To explore new political viewpoints and to facilitate a sharing processes in the ASEAN region and towards Europe, the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Southeast Asia – Hanoi office is calling for contributions on the themes: (i) Social-Ecological Transformation, (ii) Climate Justice and (iii) Food Sovereignty. Please find attached the full document for more details and please help share this to relevant stakeholders.
The contributions can be of various types like academic papers, interviews, political analyses, picture series, comics etc. The selected papers will be published by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung in a joint book in English and German language.
The final paper should be maximum 15,000 characters describing ideas, concepts or projects of a Social-Ecological Transformation and how they can transform the society. The contributions may focus on projects and concepts in the five Southeast Asian Mekong countries Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar.
Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Southeast Asia will support the editing and publishing of papers that are relevant for our themes and approaches. For each selected paper we will provide an allowance of 350 EUR net.
Process of submitting papers:
· A first overview of the paper (maximum one page) should be sent before 6th of June 2021. Paper Selection will be finished by Mid-June
· The full paper of maximum 15,000 characters should be sent before 15th of September 2021. Related Pictures would be highly valued.
Overviews and papers can be submitted via e-mail to Uyen.Tran@rosalux.org. If you have any inquiries, please do not hesitate to contact us via the above e-mail address.
RLS Southeast Asia – Hanoi Office is calling for project concept notes for the period from 2021 – 2023!!!!!
Each organization can submit maximum two project concept notes. Projects can be, but are not limited to conferences, policy studies, dialogues, workshops, trainings, awareness raising events, development of communication material, educational art work and advocacy activities. Projects should contribute to our three components (as in the picture) and focus on specific themes.
Project duration: Project can be implemented in 1 year, 2 years or 3 years during the period from 2021 – 2023.
Project value: Single activity projects should not exceed 30,000 EUR /project/year Multiple activity projects should not exceed 45.000 EUR/project/year For applicants, who don’t have any experience working with RLS, we just accept 1-year project concept notes with a maximum amount of 20,000 EUR.
Requirements for applicantsState agencies, research institutes, academic institutions, and not-for profit organizations:• Based in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand• Have legal status for implementation of projects with above topics.
Criteria for selection:
1. Relevance with our thematic focus and political background.
2. Relevant experiences and capacity of applicants.
3. Proven profile to address social and ecological issues in lower Mekong region.
4. Engagement of political actors in the project implementation.
5. Budget efficiency and effectiveness.
Application procedure and deadline:-Interested organizations are invited to submit concept notes in one file and pdf format (maximum 02) to Mr. Nguyen Tung (Nguyen.Tung@rosalux.org) and Ms. Hoang Tra My, RLS Project Manager (TraMy.Hoang@rosalux.org) latest by 10.01.2021.
Cambodia is home to 24 Indigenous peoples speaking Mon-Khmer and Austronesian languages. Numerically important groups are the Tampuan, the Kuy, the Bunong, the Jarai, the Brao and the Kreung. While the exact population of these ethnic groups is controversial, they constitute about 2-3% of the national population, between 350,000 and 400,000 individuals as of 2020. Some recuse their ethnic identity because of social discrimination, intermarriage, migration, urbanization and diverse processes of acculturation. Indigenous people’s territories are scattered in 15 provinces (out of 24), but a majority is located in the three north-eastern provinces (Preah Vihear, Ratanakiri and Mondolkiri). While they are not disaggregated in the national census, human right groups maintain that Indigenous Peoples face discrimination and coerced displacement from their lands that is extinguishing them as distinct groups. Scientific investigations confirm that these patterns are driven by ongoing state and transnational corporate ventures for resource extraction and land conversion (timber, minerals, hydro, and agro-industrial plantations), coupled with the growing in-migration from other parts of the country. National authorities regularly deny these assertions under the guise of an expected “national economic development for all”.
It is admitted that the principal adversaries of indigenous territorial and land claims in Cambodia, and by extension throughout the world, are the protagonists of a neo-liberal economic model that has impoverished and dispossessed major sectors of rural societies, blocked the improvement of locally based production (subsistence and commercial agriculture), and promoted capitalist expansion by excluding local populations. In the absence of any reliable mechanisms to secure land, many of the fertile and forested areas, traditionally occupied by autochthonous groups, started to be coveted by agribusiness companies, multinational consortia and wealthy politicians for monoculture exploitation: rubber, cassava, and cashew (north-east), sugarcane and corn (north).
