Saturday, June 30, 2012

Viet Nam on track to attract $15 billion in investment

June, 30 2012 

HCM CITY — Viet Nam is well set to achieve this year's foreign direct investment (FDI) targets, including mobilisation of US$15 to 16 billion and disbursement of $10 billion, a senior official from the Ministry of Planning and Investment has said.

Do Nhat Hoang, head of MPI's Foreign Investment Department, said FDI mobilisation in the first half of the year reached $6.4 billion compared with the $8.8 billion in the same period of 2011. FDI disbursement during the same period amounted to $5.4 billion, compared with last year's $5.3 billion.

He said FDI figures for the first half of 2012 are a positive sign for the Vietnamese economy, especially at a time of global economic crisis.

The downward tendency in FDI mobilisation of late is because Viet Nam is targeting higher quality inflows, Hoang said.

"We can say that recently compiled statistics on FDI mobilisation and disbursement are in conformity with our expectations."

Hoang said FDI in the manufacturing industry increased from 64 per cent in the first half of 2011 to 65.3 per cent during the same period this year.

Meanwhile, foreign investment in the service sector fell from 35 per cent to 34 per cent, while rising in the agricultural sector from 0.4 per cent to 0.9 per cent.

With an investment of $1.2 billion in the Tokyu property development project in Binh Duong Province, Japan was the largest foreign investor in Viet Nam in the first half of 2012.

Hoang said this was a good sign for the local property market because Japanese investors were very cautious in their decision – makings.

Barring major unforseen changes, the measures taken by the Government to improve the country's investment envrironment would help Viet Nam reach its FDI mobilisation and disbursement targets for 2012, he added. — VNS

ASEAN’s program features Obama’s sister, Cambodian villas

By Christine Joy Sarmiento
JAKARATA, Indonesia, June 29 -- The latest episode of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s monthly program “ASEAN Today” features a luxurious getaway in Cambodia and United States President Barack Obama’s Indonesian sister.

The June 2012 episode features the restored villas in Kep City, Cambodia, according ASEAN’s press statement.

ASEAN said that the program also shows a conversation with the Indonesian sister of US President Barack Obama, Maya Soetoro-Ng.

She recently made a swing through two ASEAN countries, Malaysia and Indonesia, visiting schools as part of her education duties with Hawaii’s East-West Center, ASEAN said.

ASEAN added that Dalton Tanonaka of Indonesia’s Metro TV hosts this month’s program from the home of the ASEAN Secretariat. Joining him this month with feedback from ASEAN viewers is Durudee Sirichanya, Head of Public Outreach and Civil Society Division of the ASEAN Secretariat.

This is the eighth episode in the informative and entertaining series. The episode can be viewed on the YouTube link

“ASEAN Today” is monthly program focusing on the people and places of the ASEAN region. It is a joint production of the ASEAN Secretariat and Metro TV, ASEAN said. (ASEAN)

Home among the Hmong

Flower Hmong women at the market in Bac Ha. Flower Hmong women at the market in Bac Ha. Photo: Alamy
Lance Richardson journeys deep into the northern mountains, where a kaleidoscope of ethnic groups mix modernity and tradition.
In the third instalment of the convoluted Indochina wars, Vietnam, opposing the Khmer Rouge, invaded Cambodia, while China, supporting the Khmer Rouge, invaded Vietnam.
Things did not go well. Though China claims victory in the history books, Vietnam refused to withdraw from Cambodia and Chinese soldiers retreated across the border after only a few weeks, destroying everything as they went. This scorched-earth policy was executed with the brutal efficiency of wildfire: agriculture was decimated, settlements were razed. In places such as the frontier city of Lao Cai, 1979 became a year to remember.

A Hmong woman hangs out her wares at Bac Ha market. Click for more photos

To there and Bac Ha

A Hmong woman hangs out her wares at Bac Ha market. Photo: Lance Richardson
  • A Hmong woman hangs out her wares at Bac Ha market.
  • Old and new... Bac Ha market.
  • Day of trade... Hmong women bring baskets of wares to the market.
  • A flower Hmong girl, wearing a distinctive headdress.
  • Playing on the road... Hmong children in the villages surrounding Bac Ha.
  • The long road... weaving around agricultural terraces in Bac Ha.
When visitors step off the train today, they are confronted by a modern city square. From the ashes, Lao Cai rose like a neon phoenix. Gaudy lights proliferated; prefabricated housing became the common recourse for a population that had no choice but to start over. There are hotels and restaurants now, though street hawkers still sell ankle-bound chickens, clutched like bouquets of feathers. The Vietnamese penchant for karaoke has reached the mountains, too, adding a characteristic touch of surrealism. This is a country where you must be able to fire an AK-47 to graduate from state university, after all.

Most famously, Lao Cai is the gateway to Sapa, a hill station established by the French in 1922, where people flock to see ethnic groups such as the Hmong and Dao. Over the years, Sapa has become nearly as popular as Ha Long Bay. Much of Lao Cai's railway plaza is occupied by Sapa-bound buses; the overnight train from Hanoi to Lao Cai is so busy that sleeper carriages book out in advance.

To some critics, this influx of tourism has a lamentable edge. Bill Hayton in his book Vietnam, Rising Dragon describes a Sapa "theme park", Dragon's Jaw Hill, exhibiting locals so "visitors can experience minority culture without the indignity of travelling down into the valley".
A Hmong woman makes corn wine. A Hmong woman makes corn wine. Photo: Getty Images

I meet my friend in Lao Cai on her return from Sapa and she confirms this, though she also describes scenes of beauty, engaging people and positive change. The influx of visitor money has brought power lines, for example, meaning mountain villages are notably quieter without generators.

Nevertheless, as we wander to a small parking yard where buses are more ramshackle and destination signs less familiar, another comment by Hayton comes to mind. "The image of Vietnam we foreigners seek is a close-cropped study in 'otherness'," he writes. "The people want progress and prosperity. The fantasy country we seek is the one they want to leave behind."

Of all the buzzwords of modern travel, "authentic" is perhaps the most complex. The tendency to equate "authenticity" with "old-fashioned" is starkly anachronistic in a furiously modernising world.
Giant steps... rice terraces near Lao Cai in northern Vietnam. Giant steps... rice terraces near Lao Cai in northern Vietnam. Photo: Getty Images

I have come to Lao Cai to travel on to Bac Ha, another town in the northern mountains. Like Sapa, it is surrounded by ethnic groups. Every Sunday the town has a morning market; some locals walk more than 30 kilometres through the night to reach it.

To attend the market, we board a small bus that circles Lao Cai for nearly an hour, collecting cargo and passengers. Boxes of apples and beans are passed through the windows; our luggage is passed out, strapped to the roof alongside carburettor parts. More people climb in than there are seats, including two Flower Hmong women and a child in dazzling embroidery. As the bus climbs into mountains so hoary they appear to have beards, one of the women leans out the window to vomit into the wind.

Bac Ha is considerably smaller than Lao Cai, though it has the unpredictable quality of a river in monsoon. We pass a quiet afternoon watching a girl learn to ride a motorbike in the shadow of Ho Chi Minh propaganda. Next morning, we're roused by the roar of 100 motorbikes, quarrelling voices and a cat complaining somewhere above the ceiling. The market is in full swing before sunrise.

It is a labyrinth of goods. There are pig carcasses, dismembered on demand, and fermented sauces alongside fluorescent-orange corn patties. The Hmong string their fabrics above melons and cabbages. Then there's the new stuff: piping, bags of concrete, batteries and mobile phones. Visitors are welcome - often effusively so - though the tourist stuff is pushed to the edges of the market, and vendors are still unsure how far they can take things, creating awkward situations where breakfast prices are pitched higher than the Wolseley in London. The rule of thumb is simple: stand firm, but never stop smiling, even when the stallholder has you in a vice grip over a cup of coffee.

