Debt and corruption muddy US-Cambodia relations

Hun Sen, Cambodia's PM , at the ASEAN summit in Hanoi in late 2010 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

SINGAPORE — In contrast to the anguish and astonishment expressed in many national capitals, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen welcomed Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president in November. While the warm response augured well for Phnom Penh’s often troubled relations with Washington, prospects for improved bilateral ties have since faded. In January, the month of Trump’s inauguration, Cambodia pulled out of the “Angkor Sentinel” joint military exercises with the U.S. In early April Phnom Penh followed up that snub to Washington by halting a nine-year-old humanitarian program run by the U.S. military that involved building schools and maternity facilities in rural areas of Cambodia. These affronts were punctuated by testy exchanges between the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh and the Cambodian government, notably over a political parties law passed in February that will make it easier for the Cambodian courts to suspend or even dissolve opposition parties. “Any government action to ban or restrict parties under the new amendments would constitute a significant setback for Cambodia’s political development, and would seriously call into question the legitimacy of the upcoming elections,” the embassy said, referring to local elections scheduled for June and a national poll due in 2018. The law has been widely criticized in Cambodia, too. Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, described it as “an affront to the principles of liberal democracy, [which] effectively gives the ruling party a delete button which can be arbitrarily applied to their political opponents at any time.”

ShareEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPrint this page

Asia ponders whether Trump will walk the talk – Nikkei Asian Review/FT

Indonesian Trade Minister Enggartiasto Lukita Speaking to U.S. investors in Jakarta in Sept. 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — After the most divisive election campaign in decades, tens of thousands of Americans have protested and rioted against the winner in cities across the country, prompting international concerns about an increasingly divided superpower. During his campaign, Trump called Mexicans “rapists,” appeared to mock a disabled reporter, threatened to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., and faced accusations of sexually assaulting women. Clinton was subject to an FBI investigation over her use of a private email account while working as secretary of state, while a foundation run with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, was suspected of soliciting cash from foreign governments in return for contacts in the U.S. government. China crowed over the debacle. “The innumerable scandals, rumors, conspiracy theories and obscenities make it impossible for a person to look away,” said state media outlet Xinhua News Agency. Alongside its unrivalled economic and military strength, the U.S. has relied on intangible “soft power” to influence other countries. Joseph Nye, the Harvard University scholar who coined the term, calls it “the ability to get what one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” But Nye noted that American prestige in Asia has been undermined. “The lack of civility in the presidential debate and the nativist, xenophobic nature of a number of Trump’s statements have already had a negative effect on American soft power in Asia and elsewhere,” he told the Nikkei Asian Review.

ShareEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPrint this page

Asian cities set to surge up retail hub rankings – Nikkei Asian Review

Shoppers walking around the recently opened Aeon mall in Phnom Penh, the rapidly-growing Cambodian capital (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — Asia is home to more than half the world’s most dynamic retail hubs, according to new research that reinforces images of the region’s mall-strewn megacities. The research, by professional services and investment management company JLL, says 12 of the fastest-growing retail cities are in Asia, with eight in China alone — another indication that global economic growth is increasingly driven by the Asia-Pacific region. JLL lists Dubai as the world’s fastest-growing retail destination, with Shanghai second and Beijing third. Places 9 to 13 are occupied by Bangkok, Chengdu, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Manila, respectively. Only two European cities make the top 20 — Moscow and Istanbul — with none from Africa. Mexico City is the sole city from the western hemisphere, sitting at number 19.

ShareEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPrint this page

China’s Xi reinforces warm ties with Hun Sen’s Cambodia – Nikkei Asian Review

Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen at the ASEAN and related summits in Kuala Lumpur on Nov. 21 2015 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — China and Cambodia reaffirmed their solid relationship during a two-day visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Phnom Penh, which ended on Oct. 14. Xi’s meetings with Cambodian government leaders yielded 31 agreements, including one that doubles Cambodia’s quota for rice exports to China to 200,000 tons a year. Cambodia’s rice sector has been hit by falling prices, affecting farmers and millers, and the government has been scrambling to offset the damage, which could undermine ruling party support among the country’s rural majority ahead of local elections in 2017. Cambodia’s long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen recently visited China, where he pushed for an increase in the rice quota. “About 80% of our people are farmers,” Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers told the Nikkei Asian Review. “This agreement is very important to the rural economy.”

ShareEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPrint this page

Phnom Penh building boom prompts pride and puzzlement – Nikkei Asian Review

Construction taking place on the sand at Boeung Kak, a former lake in the centre of Phnom Penh (Photo by Simon Roughneen)

PHNOM PENH — The plush office building on Phnom Penh’s riverside was meant to showcase one of the dozens of new high-rise apartments being built all over the Cambodian capital. But the place was empty, save for an elaborate model of The Bay, a proposed $500 million multipurpose real estate project being developed by Singapore’s TEHO International Inc. Ltd. “Sorry mister, we are closed, the project is under review,” said the sole staff member inside the building, adding that the office will be rented to new tenants soon. TEHO declined to answer questions about the project’s future, but on Aug. 26 said that while the hotel planned for the complex would go ahead, the residential part was being put on hold due to “a heightened risk of oversupply.” In one of Asia’s most remarkable building booms, dozens of new multistory residences are under construction — towering over what was historically a low-rise city and standing as symbols of the country’s long economic expansion.

ShareEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPrint this page

Choking on growth – Nikkei Asian Review

PHNOM PENH — The skyline of Phnom Penh is changing as fast as that of any Asian city. Yellow cranes gleam in the sun after late-afternoon squalls, towering alongside green-netted scaffolding wrapped around dozens of new high-rise apartment blocks going up across the city. These are, literally, the green shoots of a building boom that made up a sixth of Cambodia’s economic growth last year. They are a sign of a transformation underway in the capital as Cambodia tries to catch up with its more prosperous neighbors. But the rapid changes also highlight a challenge that has faced many cities across Asia in recent decades: with 200 million people having moved from countryside to city in East and Southeast Asia since 2010, how can cities manage large-scale urban growth in a way that facilitates economic growth without increasing pollution and traffic jams. In BKK1, an upmarket part of the city, “the roads are too narrow, the area is not ready for so much construction, many small builders don’t talk to the municipality, there is no coordination,” said Sebastian Uy, co-owner of real estate agency Le Grand Mekong Property.

ShareEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPrint this page

United we stagger – Nikkei Asian Review/FT

Inside the lobby at the ASEAN secretariat in Jakarta (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA – Unlike the imposing and often inaccessible buildings of the European Union in Brussels, ASEAN’s low-rise offices sit in the shadow of a partly constructed overhead railway in the southern part of Indonesia’s traffic-clogged capital. Nine months after the group’s 10 members established the ASEAN Economic Community, which aims to promote the free movement of goods, services, capital and labor, the headquarters symbolizes both ASEAN’s aspirations and its limitations. The EU was previously known as the European Economic Community, but ASEAN’s adoption of the “community” moniker does not mean it will emulate Europe’s radical, sovereignty-pooling measures, such as a common currency, central bank and free movement of labor. “The appetite to surrender sovereignty simply is not there,” said Jayant Menon, lead economist at the Asian Development Bank in Manila. “I don’t see a single currency coming into play in ASEAN, and I don’t see that as a bad thing.”

ShareEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPrint this page

South China Sea arbitration ruling brings no closure to regional disputes – Nikkei Asian Review

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak heading for the signing ceremony of the ASEAN community on Nov. 22 2015 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

JAKARTA — The international tribunal decision against Beijing’s claims to much of the South China Sea has provoked a mixed response in the region, with indications that it may tone down some rivalries while sharpening others. Most revealingly, after years of acrimony with China over rival claims in the disputed waters, the Philippines initially took a conciliatory tone, inviting China to bilateral talks over the matter. Despite a jubilant reaction from his countrymen following the July 12 ruling, which was overwhelmingly in favor of Manila, the normally strident new President Rodrigo Duterte said he would not “flaunt” the decision. Instead, he reiterated his desire to improve relations with China, his country’s biggest source of imports. “War is not an option,” Duterte said. “So, what is the other side? Peaceful talk.” Despite Duterte’s muted response, China has refused to compromise — insisting that any talks must exclude mention of the tribunal’s verdict. The tribunal, convened at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, suggested that Chinese naval maneuvers in waters around islands near the Philippines are illegal. Yet Beijing has continued to block Filipino fishermen from working around Scarborough Shoal, 190km off the Philippine coast and 800km from mainland China.

ShareEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPrint this page

Despite retraction row, Asean tests waters with strong South China Sea statement – Nikkei Asian Review

Rodrigo Duterte (red shirt) speaking at Manila’s Rizal Park on May 7, 2016 (Photo: Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — It was a meeting to mark the 25th anniversary of relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, held in the the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming, in a region known for historically close trading links with the Southeast Asian countries to the south, including Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Surprisingly, given the location and the commemoration, ASEAN member state Malaysia issued a statement on behalf of the bloc criticizing China over its territorial claims in the contested South China Sea. The statement noted that recent developments in the disputed sea — where China has been building artificial islands and constructing what it calls “defensive facilities” while the U.S., an ally of the Philippines, has been conducting naval patrols and reconnaissance flights in the name of freedom of navigation — had raised concerns about a spillover clash with China. Those fears, the statement added, had “the potential to undermine peace”. “We stressed the importance of maintaining peace, security, stability, safety and freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea,” the ASEAN foreign ministers said. But in an about-turn more startling than the earlier statement, Malaysia, which chaired the bloc in 2015 before passing the leadership to Laos, a Communist-ruled country with close ties to China, led the way in issuing a sudden retraction, saying there were “urgent amendments to be made.”

ShareEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPrint this page