After a decade of Vietnamese occupation, Cambodia has followed a free-market ideology. In the 1990s, Cambodia’s economy relied on external financial support, but socio-political elites constantly captured the bilateral/multilateral aid from the West. Insufficient allocation redistribution for the general population and feebleness of public services reinforced social and economic inequalities. Furthermore, the 2001 Land Law, a by-product of Western aid, with improved additional legislations for monitoring Economic Land Concessions sanctioned by the sub-decree in 2005, offered legal tools for granting Economic Land Concessions to national and international (joint-venture) companies, even though Article 29 of the same Land Law states that “no authority outside the community may acquire rights to immovable properties belonging to indigenous communities”. Indigenous Peoples expected that the 2002 Forest Law would lead to a substantive remedy for protecting their lands, but it led to the contrary (extensive logging by officials and local Khmer/Indigenous elites). In 2004, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia ratified a Master Plan, of which Ratanakiri Province was the epicentre. Once a remote area, nearly exclusively inhabited by non-Khmer populations, the province became a destination not only for landless migrants but also for politically connected opportunists, absentee landlords, and foreign corporations, due to its geostrategic position, Cambodia-Vietnam borderland region with fertile basaltic soils.
Leading developers/policy-decision makers keep on arguing that Indigenous peoples have to adapt to the contemporary economic world. Cambodia has to be competitive and must attract Foreign Direct Investment to advance the country’s economy as well as to modernize rural areas like the north-eastern provinces. Megaprojects constitute the ongoing skeleton of modernity. Subsistence agriculture and worse again slash and burn cultivation are mere testimonies of the past that can be confined to local places (for ecotourism purposes, under the label of cultural heritage) but which cannot contribute to the economic growth of the Kingdom. Land concentration restricts small scale ownership but, according to national authorities, will contribute to maintaining labour forces, providing Indigenous peasants “reasonable” daily wagers.
Working for others has always existed in a context of exchange of services among indigenous groups. Reciprocity conditions its acceptability. But the idea to be permanently or even seasonally employed is less conceivable, even for the Indigenous farmers having small plantations who prefer to recruit lowland workers. Disinterest for agrarian paid work in the plantation prevails. A job with restricting hours appears incongruous and unthinkable to the vast majority, except for the Indigenous landless families who have no other option. As a result, investors and companies recruit experienced Khmer and Cham from the lowland valley to work in their plantations located in indigenous territories. These skilful in-migrants and workforces decide to settle permanently (more jobs, better weather, less pollution, the myth of “abundance of nature”), and these, therefore, contributed not only to land speculation and socio-ecological conflicts but also exacerbated tensions between autochthonous people and new business-minded settlers. This new population have in turn convinced relatives and friends to flock into the indigenous people’s territories for lucrative business opportunities, opening small businesses, being seasonal workers, suppliers and contractors, or elaborating a partnership for a development project (transport/delivery services, construction, training, collective land acquisition).
Frédéric Bourdier is a senior anthropologist from the national scientific research centre from France (Research Institute for Development: IRD) and the University of Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne. He started conducting ethnographic work in Cambodia (1994-1995), with the aim to compare the social ecology of various autochthonous communities in Ratanakiri Province – Tampuan, Kachok’ and Jarai. Since 2004, he came back to the Kingdom (after ten years spent in Brazil Amazon, South India, Columbia, China and Cuba). He has been in charge of two programmes focussing on health policies and the socio-political mobilisation of the civil society in the fight against HIV/AIDS. He has been also involved in an ethnogenetic program in the Highlands, in a critical research insisting on the impacts of development on the livelihoods of the forest peoples. After being in charge of an interdisciplinary malaria research, an ethno-historical investigation of the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Ratanakiri in the sixties, he is actually organising anthropological surveys of the green economy in Cambodia. He periodically returns to Ratanakiri in the villages where he previously lived.