Beyond the market, Bac Ha is surrounded by deep wealth, with tiny villages framed by rice terraces and mist-filled valleys ringing with the jangle of cowbells. Walk into any hotel, ask and you'll find a guide.
Duc is short and portly, with a smile that takes up much of a face hidden beneath a fisherman's hat. "He don't know English, but is very friendly," says Victor, the proprietor of Ngan Na 2 Hotel, where we arrange to visit Phula and Tay people in their homes. Duc is Tay and he nods often, managing to make himself understood without speaking a word. He points down a road that dissolves into a wall of white fog.

We go - for three days, in fact - into a place that is both old and new, hewn from the mountains by hundreds of years of manual labour, but dotted with motorbikes and the round ears of satellite dishes; a place where walking tracks are ankle-deep in mud, edged with precipitous drops into paddies; a place that has little time for debates over authenticity because people are too busy doing the best they can with whatever tools are available.

Indeed, the amount of work required to peel a mountain like an orange is almost unfathomable. Everywhere you look, terraces transform the landscape. Here a mountaintop is sheared away, replaced with a waterlogged field; there a mountaintop, too rocky for cultivation, pokes above enormous artificial steps, an outpost from a different time. Duc traces folds in the hills with an assured step, passing groves of cherry blossoms, small houses and gnarled guard dogs.

Hmong girls trail us in small groups, showing off their coloured gumboots. Two boys, fighting over a jar of lizards, dance on the road ahead.

Our first night is in the stilted house of a Phula couple, Sang and Huong, who mark our visit with a celebratory feast. Their home is small but airy, with an ancestral altar alongside a beach ball decorated with the Canadian flag. Sang and Huong sleep downstairs, we sleep upstairs and the toilet is down a steep muddy slope across the way. The kitchen is outside as well, with a pig's leg curing above some embers. It is, as an experience, most akin to visiting very old friends; though hardly a word is spoken, the conversation in my memory is long and warm. These people open their house with evident pride, filling our bowls long after we're full, giving us gifts of mandarins and showing us off to the neighbours over breakfast.

Before bed - a downy mattress on the floor - my friend takes a photo. Sang clutches Huong close. "Hai mot," he says, clasping his hands in a gesture of their partnership. "Two become one." Huong stares at the photo for a long time after that. It is entirely possible she has never seen a picture of them together.

The next morning we wake to the smell of wood smoke and the strains of a Vietnamese opera singer on the radio. We are gone within the hour, following Duc on a path that plunges us downwards, to the home of his people. The Phula traditionally live high in the mountains of Vietnam. By comparison, Tay are far more numerous, with a greater number of subgroups, and they prefer to live in lowlands near streams and open plains. As we tunnel through heavy mist, the building style begins to change. Our second night is spent with a family in their large, concrete-built home, its terrace jutting over a lettuce field.

Before this, however, we encounter another building that towers over the village like a citadel. Noticing our curiosity, a woman steps from the front door and welcomes us in. What follows is a tour through her grand house, with its spiralling staircase, glass atrium and spaces like small drawing rooms. She enters each in turn, gestures around bashfully, then stands back to bask in the warmth of our wonderment. It doesn't matter that most of these rooms are empty, or that the couple lives downstairs in a small corner. The house is not a house in the traditional sense; it's a symbol of wealth, the "progress and prosperity" Hayton talks about. Her husband makes sure we notice the television.

My friend and I take our leave, stepping into a light rain. I want to tell the woman something, but the language divide is too great now; we're reduced to fruitless gesturing. Later, in Australia, I will pull down a Vietnamese dictionary and find the word I was looking for. "Dep" - beautiful. Your home is beautiful.
Lance Richardson travelled courtesy of China Southern Airlines.

Getting there
China Southern Airlines has a fare to Hanoi, from Sydney and Melbourne, for about $800 low-season return, including tax. Fly to Guangzhou (about 10hr) and then to Hanoi (2hr); see This fare allows you to fly back from another Vietnamese city. From Hanoi, Lao Cai is reached by an overnight train. Each carriage is owned by a private company, meaning quality varies, from the high-end Victoria Express sleeper to the state-run (but comfortable) Vietnamese Railway. Research well and avoid the Pumpkin Train. Tickets can be bought at the station, though it is advisable to book ahead through a Hanoi hotel or travel agent. See Bac Ha is a one-hour bus ride from Lao Cai.

Staying there
Ngan Na 2 Hotel, just off the first town square in Bac Ha, is inexpensive and well run. See

While there
Ngan Na 2 Hotel has a custom-made booklet with walks ranging from one to four days. Our two-night stay with Phula and Tay families cost $US30 a person a day, all inclusive. Take extra water and good shoes.
The Bac Ha market is held every Sunday. Arrive the night before as it begins about dawn.


Landmark landmine agreement reached

 June 30, 2011
Bangkok Post

Thailand and Cambodia have agreed to carry out landmine clearing operations in the disputed area surrounding the Preah Vihear temple.

Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat said the agreement was reached at the second meeting of the Thai-Cambodian Joint Working Group, held in Phnom Penh from Tuesday to Thursday this week.

The landmine clearing work would be conducted at spots known to both sides as A, B, C and D that have been referred to by the International Court of Justice, ACM Sukumpol said upon his return to Thailand yesterday.

Before the clearing work can begin, a joint Thai-Cambodian landmine clearing working group will have to hold more talks next month to discuss the framework of the operations.

After the landmine clearing task is completed, both sides will move on to discuss demilitarisation in the disputed area, ACM Sukumpol said.

Meanwhile, a group calling itself Ruam Phalang Pokpong Phaendin (United to Protect the Motherland) has urged the army to expel Cambodians who they say are encroaching on Thai territory.

They say Cambodian soldiers and civilians have reclaimed a forest in the disputed area that belongs to Thailand.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Setting benchmarks for Asean human rights

 By John Teo |

A monk walking past newly installed bank teller machines in Yangon. Myanmar is setting the record straight in terms of human rights.

THE Asean Declaration on Human Rights (ADHR) will be unveiled at the Asean Summit in Cambodia later this year. This will be the culmination of years of negotiations among Asean's disparate member states and various stakeholders within each member state.

This writer was invited to a workshop for media and bloggers in Jakarta over the last weekend to provide an update on the ADHR. Perhaps understandably given its recent history of political repression and its newfound democracy in the recent decade or so, Indonesians have been at the forefront in pushing the ADHR.

It is noteworthy that Asean member states have been making huge strides in the area of human rights even without the ADHR in recent years. None more so than Myanmar, long a pariah nation globally on account of its poor human rights record.

Kavi Chongkittavorn, eminent Thai commentator on Asean affairs and veteran observer of developments in Myanmar, waxes almost euphoric in suggesting that when that nation sets about doing something -- and it must be what that nation alone decides, not what outsiders urge on it (no matter how much these outsiders may want to now take credit for the latest Myanmar developments) -- it will be a trailblazer.

Kavi lost no time following the lifting of a 20-year ban on him visiting Myanmar to hop over across the border recently. He said the breathtaking impact of what Myanmar did already had a great bearing on Asean deliberations.

Myanmar, Kavi observed, had broken free of the Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV) informal caucus within Asean when it comes to Asean deliberations of a political nature, such as over the ADHR. That has put pressure on Vietnam, long acknowledged as the leader in that caucus, to act and react.
Human rights may be as fundamental as apple pie, to borrow a common American analogy, but why the need to come up with an Asean declaration on such rights when there already exists the United Nations' Declaration on Human Rights that all nations accede to when they join the international organisation?

And is it not superfluous to have the ADHR when all Asean members have similar political rights already enshrined in their respective national constitutions and seem to be making progress in ensuring rights available in theory are turned real?
Not so, answered Kavi, when posed these questions. Asean, after all, is evolving quickly into a community in significant sense of that term. It is working towards being a community of nations not just in the economic sphere but also in the political/security and cultural areas by 2015.

The ADHR will be a worthy document in setting regional benchmarks towards commonly accepted norms and rules. And why should an Asean Community be something the 600 million people within Asean care about, especially given how the European Union (EU) seems to be sputtering lately?

For starters, Asean is not modelled along the lines of the EU. Given the EU's troubles, it may be a blessing that Asean aspires to be a community and not a union with ever closer political and economic integration impinging on national sovereignty.

