Asean Unity Tested Under Cambodia’s Watch

Cambodia’s time as the chair of Asean has left the regional bloc less united than at any point in its 45-year history, experts said this week. And as Cambodia serves out its final weeks as Asean chair, the failure to address the concerns of regional members in their maritime disputes in the South China Sea may be the lasting legacy of Phnom Penh’s time at the helm of the 10-member bloc.
–News Analysis
“Cambodia’s foreign relations have been held hostage by its intimate ties with China and this limits its own foreign policy choices, thus causing a negative impact on its international image,” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an associate professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies.
At the Asean summits in Phnom Penh in April and July, Cambodia was widely accused of better representing the interests of Beijing in the territorial dispute over the South China Sea than representing its regional colleagues. As the chair of the bloc, experts said, Phnom Penh should have spent more time acting as an independent adjudicator in the contentious sea issue, where Cambodia has no territorial claim, rather than appearing to favor Beijing’s position.
Signs of the difference in opinion were again on display during this week’s Asean and East Asia summits when Kao Kim Hourn, secretary of state for Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that all 10 members had agreed to settle territorial disputes over islands in the South China Sea through the so-called Asean-China framework. The following day, Philippine President Benigno Aquino denied that claim, clarifying that Manila had not signaled its agreement to such a consensus. Vietnam also did not sign on to the so-called consensus, and registered its own correction with Phnom Penh privately.
Jim Della-Giacoma, project director for the think tank International Crisis Group in Southeast Asia, said that Cambodia’s inability to facilitate a closing statement at the Asean foreign ministers meeting in July would cast a long shadow over Cambodia’s chairmanship and over whatever progress was actually achieved in the region over the past year.
“The failure…to produce a customary communiqué for the first time in Asean’s 45-year history was a public relations debacle that set back the progress on the code of conduct [in the South China Sea] and will be remembered for a long time after any other apparent achievements of the last 12 months have probably been forgotten,” Mr. Della-Giacoma said in an email.
The Code of Conduct, a legally binding framework that would stipulate how Asean member states settle territorial disputes in the South China Sea, has become one of the most pressing issues in the region. But Phnom Penh, in line with Beijing’s wishes, has insisted on solving the disputes between four of Asean’s members—the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei—and China bilaterally. On the other side of the dispute, both the Philippines and Vietnam have voiced their preference that Asean solve the dispute as a bloc and the two countries are not opposed to “internationalizing” the issue.
In the international media, the fractures within Asean became the focus of this week’s summit. A headline on a New York Times opinion piece read “Indecision and Infighting: That’s the Asean Way.”
“At recent Asean gatherings, Cambodia has appeared to act as a kind of Chinese proxy,” the article said.
In an article for Al Jazeera titled “The end of the ‘ASEAN way,’” long-time Philippines-based broadcast journalist Marga Ortigas pointed out that until Cambodia’s Asean summits, most journalists joked that it didn’t really matter if they missed an Asean meeting, as nothing really happened anyway.
Not any longer though. Asean has changed, thanks to Cambodia, Ms. Ortigas wrote.
“[P]recisely because Cambodia, a nation with deep ties to China, tried to ‘stifle’ that [South China Sea] issue that things didn’t quite go as it had planned,” she wrote.
“And just like that, the subject that wasn’t supposed to be discussed hijacked the discussions. Much of this happened behind closed doors, but there was no way it was going to remain there …whether ASEAN liked it or not.”
Carlyle Thayer, an expert on Southeast Asia who is a professor at the University of New South Wales didn’t mince words when summing up Cambodia’s past year: “It’s the most disastrous chairmanship Asean has ever had.”
“By bringing attention to disunity, Cambodia has only brought attention to its role as a client state of China,” Mr. Thayer said.
“Cambodia as chairman has created a rift within Asean,” said independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay. “Cambodia should have played a role as an impartial mediator.”
Spokesman for the Council of Ministers, Phay Siphan, presented a different view of the government’s chairmanship of Asean.
Cambodia had been successful in its efforts to provide a platform for honest discussion between Asean members and the international delegates in attendance this week, Mr. Siphan said.
“We opened a dialogue to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea. Cambodia tries to maintain a space for everyone to have a dialogue together,” he said.
Regarding Cambodia’s “unique” relationship with China, Mr. Siphan said that Cambodia’s role in Asean was not to represent China’s interest, but rather to facilitate conversations between Beijing and the Asean region.
Still, analysts say the billions of dollars in aid and investment that have been pumped into Cambodia by China makes it hard for Prime Minister Hun Sen to choose Asean’s interests over Beijing’s.
But, Cambodia may yet need its friends in Asean one day, who are less overbearing than China, said Hal Hill, a professor of Southeast Asian economies at Australian National University.
“The general story is that [Southeast Asia] is going to be a Chinese sphere of influence and the countries in the region have to work within that basic parameter,” Mr. Hill said.
“That’s where Asean is potentially very important for a country like Cambodia, and why Cambodia can ill afford to upset its other members. Asean is by far the best thing going for Cambodia, in terms of regional allies.”



