Sunday,2007-07-01: Understandings, Misunderstandings, and Surprises

Posted on 3 July 2007. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 514 |

The Mirror, Vol. 11, No. 514

Apologies for the late postings, due to my continuing sickness – but I hope to catch up during Tuesday.

Observing the Cambodian language press over more than 10 years has shown many developments. Especially the integration of Cambodia into the regional context of ASEAN, and into the global context of the United Nations, and the cooperation in many of its sub-structures or other regional and global organizations like, for example, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank, have resulted in an ever wider sharing of information and orientation from this new context. And this context was new after the many years of international isolation.

After the National Elections of July 1998, the new government set out to implement a tri-fold reform course which aimed, first, internally, at strengthening the newly won peace and stability after decades of war, but, secondly at the same time promoting international integration, by having regained the seats at the UN and as the 10th member of the fellowship of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and thirdly, promoting socio-economic development together with administrative and judicial reforms.

Surprisingly the second of this objectives – integrating into the international fellowship of nations – seems to meet from time to time with irritating misunderstandings which can lead to serious situations. The most blatant example is the anti-Thai riots of 2003, which led to monetary damages of more than US$50 million in one night; the damage in the reputation of the country is still felt, as this present week has shown again.

In four quite different sectors there were surprising and confusing informations and opinions going through the media:

  • in relation to the plans of the CamKo company,
  • in relation to the reasons for the tragic crash of an airplane,
  • in relation to questions about the appropriate use of public funds and the next elections, and
  • finally again regarding the Thai-Cambodian relations.

Even smaller misunderstandings can be damaging. Before negative judgments are passed, a careful observation of details is important, in order to see if some assumptions may have been made without justification. We have not seen statements that the plan by a Korean company to construct a sister city at a cost of US$2 billion was to be made by Korean capital. The image, that all this is going to be funded by foreign capital is probably just a reflection of an expectation that foreign capital will be donated – in actual fact there are also many examples of international cooperation where a foreign company acts as the planner and coordinator, and many others cooperate. It is quite usual in many countries that large construction projects are planned, but financed from different sources, including from the people who make down-payments and acquire future residence rights. Had the writer had an opportunity to look into any of the newspapers in Malaysia, Singapore, or Thailand, with many advertisements to buy flats in houses which are not yet constructed, the following statement could have been avoided: “Such kind of development cannot be accepted by other countries, but for Cambodia it is made available.” – There are many models of economic activities which are new to Cambodia. But many of them cannot function in an environment which is described by one paper with the following headline: “Customs Law Adopted, but There Is No Hope that Customs Officers Reduce Corruption.”

After an airplane had disappeared, and after its tragic crash had been confirmed, different opinions were raised – but they were all assumptions: the fact that the tragedy happened during bad weather is not yet sufficient reason to blame the weather, and the fact that the plane was old is not necessarily a reason for a disaster; and the fact that the company claims to have performed standard maintenance, does not yet exclude the possibility of a technical failure. Closest to an explanation comes the information that the plane was off the normal flight path and the pilot dismissed the warning that he is flying too low: “No problem; I am familiar with this area.” – To prematurely accuse the Thai company – without any rational reason – which cooperates in providing air traffic control services, or to accuse the Vietnamese pilot who had caused another aircraft disaster some years ago of “too much pride, for they had occupied Cambodia,” seems to be far away from the need to concentrate on finding the real resons, to which the data from the “black box” flight recorder will contribute valuable information.

Some statements about ambulance cars for all provinces – involving a high monetary value – being given to the armed forces and not to the health care services, and that the Prime Minister is quoted to have said that though “he does not encourage it… the military police forces may pursue the opposition groups to their houses, because they interfere with humanitarian activities of Mr. Hun Sen” is surprising. In most countries the armed forces – as public servants – are expected to clarify any accusations of corruption, and not hit back at those who raise questions. – The observation and question from the leader of the opposition party: “No One Can Magically Produce Money; if Somebody Constructs School Buildings and Puts His Name on, from Where Does He Get the Money?” has often been raised but not yet been clarified.

The discussions about the reasons for UNESCO delaying the designation of the Preah Vihear Temple as a World Heritage Site, in spite of the fact that Thailand is also supporting this, are clear: “we have not yet fulfilled a few technical requirements,” as the Minister of Information explained.

But there have been fears, and many declarations to defuse them, remembering the 2003 violence against Thai properties and people in Cambodia. One of the most positive statements comes also from the Minister of Information, who is quoted to have expressed confidence in the young generation of today: “The 2003 event cannot take place again, because Cambodian youth no longer believe false information.”

With this attitude, if it is shared widely, Cambodia can surely overcome many misunderstandings and should not be shaken from a stable path of development with strange surprises.

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