Besides, Asean has shown that smaller national players can punch above their weight in the geopolitical scheme of things if they hang together as a group. The centrality of Asean in regional affairs has been assiduously cultivated, nurtured and strengthened such that stronger powers feel comfortable deliberating on wider regional concerns through the auspices of Asean.

Cambodia, the current chair of Asean, may not otherwise be hosting the likes of the Chinese president and possibly the American president as well at the Asean and East Asian summits later this year.

Much time was spent in the Jakarta workshop debating the merits or otherwise of Asean and its relevance in the daily lives of the people in it. Its relevance will increasingly be felt but perhaps it will only be noticed if Asean itself is not around.

Indonesian bloggers and others complained about the difficulty of getting their readers excited about Asean-related news. They should rise above their grumbles and help make Asean news as exciting as political and other news within their own respective nations.

Kavi has a fascinating repertoire of news and anecdotes about all the ins and outs of Asean deliberations and developments, with their rich and telling interplay of national interests and peculiarities. He made a hasty exit after lunch in Jakarta, for the Asean Secretariat.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Temple conflict simmers?

June 28, 2012 by  
BANGKOK, 28 June 2012: Thailand has submitted additional written explanations to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to counter Cambodia’s petition requesting the court to interpret its 1962 Preah Vihear temple verdict.

Thailand’s Department of Treaties and Legal Affairs general director, Rachanant Thananant, said the Thai Ambassador to the Hague, Virachai Plasia, submitted the explanations to the ICJ 21 June.
“This was the second round of written explanations as required by the world court,” he said.
In April 2011, Cambodia asked the ICJ to clarify and interpret its 1962 ruling on Preah Vihear.

The court ruled in 1962 that the ancient Hindu temple belonged to Cambodia, but did not define the boundaries of the area surrounding the structure, which has led to sporadic clashes between the two armies.
Thailand’s latest 380-page explanation was published in two books with supporting documents and maps.
In its summary, Thailand counter claimed that Cambodia did not have the legal grounds to ask the court to interpret the earlier decision, and was in effect making an appeal over court’s decision. In the past, it claimed the court rejected attempts to appeal the 1962 ruling.

“The court is expected to decide whether it will deliberate the case or not by 2013,” Mr Rachnant explained.
The court last July ordered both Thailand and Cambodia to immediately withdraw their military personnel from the so-called demilitarised zone and urged both countries to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to reach an agreement allowing regional bloc’s observers to enter the disputed zone.

The two countries were also ordered to revive their stalled talks to resolve the conflict. Both must report development to the court until a decision on Cambodia’s main request for interpretation of the 1962 order is finalised.

The delays in settling the issue are frowned on by tourism officials in both countries who see the temple as a major revenue earning attractions. Tour operators generally agree that as long as the two countries squabble over the territory the less they will benefit. They claim that Thailand’s Northeast and the poor provinces in Cambodia adjacent to the temple need tourism to build economic growth as there is a lack of attractions to draw tourists.

The temple was possibly the most popular stop  on combination tours that took in visits to the heritage sites of  Northeast Thailand and ended at Siem Reap with a visit to Angkor Wat.June 28, 2012 by   June 28, 2012 by   June 28, 2012 by  

US sees momentum on West Philippine Sea code


WASHINGTON—The United States said Wednesday it saw momentum in talks between China and Southeast Asia on agreeing to a code of conduct to ease deep friction over competing claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

The West Philippine Sea is likely to be high on the agenda when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads next month to Cambodia for talks of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and regional powers including China.

Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said he understood that a draft proposal on a code of conduct was being discussed and that the United States expected to hear more details while in Cambodia.

“What we have seen of late has been an increase in diplomacy between Asean and China about aspects associated with a potential code of conduct,” Campbell told a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“I will say that we are frankly impressed with the level of focus that particularly Asean has given to this,” Campbell said.

Campbell did not give more details on the potential code of conduct and acknowledged that disputes over the West Philippine Sea are “fraught with difficulty.”

“They spur nationalist sentiment across the region as a whole and it is extraordinarily important to deal with them with great delicacy,” he said.

Asean and China agreed in 2002 to negotiate a code of conduct. But there has been little visible progress, with a rising China preferring to negotiate with each country individually instead of dealing with a unified bloc.
Asean foreign ministers, meeting in April in Phnom Penh, said they hoped to narrow differences and sign a code of conduct with China by the end of the year.

The Philippines and Vietnam accuse China of aggressively asserting its claims in recent years, leading to minor clashes that diplomats and military commanders fear could quickly escalate into major conflicts.
The United States have recently expanded military relations with the Philippines and Vietnam, part of what President Barack Obama’s administration has cast as a growing US focus on relations with Asia.

The details of the code of conduct remained murky. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on June 2, said the code should set a binding “rules-based framework” to prevent and manage disputes.

At the annual Asean talks in 2010 in Vietnam, Clinton said the United States had a “national interest” in open access to the South China Sea, through which half of the world’s trade flows.

Her statement generated a wide response in Asia, with Southeast Asian nations largely welcoming the remarks and stepping up cooperation with the United States but China accusing her of fanning tensions.

The Boeung Kak 13

AMID cheers and the odd tear, a band of 13 women—a dowdy lot of impoverished middle-aged mothers, homemakers, and a grandmother—were set free by a Cambodian appeals court on June 27th. The court’s decision was welcomed by human-rights groups as well as by local land-rights activists, who believe the national government has taken advantage of these women as part of a programme of evicting the poor to make way for lucrative commercial developments.

The youngest of the gang of 13 is 25 years old and the eldest is 72. They were among 4,000 families evicted from their homes around Boeung Kak lake, a natural waterway and a parcel of prime real estate near the centre of Phnom Penh. The surrounding land was then cleared and the lake filled to make way for an up-market housing project.

The development is supposed to be built by an extremely discreet firm called Shukaku Inc, which is owned by Lao Meng Khin, a senator for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and a Chinese group, Erdos Hongjun Investment Corporation.

Some families received a paltry mix of cash and land to move while others received nothing. The women kept on protesting at the site, even after they were evicted. Eventually they were arrested and on May 24th, after a three-hour hearing, they were convicted of occupying the land in question illegally. Each was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in jail.

Their arrest had been condemned swiftly by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They too are concerned about the prevalence of land-grabbing, which is made all the uglier by allegations of corruption and the deadly use of force. According to a local human-rights group called Licadho, foreign interests—owning mines, plantations, real-estate development firms and the like—now control more than 22% of Cambodia’s total surface area. 

But then at a crucial juncture the “Boueng Kak 13”, as they had become known, started to win the sympathy of ordinary Cambodians and the support of America’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, has responded to the growing agitation over land rights with a freeze on further land concessions and a promise to resolve the rest of the country’s outstanding cases of land-grabbing. This pledge did not, however, lead to any cessation in the granting of vast tracts of land to commercial interests.

Hun Sen took to lashing out at media accounts which reported that he had gone back on his earlier promises. He argued that the contracts on thousands of hectares of state forests and other protected areas that have been granted in recent weeks had been approved already—before the freeze was announced.

Tight security was visible around the courthouse where the Boeung Kak 13’s appeal came down. It seemed emblematic of Hun Sen’s distaste for being challenged on this issue. A large stretch of the capital went into lockdown in the hours before the verdict was announced. The fear had been that protests mounted by supporters of the jailed women might interrupt a state visit being paid by Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito.
About six city blocks along Sothearos boulevard and Sisowath quay, stretching past the royal palace and the courts, were closed to traffic. About 200 protesters were kept a full kilometre from the court, along the banks of the Tonle Sap. There they were confronted by 300 riot police, military police and soldiers.

Sporadic incidents of violence were reported around town but inside the cramped courthouse the mood was optimistic nonetheless. International and local pressure had raised expectations that the Boeung Kak 13 would be set free.

The hopefulness was partly due to Cambodia’s growing international stature. Phnom Penh occupies the current chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and will shortly play host to a summit of foreign ministers, which Mrs Clinton is expected to attend. Anything less than the release of the imprisoned women would’ve been an international embarrassment for the government.

