Mekong Politicians Should Separate Economy From Politics

(MENAFN- Asia Times) concerns have been raised by migrant workers that the Thai government will expel Cambodian and Laotian migrant workers.

Although there is no explicit policy as such, the concerns are not groundless, because Thailand did in face expel some 200,000 Cambodian workers in June 2014 after the May 22 military coup. The rights group Adhoc even called the methods by which Cambodians were being expelled as“uncivilized and inhumane .”

If such a nationalist policy should occur, it would hurt both sides' economies.

Although it might appear that only Cambodian people would be hurt, in fact such a policy would cut off the arms of the Thai economy. Cambodian, Laotian and Myanmar workers are doing menial jobs that Thais don't want any more as their economy climbs the ladder of development, becoming more skill-based rather than labor-intensive.

Thai politicians should show respect and appreciation to these workers without whom Thai people would not be able to live a better lives and enjoy more prosperity. They need to show respect to those who are supporting their livelihoods and economic bases, instead of stoking economic nationalism to gain political support.

It is important to recall the guiding principles of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers (the Cebu Declaration) and the ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.

These established rights for migrant workers and their families and recognized the shared and balanced responsibilities of the receiving and sending states of ASEAN to promote their full potential, dignity, fundamental rights, and fair treatment.

Responsible politicians in the Mekong Region should be cautious about initiating policies that may impact the well-being of people in the region. They need to separate economy from politics.

Yet in some cases, the behavior of Cambodian politicians is even more alarming.

For instance, controversial opposition figure Sam Rainsy has created his political trademark through incitement for violence by calling for military mutiny and rebellion to topple the incumbent government.

His hate speech against china and vietnam is well known. But the most troubling of all is his group's lobby campaign to encourage the European Union and the US to withdraw the everything but arms (eba) preferential treatments and generalized system of preferences (gsp) respectively from Cambodia. They are urging foreign politicians to put in place economic conditions to pressure changes on domestic political development in Cambodia.

It is expected that the garment sector would be mostly affected. But sacrificing the livelihoods of nearly 800,000 employees in this sector, predominantly women, in order to gain political leverage through destabilizing the economy and destroying political support for the government, would be like burning the whole house to boil an egg.

Truth be told, despite expressing political grievances after their removal from power and being driven into exile, former Thai leaders Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra never called on foreign governments to impose sanctions against Thailand's economy.

Aung San Suu Kyi, both before and after taking power in Myanmar, despite being imprisoned and her unwavering determination to eliminate the military junta from Myanmar's government institutions, never called on foreign governments to cripple the country's economy.

As far as foreign relations and neighborhood relations are concerned, even if China and Vietnam always look like they are going to fight a war tomorrow over the South China Sea disputes, the two countries' politicians have rarely tried to sabotage their robust economic relations.

Bilateral trade between Vietnam and China jumped to us$234.9 billion last year, more than double the figure four years ago in 2018, which stood at $106.71 billion . Vietnam is China's biggest trading partner among the 10 ASEAN member states and its sixth-largest partner globally.

Instead of decreasing their economic relations, China and Vietnam have strengthened them even more, believing that economic relations and people-to-people ties can create a solid buffer for peace against unintended disputes.

Politicians in the Mekong Region need to abide by the moral conduct of separating economy and politics.

Domestically, no matter how bitter their political battles, they should never ask foreign countries to impose economic sanctions against their own countries. Internationally, despite their political differences across the border, politicians should be careful not to harm the livelihoods and well-being of the people in the region, which is very much inter-dependent.

It is a moral duty of politicians to promote peace, stability, good-neighborliness, and shared prosperity of the people.

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Asia Times

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