Researchers cast doubt on cell-phone cancer risk

A new report has punched some holes into arguments that mobile phones may cause cancer.
"Although there remains some uncertainty, the trend in the accumulating evidence is increasingly against the hypothesis that mobile phone use can cause brain tumors in adults," researchers from the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection Standing Committee on Epidemiology concluded in their findings published late last week in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal.

In the journal, the researchers released findings on brain cancer instances for males and females across different age categories both before and after handsets were released. They found that the instances of cancer have remained relatively static between 1970 and 2008.
They also referenced other studies on the topic.

"Methodological deficits limit the conclusions that can be drawn from [the] Interphone [study], but its results, along with those from other epidemiological, biological and animal studies, and brain tumor incidence trends, suggest that within about 10-15 years after first use of mobile phones there is unlikely to be a material increase in the risk of brain tumors in adults," the researchers wrote.

The debate over whether mobile phones can cause cancer has been raging for years. In 2004, for instance, a Swedish research institute found that 10 years or more of mobile phone use can cause tumors to grow in humans. In 2007, scientists found that just 10 minutes of handset use can cause changes in the brain that have been known to cause cancer.

The debate hit a tipping point in May when a division of the World Health Organization classified mobile devices as a "carcinogenic hazard." Exhaust from gas engines, lead, and coffee also have that classification.

The World Health Organization had previously said it could not find a link between mobile phone use and cancer. Even in its most recent findings and classification, the organization acknowledged that it still could not find a definite link between cancer and mobile phone use, and said that more research was needed.

The researchers behind the latest study also acknowledge that there is much more work to be done. They also noted that researching cancer risks, especially in children, can be difficult, since data "for childhood tumors and for periods beyond 15 years are currently lacking." But according to the researchers, at least for now, evidence is piling up that handsets do not appear to cause cancer.

Number of cases of glioma--a type of brain cancer--per 100,000, according to the National Board of Health and Welfare in Sweden.
















































 1988年 東ドイツ ライプチヒ経済大学卒

 1992年 同 博士課程卒

 1993年 カンボジア中央銀行 国際収支課

 1996~97年 現・政策研究大学院大学移行経済プログラム(当時は埼玉大学)

 1997年 カンボジア中央銀行 国際経済調査課長、以後経済・統計総局副総局長などを歴任

 2010年 業務総局総局長(Director General, Technical General Directorate)、今年から広報官も兼務している


Climate Conversations - Have countries delivered on fast-start climate finance?

Campaigners call on world leaders to fulfill their promises on a global climate fund, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 29, 2010. REUTERS/Chor Sokunthea
As the reporting deadline for 2010 looms, developed countries will need to prove that they are honestly meeting their modest $30 billion commitment.

WRI has released an updated summary of developed countries’ “fast start” climate finance pledges. These funds are intended to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to climate change from 2010-2012.

To date, 21 developed countries and the European Commission have publically announced individual fast-start finance pledges totaling nearly $28 billion to meet the $30 billion commitment in the 2009 Copenhagen Accord.

In last year’s Cancun Agreements, developed countries reaffirmed their commitment and also agreed to provide greater transparency on the delivery of their pledges – in other words, information not just on what the pledge is, but on how the country plans on meeting it.

The timing of this information is crucial as developing countries await progress in this area before moving other pieces of the Cancun Agreements forward. For example, major developing countries – Brazil, China, India and South Africa – have explicitly linked progress in the Green Climate Funds discussions to the sizeable flows of fast start funds.