The presiding judge, Seng Sivutha, did not disappoint. He noted noting that the women, who appeared before him in their prison blue, had children to look after and that moreover they had little knowledge of the law. He reduced their prison terms to exactly one month and three days—exactly the time served—and so they were freed. Their conviction, however, stays on the books.

Khek Chan Raksmey, a villager from Boeung Kak, was overwhelmed by the rare sense of victory. “Long live, we won now. The court has released our people.”
 Source: economist
(Picture credit: AFP)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Old school uniforms from Taiwan adored by Cambodian children

2012/06/27 (CNA)

 Members of a volunteer team from Chung Yuan Christian University in Jhongli, northern Taiwan, recounted Wednesday the joy they witnessed from a Cambodian boy who was the recipient of a recycled school uniform donated by a Taiwanese school.

Speaking at a presentation ceremony in the university's service learning center to mark the end of the school year, the students, who returned in February from 14-day volunteer teaching stints in Cambodia, said they were particularly touched by the little boy, who said the old winter school uniform was his favorite outfit and who wore it day in, day out.

Chang Yu-ting, one of the eight students who took part in the mission, organized by the university and Cambodia's Khmer Akphiwat Khmer Organization (KAKO), said the 12-year-old, who lives at a care center, could hardly bear to be parted from the long-sleeved sportswear donated by Xinggu Elementary School in New Taipei, even during the hottest of days.

"Although recycling old clothes is a simple act, it can transcend borders and help people in need in many different place," said Chang, who took part in the volunteer service for the first time.

Seeing how much the boy adored his old uniform reminded the student volunteers that everyone in the world is closely connected and that every single action can affect someone else, said Lu Ying-hui, director of the service learning center.

The volunteers said that upon their return, they also recounted the story of the boy to the Xinggu students to encourage them to get involved in charity work.

During their two-week stay in the Southeast Asian country, the volunteers also painted animals and sea creatures on the walls of libraries in several villages to help the local children learn about the world through pictures.

Resources there are so scarce that the libraries, which have few books, are sometimes no more than refurbished thatch-covered hen houses, said Tsai Cheng-han, another of the volunteers.

Hsu Ching-wen, who led the team, said they have launched charity events at the university to raise funds to help build cement walls for libraries in Cambodia so that children there can enjoy reading without worrying about the weather.

(By Wei Yun-ling and Maia Huang)

In Vietnam, a shipping line raises alarm over debt

HANOI, June 27, 2012
HANOI, June 27 (Reuters) - Shipping line Vinalines once symbolised the postwar promise of Vietnam when it began jockeying for global trade after the United States lifted sanctions on its former enemy in 1994.
Today, it represents all that has gone wrong since then: a bloated behemoth with 18,000 workers, a fleet of loss-making ships and $2.1 billion in debt. In recent weeks, two senior executives have been arrested, its former chairman is on the run, and the firm has become a byword for mismanagement.

Vinalines and other debt-ridden state companies are turning into a big test of the government's graft-fighting credentials and whether Communist-run Vietnam is likelier to reclaim its status as a star among emerging markets or sink deeper into an economic malaise rooted in a state sector plagued by red ink and cronyism.
"These companies have operated in secrecy for too long but that must come to an end," said Jonathan Pincus, dean of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program in Ho Chi Minh City and a former Vietnam economic specialist at the United Nations.

It adds to a catalogue of problems that have overshadowed Vietnam's promise - bureaucracy, creaking infrastructure, a debilitating trade deficit and, until recently, spiralling inflation and a stumbling currency.
State firms have come under growing scrutiny since the government revealed on June 12 that debt at Vietnam National Shipping Lines, or Vinalines, was 43.1 trillion dong ($2.1 billion) at the end of 2011, more than four times its equity of 9.41 trillion dong.

That drew comparisons with the near-collapse two years ago of state shipbuilder Vinashin, whose $4.5 billion debt triggered concerns over the health of Vietnam's banks. Vinashin was eventually bailed out, but nine of its executives were sent to jail in March, convicted of mismanaging state resources.

Vinalines' executives fear the same fate. Four have been arrested since February and an international warrant is out for former chairman Duong Chi Dung, accused of deliberately mismanaging the company from 2005 to February this year.

Dung, 55, rose through Vinalines' ranks even as it hemorrhaged money. He was appointed head of the Transport Ministry's Maritime Administration weeks before investigators uncovered wrongdoing at the company. Before joining Vinalines, he managed a loss-making waterway construction company.

Vietnam had hoped to model its state firms on South Korea's expansion-hungry conglomerates, or chaebol. But as it did at Vinashin, the idea went badly awry at Vinalines, founded in 1995 through a merger of more than two dozen companies, a year after the United States lifted its trade embargo.

According to a government inspectors' report, Vietnam's largest state-owned shipper and port operator had losses or "irregular expenses" at several of its 14 port projects. Management of its 154 ships, mostly cargo vessels and oil tankers, appeared haphazard. Five were detained in foreign ports as a result of major financial disputes, the report said.

Among the blunders was the purchase of a 43-year-old, Japanese-built floating dock from a Singapore firm for $9 million. Repair work raised the cost to $26.3 million, about 70 percent of the price of a new dock.
The unused dock is now mocked in Vietnam's press as an "iron heap", symbolic of Vinalines' losses. The company also built three ship repair facilities between 2007-2010 that were not included in a government-approved development plan.

It spent 22.85 trillion dong ($1.09 billion) between 2005 and 2010 on 73 second-hand ships, including 17 described in an official report as "too old", according to state media. And it lost 434 billion dong ($21 million) in 2011 because of lax corporate management and "protracted wrongdoings in business management", the government report said.

Private companies in Vietnam face high borrowing costs and double-digit interest rates, but credit is cheap for state firms such as Vinalines, which received cash injections from the state budget, soft loans from the Vietnam Development Bank for new vessels, privileges in paying corporate tax and a guarantee from the government in order to access overseas loans.

Those findings, detailed in the inspectors' report, could strengthen criticism of a controversial policy that puts a third of the economy under the control of state-owned companies to ensure a tight government grip on strategic industries.

Economists have urged the government to reduce the role of big state groups and give more help to small and medium-sized firms, but they have been disappointed. Instead of closing or selling Vinalines and Vinashin, both are being restructured.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said on June 15 Vinalines would streamline its operations to focus on three businesses: maritime transportation, seaports, and services. Old and inefficient vessels would be sold to cut losses and shipping subsidiaries would be partly privatised.

It has been told to cut holdings in joint-venture ports, in line with a broader government push to have state firms divest non-core businesses by 2015 and speed up partial privatisation.

Less clear is how the government will tighten corporate governance, an issue many regard as crucial for imposing financial discipline on an economy that retains a heavy dose of Soviet-style central planning.
Maintaining the status quo could be dangerous for Vietnam. Vinashin's bad debts have already battered some of its banks, forcing Hanoi Building Bank, or Habubank, into a planned merger with Saigon-Hanoi Bank this year.

Officially, Vietnam's bad debts stood at 108.6 trillion dong ($5.2 billion) at the end of April - about 4.14 percent of total loans, according to central bank data.

Unofficially, the non-performing loan ratio is believed to be two to three times that. Fitch Ratings has said the ratio could be as high as 13 percent. Habubank put its bad debt at 16 percent of loans as of February.

As of September 2011, Vietnam's 12 largest state-run groups had combined debt of 218.7 trillion dong ($10.5 billion), 8.76 percent of the banking system's total loans, according to the Vietnam Economic Times.
There are some positive signs at Vinalines: of 9.3 trillion dong ($444 million)of short-term loans and 33.83 trillion dong ($1.6 billion)of long-term debt, only about 207 billion dong ($9.9 million) was "behind schedule", the government said.

Vinalines is also a victim of a global shipping market that has yet to recover from the mauling it suffered during the 2008 global financial crisis, which triggered what the International Monetary Fund called the "Great Trade Collapse". Industry experts believe the industry will remain in a major phase of consolidation until late next year.

