“Evolution and Challenges in Local Governance in Asia” Virtual Summer Program – July/August
We are pleased to announce a Call for Applications for early-career scholars who would like to participate in this year’s Asia Pacific Workshop. The virtual summer program will be conducted as series of weekly zoom sessions from mid-July through mid-August. The workshop will bring together up to 12 selected scholars to advance research related to local governance and decentralization across Asia. This program is part of a multi-year effort to support political science research among early-career scholars in East and Southeast Asia, and to strengthen research networks linking Asian scholars with their colleagues overseas.
Leading the workshop will be Maria Ela Atienza (University of the Philippines, Diliman, Philippines), Allen Hicken (University of Michigan, USA), Yuko Kasuya (Keio University, Japan), and Sarah Shair-Rosenfield (University of Essex, UK). The workshop will consist of weekly sessions held over 5 weeks (from July 12 through August 13). Following their participation in the full program, alumni will receive 2 years’ membership to APSA and will be eligible to apply for small research grants.
Eligible Participants The workshop is intended for PhD students and post-doctoral fellows in political science, international relations, and other social science disciplines who are citizens of countries in East and Southeast Asia, especially those who are currently based at universities or research institutes in the region (defined as Brunei, Cambodia, China, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam). We also welcome applications from citizens of countries outside the region or who are currently based at universities or research institutes in the United States.
Scholars should apply with a manuscript or research project in progress that they will present at the workshop. Professional fluency in English is required. Applications from scholars working on topics related to the workshop theme (as described below) are especially encouraged.
Workshop Theme Focusing on East and Southeast Asia, this workshop will examine the heterogeneous experiences and outcomes associated with local governance and decentralization programs designed to devolve authority from central governments to subnational and local levels. As elsewhere around the world, experimentation with decentralization across Asia has produced mixed results; for each modest success story in one policy domain in one country, there is a counter-narrative of failure in another. Participants will explore key theories and puzzles in the study of local governance and decentralization, as well as their connections to and implications for wider inquiries concerning governance, public goods and service provision, identity politics, democratization and autocratization, and urban politics. Participants will utilize a range of methodological tools to analyze public behavior and opinion, mobilizing structures, state responses, and political outcomes before, during, and after the occurrence of popular protests. Thematic emphases include:
The Politics of Local Governance, Identity, and Representation
The interaction between local and national politics and political organizations
The politics, promise, and problems with decentralization
The effects of nation-state building and decentralization on identity politics
The effects of corruption, clientelism and rent-seeking in regional and local governments
Causes and consequences of national-local competition over resources, credit claiming, and agenda setting at the subnational level
Distinctive Challenges in Governing Urban and Semi-Urban Spaces
Overcoming infrastructural challenges in governing and providing services to Asia’s urban mega-cities
Managing the needs and demands of diverse and cosmopolitan urban populations
Crisis management and governance in cities, including re-envisioning urban spaces and usage amidst the COVID-19 pandemic
Urban jurisdictional overlap and complexities of transparent and accountable governance
Democratization and Democratic Backsliding Below National-Level Governments
When do local politics influence democratization?
What explains the persistence of subnational authoritarianism after national-level democratization?
How do national- and local-level democratic backsliding influence each other?
How do national-level authoritarian leaders impact local governments’ policy delivery?
Local Government Authority and Public Service Delivery
The complex relationship between local government capacity and the delivery of public services, including education, health, and sanitation
Emergency response and disaster management at the local or regional level
Non-homogenous distribution of environmental and other problems (e.g. environmental degradation, poverty, natural hazards, conflict) affecting service delivery and localized responses
Coordination and relationship of local governments with national governments and other governance actors (e.g. private sector, civil society, political parties and elites, international community) in public service delivery
Factors affecting public service delivery at the local level
How to Apply Completed applications, including all necessary supporting documents (in PDF or Word format), must be submitted by May 31. Selected fellows will be contacted in June. Applications must be in English and include:
A research statement (2,000 words maximum) describing the work-in-progress you propose to discuss at the workshop. This statement should outline the main focus of the paper, the methods used, the data/fieldwork on which it is based, and how it relates to the workshop theme(s). The research project should not be based on any part of a co-authored project and should not be an excerpt from an already completed work or one that has already been accepted for publication. Submissions may be derived from an ongoing dissertation project if also suitable for a journal article.
