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The Constructive Cambodian

Youth represent the majority of the Cambodian population, and they play an important role in development.

You have an opportunity to rewrite the future, and that’s what I think is so important about what is happening in Cambodia today,” said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her opening remark to a town hall meeting with more than 600 Cambodian youth early this month in Phnom Penh’s Chaktomuk Theatre.

The top US diplomat added, before taking a wide range of questions from the young audience, that “the great history, the culture, the arts, the legendary generosity of the Cambodian people is something that will always be with you. But it will be up to the young people to decide how to chart that new future”.

True to her remark, at least 18 of the 600 participants had a unique chance to openly and directly question the leading American diplomat in person, with questions ranging from China’s influence in Southeast Asia to Cambodia’s debt from the Lon Nol regime to US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Those at the town hall meeting came from high schools, colleges, universities and civil society organisations. They represented a small, rising number of the new generation of well-educated Cambodians who had been to some of the most prestigious universities in the western world.

Those questions asked in the Chaktomuk Theatre were later broadcast on the Cambodia Television Network and they impressed the public, academics and the country’s leaders, including Prime Minister Hun Sen.

On November 3, two days after Hillary Clinton’s meeting with the young people, the Prime Minister praised them, particularly the female students for their courage to ask such direct questions. The country’s leader, who made his remarks at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, was impressed not only by the students’ language abilities, but by their questions and how they raised them, demonstrating their capabilities and confidence.

“I am proud of the youth, especially the girl students who posed good questions with good significance to the US Secretary of State. Cambodian youth are smart, courageous with high capabilities. At first, the secretary of state thought the questions were in Khmer, but she was surprised to hear the questions were in English.

“In fact, language is not a big deal, but their questions with good significance showed their high capabilities,” the PM said at the forum to Increase Women’s Participation in Leadership, which was aired on a local radio station.

At the town hall meeting, Clinton listened closely to a young, well dressed man who told her he had just read her essay in America’s Foreign Affairs magazine. He argued that Cambodia, “as a country, I think just cannot afford to repay more than $400 million, which is roughly 5 percent of our annual GDP. We cannot afford to repay the US unless we do it at the expense of the well-being and development of millions of Cambodians”.

The young audience at Chaktomuk represented Cambodia’s small but highly mobile young intellectuals.

Kalyan Keo, the 25-year-old moderator during Clinton’s town hall meeting, said in an email that she was “impressed by the enthusiasm of the students who raised so many hands to ask questions to the US secretary general. In particular, I was totally amazed by the quality of the questions. The Cambodian youth have gained stronger confidence in expressing their comments or raising questions in a wider public, and proved the increase of their knowledge in the social and political issues”.

Picked by the US Embassy in Phnom Penh to accompany Clinton, the former Fulbright scholar and former postgraduate student at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs of Syracuse University believes that “they are truly the group of youth who can inspire their peers to be more active in public dialogue, to express their ideas and to raise issues of their interests.

“Youth represent the majority of the Cambodian population, and they play an important role in development. Active, confident and knowledgeable youth in society is a core foundation for the nation’s development.”

What can youth do to became a bigger part of change in the Kingdom? go to to make it happen.



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