Still, many expect other problems will emerge in Vietnam's state sector, and the ratio of non-performing loans will only go up. "The poor performance of major state groups will increase non-performing loans in the banking system," said Alan Pham, chief economist of fund management firm VinaCapital, which oversees $1.6 billion in assets.

Authorities are trying to head that off. The government told state enterprises this month to put quarterly and annual financial reports on their websites or face fines - a rule many see as spurred on by problems at Vinalines and Vinashin.

"The recent findings in cases such as Vinashin, Vinalines - and there might be others to follow - have a good side, in that Vietnam is aiming at more transparency," said Nguyen Chi Trung, a director at Ho Chi Minh City-based Rong Viet Securities. ($1 = 20,905 dong) (Additional reporting by Ho Binh Minh in Hanoi and Randy Fabi in Singapore; Editing by Alan Raybould and Jason Szep)

Vietnam says China offshore oil auction 'illegal'

A China National Offshore Oil Corp. deep-water oil drilling rig leaves the port of Qingdao for the South China Sea (AFP/File)
HANOI — Vietnam has denounced China's opening of offshore oil blocks to foreign companies in contested areas of the South China Sea as "illegal", as territorial tensions grow between the communist neighbours.

On Saturday, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation announced that nine offshore blocks were available for exploration, and said it was seeking bids from foreign companies.

Vietnam's foreign ministry said in a statement late Tuesday that the blocks "lie entirely within Vietnam's 200-mile exclusive economic zone."

It added: "This is absolutely not a disputed area. (CNOOC's move) is illegal and of no value, seriously violating Vietnam's sovereignty."

It said the bid invitation was "causing tension" in the South China Sea.

The blocks, which cover an area of more than 160,000 square kilometres (64,000 square miles), "are available for international exploration and development cooperation between CNOOC and foreign companies," CNOOC said in a statement.

The tender was "normal business activity", Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a regular news briefing on Tuesday.

"We hope Vietnam will respect these agreements and avoid taking any action that may complicate the matter," he said.

China and Vietnam are locked in a long-standing territorial dispute over the South China Sea, and frequently trade diplomatic barbs over oil exploration, fishing rights and the Spratly and Paracel Islands, which both countries claim.

Last week, Vietnam angered China by adopting a law which claims sovereignty of the mineral-rich islands, prompting Beijing to summon Vietnam's ambassador to oppose the "illegal and invalid" move.

China says it has sovereign rights to the whole South China Sea, believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits. The sea is also claimed in whole or part by Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

CAMBODIA: No recourse for enslaved migrant workers

PHNOM PENH, 27 June 2012 (IRIN) - On most nights, Nara* was allowed to sleep no more than a few hours before he was forced to resume his gruelling routine of casting nets, sorting the catch and mending damaged nets, all while being watched by a captain eager to deliver a beating to any deckhand he thought was slacking.

Nara had paid people smugglers in Cambodia, who promised him a factory job in Thailand, but they tricked him and he ended up as a slave on a fishing vessel on the high seas.

“I worked on the boat for three years but was never paid anything,” Nara said. Like other trafficking victims interviewed by IRIN, he asked that his real name not be used.

Nara was just 20 when he was approached by a smuggler in 2008, who offered him a factory job in Thailand with a monthly salary of US$200, roughly three times what he would get for similar work in Cambodia.

By the time he realized that he had been tricked, he was already in a foreign country and under the control of violent bosses. He soon found himself forced onto a boat that set out for Malaysian waters and docked once a month on desolate islands.

Poverty and limited job opportunities make desperate Cambodians easy prey for middlemen, who procure slave labour for Thailand’s huge fishing industry.

No recourse

A lack of real recourse for the victims feeds this cycle of exploitation, say monitors. Official corruption, legal loopholes and poor protection means migrant workers are unable to take perpetrators to court, or even seek compensation.

Nara escaped at last when the boat had to put into port, and eventually, through the help of an anti-trafficking NGO, was repatriated to Cambodia. When he got back, the police met with him only once for a short interview about his ordeal.

Rights workers who monitor the trafficking of Cambodians to Thailand to work in the fishing industry say despite the scale of abuse, they are not aware of a single successful prosecution.

“Under Thai criminal and labour law, such a person should have a chance to pursue justice against his offender, as well as receive financial compensation,” says Lisa Rende Taylor, chief technical advisor at the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP)

Victims fear reprisal or are reluctant to step up as witnesses because they are kept in government shelters during subsequent legal processes, and this might prevent them from working and being with their families while their case is going forward, she said.

Stranded on land

Kunthea, another Cambodian victim who asked that her real name not be used, finds herself in a similar situation. At 18, drawn by a recruitment company in Phnom Penh, the capital, who offered Cambodian women jobs as domestic workers in Malaysia, and promised to monitor the labour conditions, Kunthea enlisted.

In Malaysia, her employers gave her one meal per day, beat her with a belt when they were dissatisfied with her work, and never paid her. After a year, she overcame her fear of setting out on her own in a country where she didn’t speak the language and had no family or friends, and fled her employer’s home.

“When I applied for the job, the company said their staff would visit us,” says Kunthea. “They said they would be responsible for us.” Her attempts to receive payment from the recruitment agency in Phnom Penh have been fruitless.

Women like Kunthea are particularly vulnerable to abuse, and unable to hold their abusers accountable because domestic work is not recognized as an official category of work in either Cambodian or Malaysian labour law.

Victims must therefore rely on anti-trafficking laws, which don’t necessarily cover these abuses, while criminal codes require a high level of abuse before they can be applied and are often poorly tailored to defending the rights of workers.

“Criminal law does not provide restitution for a range of work-related abuses, like withholding pay, overtime provisions, and other decent work standards like maternity leave and disability protections,” says Max Tunon, a senior officer of the International Labour Organization, which is lobbying countries in the region to allow migrant workers to join local labour unions so that they have some protection.

“Migrants should be able to benefit from collective bargaining agreements, and to negotiate for improved terms of employment and working conditions,” says Tunon. As members of labour unions, migrant workers would also benefit from “union workplace inspections that could improve the health and safety conditions in their workplace”.

Mathieu Pellerin, a consultant at Licadho, a Cambodian human rights NGO, says the absence of regulation starts in Cambodia, with basic human rights abuses occurring in the recruitment company’s pre-departure training centres.

“The [Cambodian] state has proven it’s not willing to act as a proper regulator,” he said. “These criminal acts are going unpunished - the court track record speaks for itself.”

According to UNIAP, in 2009 an estimated 20,000 Cambodian deportees from Thailand were labour trafficking victims - a figure that is likely to increase, given Thailand’s growing labour shortages in low-skilled industries.

*not his real name


Viet Nam tops list of foreign visitors to Cambodia

Ha Noi—Vietnamese tourists topped the list of foreign visitors to Cambodia in the first five month of the year, the Cambodian tourism ministry said.

Accordingly, Cambodia received 1.5 million foreign tourists, an increase of 26.3 per cent against the same period last year.

Vietnamese tourists toped the list of visitors with about 300,000 holidaymakers heading for Cambodia.
Last year, Cambodia welcomed nearly 3 million foreign visitors, including 600,000 Vietnamese tourists.

The most attractive tourist destinations in Cambodia were Angkor Wat in Siem Reap province, the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh and the beaches of Kongpong Som province. - VNS

Appeals court frees Cambodian eviction protesters

June 27, 2012
By The Associated Press   

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - (AP) -- A Cambodian appeals court has ordered the release of 13 women who were jailed for protesting being evicted from their homes without adequate compensation.

Judge Seng Sivutha on Wednesday upheld last month's convictions of the women for aggravated rebellion and illegal occupation of land. They had each been sentenced to 2½ years in prison. However, the judge said he was reducing their sentences to time served of one month and three days because they have children to take care of and little knowledge of the law.

The women had been residents of Phnom Penh's Boueng Kak lake area, which the government awarded to a Chinese company for commercial development. They said they were not given new land titles they were promised by the government.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Some 10,000 Cambodians gather to observe int'l day against drug

Xinhua | 2012-6-26
By Agencies

Approximately 10,000 government officials, civil servants, non-governmental organizations and students gathered at the capital's Olympic Stadium on Tuesday to celebrate the International Day against Drug.