One letter of reference on official letterhead and scanned as electronic files. If you are a graduate student, the letter should be from your supervisor. If you are a researcher or faculty member, the letter can come from a former dissertation supervisor, a colleague at your home institution, a university official, or an employer. Your letter can be uploaded with your application material or the letter write can e-mail this directly to email@example.com.
When I say that dictators are dumb, I do not mean to suggest that they do not know how to dictate the way their citizens live or society function. Dictators can be very smart people with high IQ scores. But they tend to become dumb over time because of their tendency to err on the side of relying on too much force rather than too little of it and just do not know when to stop or how to call it quits.
We may need to give dictators a lot of credit for behaving the way they do, and for holding to power when no one else is willing or able to do the same. World history is filled with dictators, the first of whom came to power in Rome around 510 B.C. Until Julius Caesar became dictator for life, however, most dictators left office when their tasks given to them during emergencies were completed.
Oftentimes, dictators’ reigns of terror end tragically. Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. Napoleon Bonaparte of France has been considered by historians to be the first modern dictator. He enjoyed popularity because he did some good things for his country, such as balancing the budget, reforming state institutions, and writing the Civil Code that laid the foundation of France’s current civil law. Sadly, he did not seem to know when to stop or call its quits. In 1804, he crowned himself emperor, established a network of spies to tighten his control over the government and the press, and pursued his political ambition by invading other countries across Europe. He could not be stopped until Great Britain, Prussia, Spain and Portugal surrounded his empire and when his generals rebelled against him. He was forced to give up his throne and was exiled for good in 1815, after a brief return to power.
More recent dictators also did not know when to call it quits until they were removed from power by force or execution. Adolf Hitler started WWII, was defeated by the Allied Powers and then committed suicide. His ally, Fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, was shot to death and stoned. Pol Pot of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror was known as Brother Number One but ended up as Brother Number Zero. His regime kept slaughtering innocent people and many of his party’s members, but was then driven out of power and eventually arrested by those who served under him. His life was put to an end. Saddam Hussein of Iraq was executed after he had been found in a muddy foxhole. More can be said about Gadhafi of Libya whose fate was sealed after NATO destroyed his armed loyalists.
Health-related death can be another cause of dictators’ demise. The first two Soviet dictators, Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin, died after strokes. Mao Zedong of China died at the age of 82, after a heart attack more severe than the previous ones. Fidel Castro of Cuba was replaced by his younger brother because of his worsening health. Dictators do not seem to enjoy good health – and a happy life!
With that said, it is not easy to get rid of dictators because they do not know when to stop until their defeat or death stops their reign of terror. This fact further suggests that they are usually dumb because they think they have no choice but to fight to the death because of their insecurity, if not insanity. Dictators usually come to power amidst chaos and turmoil or violence and war, rely on terror and intimidation to maintain their power bases, instead of building democratic and rule-of-law institutions to enhance their legitimacy. Sadly, they live in fear of subversion, retribution, and assassination.
This insight further explains why any efforts to bring them to justice are likely to fail if doing so without any preponderant power to defeat them decisively. Because of their paranoia and insecurity, they usually develop the strategy of ‘preemptive strike’ against any foes (real or perceived) before any threat to their survival grows stronger. The best counter-strategy for anyone to adopt when not having the level of hard power that can overwhelm that of the dictator also would not be one based on a violent threat to him. Dictators do not like threats, and they balance against them. Economic sanctions, however smart they may be, are more likely to harm civilian populations more than they hurt dictators. Appeasement does not work either because this strategy tends to embolden dictators. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement did not work with Hitler after he had consolidated power in the 1930s, though it might have worked in the 1920s when Germany was weak following WWI.
The only viable strategy when dealing with dictators in our globalized world is one that assures their security through power-sharing arrangements or credible amnesty. Dictators believe they will lose everything if they lose power. They have no reason to trust any promise that any loss of power would still keep them safe and secure. It is worth remembering that dictators are dumb because they do not know when to stop, but they can still outsmart their opponents when their survival is under threat and can stay in power for a very long time. The dictatorship of North Korea has proved this point.
