see quickly.”

Duong, who is in his early forties, first started using Facebook, he said, because he saw posts about Cambodia being a dangerous place to visit and wanted to clap back out of patriotism. Later, he created a fan page for Hun Sen, who he had long supported. He attracted millions of followers with his straightforward voice. After the election in 2013, Hun Sen himself saw it, Duong said, and got in touch.

Duong came on board and began building a team to manage Hun Sen’s Facebook presence. He declined to specify its size, but said the team was made up of technical people as well as those who understand politics, government policy, and public opinion.

Duong, who speaks English with a perfect American-style accent, has traveled throughout his country and abroad at Hun Sen’s side. He carries five mobile phones in a black vinyl case specifically so he can monitor different Facebook accounts. The phones use different cell service providers so that there’s always a guarantee of signal when the prime minister needs to post — even during a recent visit to China, where Facebook is blocked, and in less developed parts of the countryside.

Duong’s team obsessively monitors comments and likes on the prime minister’s posts with the fervor of day traders playing the stock market, trying to replicate successes and interrogate failures. They’ve learned photos that show Hun Sen’s personal side — like selfies or casual snaps — do a lot better than messages about policy.

Duong’s team also monitors Facebook for people posting comments critical of Hun Sen that they feel cross the line.

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Posted by: | Posted on: January 20, 2018

CNRP CNRM or Others in a Concerted Effort to Bring Back Normality to Cambodia

Weekly Analysis:

But pragmatists have advised that you couldn’t expect the jailed President to revoke your democratic CNRP back to live. The jailed President has no freedom to exercise his free will as well as to undertake a routine leadership to oversee his over 3 million members organization effectively. It has no proof that a jailed person could be an effective leader for any active large political organization. There must be a big misunderstanding in this matter, and the sympathizers have likely played into Hun Sen’s trap. 

118 banned politiciansWhat would I begin with for the current political affairs of Cambodia? At all times, it is a challenging moment for major scholars to analyse the Cambodia political situation in a structural manner. Cambodia politics, during these decades, has been unpredictable, uncertain and risky. Hun Sen has become a pivotal actor to all these unpredictable occurrences and he has boldly coped all those occurrences. In July 1997, the bloody coup detat was exploded within his controllable magnitude, but the anchoring force at the border by his opponent led by Nhek Bun Chay was believed to pressure him to return back to conduct a participatory election. Thus, this happened only after he was sure to ably cope the election outcome. This end of 2017, the preparedness for Senate election in February 25, 2018 and the national election in July 29, 2018, Hun Sen has been pragmatic on his predictable election outcome as if he allowed the existing rule of the game (existing NEC and CNRP), he would loss the power. Hun Sen has learnt to be a King in all circumstances (from his own speech and it is true from our own observation through his lifetime of politician career; this is different from other leaders who have stepped down when time is suitable for them to step down for the sake of collective/national interest although they still see chance to win over the game). This time, Hun Sen has made a decisive moving-ahead by jailing Kem Sokha (president of the CNRP), dissolving the CNRP, taking away all seats of both 55 law-makers and 5007 commune/quarter counsellors elected by the people, and banning all 118 high ranking officers of the CNRP not to participate in Cambodia politics for 5 years. This political manoeuvring has noted as a cold blood coup to renew his power. Hun Sen has been the longest premier serving in post by a facade democratic election, and he has boasted to stay tenure for another ten years.

There are speculations that Hun Sen will turn Cambodia into North Korea model  in the next five years under modern stage of the international stresses. He will not oblige to follow democratic model well-known among Western states, or he will imitate governance model of China or Vietnam. He will practice facade-democracy through a disenfranchised and controllable election mechanism to ensure his tangible political projection.

