This, from the New York Times:
The agreements on Monday followed the decision by Cambodia on Saturday to deport 20 ethnic Uighurs at China’s request, despite Cambodia’s having signed a 1951 treaty banning the forced repatriation of refugees who face persecution at home.
The Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim group, were involved in ethnic rioting in western China in July that killed at least 197 people. They were smuggled into Cambodia about a month ago and applied for asylum at the United Nations refugee office in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.
Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur leader who is living in the United States, wrote in an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal on Monday that Cambodia’s decision to deport the 20 Uighurs was “no doubt influenced by enormous Chinese pressure, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
I think this is a trend the region will swiftly get used to. Just as the United States, during its period of rapid economic and political expansion in the years following WWII, spread its reach into Latin and South America, Europe and Asia, China is doing the same thing here, and in Africa and the Central Asia.
But the Chinese are far more pragmatic and less demanding than the Americans ever were - they don't even attempt to veil their strategic interests in good faith or idealism. Instead, the return of the Uighurs is merely a transaction.
What exactly is China doing in Southeast Asia? is a question more reporters should be asking. (The idea of the Chinese Communist Party funding the reconstruction of Buddhist temples in Cambodia, as the above article states, just rings with cruel irony; it's laughably depressing.)
Recently, I spoke with a Tibetan activist here in Bangkok, and she told me that the Dalai Lama has not visited Thailand since 1993. This is significant: Imagine if the Pope didn't visit the country with the highest proportion of Roman Catholics on earth in nearly two decades. While it's true that Thais and Tibetans study different schools of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is an enormously respected figure here, as there is no greater figurehead for Buddhism today. You want to know why he doesn't come? Well, let's just say Thailand's economic cooperation with China probably has something to do with it.
Another disturbing trend, in my opinion, are countries in this region looking to China as a model for controlled economic growth because it is anchored by a system that restricts freedom of information and free speech. Every time the Thai political machine starts to spin out of control, for instance (a problem that has to do with the spread of bad information, for sure, but also a convoluted political/military relationship, widespread corruption and a great socioeconomic schism) people here look to China and admire its rock-solid political footing. Bangkok remains static, while Beijing charges ahead...
Every time Malaysia sentences a woman to a few lashes from a bamboo stick because she drinks a beer, they can be sure the neighbor up north will not speak out. Or if Cambodia decides to harbor a political fugitive, or Burma imprisons a Nobel-winning pro-democracy activist. The greatest difference between American hegemony, which I am by no means supporting, and the emerging Chinese model, is that Chinese one has no moral code. It has no nuance.
And that is something to worry about, unless this government decides that their power demands some sort of social and political responsibility.
This is something to worry about. And it stifles progressive democracy taking root here in Southeast Asia. Which is just exactly what the CCCP wants, anyways.