Sounding on Cambodia for February 9, 2010

  • Hun Sen didn’t quite manage to make it to ប្រាសាទ​តាមាន់​ធំ​ Prasat Ta Moan Temple, which I’ve written about previously (start here, I suppose), last time Thailand and Cambodia’s nationalist factions started squabbling over it.  The whole thing is simultaneously silly and infuriating.  ព្រះ​វិហារ, which is the real object of contention, is clearly Khmer.  Everyone of consequence has agreed, including previous Thai governments.  But now, because Thailand is dealing with a nascent fascist movement (again), relatively meaningless issues like the placement of a border post and the control over a non-lucrative, largely ruined, temple like Prasat Ta Moan, becomes serious.

    And it’s all cloaked in the language and rhetoric of sovereignty and nation.  If these governments are so concerned with the well-being of their co-nationals, they might question why Surin province in Thailand, and Oddar Meanchey province in Cambodia, receive so little serious government support or funding for issues relating to actual well-being.

    Andy Brouwer’s got some good background and pictures here.

  • Meanwhile, Cambodia has asked the US government to cancel it’s outstanding debts of $339 Million dollars from the 1970s (when the client regime of Lon Nol was fighting a proxy war against its own people and the guerilla communists, on behalf of the US), or else turn it into aid.  I doubt the US would agree to stop collecting debts on its historical protection rackets (can you imagine them canceling the debt that Iraq is going to be saddled with for its ‘liberation?’), they might turn it into ‘aid:’ that all just gets spent on American machinery and ‘foreign expert’ salaries, anyway. See Will Easterly’s awesome, and relatively new, blog, Aid Watch.
  • I don’t have the fight in me for this round of “Let’s blame an American intellectual for the Khmer Rouge,” but Sophal Ear, whom I know and am friendly with, has entered another round in this effort (scroll down about halfway).  I have no sympathy for it, and find it sad to see yet another generation of scholars and thinkers on Cambodia enrolled into stale and meaningless Cold War thinking.  What exactly is Chomsky accused of?  Apologist for the Khmer Rouge?  Never did it.  Critic of American intellectuals who merely cheered while we illegally and secretly bombed Cambodia, leveling it with more tonnage of explosives than was used in all of World War II?  Yes, he did that, and I can’t imagine apologizing for that. By virtue of this previous critique, is he supposed to have been a proponent of the authoritarian and secretive Khmer Rouge?  Hardly: Chomsky has been a avowed anarchist since his youth, which necessarily entails a critique and opposition to not merely the unrestrained forces of feral capitalism, but also the vicious and violent authority of the state (anarchists were the first critics of the authoritarian communists of the Soviet Union, for instance, and have been persecuted more often by their state-communist sisters and brothers than even by the capitalists). It all seems very much like those who want to make Chomsky responsible for the horrors of the Khmer Rouge are either egregiously overestimating Chomsky’s influence (do they imagine he was somehow influencing public policy, and that therefore more bombing of Cambodia would have helped keep the KR at bay?) or holding him morally responsible for being an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, which I doubt he’d be inclined to apologize for.


  • Nobody expected the Garment Factory owners to simply roll over when the workers asked for a payraise.  They didn’t, even though the government itself claims workers need a minimum of $93/month to live, and they currently receive $50. Now, new subcontracting ‘workrooms,’ unregistered and illegal places where factories are skimming even more money from the workers, have been reported in Cambodia, and are supposedly threatening Cambodia’s trade status with the US:

The presence of unregistered workrooms could also damage the work Cambodia has done towards making a name for itself in good labor conditions. This has been sought as a competitive advantage, as Cambodian manufacturing can cost more and labor skills are lower than in competing countries.

Buyers like Levi Straus, Gap, Nike Air and Walt Disney demand respect for labor standards and worker rights. Such buyers can lose confidence in Cambodia if the country does not respect its promises of high standards, Art Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers, told VOA Khmer.

The presence of workrooms can decrease the impact of demonstrations or strikes, he said, because they allow owners to subcontract their work. He would welcome such businesses if they operated legally, he said.

  • The great explorer Zheng He, whose Chinese ships came through Southeast Asia, is explored on the BBC World Service. Check it out! (via)
  • oh yeah – my little post on the word យូន has begun receiving comments over at Details Are Sketchy, who kindly posted a link to it.  Conversation will probably be over there, I imagine.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s