Developed countries are invited to voluntarily provide this information in annual reports to the UNFCCC Secretariat in May 2011, 2012, 2013. Unfortunately, the Cancun Agreements contain no specifics on what format the reports should follow.

With the May deadline looming, what do we already know about what developed countries are providing? Our updated summary presents the most up-to-date information available. The summary reveals that most developed countries are making tentative progress towards delivering their commitments. However, the information available is neither complete nor consistent, and developed countries should provide comprehensive and comparable information on the delivery of fast start finance in 2010 in the reports they submit this month.

May deadline

Some news reports have suggested that developed countries have “missed” the May deadline for reporting. This is based on the May 1 deadline specified by the secretariat. However, since the Cancun Agreements do not actually specify a particular date in May, countries are not obliged to provide information by May 1, and could reasonably be expected to submit their information by the end of May.

WRI is aware of several countries that are working on preparing these reports and we expect to see submissions fairly soon. It is important that they all meet the May deadline in the Cancun Agreement, and submit comprehensive and comparable reports and be completely transparent about underlying assumptions behind the numbers. The summary of pledges we are releasing today provides the most up-to-date information available, and will be updated once all country reports are formally submitted.

Changes in pledges

While there have been no significant changes to the overall pledges, further details are emerging on how the pledged resources are being mobilized and allocated. There have been some concerns over the impact of Japan’s aid cuts and U.S. budget cuts on their respective fast start commitments. These events may have an impact on 2011 and 2012 allocations of these countries, but there have been no formal announcements by either country since these events.

The United States, in particular, has never made specific numerical commitments as part of their overall fast start pledge for the period 2010-12, always maintaining that it will contribute its “fair share.” The ambiguity in the overall pledge makes it hard to assess changes resulting from the budget cuts. Moreover, the budget documents do not allow us to accurately estimate the total fast start finance available for 2011. However, it is quite likely to be lower than the $1.9 billion that the administration had requested for FY2011 in early 2010 from the previous Congress, and some unofficial estimates indicate that it will be under $1 billion.

Did countries meet their 2010 pledges?

Since many countries have not yet made public the resources that they have actually delivered for 2010, it is not possible to provide an accurate overall estimate. However, the updated summary does contain information on actions taken by the executive bodies of some countries. The amount requested and/or budgeted by these bodies totals roughly $12 billion.

Some countries have reported more specific information. For example, in November 2010, Germany indicated that it would disburse 356 million euros in 2010, while the UK indicated that it had approved £568 million for specific programs in 2010-11. This means that Germany and the UK will still need to allocate 904 million euros and £932 million, respectively, in fast start funds by 2012 in order to meet their pledges.

Better reporting standards going forward

Since we started tracking fast start pledges over a year ago, voluntary reports by each developed country have been quite varied, making it very difficult to track and monitor progress against the pledges.
To ensure clarity, WRI recommends that countries include the following elements in their submissions: the scale of finance provided, the method for determining that the resources provided are indeed ‘new and additional’, the institutions through which they are channeling resources, the objectives, geographic distribution, whether the amount pledged has been allocated or delivered, and the types of financial instruments used.

The uncertainty in estimating the exact amount of funds clearly underscores the need for greater transparency and consistency in reporting. Yet what is more important is that the finance is actually delivered at the pace and scale needed to address the growing threat from climate change. We are yet to see this sense of urgency as developed countries continue to teeter in honoring even their modest commitments.

Clifford Polycarp is a Senior Associate in the Institutions and Governance Program of the World Resources Institute (WRI).


Cambodia's Micro-credit Trap

A motorcycle taxi in Phnom Penh. (Photo: Ghbieler)
Roaming the streets as a motorcycle taxi driver in Dangkao district on the edge of Phnom Penh, Ek Sovannara is lucky to earn US$ 2.50 a day. But his aspirations once stretched much further.
In 2005 he was presented with an opportunity to borrow US$ 500 from Credit Microfinance Institution, a firm established by the Christian charity World Relief US in 1993, to set up a small food stall in Trapaing Krasaing commune where crowds of garment workers pass on their way to work. His decision that day to take the money would stay with him for years.