This piece explains: i) how the new generation of Chinese investors and companies acquire licenses in a host country of a predominant Sino-diaspora community, and ii) how these Chinese investors and companies instill patron-client networks to influence regulations and secure business in the host country. It will address these topics by drawing on existing literature, field interviews and observation. It will begin with a brief overview of the relations between China and Cambodia, and other Western count parts. It will then illustrate how Chinese aid and trade have been playing a significant role in Cambodian business and regulatory frameworks by drawing on political culture and patronage-clientelism concepts.
Chinese diaspora and China’s relation within Cambodia
Contemporary Cambodia-China relations can be traced back to just before the collapse of the French protectorate in Indochina. In September 1947, China established its Phnom Penh consulate although the first generation of Chinese migrants probably began settling in Cambodia as early as the late 12th century when Zhou Daguan visited the Khmer Angkorian Empire. In the early 1950s, there were approximately 3,000 Chinese living in Phnom Penh alone. As a business strategy, the Chinese migrants established good connections with Cambodians who were wealthy or were officials working for the French administration. Since then, the ties between Chinese migrants and Cambodian elites has become entrenched and been maintained, up to and including the current younger generation. This has shaped how the younger Chinese generations in Cambodia, commonly known as Sino-Khmer or Sino-Cambodia, operate their small and large-businesses in the country.
Politically, following the collapse of the French protectorate in 1953, the leaders of the two countries (Zhou Enlai and Norodom Sihanouk) met in 1955 at the Bandung conference, where their relationship became closer. Due to geopolitical turbulence and intervention, especially by the US War with Vietnam—which trampled the neighbouring countries of Cambodia and Laos—the region became engulfed by civil war. Beginning in the early 1970s, when Nororom Sihanouk was deposed by a coup orchestrated by the pro-US General Lon Nol of Cambodia, the relationship between China and Cambodia become volatile, even though Shihanouk’s tie with China remained the same. After defeating the pro-US government, the Khmer Rouge’s communists re-established the bilateral relationship with China, from 1975 until 1979, and maintained contact until their surrender in the last battle in 1998. China then re-established a relationship with the new government that emerged from the United Nations organised-election in 1993.
After the election, there was an influx of European and US trade and aid into Cambodia (similar to what occurred in Myanmar after their 2015 election). The inflow of Chinese aid and trade did not draw much attention from the US and EU donors until the 2010s, when China’s economy surpassed some of the world biggest economies, and when China’s Belt and Road Initiative officially launched in 2013. Compared to other donors, the EU had been the most generous donor in terms of grants, followed by NGO core funding, and the US. But as of 2010, China alone is the biggest donor to Cambodia (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Foreign aid to Cambodia (US$ million)
Following the 1998 elections, Cambodia reformed its economy by amending investment laws and regulations to attract foreign capital as well as to integrate Cambodia into the region, and into the larger global economy. Cambodia’s trade with the US has benefited from the granting of a “Generalised System of Preference”, which allows the country to export duty-free products into the US market. Because of this, a huge number of garment factories were opened and operated within Cambodia. In 2001, Cambodia was listed as a least developing country, able to receive the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) trade preference, which allowed Cambodia to export products to EU countries, tariff and quota-free. The inflow of foreign capital also increased significantly starting in the early 2010s, from around US$800 million in 2010, to more than US$1billion in 2012-13, and US$3.5 billion in 2018 (Figure 2). While intra-ASEAN investments played a significant part in this rapid inflow of capital, China alone has provided approximately 20.40% of total foreign investment to Cambodia, and has thus become the single most important strategic investment partner to Cambodia.
Figure 2: Total foreign investment to Cambodia (US$ million).
However, Cambodia has been ranked low in ease of doing business enabling environment ranking, placed at 138th out of 190th (World Bank, 2019). The enforcement of regulations is generally weak and uncertain, as admitted by investors,. This has caused obstacles for most Western investors, but not for China. Since 2005, the inflow of Chinese investment exploits the government’s economic policies, including the privatisation of public resources, such as land, water, forest, and mines, by endorsing a number of regulations, such as the economic land concession (ELC) in 2005. Foreign investors, including the Chinese, have flocked to Cambodia to acquire licenses for resource extraction. Investing in real estate has also been popular among Chinese individual investors and companies. One of the most popular areas is the coastal area is Sihanouk province, where casino and real estate are owned predominately by Chinese businessmen. These investments, though not all, often sparked grassroots communities’ reaction against the regulatory enforcement of license permits.
