My Response to Mr Robert Finch
In the editorial published in The Phnom Penh Post on January 27 titled What are the lessons of Gambia for Cambodia?, Robert Finch, a self-described “independent” consultant who has worked with “groups” in Cambodia, Thailand and “Burma”, attempts to interfere in the running of Cambodia in such a way that creates internal conflict and enflames political instability, while offering premature, shortsighted, out of context, irrelevant and misleading “advice”. This deserves a response.
Not knowing his background, but his insistence on referring to our fellow ASEAN member by its old name, Burma, instead of Myanmar, smacks of arrogance and ignorance. How can he offer constructive help when he shows such disrespect to the country he is working in?
As for Cambodia, the government welcomes news of the peaceful resolution for Gambia. In fact, Cambodia has learned quite a lot from many countries and international organisation around the world, and we thank them all.
But most importantly, we learned from ourselves, especially from the past 60 years of Cambodian history. We learned how to move from war to peace, from constant conflict and confrontation to reconciliation, from rehabilitation to development and from a poor underdeveloping country to a lower-middle-income country in just over 20 years.
The democratisation process in Cambodia was initiated in 1993 after three decades of proxy and civil wars and destruction when Cambodia GDP was only around $300 per capita. In just the past 23 years, Cambodia has organised five national elections, three commune elections, two subnational elections, and three Senate elections, while the per capita income has quadrupled to about $1,300. Cambodia is also contributing to the international peacekeeping forces.
In fact, Cambodia instead could be used as a positive example. Gambia, and for that matter, many other countries around the world mired in conflict, should learn lessons from Cambodia on how we successfully moved from war to peace, using a win-win strategy, instituting a sustainable development agenda and experiencing a social and economic transformation.
Mr Finch’s suggestions are intended to paint small countries as victims, constantly dependent on outside assistance. Cambodia has well learned the lessons of 1970s, when the Cambodian government trusted foreign countries for their support of establishing a democratic regime.
The suffering of Cambodia during the dark age of foreign interference in the 1970s is too much to bear. It was hell on earth, the second genocide after World War II.
Mr Finch is not proposing a solution, but instead, intentionally or not, he creates a problem. It is too early for him to speculate on the result of a future election, particularly because he does not appreciate the present situation. He sees Cambodia from a different lens.
It is still another 18 months until the next election, and there will be many political parties vying for seats in the National Assembly. How can he be sure the party he clearly backs will win? I suppose that Mr Finch has wandered around the region and collected many scraps of information from many groups that seem to confirm his world view, and thus the formulation of his analysis is probably biased and based on his perception of the country rather than the reality.
The lives, well-being and the dignity of a nation is not the playground to test his personal theories, which are irrelevant within the present Cambodia context. His independency is in question.
Despite the size and the early stage of development of the country, Cambodia can still play a very active role in the international arena, and it proudly offers its best experiences for other countries looking to move from war to peace, maintain social and political stability, ensure sustainable development and remain independent from outside intervention. Cambodia cannot and should not take sides, but wishes to work alongside all countries with mutual respect as equal partners in cooperation and development.
The world is facing many crises and so much of the suffering is the result of foreign interference. Beware of this so-called “independent consultant”. What we need is trust, and not tension, for peace and prosperity in Cambodia. To that end, the Cambodian people are quite capable of resolving our own problems.
Secretary of State