Speaking at the event, Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Sar Kheng said the celebration was to promote awareness among people, especially youths, to understand about serious impacts which are triggered by drugs.

The event was also to promote broader public participation to fight against drug production, circulation, and use effectively.

The minister said that this year's celebration was at the same time that Cambodia chairs ASEAN and the country has been actively implemented the joint declaration on ASEAN Drug-Free in 2015, which was adopted in the 20th ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh in April.

"Cambodia is not a drug producer, but the country is suffering from drugs as if other countries in the region and the world are," he said.

He said perpetrators have not only used Cambodia as "a drug transit point", but they have also attempted to use Cambodia as "a base for illegal drug production"; however, "their attempts have been timely and subsequently smashed down and the perpetrators have been seriously punished in accordance to the law."

Meanwhile, he appealed to developed countries and the United Nations agencies to continue supporting Cambodia in terms of human resources, techniques and materials in order to strengthen the country's drug control mechanisms.

Cambodia has between 5,000 and 6,000 drug users, most of them are youths.

"Drug costs human life, affects security and public order, and increases violence, crimes, and poverty," Ke Kim Yan, chairman of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said. "Therefore, participation from all relevant parties is very vital to combat against drugs effectively."

The International Day against Drug was firstly observed in 1987 to raise awareness of the major problem that illicit drugs represent to society and to help create an international society free of drug abuse.

ASEAN's Secret Human Rights Declaration

By Che Carpio

Unknown to most peoples of ASEAN (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Viet Nam) there is now an on-going regional effort to come up with an "ASEAN Human Rights Declaration" or AHRD. Tasked with this initiative is the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).

The AICHR first convened for the AHRD early this year on Jan. 8-9, in Siem Reap, Cambodia. There it resolved to finish the new document before the year ends.

The AICHR met again on the declaration on Feb. 17-19, in Jakarta, Indonesia. The meeting set the framework and structure of the proposed regional instrument and also completed deliberations on the "preamble" and the "general principles."

On March 9-13, the AICHR held its third meeting on the AHRD. It then set out the provisions for "civil and political rights."

The following month on Apr. 9-11, in Jakarta, Indonesia, the AICHR convened for its fourth meeting for the sections on "economic, social and cultural rights" and "the right to development" and "cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights."

Thereafter, the AICHR held its fifth meeting on May 6-8, in Bangkok, Thailand. It focused on "civil and political rights," the "rights of vulnerable groups" and "rights and responsibilities."

The AICHR then held its sixth meeting on June 3-6, in Yangon, Myanmar. It tackled new sections of human rights specific to the ASEAN region and recent developments enriching existing international human rights instruments.

A seventh meeting was scheduled for June 22-23, in Malaysia. No press release has been issued on its outcome.

The AICHR is then mandated to submit its final draft AHRD to the ASEAN Foreign Ministers before July.
For sure the proposed AHRD would be a monumental piece of work for ASEAN, which has been known to close its eyes or drag its feet onhuman rights violations. Take the case of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She was only recently released after 15 years of house arrest by Burma's military dictatorship. ASEAN then did business as usual, oblivious to such egregious violation. Not to mention the fate of other political prisoners.

Unfortunately, the AICHR has kept the AHRD to itself like a closely guarded secret. Deliberations are held in strict confidentiality. No draft is even circulated to the public.

And yet, the AHRD is supposed to be a declaration of the human rights of the ASEAN peoples. Hence, it's crafting must involve the peoples themselves. There must be full transparency and widest publicity to ensure public awareness and active engagement.

Most important, the AHRD should be a living document that is the fruit of the ASEAN peoples' struggles and a pillar to rely on in times of great difficulties and challenges. Necessarily, it must be a product of the peoples themselves and not just of the AICHR.

Vietnam Meets WHO's Target For Treating TB

HANOI, June 26 (Bernama) -- Vietnam is the first nation in Asia to have reached the target set by the World Health Organisation (WHO), to help more than 85 percent of patients fully recover from tuberculosis (TB) and provide treatment to over 70 percent of diagnosed cases.

The figures were announced at a ceremony to mark the Central Lung Hospital's 55th anniversary in Hanoi last Sunday, Vietnam News Agency (VNA) reported.

On addressing the event, Deputy Minister for Public Health Nguyen Thi Xuyen underlined the leading role the hospital plays in the control and prevention of TB and lung disease.

The Deputy Minister said she hopes the hospital will continue cooperating internationally to raise support for the nation's TB control and prevention programme and apply the latest science and technologies to diagnosis and treatment.

Since it was first founded in 1957, the hospital has successfully developed methods of controlling and preventing TB from communal to central levels and has found practical ways of combating TB that are applicable in Vietnam.

The hospital uses 16 out of 19 WHO certified technologies to diagnose TB.

To mark the occasion, the hospital was awarded the 'Labour Hero' title.


Obama OKs telecoms satellite sale to Vietnam


President Barack Obama on Monday gave approval for the U.S. Export-Import Bank to extend a $125.9 million loan to a state-owned company in Vietnam to buy a U.S.-made telecommunications and television satellite, the White House said.

Phil Cogan, a spokesman for the U.S. Export-Import Bank, said the approval was needed because Vietnam is a "Marxist-Leninist" economy, and not because the technology involved is particularly sensitive.

U.S. law requires a presidential determination that Ex-Im Bank loans of more than $50 million to Marxist-Leninist economies are in the U.S. national interest, Cogan said.

The proposed sale, which also must be presented to Congress for a 35-day review before it can be approved by Ex-Im's board, is to Vietnam Post and Telecommunications Groups, a wholly state-owned company.

Obama's presidential determination did not provide the name of the U.S. seller, and Cogan said he was still checking to see if he could release the name of the company.

"We're hoping this is the beginning of a flow of deals in the pipeline from Vietnam," Cogan said.
The fast-growing and populous Southeast Asian country has "enormous infrastructure needs" ranging from renewable energy to highways to airports to telecommunications, he said.

U.S. Ex-Im Bank President Fred Hochberg has visited the country twice to promote U.S. exports.
The United States is also negotiating a regional free trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership that includes its former war enemy from the 1960s and 70s.

PRESS DIGEST - Vietnam newspapers - June 26

HANOI, June 26, 2012
(Reuters) - These are some of the leading stories in the official Vietnamese press on Tuesday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.

- Banks in Vietnam have cut long-term deposit rates to 11-12.5 percent from 14 percent offered two weeks ago, bankers said.

- The decline of the monthly consumer price index in June showed lower aggregate demand and falling demand from buyers, economist Le Dang Doanh said.

- Several banks have been selling dollars to fund dong loans, but this will add pressure on the foreign exchange rate when the lenders have to buy back dollars to repay clients' deposits, analysts said.

- The government has called on all provinces and relevant agencies to find ways to reduce the number of traffic accidents nationwide, despite the death toll in the first six months dropping 17 percent from a year ago to 4,950.

- Vietnam imported 80,000 tonnes of raw cashew nuts in the first half of this year from Southeast Asian nations, Brazil and India while annual imports of the commodity could rise to 300,000 tonnes as cashew growers switched to higher valued pepper and rubber, causing a domestic shortfall.

- The agriculture ministry has asked the trade ministry to tighten inspection over sugar exported in unofficial trade to China due to possible shortages in coming months as domestic output estimated at 1.3 million tonnes this year is below the expected demand of 1.4 million tonnes.

- Police said they have arrested two men in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau on accusations of trafficking 25 people to Australia.

- Vietnam's exports of agricultural, forestry and fishery products in the first half of this year rose 14.5 percent from a year ago to $13.67 billion, the agriculture ministry said.

- Vietnam's economic growth could expand between 5.5 percent and 6 percent this year, Chairman Phung Quoc Hien of the National Assembly's Financial and Budgetary Committee said. (Reporting by Hanoi Newsroom; Editing by Sunil Nair)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cambodia's inflation continues falling in May

Xinhua | 2012-6-25 14:55:24
By Agencies

Cambodia's inflation rate had decelerated to 3.7 percent in May this year, down from 4.8 percent and 5.4 percent in April and March respectively, according to the latest statistics of the National Institute of Statistics (NIS) on Monday.