Pragmatically, the strongest Hun Sen doesn’t exactly reflect its reality, the strongest Hun Sen is because the weakness of his rivalry (opposition). As said, during118 banned politicians waking up the largest crowd of rally against election rigs in 2013 by the CNRP, the negotiation with Hun Sen seems achieved trivial things such as the new creation of NEC structure and the TV Channel, while the key components for power-based sustainability such as the reform or change of judiciary system/institution as well as the neutral arm-force, neutral policemen, and neutral public servants etc. were not prevailed. After agreeing to resume the national assembly and endorse Hun Sen as Premier in his fifth mandate, there were notably conflict in leadership skills within the CNRP as  the top leader attempted “culture of dialogue” but individual law-maker attempted border scheme campaign against the vision of dialogue, or between President and Vice President, they both was likely not in the same page in directing their grand plan and their men. There were vacuum allowing external force to slow down or to obstruct the party’s works. There were encouragement for CNRP to work hard and to work smart indispensably after entering the Assembly. Actually, there were opportunities to change from within by working at the Assembly of those 55 law-makers, but their activities were active at the grassroots level more than in the top level of government. The chronic obstacles of democracy such as the court, the non-neutral national police institution, the systemic corruption, the unequal economic growth, the ineffective public servants, and the non-neutral army etc. were not actively engaged by or at least the CNRP’s working group did actively engage in policy changes of those shortcoming entities to survive itself or to assimilate them with their value for their long term “survival of the fittest” political arena.

This is perhaps one of the reasons in emerging Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM) to replace some of the dysfunctional ability of this party. In practice, there are active unity and passive unity, active bonding and passive bonding, active splitting and passive splitting. This time, CNRP has been entrapped into a Khmer-pot (ក្អម), so if you don’t split your force (បំបែកំឡាំង) from such Khmer-pot, you will die effortlessly. Therefore, all splitting forces must come with pragmatic and concrete action-plans, vision, mission statement, and predictable outcomes etc.

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Posted by: | Posted on: January 17, 2018



By Sek Sophal

After a series of crackdowns by the Cambodian government on independent media, civil society organizations, and a main opposition party in late 2017, Western countries swiftly responded by imposing visa restrictions on Cambodia’s high-ranking officials and terminating development aid. However, Japan, as a treaty ally of the US and a democratic country sharing the values of freedom and human rights, has neither terminated its Official Development Aid (ODA) to Cambodia, nor cut its technical and financial assistance for the National Committee for Election (NEC).

Camboda NECSpeaking to the Voice of America on Dec. 22, 2017, Japan’s Ambassador to Cambodia Hidehisa Horinouchi argued that assuring the opportunity for the people of Cambodia to express their political will and strengthening the credibility of the election process were Japan’s motivations to keep assisting the NEC. But Japan’s decision to remain engaged with a troublesome NEC goes beyond transparency of the election to a long-term strategic end to shape Cambodian politics amid growing competition with China for influence.
Cambodia has become an important destination for Japan’s investment, given its supply of low-cost labor, the potential for stable economic growth (averaging 7 percent for the last two decades), and the increased purchasing power of Cambodian people. The growing significance of bilateral diplomatic relations was evident when Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and Prime Minister Hun Sen upgraded diplomatic relations to a “strategic partnership” in 2013. Since then, the number of Japanese companies investing in Cambodia has rapidly increased. According to the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), there were just 19 Japanese companies in Cambodia in 2010. By 2015, the number had jumped to 250, making Japan the third largest foreign investor in the country.

Cambodia’s geography plays a crucial role in Japanese thinking: physical infrastructure in Cambodia links Japan’s industrial bases in Thailand and Vietnam. Japan’s East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC), which was initiated in 1998 and became operational in late 2006, relies not only on human and financial capital and industrial bases in newly industrialized countries, such as Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia, but also on connections of physical infrastructure in mainland Southeast Asian countries. Although Cambodia was not included in the EWEC at the beginning, political instability and natural disasters in Thailand during the past decade elevated the role of Cambodia in minimizing trade and investment risks and increasing resilience of the supply chain. Massive floods in Thailand in 2011 taught Japan a bitter lesson. According to the World Bank, estimated losses were no less than $4 billion, of which Japan’s investment, particularly in the automobile industries, accounted for a considerable share.

Over-reliance on Thailand is proving to be a dangerous strategy. Oizumi Keichiro, an economist at the Japan Research Institute, notes that “80 percent of investment approvals granted to Japanese business by the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) relate to investments in Bangkok and the eight surrounding provinces” and all of them are prone to annual flooding. To cope with this growing challenge, the Thailand-Plus-One business model was initiated in 2013 not only to minimize investment risks, but also to increase Japanese competitiveness in both the regional and global supply chain. In this model, Japanese companies are advised to move labor-intensive production to one of Thailand’s neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, while Thailand plays a role as hub of Japan’s investment and production clustering. In this strategy, Japan depends on Cambodia to supply low-cost labor and facilitate its supply chain through the country’s road network and scores of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), which were largely developed and funded by Japan’s ODA and Japanese firms.