Sorpong Peouis Full Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University and a member of the Yeates School of Graduate Studies. He was formerly Chair of the Department of Political Science, University of Winnipeg (Manitoba), and Chair of the Advisory and Recruitment Committee for The Manitoba Chair of Global Governance Studies – a joint program between the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba. His major books include Human Security Studies: Theories, Methods and Themes (World Scientific and Imperial College Press, 2014); Peace and Security in the Asia-Pacific (Praeger 2010), Human Security in East Asia: Challenges for Collaborative Action, ed. (Routledge 2008), International Democracy Assistance for Peacebuilding: Cambodia and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan 2007), Intervention and Change in Cambodia: Toward Democracy (St. Martin’s Press, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and Silkworms, 2001); and Conflict Neutralization in the Cambodia War: From Battlefield to Ballot-box (Oxford University Press, 1997).
In the 1960s, the northern province of Ratanakiri of Cambodia, predominantly inhabited by indigenous populations, became a scene of virulent armed confrontation between Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s regular army and Cambodian ultra-Maoist dissidents. The latter came first in 1965 to hide out in the forests, along the Cambodia-Vietnam border region. The ground was not virgin against the royal power, indigenous popular uprisings—already supported by the Vietminh troops broken in guerrilla warfare—had prepared the ground. The forthcoming leaders of a nation-wide terror regime (April 1975-December 1978) skilfully managed to take advantage of these local revolts, at first with the Jarai, Lao, Brao and Kachok people, by giving them a new meaning and simultaneously concealing from the populations of the province their intention to establish a totalitarian regime. Ratanakiri province became the first Khmer Rouge controlled territory in 1970.
Many have argued that a great majority of autochthonous (or indigenous) people have been complicit with the Pol Pot regime, mostly in Ratanakiri Province. This is not a Truth and is a misleading claim. In reality, indigenous people have been, like most human beings in Cambodia, not only victims of this ultra-Maoist regime, but also the first who suffered from the Khmer Rouge brutality from early 1971 onwards, more than four years before the fall of Phnom Penh. All ethnic minorities in Ratanakiri started to be threatened and defenceless, long time before the overwhelming majority of the Khmer population, with forced labour, famine, sickness, family separation, torture and mass killings. And nobody elsewhere was aware of this ongoing ethnic genocide.
Long after the civil war and once the order was restored, the indigenous populations—who were among the first victims of the Angkar (the revolutionary ultra-Maoist organization)—started to be indiscriminately associated (by the Cambodian population, some journalists and scholars) with the Khmer Rouge genocide. Such a misunderstanding is rooted in a denial of history mixed with an insidious form of ethnic xenophobia. To render memory and justice to the Cambodian indigenous populations living in the northeast, it is important today to study the impartial history of these misjudged ethnics.
These are key arguments of Frédéric Bourdier’s new book entitled “Time of war, time of revolt with the autochthonous populations of Cambodia.The emergence of the first Khmer Rouge controlled area in Ratanakiri (1967-1971)”, Paris, 2020, L’Harmattan, 166p (French version).
Cover photo by Michael Vickery, in the early 1960s or 1970s
Temps de guerre, temps de révolte chez les populations autochtones du Cambodge : Première assise populaire khmère rouge à Ratanakiri (1967-1971)
Au cours des années soixante, la province septentrionale de Ratanakiri, majoritairement habitée par des populations autochtones, devint un théâtre d’affrontement acharné entre l’armée régulière du prince Norodom Sihanouk et les dissidents ultramaoïstes cambodgiens. Le terrain n’était pas vierge : contre le pouvoir royal, des soulèvements populaires, soutenus par les troupes vietminh rompues à la guérilla, avaient préparé le terrain. Les maquisards cambodgiens, futurs leaders d’un régime de terreur, surent habilement tirer parti de ces révoltes locales et leur conférer un tout autre sens, dissimulant aux populations de la province leur intention d’instaurer un régime totalitaire. C’est à Ratanakiri que s’établit, dès 1970, la première assise khmère rouge.
Bien après la guerre civile et une fois l’ordre retrouvé, les populations autochtones – qui furent parmi les premières victimes de l’Angkar (l’organisation révolutionnaire ultramaoïste) – seront associées sans discernement au génocide khmer rouge. Un tel contre-sens puise ses sources dans un déni de l’histoire mêlé à une forme insidieuse de xénophobie ethnique : cela tient de l’irresponsabilité. Pour rendre mémoire et justice aux populations autochtones du Cambodge, il importe aujourd’hui que cette histoire soit restituée. C’est ce qui est réalisé dans cet ouvrage, en suivant les trajectoires d’un adolescent des hauts-plateaux de Ratanakiri, de sa famille et de son clan.