From April to May 2012, prices for food, rice, and fresh fish and seafood decreased by 0.8 percent, 1.5 percent and 3.3 percent respectively. Prices for pork and fruit dropped by 1.7 percent and 1.7 percent respectively, and price for gasoline declined by 5 percent.

Gasoline prices in Cambodia have continued falling to 1.25 US dollars a liter on Monday, down 11 percent from 1.41 US dollars in early May.

Cambodia predicts that the inflation rate is around 5 percent this year, down from 5.5 percent last year.

Can Myanmar emerge as threat to SE Asian garment sector

June 25, 2012 
Can Myanmar emerge as the next low-cost destination for global apparel brands and retailers, following China losing its sheen as a cheap production hub? Should this new development also worry garment makers in other South East Asian countries? 
The vibes emerging from leaders in countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia and Pakistan seem to indicate that Myanmar could emerge as a potential destination for sourcing clothing for worldwide retailers and brands. However, they do not see Myanmar as a threat to their country’s apparel sector in the immediate future. 
It is a known fact that garment brands are in constant search for low-cost production hubs and in their quest, production hubs have moved from US and Europe to China, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. This year in April, in a historic decision, the European Union (EU) suspended most of its sanctions against Myanmar, due to the sweeping democratic changes adopted by the present government and also in an effort to encourage further reforms. 
However, the biggest clothing and textiles importing country – US has still not lifted sanctions. It is also worth noting that the EU has not lifted sanctions, but only suspended them for a year. As recently reported on fibre2fashion, global apparel brands are gradually moving out from China, due to its rising costs. Domestic Chinese brands and suppliers to global brands too are looking at overseas destinations to cut costs. 
China’s loss could be Myanmar’s gain if it is able to attract the investments flowing out China or other high cost production bases, if it adopts correct investment policies and initiates sweeping reforms. Although, overall garment exports to top ten overseas destinations adds up to just around US $608 million in 2011, the pace at which these shipments are growing will make one sit up and take notice. 
For instance, apparel exports to Japan, Myanmar’s bigger buyer of garments, nearly doubled from $181.57 million in 2010 to $349.30 million in 2011. Likewise those to South Korea also nearly doubled in the same period from $123.89 million to $232.42 million. Likewise, apparel exports to the Latin American country of Colombia have skyrocketed from a measly $8,000 in 2007 to $435,000 in 2011, which again zoomed more than five times to $2.74 million in 2011. 
However, on the flipside, clothing exports too have declined in the last two years to major destinations like South Africa, France, Australia who are among the top ten buyers of made in Myanmar garments. Shipments to France have crashed from a high of $13.35 million in 2007 to just $500,000 in 2011. Those to South Africa have plunged from a peak of $136.72 million in 2007 to only $2.48 million, better than those to France.

Similarly, Turkey which ranked third among top most export destinations for Myanmar clothing in 2010, saw shipments slipping from $196.6 million in that year to a measly $9.42 million in 2011. 
“However, to achieve a meaningful integration in to the global business and trade, the Myanmar government would need to concentrate on development of much needed infrastructure, initiatives toward good governance, better economic & trade policies, a congenial investment & business climate”, says Mr Shafiul Islam – President of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). 
Mr Shezad Salim, President of Pakistan Readymade Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (PRGMEA) also avers, “Prior to the sanctions, Myanmar’s garment industry was very vibrant and many western companies had their production units there. 
“I have visited Myanmar prior to these sanctions and have witnessed some of their production facilities, first hand. In those days also they had very low cost and efficient labor available. The western companies may have left due to sanctions but the labor force is still there and therefore I feel western countries will definitely look at Myanmar again”.
Mr Van Soe Ieng, Chairman of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia (GMAC) sounded more optimistic when he said, “Yes, Myanmar will become one of the exporters and one of the destinations for sourcing of garments and textile not only because they have lower wages but also because they have ample workers”.
When quizzed if Myanmar could emerge as a competitor to Bangladesh, Mr Shafiul Islam said, “The emergence of Myanmar as a low-cost production destination could create an option for the buyers looking for China-plus. Bangladesh holds only 4.6% share of the global clothing exports, whereas China serves more than 36% of it. 
“So an emerging producer like Myanmar can take benefit of this opportunity, rather taking from the pie of Bangladesh. Moreover, we are putting relentless efforts to explore new markets and have already started growing in Latin America, South Africa, Russian, even East and South Asian countries, like Japan, Korea, China and India. 
“Therefore, we do not see Myanmar as an immediate competitor for us based on all these considerations. But at the same time, we will not take lightly, the potential of Myanmar emerging as our competitor in the near future”. 
Mr Shezad Salim is of the opinion that, Myanmar will be viewed sympathetically by the western nations because of Aung San Suu Kyi’s struggle for democracy spanning over two decades, and that developed countries will give Myanmar concessions. 

He said, “If sanctions are fully lifted, Myanmar will not only be competing with Pakistan but also India and Bangladesh and other regional garment producing countries. Myanmar has the advantage of low cost trained labor availability and the infrastructure which was available previously. Moreover, the energy crisis, law and order situation and political instability in Pakistan may drive away business from here to Myanmar as well even if concessions are not forthcoming”.“Myanmar may become one of the competitors for Cambodia’s garment sector but not now may be after 7-8 years. However, 7-8 years from now, Cambodia will have moved to a higher level by churning out better and higher value added products. The industry in Myanmar is still at a very nascent stage and it will need time to build its infrastructure and emerge as a competitor”, Mr Van Soe Ieng opined.
“They will need another 3 years to stabilize their policies, then garner investments, enhance production capacities, establish export markets, by which time 7-8 years would have passed. A lot of potential buyers from Europe and Japan are already visiting Myanmar and showing inclination towards garment sourcing. Even some manufacturers from Cambodia are looking forward to set up their production units in Myanmar in the next 5-6 months”.
Considering the positive vibes generated from experts, even from other competitor countries, Myanmar seems on its way to emerging as a competitor for other garment hubs in South East Asia, but maybe not, in the immediate future. 

Fibre2fashion News Desk - India

Vietnam sees 'new plane' in ties with Cambodia

June 25, 2012

Phnom Penh (Rasmei Kampuchea Daily/ANN) - Vietnam's Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh sees a "new plane" in relations with Cambodia after 45 years of bilateral diplomatic ties, the Vietnam News Agency reported Sunday.

"The fine neighborliness, traditional friendship and comprehensive cooperation between Vietnam and Cambodia will continue (to) develop to a new plane," he reportedly said.

Minh said such development was based on "the fundamental advantages of the two peoples¿ close ties and various cooperation mechanisms as well as the senior leaders¿ resolve and efforts by ministries, agencies, localities and people."

The foreign minister was quoted as saying that this would benefit both peoples, "contributing to peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region and the world."

Minh recalled that Vietnamese and Cambodians had "stood shoulder to shoulder to cooperate and assist each other in their respective causes of national liberation, freedom, independence and the pursuit of happiness and prosperity."

Referring to the victory over Pol Pot forces in 1979, he said it helped Cambodians "open an era of independence, peace, freedom and development for the country." It also helped to "facilitate the bilateral friendship and cooperation to develop into a new stage of closeness and mutual trust."

Since the Paris Peace Accords of 1991 and general elections in 1993, the two countries have maintained regular exchanges of high-level and local visits, Minh said. This showed their "resolve to work closely together to cement their bilateral relationship, which they have considered an important element behind the success of each country¿s national construction and defense."

Visits by King Norodom Sihamoni to Vietnam and President Nguyen Minh Triet and Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong in recent years are "very significant," Minh said. The foreign minister added that such visits had brought relations to "a new level, tightening the fine neighborliness, solidarity, friendship and comprehensive cooperation."