Cambodia’s socio-political culture, patronage and clientelism
The uncertainty in Cambodia’s regulatory enforcement appears to oppose the deregulation or race to the bottom theories (which enabled the inflow of foreign investment). This uncertainty instead seems to encourage multinational corporations, not only from China but now also from European countries, though China still predominates. How do these Chinese companies: i) acquire investment licenses; ii) secure their business operations over a long-term period; and iii) cope with risks in the uncertain regulatory enforcement environment? Based on my observation and case studies, these questions can be addressed through a careful study of Cambodia’s socio-political culture in relation to an entrenched patronage and client network.
Both clientelism and patronage imply the politically motivated distribution of favours that aims to promote personal and political interests. The two terms are often combined when speaking of patron-client relationship, which can be understood as a dyadic tie involving a largely instrumental friendship. In this friendship, an individual of higher socio-economic status (the patron) uses their own influence and resources to provide protection or benefits, or both, for a person of lower status (the client) who, for their part, reciprocates by offering general support and assistance to the patron. Developing a clientelist network is a means by which to gain protection and achieve goals in a situation of societal uncertainty created by public institutions which may behave in ways that are not predictable.
Patron-client network has been generally accepted by Cambodia’s political culture, having the ruler as the central patron of the neo-patrimonial regime. Characterising Hun Sen as a man of prowess, scholars assert that he has remained in power because he is culturally perceived as a man possessing merit or bunn, which can be translated to power. In essence, all decision-making must be referred to the patrons of the regime (having Hun Sen as chair or central patron).
To maintain their patronage system, the patron of the regime has, since the early 1990s, not only awarded lucrative positions to clients, but also allocated natural resources. For instance, the awarding of licences for resource extraction (mining, oil, agricultural land, commercial forest logging and energy) and the privatising of state properties has been given to those individuals who support and are loyal to the ruling party (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: A model of Chinese investors operating in Cambodia
Generally, government officials seek lucrative positions and use their positions to extract rent. These appointments are not made freely, but based on rents. As the rent increases, so does the price of the position. In so doing, the allocation of lucrative positions is subject to (invisible) auctions and competition within the network, and relies on connections with the patrons and the ruling party. “They have to pay a certain amount of money to secure their position.” If someone, in addition to his or her popularity, dares to pay more or contribute more to the party’s patrons, they will be offered the position. To ensure access to ministries with authority over resources and power, including lucrative sectors, a strong network is highly necessary.
The foregoing political culture of doing internal business in Cambodia has become a contact point of the foreign investors. Foreign investors (the clients) need powerful politico-commercial officials (the middle patrons) to support long-term business operations in Cambodia, where lax regulation enforcement and an uncertain business environment persistently prevail (Young, 2016), see figure 3. The network of middle patrons and client (foreign investors) is installed through one of two pathways: being a local joint venture partner, or being a broker who later becomes a local partner. Without these pathways, it is extremely difficult for foreign investors to get access to natural resources; no business can enjoy the medium term in Cambodia without connecting to the patron’s affiliates. Through joint ventures with local reliable and powerful businesspersons, foreign investors can be granted ELCs and secure long-term successful investments. If there is no such relationship, foreign investors will not be able to access the resources. If there is no powerful local partner, foreign investors are likely to face high risk and fail in securing an ELC or long-term investments. For example, a Chinese state-owned company, Fuchan and China Cooperative State Farm Group, partnered with Cambodian Pheapimex to develop agricultural plantations in the north-eastern province of Mondulkiri, and in Kampong Chhnang and Pursat provinces; such an arrangement caused adverse impacts on the socio-economic conditions of the local communities, including displacement, loss of access to natural resources and land, food insecurity and impoverishment. These investments have nevertheless been secured in Cambodia through a joint venture between Chinese investors and Cambodian magnates, dominated by Sino-Khmers. In this instance, this patron-client network has been installed not only within the government administration, but also between these politico-commercial elites and foreign investors or investment projects in Cambodia. Another pathway is through a broker (or licence trader) who later becomes a local joint venture partner. Foreign investors have to find a local broker who is powerful and has strong connections with senior government officials in order to facilitate the process of requesting ELCs. The foreign investors have to pay a substantial amount that is not indicated in the regulations. On receiving ELC licences, foreign investors have to allocate some number of shares to the broker free of charge and then the broker becomes a local partner to protect the business operation. Otherwise, other corrupt or influential senior government officials might intrude into the business during its operations. In so doing, the domestic partners become middle patrons of the foreign investors (the clients). The patrons have an obligation to protect the client in return for rent; for example, confronting allegations from affected communities, activists and NGOs.