Since then, borrowing more and more from private lenders to pay back microlenders, he has fallen into a complicated web of debt now so severe that he is considering selling his house and about 50 square meters of land, together worth around US$ 6,000.  Though he has managed to pay back some of what he borrowed, his business ceased turning a profit two months ago. After successive borrowing to repay other loans, Sovannara still owes US$ 1,520 to Credit Microfinance Institution and a further US$ 400 to seven private moneylenders.

Sovannara, 39, is far from alone in his battle with debt. From its nascent days in the mid-1990s, Cambodia now has more than a million families with a microcredit loan in a population of 14 million people. That number is growing fast. Total outstanding loans as of the end of the first quarter amounted to US$ 711.8 million, an almost 10 percent increase over the previous quarter.
Like many others in his village, he has been approached by both private moneylenders and licensed microfinance institutions that hand out small loans with few strings attached, offering anywhere between US$50 and US$2,000.

Private lenders often allow borrowers to pay back the formal lenders, who in return agree to provide their clients with more credit. A lack of available credit history has also produced cases where clients have taken loans from more than one microfinance institution at the same time.

It is hard to know if this scenario is representative of the broader microcredit sector. Only licensed microfinance institutions are obliged to report on loan defaults, while smaller, registered institutions do not.  According to figures from the Cambodia Microfinance Association, non-performing loans among licensed institutions were calculated to be just 0.99 percent in the first three months of the year.

Defaults on loans appear to be even lower. At Chamroeun Microfinance, defaults on loans amounted to just 0.01 percent in 2010 while at Hatta Kaksekar Ltd, which started offering micro-loans as an NGO in 1994 and became a licensed MFI in 2004, defaults on loans was just 0.2 percent in 2010.

Microfinance institutions "have invested in improving systems and there are higher levels of control than before," said John Brinsden, vice president of Acleda Bank, the country's largest microcredit lender. He added that commercial banks in Cambodia were beginning to look at many licensed institutions as "serious peers" in the financial services industry.

Nonetheless, microfinance institutions admit that loan officers need more training to assess borrowers' creditworthiness and analysts say high levels of debt are a growing problem.
As Cambodia's microfinance sector has established itself, particularly over the last five years, a plethora of institutions have flooded into the market. Meanwhile dozens of non-governmental organizations and private moneylenders have also sought a piece of the action.

"In difficult times I took money from private moneylenders to pay back the loans I borrowed from the microfinance institutions," said Sovannara, who now relies on his wife’s job in a nearby garment factory as well as his meager income from the motorcycle taxi service. "I feel scared I will lose my home as so many people in my village lost their house to debt problems."

The scenario being played out in Sovannara's village in Trapaing Krasaing commune—a tight-knit community where strife in the quest to earn a living is shared—is at times dismal.  Both poverty and crippling debt levels loom over the heads of many here. By day, credit officers from some of Cambodia's 27 licensed microfinance institutions travel round on motorbikes looking for new clients and collecting outstanding debts.

While acknowledging instances of high debt levels, those in the industry say that most microfinance institutions are largely healthy and have stringent policies on only handing out loans to those with viable incomes.  Still, Chan Mach, general manager of Credit Microfinance Institution, which has a loan portfolio of US$35 million in micro-loans, making it the country's fifth largest microcredit institution, said he was aware of the problems facing the microfinance sector.




(Photograph courtesy Thy Neang et al Zootaxa/Flora & Fauna International

 新種のメクラトカゲ(Dibamus dalaiensis)は体長15センチ。盲目で脚のないトカゲが東南アジアで見つかったのは初めてだ。世界を見渡すと、四肢が退化したトカゲは200種を超え、新種の爬虫類も過去10年で50ほど発見されている。

 ファウナ&フローラインターナショナルに所属する爬虫類と両生類の専門家ネアン・タイ(Neang Thy)氏は最近、カンボジア南西部に位置するカルダモン山脈の丸太の下でメクラトカゲを発見した。「最初は一般種かと思ったが、よく見てみると初めて出会う種だった」とタイ氏はプレスリリースで述べている。




「カルダモン山脈で初めて動物の生態を調査したのは10年前だ。以来、タイ氏は驚くような新発見を続けている」と、ダルトリー氏はナショナルジオグラフィック ニュースに語った。ヘビは脚のないトカゲから進化したと考えられている。両者の違いは、外耳をはじめとするトカゲの特徴を保持しているかどうかだ。






Dave Mosher for National Geographic News

ナショナルジオグラフィック 公式日本語サイト