Friday, January 14, 2005

Where Monsoons Meet No. 3

Being a miscellany of recent stories from Southeast Asia.
  • Cambodia. There is a very heartening story here. It tells of the Peace Art Project Cambodia that was launched in July 2003 by small arms specialist Neil Wilford and artist Sasha Constable. PAPC has secured thousands of weapons from across Cambodia, along with destroyed ammunition, tripods, large calibre weapons and mine/ordnance casings as the raw materials for students to create works of art. The project has developed an interesting range of engineering, artisanal and artistic skills among its participants, melding traditional Khmer expression with stark modernity. As the website notes of the work produced by the students: "The message of peace is unmistakable. Many of the pieces portray the anguish of living in a country steeped in violence to both body and soul while simultaneously expressing hope for a non-violent society". (Hat tip: Belyn)
  • Thailand. The outpouring of assistance for the survivors of the earthquake-tsunami seems to have bypassed one small group of survivors. There are disturbing reports here and here of the treatment of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand. There are all the familiar signs of an anti-foreigner witchhunt. The Thai government has chosen this moment to crack down on illegal migrants; there's been a local media campaign spreading unfounded rumours about Burmese looters; and migrant workers have simply been deprived of aid. Thousands of Burmese are now hiding in the hills above the coastal resorts where many used to work in the tourism and fishing industries. Meanwhile, the hard sell is already on to lure back the foreign tourists to the luxury hotels.
  • Vietnam. Since its embrace of the market economy nearly twenty years ago the government of Vietnam has followed the cold logic of authoritarian liberalism. The unravelling of planned socio-economic policies is now almost complete as the authorities have rushed into a market economy red in tooth and claw. At the same time, the government is cracking down of any form of political dissent. Reporters Without Frontiers here and the BBC here carry stories on a well-known journalist, Nguyen Thi Lan Anh, who wrote a series of articles on Zuellig Pharma last year. At the time she was praised for brilliant investigative reporting. As the BBC report notes: "Zuellig Pharma, via its Singapore office, had been monopolising the Vietnamese pharmaceutical market for almost three years and had bumped up the prices of some popular medicines to 'unacceptable levels'". But now Lan Anh is facing legal action from the government for "appropriating state secrets" - exposing the complicity of government officials more like it. There are other examples of the renewed intolerance of critical thinking: the government has shut down the country's most popular news and entertainment website,, as well as sacked the editor-in-chief of the leading online newspaper, Vnexpress. Their crime? To report on the extravagance of the recent ASEM summit that Hanoi hosted. Along with Burma and Laos, Vietnam's media are described by Reporters Without Frontiers as facing a "very serious situation".


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