The minister recalled King Father Norodom Sihanouk's remarks that "Cambodia and Vietnam are inseparable and this valuable relationship should be enhanced along with the national development and construction of both countries."

Minh also noted the recent rapid growth in economic, trade and investment cooperation. Two-way trade has risen from US$130-$150 million a year between 1997 and 1999 to $1.2 billion in 2007, $1.6 billion in 2008 and $2.8 billion in 2011. "Both countries are targeting to raise their trade value to $5 billion in the next five years," he said.

The report also noted that Vietnam had invested more than $2.2 billion in Cambodia, focusing on telecommunications, banking, energy, rubber and agricultural processing

"Bilateral ties will have more potential to develop in a strong and comprehensive manner on a new height," Minh said.

UNESCO Releases Bilingual Handbook For Cambodian Journalists

PHNOM PENH, June 25 (Bernama) -- The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has released a bilingual handbook teaching Cambodian journalists how to report news relevant to food security and nutrition.

Xinhua news agency reports the Khmer and English guidebook highlights the general concept of food security and nutrition in simple language for journalists and policy makers to understand.

"The handbook will serve as an essential tool to help guide and enhance the journalists' knowledge for accurate reporting and advocating issues such as child mortality, children and women's health, nutrition and food security," said Cambodia UNESCO director Anne Lemaistre at the book's launching.

"It will allow policy makers to access a wide variety of resources and information to guide them on key issues and to lead them to important information sources," Lemaistre said.

Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the handbook will contribute towards helping Cambodia achieve the Millennium Development Goals in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cambodian PM's Party Sweeps Local Elections

Web Editor: haipeng

The ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen swept 1,592 of the country' s 1,633 commune chief seats in the 3rd commune council elections on June 3, according to official results released by the National Election Committee (NEC) on Sunday.

Sam Rainsy Party, the country's main opposition party, won only 22 commune chief seats, a decrease of 6 seats over its results in 2007, whilst the Human Rights Party, which joined for the first time in the race, won surprisingly 18 commune chief seats, the results showed.

Royalist Funcinpec Party, which is the coalition party in the current CPP's government, won a commune chief seat, while royalist Norodom Ranariddh Party (NRP) did not gain even a seat of commune chief position. The NRP led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh, son of former king Norodom Sihanouk.

The June 3's elections were joined by ten political parties and were observed by about 15,000 national and international observers from various countries and non-governmental organizations, according to the NEC.
Some 5.87 million Cambodians of about 9.2 million eligible voters cast their ballots nationwide at that time.
The elections are held once every 5 years.

In the 2nd commune council elections in 2007, the CPP won 1,592 commune chief seats, following by the Sam Rainsy Party with 28 commune chief positions and the Funcinpec Party with 2 communes.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Bo Xilai’s Wife Reportedly Admits to Killing British Businessman

By Jack Phillips
Epoch Times Staff

Gu Kailai, the wife of scandal-ridden Chinese politician Bo Xilai, allegedly confessed to murdering British businessman Neil Heywood to halt him from revealing her financial misdeeds, according to a report by a Japanese newspaper.

Heywood, 41, found dead last year, was closely associated with Gu and Bo, the former Party Secretary of Chongqing who was stripped of power earlier this year. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is investigating Bo for other offenses including: nepotism, corruption, and misuse of power.

Gu, who has not been seen in public since March, is suspected of poisoning Heywood. Chinese officials initially attributed Heywood’s death to “binge drinking gone wrong.” CCP sources have now told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that Gu admitted to killing the businessman to stop him from revealing her financial misdeeds. According to the report, sources said Gu received undeclared income over the years and transferred $6 billion overseas, using her husband’s influence to secure such deals.

The sources told the newspaper of an interim investigation report that was circulated among senior members of the CCP. In the report, which was created by the General Office of the Communist Party Central Committee, Gu said she killed Heywood because she was “driven into a corner” regarding an investigation of her financial dealings.

Sources said officials have decided to indict Gu and will investigate whether or not Bo was aware of the murder. Meanwhile, numerous officials and others associated with Bo, have been questioned.

Patrick Devillers, a French architect living in Cambodia and said to have close ties with Bo and Gu, was arrested in Cambodia for questioning, earlier this week, at the behest of Chinese authorities. Cambodian authorities said they would not extradite Devillers.

When Chongqing’s former top cop, Wang Lijun, fled for his life to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, he set in motion a political storm that has not subsided. The battle behind the scenes turns on what stance officials take toward the persecution of Falun Gong. The faction with bloody hands—the officials former CCP head Jiang Zemin promoted in order to carry out the persecution—is seeking to avoid accountability for their crimes and to continue the campaign. Other officials are refusing any longer to participate in the persecution. Events present a clear choice to the officials and citizens of China, as well as people around the world: either support or oppose the persecution of Falun Gong. History will record the choice each person makes.

UN Human Rights Treaty Body System in Urgent Need of Help

UN Human Rights Treaty Body System in Urgent Need of Help, Says New Report
New York, Jun 22 2012

The United Nations human rights treaty body system is in a crisis and in need of urgent help, according to a new UN report, which offers a set of proposals to strengthen and improve the system and enhance its accessibility to those who need it the most.

Released today, Strengthening the United Nations human rights treaty body was produced by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

In a <"">news release, the High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, stated that the establishment of the treaty bodies and the evolution of the treaty body system is one of the greatest achievements in the efforts of the international community to promote and protect human rights – but requires better resourcing, as well as a more streamlined and efficient approach.
The 10 human rights treaty bodies which make up the system are committees of independent experts that periodically examine the implementation of all treaties that State parties have ratified under international law.
The High Commissioner’s report focuses on strengthening the system – which has doubled in size since 2000 – rather than reforming it, and Ms. Pillay provides recommendations to enhance its visibility and its accessibility to individuals and communities who need it the most.

“The ultimate objective of this process was to take stock of the challenges and improve the impact of treaty bodies on States parties and individuals or groups of individuals at the national level by strengthening their work while fully respecting their independence,” she said.

The report, which has been almost three years in the making, noted that the increase in the number of international human rights treaties, and of the number of States that have ratified each treaty, has not been matched by an increase in resources to allow the committees monitoring implementation of the treaties to keep pace.

“In doubling the size of the human rights treaty body system under these new instruments, there has been chronically insufficient attention given to properly resource this fundamental human rights mechanism,” said Ms. Pillay.

To create a more efficient and streamlined approach to the treaty body system, the High Commissioner proposed the use of a reporting calendar, so that every report is reviewed on time, with the hope that this will result in equal treatment of all States.

She also recommends the utilization of new technologies, including webcasting and videoconferencing to increase visibility and accessibility to these treaty bodies.

In the introduction to the report, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the treaty body system “provides authoritative guidance on human rights standards, advises on how treaties apply in specific cases, and informs States parties on what they must do to ensure that all people enjoy their human rights.”

Friday, June 22, 2012

Detained Frenchman to stay in Cambodia: FM

June 22, 2012

PHNOM PENH — Cambodia has repeated its position that it will not extradite a French architect who is under arrest over links to disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai before the case has been fully investigated.
"We are awaiting further investigation," Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters late on Thursday when asked about Patrick Devillers, whose arrest in Phnom Penh has sparked a diplomatic tug-of-war between Beijing and Paris.

"The decision has been made. We have decided to keep him here, we are not sending anywhere. We won't send him to either France or China," he said.

Devillers, a 52-year-old architect, was detained on June 13 for committing unspecified offences in China, police said, adding that arrest was made at the request of Beijing.

France has asked for "clarification" for the reason for the arrest and Hor Namhong said Cambodia didn't have any details about the alleged offences yet.

Devillers is understood to have been a close business associate and friend of Bo and his wife Gu Kailai and his arrest is the latest twist in China's biggest political scandal in decades.

Bo, the former leader of the southwestern Chinese megacity of Chongqing, is being probed for corruption while Gu has been detained for suspected involvement in the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood last year.

The scandal surrounding Bo and Gu, which first came to light in February and made worldwide headlines, has exposed deep divisions within the Communist Party ahead of a crucial, once-in-a-decade leadership transition, analysts say.