In a case of Sino-Khmer who facilitated Chinese investment in Cambodia, a senior government official unveils that “… They, the foreign investors, do not know the entry point for investment in Cambodia, where to go and how to process the legal documents.” Such a process is confirmed by a legal advisor who facilitates access to granting ELC licences. She argues that if investors had no connection and wanted to follow the procedure stated in the concession regulatory framework, the concerned ministries of the government would not be available to talk and work with them. Investors have to seek local investors or facilitators/brokers who are powerful and have strong connection with powerful officials to get an ELC approved within a short-period, although they have to pay transition fees. She pointed out that:“Newcomers [investors] … find someone who has good networks and relationships, and the process of granting licence goes smoothly…”
In this case, by connecting with a local Sino-tycoon, it took a Chinese foreign investor only three months to obtain from the council of ministers (CoM), much faster than for most companies. Acting on this advantage, the joint company did not conduct proper public consultation or social and environmental impact assessments (EIA|), as required by the sub-decrees of economic concession (2005), Land Law (2001) and EIA (1999), before approval by the CoM. This concession is thus accused of violating these regulations. As stated in the Land Law, no concession is granted to a private company of greater than 10,000 hectares. This agro-sugar industrial investment was, however, awarded up to 19,100 hectares, as it claimed to be two companies but was, in fact, operating as a single company. This case has suggested how a local Sino-Khmer could influence regulatory process in doing and securing business in Cambodia in the amid of rampant protests of the civil society organisations and the affected communities.
With long historical migration, business and diplomatic relations between the two countries, the influx of new generations of Chinese foreign investments and aid to Cambodia is the by-product of geopolitical expansion, but complementing both the host and foreign country’s political economic interests. The continuance of Chinese investment to Cambodia’s least favorable business environment has been secured and maintained as new Chinese investors have exploited socio-political cultural practices instilled by older generations of Sino-Khmer (tracing back to the 12th century, and very clearly from the end of the French protectorate era in Cambodia). Cambodia’s long established clientelism and patronage culture are seen as a mesh network, within which the stronger influence the weaker, and both share reciprocal but not always equal benefits. This culture has influenced regulatory enforcement and become an invisible form of business regulatory practice in Cambodia, where their ruler, also known as the patron at the apex of the pyramid, has been in power for decades. The patron, the middle-patron and the client (including the new generation of Chinese investors) become what is called “paralegal” mediating and easing doing business in the host country’s ambiguous regulatory enforcement environment. The ability to embrace and adopt the entrenched patron-client networks in the host country is a powerful weapon to ensure and secure long-term business operations (generally enabled by high-level bilateral diplomatic and political economic relations).
 Chanda Nayan, China and Cambodia: In the mirror of history, 9(2), Asia Pacific Review, 1, 11 (2002).
 Groslier, 1958 cited in Chin J.K. (2017) Ethnicized Networks and Local Embeddedness: The New Chinese Migrant Community in Cambodia. In: Zhou M. (eds) Contemporary Chinese Diasporas. Palgrave, Singapore
 Nyíri Pál. Investors, managers, brokers, and culture workers: How the” New” Chinese are changing the meaning of Chineseness in Cambodia, 1(2), Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review, 369-397 (2012)
 Subedi Surya P Land rights in countries in transition: A case study of human rights impact of economic land concessions in Cambodia. In Asian Yearbook of International Law, 1, 46 (2018). Brill Nijhoff.
 Young Sokphea, Movement of indigenous communities targeting an agro-industrial investment in North-Eastern Cambodia 44 (1.2), Asian Journal of Social Science 187, 213 (2016).
 The licence is approved by the council of minister in the form of a notification (sor chor nor in Khmer), which is usually exaggerated by companies and local and provincial authorities as a ‘law’ or chbab.
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