Archive for the ‘Cambodia’ Category

Cambodia changes gear into reverse

By Jonathan Power

Cambodia is no longer going forward, it is slipping backwards, as it has many times before. Earlier this month the government asked the Supreme Court to dissolve the main opposition coalition. One opposition leader, Kem Sokha, was sent to prison last month and the other, Sam Rainsy, is in exile.

The English-language newspaper, The Cambodia Daily, has been closed and the relatively free radio stations leant on and a number closed. The decades-long prime minister, Hun Sen, talks about rebels in the capital, Phnom Penh, plotting to overthrow the government.

Good things still happen. The economic growth nearly touches 7% year after year. Land reform has worked. The health and education of the poor has markedly improved. In other countries, this might be a prelude to political liberalisation. But not in Cambodia. Hun Sen, who before has won many elections, some reasonably honest, some rigged, now fears defeat at the polls next year.

To understand why Cambodia is so we must go back 47 years before the genocidal movement, the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot, took over.

In 1970 a pro-American military junta led by Lon Nol deposed King Sihanouk, who had succeeded in keeping his country out of the Vietnam War. Read the rest of this entry »

More US hostility towards China?

By Jonathan Power

September 20th 2016

The two American presidential candidates give the impression of being rather hostile towards China. This is counterproductive.

“The US should not adopt confrontation as a strategy of choice. In China, the US would encounter an adversary skilled over the centuries in using prolonged conflict as a strategy and whose doctrine emphasizes the psychological exhaustion of the opponent. In an actual conflict both sides possess the capabilities and ingenuity to inflict catastrophic damage on each other. By the time any such hypothetical conflagration drew to a close, all participants would be left exhausted and debilitated. They would then be obliged to face anew the very task that confronts them today: the construction of an international order in which both counties are significant components”.

Henry Kissinger who wrote this four years’ ago, was the architect, along with his boss, President Richard Nixon, of the US’s rapprochement with China which led to Communist China taking up its seat on the Security Council and to full diplomatic recognition.

But these days China has begun to feel the old Soviet paranoia that it is being not only contained but encircled. The US of President Barack Obama has been giving it a hard time. The dispute over the ownership of the islands in the East and South China Seas is profoundly threatening for most members of China’s governing elite. Indeed they are right to feel partially encircled.

China has no friends to the east and to the south, except North Korea. To the west it has Read the rest of this entry »

China’s Silk geopolitics

By Johan Galtung

China is changing world geography, or at least trying to do so.

Not in the sense of land and water like the Netherlands, but in the sense of weaving new infrastructures on land, on water, in the air, and on the web. It is not surprising that a country with some Marxist orientation would focus politics on infrastructure–but as means of transportation-communication, not as means of production.

Nor is it surprising that a country with a Daoist worldview focuses politics on totalities, on holons and dialectics, forces and counter-forces, trying to tilt balances in China’s favor. How this will work depends on the background, and its implications.

Two recent books, Valerie Hansen, Silk Road: A New History (Oxford University Press, 2012) and Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (Knopf, 2015) see them as arteries connecting the world, globalization, before that term became a la mode. Not that loads of goods moved all the way in both directions, parts of the way, maybe further. Europe had much less to offer in return; however:

“Viking traders from–Norway–coarse, suspicious men, by Arab account–were moving down the great rivers of Russia–trading honey, amber and slaves–as early as the ninth century–returning home to be buried with the silks of Byzantium and China beside them”. (Frankopan)

The Silk Roads – so named by the German geographer von Richthofen in 1877 – connected China and Europe (Istanbul) over land from -1200; more precisely from Xi’an to Samarkand by a northern and southern road (Hansen for maps). And the Silk Lanes connected East China and East Africa (Somalia) from +500 till +1500 when Portuguese-Spanish and English naval expansion started a Western takeover by colonization.

The modern Silk Road East-West, Yiwu/China to Madrid/Spain. Although the transit time for goods or people to transit the route is 21 days, this is 30 days faster than a ship and is 1/10 the cost of shipping freight. See

For long periods run by Buddhists in the East and Muslims in the West; Islam using them to expand, from Casablanca to the Philippines. Frankopan sees the high points in the Han dynasty (-207-220, capital Xi’an for West Han), the Tang dynasty (618-902, capital mainly Xi’an) and under Mongolian, Yuan rule–for goods, ideas, faiths, inventions.

Xi’an, 3,000 years old, served as a starting point, both for Silk Roads and for the Silk Lanes, traveling the Yangzi River, or over land, to the East China Sea coast. Till the military uprising against the Tang emperor in 755 (Hansen, Ch. 5, “The Cosmopolitan Terminus on the Silk Road”); but Xi’an is destined always to play major roles.

China is now reviving the past, adding Silk Railroads from East China to Madrid via Kazakhstan-Russia-Belarus-Poland-Germany-France, to Thailand, from East to West Africa–from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic–from North to South Africa. Silk Flights. And Silk Web.

A silky cocoon is being woven, by worms in China. Too much?

Two features stand out in this approach to geopolitics. Read the rest of this entry »

At last the sword of justice has fallen in Cambodia

By Jonathan Power

Finally, finally the over-long, seven year trial of the leaders of the murderous Khmer Rouge leadership of Cambodia, is over. The two defendants, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, were each given a life sentence.

Of the other three that were tried, one, the ex-foreign minister, Ieng Sary died in 2013, one, Ieng Thirith, the wife of Ieng Sary, was too ill with Alzheimer’s to appear and one, Kaing Guek Eav (“Duch”), voluntarily confessed three years ago and was sent to jail for 35 years. Read the rest of this entry »

Cambodia leaves the darkness behind

By Jonathan Power

Dateline: Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 5th 2013

Cambodia has lain for too long under the black umbrella of its past. But Cambodia is waking up, has looked the evil one in its eye and, re-born, found its strength.

Cambodia has been to hell and back – 2 million of its people killed out of population of 8 million, with 500,000 of them executed, the consequence of a fanatical communist movement, the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot and a group of henchmen now being tried in the UN War Crimes Court. (Pol Pot himself is dead.)

The Khmer Rouge violently took power in 1975 and fell in 1979. They wanted a classless society. They abolished money, property and religious practices. Family relationships were criticised and people were forbidden from even showing the slightest affection. The work day in the fields was 12 hours long without pause. Torture and the bullet were the instant punishment for deviance. Anybody educated was singled out for death. Read the rest of this entry »

Cambodia’s War Crimes Court at snail pace

By Jonathan Power

Dateline: Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

At the end of World War 2, when the three allies, Britain, the US and the Soviet Union, were considering what to do with the top German political and military leaders, Winston Churchill had no compunction in saying they should be taken out of their cells and shot. Franklin Roosevelt persuaded him that a trial was more in order. Stalin went along with this.

A trial it was with judges from the three powers – the first war crimes’ trial in history. It tried 23 of the German hierarchy and it took only 13 months to complete the trial.

The trial in Cambodia, organised jointly by the UN and the Cambodian government, has had only five people in the dock but has taken 7 years and is not likely to finish before the end of the summer or even early next year. (One was convicted in 2010 and one, the only woman, has been released on health grounds.) I asked senior Western diplomats and two of the judges on the court why so long and they all found it difficult to answer. Some talked about the investigation part of the trial taking too long, yet the evidence was growing on trees. Read the rest of this entry »


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