The Thailand-Plus-One strategy facilitates Japan’s EWEC and offers Cambodia great economic opportunities. Japan can expand its economic power to slow China’s growing influence in Cambodia. Although trade volume between Japan and Cambodia is far smaller than that between China and Cambodia, Japan can at least prevent China from dominating and monopolizing the Cambodian market as it did in Myanmar. Japan is optimistic that the economic opportunities facilitate stronger and deeper engagement to shape Cambodia’s politics.

Direct engagement with the NEC is strategically important for Japan’s foreign policy. Japan’s ODA wins the hearts of Cambodian people, but not those of Cambodian politicians from the ruling party. Its ODA is vital for Cambodia’s development, but less effective to challenge China’s growing influence in Cambodia. Helping the NEC, a national institution with a notorious history of alleged fraud and election manipulation, is a strategy of choice for Japan to remain a key player to engage, monitor, and if necessary put Cambodia’s election on the path of democracy.

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Posted by: | Posted on: January 16, 2018

Cambodia and China: Rewriting (and Repeating) History

Op-Ed: The Diplomat 

A lot has changed in 40 years — but not everything.

Chana's Premier Li Keqiang, center, shakes hands with his counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, second from left, of Vietnam,  Prayuth Chan-o-cha, left, of Thailand, Hun Sen, second from right, of Cambodia, and Thongloun Sisolith, right, of Laos, before an opening of the 2nd Mekong Lancang Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting, in   Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. Leaders of nations along Southeast Asia's Mekong River gather Wednesday in the Cambodian capital amid a push by China to build more dams that are altering the water flow and have raised environmental concerns. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Chana’s Premier Li Keqiang, center, shakes hands with his counterpart, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, second from left, of Vietnam, Prayuth Chan-o-cha, left, of Thailand, Hun Sen, second from right, of Cambodia, and Thongloun Sisolith, right, of Laos, before an opening of the 2nd Mekong Lancang Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. Leaders of nations along Southeast Asia’s Mekong River gather Wednesday in the Cambodian capital amid a push by China to build more dams that are altering the water flow and have raised environmental concerns. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Like Pol Pot before him, Hun Sen has now pinned his political longevity on China, which again looks out at a visage of hostile powers across Asia as it seeks to rise to the status of the regional hegemon, and celebrates having a strong ally in Phnom Penh.

The Soviet threat is gone, but Hun Sen’s cantankerous political attacks on all things American in Cambodia, which has tied him to the Chinese for support, might be viewed in much the same way as Pol Pot’s attacks on Vietnam: it’s me, or a pawn of China’s great power rival du jour. 

Though Hun Sen never specified the precise hue of the “color revolution” brewing against him by Cambodia’ popular opposition party as he dismantled the country’s 25-year-old UN-built democracy late last year, his targets both in the opposition and in fragile civil society had a distinct American accent.

The 24-year-old U.S.-owned English-language newspaper-of-record, The Cambodia Daily, was forced to close — but not the Australian-owned Phnom Penh Post. Gone too were radio programs from the U.S.-run Voice of America and Radio Free Asia — along with two of their reporters, who were imprisoned for “espionage” — but not those of Radio France International.

Gone, even, was U.S.-funded National Democratic Institute — even as Germany’s Konrad Adanaeur Institute, which had been actively working with the opposition to develop policies, was left untouched. The message to China would have been clear.

Hun Sen is only the latest in a long line of Cambodian leaders to bank his leadership’s long-term survival and his legacy on the rise of China as the regional power.

Pol Pot, too, was not the first.

King Norodom Sihanouk, the father of Cambodia’s 1953 independence, also moved sharply toward China’s influence late in his rule. He went as far as to sever diplomatic ties with the U.S. in 1965, believing that the future in Asia was with China.

Pol Pot and King Sihanouk were notably both thwarted by competing interests from within their regimes — a pro-U.S. faction represented by the coup leader Lon Nol for Sihanouk in March 1970, and a pro-Vietnamese faction, with Hun Sen among the leaders, in the case of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in January 1979.

Hun Sen may well yet prove to have bested both for timing in the China gambit. Yet as a self-proclaimed life-long student of history and geopolitics, he would be forgiven for looking around his party with apprehension.

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