« Ce livre offre un aperçu fascinant et révélateur du génocide cambodgien ainsi que du conflit avec le Vietnam qui l’a accompagné et l’a en partie défini. » (Ben Kiernan, préface)
Frédéric Bourdier est anthropologue à l’Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) et à l’Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne. Il travaille depuis une vingtaine d’années en Asie du Sud-Est, principalement au Cambodge. Une grande partie de ses livres et articles traite des racines et du destin des populations autochtones, des relations nature/société et de l’anthropologie critique du développement.
I am not an epidemiologist or a virologist, nor am I a medical scientist of any sort, but my interest in pandemics is based on my understanding that they have emerged as a source of threat to peace and security on different levels: human, national, and international. Pandemics can indeed threaten global peace and security. From my perspective, the way of pandemic is still largely unpredictable.
This does not mean social scientists can’t predict or theorize about some of the effects of epidemics and pandemics on our world, which include the following: the Antoine Plague of 165-180, the Black Death of 1347–53, avian influenza (i.e., the bird flu, caused by a virus, such as the Spanish Flu of 1918-20 and the Swine Flu of 2009), and corona-viruses (such as SARS of 2003 and COVID-19 of 2020).
Epidemics and pandemics are killers. The Antoine Plague (165-180 AD) killed a third of the Roman Empire’s population. The Plague of Justinian (541 AD), which spread across Asia, North Africa, Arabia and Europe, killed between 25 and 50 million people. The Black Death killed approximately 25 million people, almost one-third of Europe’s population. The 1918-1920 Spanish Flu infected 500 million people, about one-third of the world’s population, and killed at least 50 million people. The Swine Flu of 2009 killed between 151,000 and 575,000 people worldwide. Corona-viruses are also killers. The SARS pandemic reportedly infected 8,098 and left 774 people dead, but the COVID-19 has been more devastating: having infected close to 2 million people in a matter of several months and left more than 100,000 dead.
On one level, we can say that pandemics pose a threat to human security: they kill people, but we don’t really know when exactly and from where the next one will strike. So far, Asia has been a region where some big pandemics originated: the Black Death (China and Inner Asia), avian influenza (i.e., the 1957-58 Asian Flu, the 1968-69 Hong Kong Flu, and the 1997 Bird Flu). The last two corona-viruses also broke out in Asia: SARS (China) and COVID-19 (China). But pandemics also have a history of originating in other regions: the Spanish Flu originated in Spain and the 2009 Swine Flu in Mexico. The first ever-recorded pandemic broke out in Athens, an ancient Greek state (known as the Plague of Athens around 430-426 B). The Antoine Plague swept through the Roman Empire. The Plague of Justinian may have started in Egypt. Thus, where the next pandemic will strike is hard to know.
The negative effects of COVID-19 on human security can be be identified when social-economic consequences are further assessed. According to ILO Director-General Guy Ryder who spoke early in April 2020, the economic effects of this pandemic could exceed the global financial crisis in 2008 and could result in a loss of closer to 200 million jobs within the next several months.
On another level, epidemics and pandemics can also threaten national and international security in different ways. Firstly, they may have devastating consequences for states and societies in that they can produce domestic instability, civil war, or even civil-military conflict. Price-Smith (2002), for instance, puts it this way, “the potential for intra-elite violence is increasingly probable and may carry grave political consequences, such as coups, the collapse of government, and planned genocides.”
Secondly, both epidemics and pandemics may also result in disputes between or among states because of potential disagreement over appropriate policy responses. For instance, this new round of China-U.S. tension is related to COVID-19, and some observers think that the pandemic has the potential to cause a military confrontation or even a Cold War between the two world powers.
Thirdly, they may alter the balance of power between competitive states within the international security system and lead to conflict. The diminished size of a population may provide a greater incentive for some state or a social group unaffected by a pandemic to attempt military conquest. The Antoine Plague (165-180 AD), for instance, swept through the Roman Empire and devastated its armies. A recent example of how a pandemic might affect the balance of power is when COVID-19 infected more than 580 sailors of a 4,865-person crew aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, a US aircraft carrier deployed to the Pacific Ocean and docked on March 27. Another recent development was when some 50 crew members aboard Charles de Gaulle (France’s only nuclear-powered aircraft carrier) were positive.
