Global Political and Economic Landscape is “Unkind” The world has not been so kind this year. It is unfortunate that the world continues to face crises, and new armed conflict has erupted between Israel and Hamas in addition to the existing war between Russia and Ukraine, which is becoming a proxy war between Russia and Europe and the US. In Asia, people are concerned whether Taiwan and the South China Sea will become the next platform of proxy war between China and the US. Economically, it is not bright. According to the World Bank, average potential global economic growth will slump to a three-decade low of 2.2% per year from 2022-2030, down from 2.6% in 2011-21, and nearly a third lower than the 3.5% rate seen from 2000-2010, ushering in a “lost decade” for the world’s economy. In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF forecast global real GDP growth in 2023 at 3.0%, but in a rather awkward moment, IMF First Managing Deputy Director Gita Gopinath had warned of the “Cold War II” showcasing the real emergence of geoeconomic fragmentation. Everyone knows that US-China superpower rivalry is the core culprit for the structural shift of global economy and trade. Decrease of tension has not been visible despite the US-China Summit in November in San Francisco; there were no lifting of mutual sanctions. Their rivalry has caused confusion and disruption on the regional and global supply chain, and changed the ways countries interact with one another, from promoting “interdependence” to weaponizing “national security” in all aspects. The spillover effect on Cambodia is very visible as manifested by the endless accusation of Cambodia’s hosting of Chinese navy in Ream Naval Base despite many clarifications by Cambodia, including the latest one by Cambodian new prime minister Samdech Hun Manet at the United Nations General Assembly. Europe is still at war while entering another cold winter; their economy is being slowed down by impacts from war and geopolitics such as inflation, and changes of energy supplying sources, trade pattern, and production and supply chains. The Western media is often trying to report of China’s economic “apocalypse” in the marathon of economic, trade and technology war with the US. Although China keeps rebutting that their economy is resilient and rebounds better than the US, Asia can literally feel the slowdown of China’s external economic activities especially outbound investment and consumption. China’s economic situation has not responded well to the great expectation of many countries in Asia and many multilateral institutions, who initially thought that China would lead and act as engine of growth for the region and the world. Some Western media is trying to hype over India’s overtaking of China and leading the growth, but this is unrealistic because although India’s economy might be growing well individually, India’s economy is not well-connected. In Southeast Asia, probably, no one has a feeling that India is the next superpower replacing China. India had even withdrawn itself from RCEP at the last minute, manifesting its reluctance to connect with the world through trade. In Cambodia, there is no visible Indian investment, except Indian restaurants that we don’t know whether the owners are Indian, Sri Lankan, Nepalese or Bangladeshi. Other visible investment may include Indian tuk-tuk used for transport and delivery, that replaced almost totally the landscape of bike-taxis. As the US and EU are Cambodia’s largest exporting markets, their near-recession inevitably has had an impact on Cambodia’s economy. And China, who is the largest source of investment and tourists for Cambodia, is not spending much outside. Such global trends are all having a negative impact on the prospect of growth for Cambodia. Cambodia’s Self-Confidence, Tranquility and Resilience Socially and politically, there were 3 important events that characterized the year 2023. Firstly, the lifting of Khmer spirit and pride through the convening of the 32nd Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games) in May, after 64 years that Cambodia had to wait since the game was first conducted in 1959. The great event had instilled the self-confidence of “Khmer tver ban” or “Khmer can do” spirit with every Cambodian people. Secondly, the holding of the national election of the 7th legislature National Assembly with a voter turnout of 84.59%, exceeding the previous four national elections since 2003, with no incidence of violence. Thirdly, the change of leadership. 2023 will be remembered as the year that Cambodia had changed its top leadership without bloodshed, chaos and crisis. This has never happened before in Cambodia’s modern history. The transition was smooth, calm and orderly. After 100 days of Samdech Hun Manet’s premiership, domestic and international public opinion has begun to recognize that he is quite a competent leader with solid power base and high popularity. Although, he inherited the legacy from the legendary Former Prime Minister Samdech Hun Sen, it does not seem that he stays under the shadow of Samdech Hun Sen, either by the relation as a father and son or between the former and incumbent prime ministers. He initiated many key policy reforms, especially in terms of education, healthcare and social protection, that show his utmost care for the well-being of the people. In terms of diplomacy, the interactions between Cambodia and friendly nations and partners have been very lively, substantively rich, and colorfully diverse, both at bilateral and multilateral forum. He has assimilated well and rather quickly into the community of leaders of nations. It is quite visible that he is trying to focus his works more on economic diplomacy that is mutually beneficial, and less divisive. Economically, Cambodia had a diving start at the beginning of the year. Tourism pickup was slow and Chinese investors and tourists did not come back as expected. Cambodia did not win its bet on China despite being the earliest country to re-open after the Covid-19 pandemic. Moreover, bad news about Cambodia were quite frequent in regards to notorious incidents of human trafficking, online scams and money-laundering. These news had given Cambodia a bad name. Cambodia was seen as the source of those criminal activities and the government was insinuated as the collaborator of those crimes for giving those foreign criminals safe havens and nationalities. Later in the year, there were news of more arrests and deportation and crackdown of those crimes. Non-Chinese tourists have started to fill in streets in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The new Angkor International Airport was operationalized. The Water Festival was resumed with more than 4 million tourists after a long break due to Covid-19 pandemic. The MV Westerdam cruise ship returned to Cambodia, the country with a “big heart” that had saved it from hopelessness of public health emergency. The expressway from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville has marked its one year of operation. Groundbreaking for the expressway to Bavet was held. Feasibility studies have been underway for an expressway to Siem Reap and Poipet as well as the historical project of Funan Techo Canal. All these news were quite energetic that give strong hope for the future. Overall, in 2023, it is fair to say that politically and socially, Cambodia witnessed a tranquil and stable environment marked by a great historical turning point in terms of leadership change, while economically, the country experienced a gradual improvement from being gloomy at the start of the year that ended with a rather rosy picture.

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