In the present transitional period, Cambodia is weak in all aspects-politically,
economically and socially; therefore, it is very much vulnerable to all outside influences.
We often see and identify the hard things because it easy to do so. While soft things
cannot be easily seen or identified; therefore, we cannot detect them. We often either
are ignorant, simply don't know, or are immune to them. What we are talking about
here is the differences between "soft imperialism" and "hard imperialism."
Which one is more dangerous?
Clearly, imperialism can take many different forms. But for the purpose of this writing,
we will focus on only two forms: hard and soft, and how these two forms would fit
into the context of Cambodia.
Over two decades, Cambodia had faced both types of imperialism. From the West, in
the late 1960s and early 1970s, Cambodia was bombed and invaded by the United States
in what President Richard Nixon calledthe "pure doctrine." The bombardments
and brief invasion of Cambodia represent a hard capitalist imperialism on the part
of the United States against Cambodia.
From the East, in 1975, in the attempt to purify Cambodia in the name of Marxian-Maoist
communist revolution, the Khmer Rouge tore the whole Khmer society apart in hope
of removing the soft imperialism of foreign ideas and cultures.
What the Khmer Rouge did during its reign of power also constitutes hard imperialism.
But we should call it either "self-imposed hard imperialism" or imperialism
from within. The intent, in part, might have been good, but the effect of it undoubtedly
was totally destructive.
In 1979, another foreign hard imperialism was imposed on Cambodia by Vietnam through
its invasion and occupation.
In thirteen years of its occupation, Vietnam had successfully kept Khmer children
and young adults ignorant of their history, to say nothing of Vietnamese language,
philosophy and ideas which were imposed on the Khmer people. What the Vietnamese
did to Cambodia in13 years was teh equivalient of a "brain drain," a total
loss to Cambodia 's mental resources which it cannot be easily replaced.
Cambodia's educational system is in total disarray and cannot be functioned. The
Vietnamese taught the Khmer people nothing but to be obedient to them. Further, Cambodia's
natural resources have been depleted by illegal Vietnamese immigrants. The massive
number of immigrants also took over Khmer labor and Khmer markets-but worse, they
brought in Vietnamese prostitutes to destroy Khmer Buddhist culture.
While the United States weakened Cambodia through secret bombardments on the one
hand, the Khmer Rouge-through its destructive Maxian-Maoist revolution-enfeebled
the Khmer society further on the other hand. Vietnam also reinforced the already
weakening of Cambodia when it invaded and occupied the Khmer nation for 13 years.
In 1991, the Paris Agreements were signed calling fora U.N. peacekeeping operation
in Cambodia. Although the intent of the whole peacekeeping operation was good, some
of the effects of the operation have made Cambodia vulnerable to the outside influences,
particularly the influence of Thailand. Some national contingents of the United Nations
Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) in fact had used the United Nations, and
for that matter UNTAC, to forward their national interests. Even though the opening
up of Cambodia to the outside world was imperative and good for Cambodia, UNTAC could
have done more and much sooner to protect the national interest of Cambodia.
Theoretically speaking, and it also could have been true in practice, U.N. peacekeeping
could at least not hurt Cambodia, if not helping it. Some observers and UNTAC officials
had noted that Cambodia never has been raped as much as before the arrival of UNTAC.
But since the arrival of UNTAC, Cambodia was allowed to be raped freely in the names
of openness democracy and the free market. Cambodia's natural resources were allowed
to be plundered further, although with the collaboration of some Cambodians. However,
some measures were belatedly taken by UNTAC to stop this pluder.
What is important is that the Cambodians are too weak, after more than 20 years of
war and conflict, to fight the war of the western front, the war of soft imperialism
After 1991, Thai and other ASEAN products flowed freely either across the border
or through Sihanoukville sea port. While there is no military invasion like the one
in 1979 from the east by Vietnam, but there is now economic and cultural invasion
from the west by Thailand and Singapore. Despite the fact that Cambodia survived
the military invasion, at present it might not survive the economic and cultural
invasion from the west, if quick measures are not taken.
What is being broadcast daily by the Thai-owned Television "IBC Cambodia"
is clearly dangerous to the survival of Cambodia's national identity and culture.
The way the Khmer people talk, dress, think and act at present has been greatly infuenced
by Thai influences. Cambodia's closeness with Thailand in language, history, boundary,
religion and culture make Cambodia very much vulnerable. The cultural and economic
influences of Thailand are too strong for Cambodia; the Cambodian people and government
must take specific measures to deal with it now.
While hard imperialism is no longer the acceptable game in the post-Gulf War period,
soft imperialism is on the rise and it is becoming more dangerous than hard imperialism.
Economic and cultural influences of Thailand and to lesser Singapore have deeply
penetrated Cambodia since its opening up in 1991.
Although it is not too late to fight soft imperialism, Cambodia must take concrete
steps to immediately address the real issue.
- Kao Kim Hourn is assistant coordinator of the Preah Sihanouk Raj Center for
the study of Khmer International Studies.