Fourthly, epidemics and pandemics may also alter the outcome of international conflict. For instance, Sparta defeated Athens in the Peloponnesian War (431 BC – 404 BC), not only because of Sparta’s military might but also because of an epidemic that broke out in Athens around around 430 B.C. and killed between one-third and two-thirds of the Athenian population.
While history can help shed some light on the dangerous effects of pandemics in global politics, it’s important to bear in mind that they remain unpredictable. They are killers for sure and may or may not cause domestic instability and violent conflict when states and societies suffer from economic, financial, and political crises, but a world war or a Cold War is very unlikely nor is it inevitable.
Much still depends on what states and their peoples choose to do. The threat of a great pandemic like COVID-19 may bring them together. Sometimes there is nothing more unifying a popularized world than a common foe, but a dangerous pandemic may also drive them apart as some evidence may suggest, especially when state leaders blame each other or when some of them exploit this global threat to advance their own geo-strategic interests and pursue their own political ambitions.
This is a possible thesis topic! Share your thoughts with me if you think otherwise. I will share more of my arguments on this topic in my book to be published someday, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Sorpong Peou is Full Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University and a member of the Yeates School of Graduate Studies. He was formerly Chair of the Department of Political Science, University of Winnipeg (Manitoba), and Chair of the Advisory and Recruitment Committee for The Manitoba Chair of Global Governance Studies – a joint program between the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba. His major books include Human Security Studies: Theories, Methods and Themes (World Scientific and Imperial College Press, 2014); Peace and Security in the Asia-Pacific (Praeger 2010), Human Security in East Asia: Challenges for Collaborative Action, ed. (Routledge 2008), International Democracy Assistance for Peacebuilding: Cambodia and Beyond (Palgrave Macmillan 2007), Intervention and Change in Cambodia: Toward Democracy (St. Martin’s Press, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and Silkworms, 2001); and Conflict Neutralization in the Cambodia War: From Battlefield to Ballot-box (Oxford University Press, 1997).
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 is a preliminary draft on academic freedom for discussion and dialogue among interested Cambodian scholars. I attempt to answer the interesting questions posed by Sokphea Young, University College London, and executive committee of Cambodian Scholars Network.
What does academic freedom mean?
The Canadian Association of University (CATU) defines “academic freedom as the right to teach, learn, study and publish free of orthodoxy or threat of reprisal and discrimination. Academic freedom includes the right to criticize the university and the right to participate in its governance. Tenure provides a foundation for academic freedom by ensuring that academic staff cannot be dismissed without just cause and rigorous due process. But this definition is a bit too narrow. What does “free of orthodoxy” really mean?
In a general sense, academic freedom is part of broader civil liberty: freedom of expression. In a more specific academic sense, it is a freedom of inquiry that academics or faculty members enjoy. For me, as will become evident later, academic freedom is the type of freedom that scholars enjoy without any excessive institutional controls.
It is a specific type of freedom rooted in liberal education. In a nutshell, it means freedom to express one’s opinions or views or perspectives freely without any fear of retribution. This is a moral and legal concept within academic communities in democratic states around the world. Academic freedom is one indicator of whether a country is democratic or dictatorial. The question then is why do we need this freedom?
How does academic freedom matter (undermine) scholarship/ academic community?
Academic freedom matters a great deal because, without it, knowledge cannot be advanced. Fear of coming under attack or getting dismissed when scholars share their knowledge is likely to cripple creative thinking or imagination and the pursuit of truth, however one defines it. Without academic freedom, scholars would be afraid to pursue truth and knowledge that might be critical of their workplaces and governments.
The destruction of this freedom is dangerous to society. Academic freedom in Germany, for instance, was destroyed after Adolf Hitler came to power and then started World War II. By 1939, according to one source, some 45 percent of faculty members had been replaced by Nazis who supported Hitler’s war efforts. Dictators don’t like academic freedom! I could not think of a worse situation than when a political regime shut down the entire country, silenced its people by killing and intimidation, and then self-destructed. That regime was led by Pol Pot, one of the dumb dictators I have learned. Not only did he turn out to be a monster, but he also lost everything, including his life. My perspective on this is more complicated than what other scholars think.
