On Cambodia and ASEAN + 3 Young Entrepreneur Forum
Enhancing Roles of Young and Women Entrepreneurs in East Asia Economic Community
A few years back, I represented Malaysia to speak at the ASEAN conference for entrepreneurs held in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Cambodia is part of Indochina in South East Asia and was occupied by France, Japan and involved in the Vietnam war (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) which was influenced by Marxist-Leninist Communism through Soviet Union and China. The most significant part of Cambodian history is the torture and genocide by the Community Party of Kampuchea, or better known as Khmer Rouge who deurbanised Cambodians. Millions of Cambodians died between 1975 and 1979 due to hard labour and genocide.
Fast forward to many years later, Cambodia signed the Paris Agreement in the ’90s and onwards with democratic governance alongside constitutional monarch. The ASEAN conference was mainly to group up young entrepreneurs and share entrepreneurial stories, build policies and network. It was my first trip to Cambodia and we stayed in a majestic hotel overlooking the Mekong River. But right outside, it almost seemed like the party never ended, only to realise to my horror that they were homeless Cambodians who spread out their mats and make it their makeshift home along the Mekong River. When it rains, they have plastic bags as coverings. And kids find shelter under the tree. I’ve never felt a bigger heartbreak than I did that day.
The Khmer Rouge genocide leaves a devastating solemn feel with ruins of houses never mended in over 40 years. One of the places we visited was the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which was a former secondary school that was used as a torture prison. It was impossible not to cry. We visited a handmade goods market called ‘The Russian market’ with a generational pass-down of incredible talents. The majority of income was mostly through agriculture, fishery and handmade goods. The sight of kids begging is devastating albeit common in Asia and impoverished countries. Given that their income was highly dependent on tourism, the international travels restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic must have caused serious damages to the economy
Urbanisation and inclusion are definitely in the step of the right direction. I believe young liberated Cambodians will be a huge contribution towards a brighter future.
The following was part of my speech as a representative of the Malaysian entrepreneurs.