Unfortunately, academic freedom can undermine another civil liberty: freedom of religion. The Supreme Court of Canada, for instance, ruled against a Christian university’s application for accreditation of its law school just because the university prohibits “sexual intimacy that violated the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” I personally disagree on this ruling because it violates that university’s religious code, which should be respected as long as the law school teaches what other law schools teach or its curriculum does not violate the Canadian laws. This is what diversity and inclusivity are all about. One cannot talk about diversity by excluding or punishing someone who holds a different belief! This is an oxymoron.
Moreover, we still live in a world where scholars are still human and thus prone to pride (thinking that their own knowledge is superior to others without displaying any humility, which I often refer to as intellectual narcissism). Often, scholars also allow themselves to be driven by their ideologies that leave their academic communities divided. Liberals and socialists/Marxists, for instance, are hostile to each other. The world was divided during the Cold War because of two opposing ideologies: capitalism and communism.
Thus, academic freedom can be used by scholars to attack each other and even destroy their departments and communities. As head of two different academic departments, I can say that academic freedom can be misused and abused when scholars accuse each other of not adopting the right theoretical positions, the soundest methods of analysis, and the most reliable type of empirical evidence/data. I would say that all this is not about academic freedom, since freedom is really about being free from fear of attack or threat.
Overall, academic freedom is necessary for teachers and scholars to do their work to advance knowledge (regardless of their ideological positions and political orientations) without any fears of getting fired for saying something that their universities don’t like. The important logic of academic freedom in liberal education tolerance: live and let live. But with freedom also comes responsibility for the community at large. The trick is learning how to strike a balance.
What does it mean by scholarship in the academic community?
Academic freedom enables scholars, teachers and students to pursue knowledge in an independent way without subjecting themselves to any institutional control.
The scholarship is a serious business that requires one to pursue it in a way that is not politicized because it is about truth-seeking. The pursuit of truth-based knowledge is not something that can be done by one person either. None of us can know everything. What we do or discover through learning and research must be shared, questioned, discussed, and debated.
Thus, an academic community is one where its members can share their knowledge and research findings with one another and test them out with the hopes of getting helpful feedback or constructive comments for further refinement or improvement of what they know.
In short, an academic community is one whose members share the same identity as thinkers and learners with diverse interests but for a common goal: to build a better world.
How do you evaluate scholarship in Cambodia and the academic community?
I have not taught in Cambodia, so I can’t say much about this. However, I am increasingly impressed by the overall high level of scholarship in our country. There is a growing and vibrant community of scholars who have done fine work, and I am encouraged by high levels of sophistication. This is something that makes me feel proud as a Cambodian: namely, seeing other Cambodians thirst for knowledge and pursue it with perseverance.
What may concern me is the fact that scholarship in Cambodia is still too empirical: namely, too descriptive work based on evidence. There is nothing wrong with empirical knowledge, but a higher form of learning is based on deep conceptual and theoretical issues and insights, which allow scholars to discuss, dialogue and debate in order to enrich each other’s knowledge.
I understand that academic freedom is still a new idea in Cambodia because of historical and current political circumstances. But this is not uniquely Cambodian. I have taught and done research in Singapore, Japan and Thailand and come to one conclusion: most Asian countries do not fully value academic freedom. Thus, Asian scholars tend to do historical or descriptive works. This is a cultural and political problem, which stifles intellectual life.
How do you evaluate Cambodian and Western conceptions of academic freedom and scholarship?
I have not done any serious study on this question, but based on the experience I can say that the liberal tradition in Western democracies encourages scholars to come up with different, original, and innovative knowledge. One has to say something new or original to get people’s attention. Repeating what others say is a poor way to learn.
This is what writing dissertations is all about: students must know what exists in their fields of research and come up with original ideas. This is why I have made a lot of efforts to show in my teaching and research that students/scholars must know a lot, if not everything, before they can start thinking about what they propose to do and what their contributions to the existing literature would be. In one of my new book projects on Perspectives on Peace and Security on Indo-Pacific Asia, I discuss a wide range of perspectives that include different variants of realism and those in other schools of thought such as liberalism, pacifism, culturalism, social constructivism, neo-Marxism, postcolonialism, postmodernism, feminism, and others.
For me, this is one good way to learn and what I have learned is that no theory is perfect, though some are better than others. Each theory has its strengths and shortcomings. Thus, scholars are expected to be humble. If we are not humble, we can’t expect our leaders to be humble!
How to do academic writing on sensitive issues within the current political environment?
This is an excellent question: as alluded to earlier, it is difficult to pursue academic knowledge under political, social, and other constraints. Sensitive issues are difficult to investigate.
But such constraints may be a blessing in disguise for several reasons. Firstly, they force scholars to be careful about succumbing to politicization. I have studied politics but don’t like it, and the pursuit of power is not something that crosses my mind. I have studied war because I hate it. Thus, I don’t easily get politicized. Secondly, political constraints should help students engage in a kind of scholarship more theoretical and thus less known or sensitive to repressive leaders. What always saddens me most is when people continue to attack each other or their leaders without constructively addressing their common problems. Much of what is written is more about who’s right and who’s wrong or who is the good guy and the good guy. The moment people do that the world ends up with people attacking each other with no end in sight because this is the easy way of thinking. I have been attacked by some scholars like the one at Yale University for trying to make that case that violence and conflict are almost always rooted in the absence of legitimate institutions. Yes, there are bad and good guys, the good guys can also become bad. Why?
Thus, my scholarship is not about attacking anyone but more about explaining and understanding problems. I am still convinced that this kind of scholarship is one effective or productive way when one works on sensitive issues. By the way, I am still learning how to do this.
In short, scholars should do their best, when dealing with sensitive issues, by not getting personal or attacking others (such as their leaders). By taking a more theoretical (abstract) position, a scholar can make arguments that do not hurt or harm anyone but are likely to help guide their thinking. At the end of the day, a good scholar must be guided by at least two principles: fairness and love. Fairness is what most of us can agree on. Scholars should love not only knowledge but, more importantly, people. Also, to love people is to be fair with them by understanding their circumstances and showing better ways to help them behave more constructively.
How do we remain engaged academically and safely in sensitive social and political issues?
As mentioned above, do it in a fair and non-judgmental way. This is not easy to do because raw instincts can get in the way. But it’s worth working on it — one day at a time. One can be critical without being unfair or hateful or resentful or angry or too judgmental. Cambodian leaders, in particular, are not good at being subtle or diplomatic, but Cambodian scholars should be able to do this well because we are not political animals.
In this context, how do young Cambodian scholars and early career researchers survive and maneuver themselves to achieve their career goals?
For me, to be a true scholar is less about getting a dream job or getting praises from anyone else. It’s about doing what one likes and learning to think better even if current circumstances are difficult. I keep telling my students to do their best and to be the best they can be but worry less about job prospects. Jobs will come to you if you are good, but jobs will run away from you if you are not. So, my advice is as follows: first things first. Doing your best to be the best you can be and worry less about the rest. For me, faith always plays the most important role in life.
How to emancipate Cambodian scholars from a confined zone, from being considered as a Cambodian specialist/expert?
I like to think that we are creatures of habit. We keep thinking the way we always do or what others do. We are afraid to try something new, something unheard of, something strange.
One way to get away from or out of our confined or comfort zone is to be brave and broad in the way one looks at the world. So learn to think differently and read anything that may challenge your thinking. One of the things I have done is not to agree with everything what other scholars say, even if it means getting criticized or attacked. But being different does not mean being disrespectful of others. The best way to develop yourself as a good scholar is to be helpful by saying your work is a contribution rather than an assault on someone or some work.
Don’t sell yourself as a Cambodian expert! There are no intellectual markets for it, especially outside Cambodia. If you are a Cambodian, try to sell yourself as a regional or a global expert by doing more theoretical work. So when I published my first book on UNTAC (Oxford University Press, 1997), I did not say that I was a Cambodian expert. The book says my fields of expertise are International Relations and Comparative Politics. UNTAC is ONLY a case study. By doing this, you are not restricted to Cambodian studies, but you are required to know the broader fields of study. So, don’t sell yourself as a Cambodia expert but use Cambodia to help shed light on broader theoretical issues raised in International Relations or Comparative Politics or other fields unless you see yourself as someone who strictly belongs to Khmer Studies.
In sum, scholarship and academic freedom are important issues that need more of our attention and scholars, and government leaders should continue to exchange ideas about how to move forward and promote them in a bold but fair and respectful or non-threatening way. It would be nice if political leaders could understand that academic freedom is what helps their countries develop scientifically, economically, socially, and politically. But scholars must do what they can to help their leaders learn to think this way. Love and fairness may be one best way to help promote academic freedom.
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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