Cambodians are set to cast their votes on Sunday. We either continue walking down the same path or we choose to step into another lane – our choice. But as voters, it is our greatest responsibility to make our choice a well-informed one, or else we defeat the purpose of staging elections in the first place. Radio personality and author Jean Francois Tain shares his ideas on local and regional geopolitics, and how he used this concept in his books to spread knowledge and awareness.
YT: Can you tell us about your books?
Mr Tain: My first book was about China, the second one was about Southeast Asia, so logically, the third one is about the Asia Pacific – meaning from the Indian Ocean to the eastern coast of the Pacific Ocean. In this third book, I did not include Central Asia. The book is aimed to explain the main problems of regional geopolitics in the Asia Pacific. In particular, it covers the India-Pakistan conflict, the nuclear crisis in North Korea, and, of course, the underlying tensions in the South China Sea. The book intends to explain why the Asia Pacific has the biggest economic growth in the world today.
YT: Why do you write politics-centred books? Is this theme popular among Cambodian youth?
Mr Tain: I don’t write these books for money. I don’t write these books for fame, either. You can say I already had fame with RFI (Radio France International). I write books because I have my own readers who are mostly students and Cambodian youth. It seems that Cambodian youth care not just about Cambodia’s problems, or just about Thailand-Cambodia or Cambodia-Vietnam problems. The young generation is interested more and more in regional and international affairs. To prove my point, I can say that this third book sold more than 5000 copies in just a few weeks. I’m very happy to see that Cambodian youth are more and more interested in regional and international geopolitics.
YT: Why do you think young Cambodians are interested in your books?
Mr Tain: It’s not that Cambodian youth aren’t interested in regional and international politics. They are interested, but their weak foreign language proficiency makes it difficult for them to find international news. They are interested in my books because my books are concise, and not so thick. Also, my books are easy to read, even if the subjects they cover are complicated. Even those who don’t have any background or general knowledge in these topics can easily comprehend the content. I have been working as a journalist for almost 20 years, so I know how to make this content accessible to the general public. My books are not only for academics, researchers, and university lecturers; they are for everyone. All of my books are written in Khmer because those who understand foreign languages such as English and French can find information about regional and international problems through other resources.
YT: How do you rate the youth’s interest in political books in Cambodia compared to the youth in neighbouring countries?
Mr Tain: The general knowledge of Cambodian youth is still rather low compared to other countries, but it’s not their fault. Generation after generation, we only focused on national politics and, at most, on the politics of Cambodia-Vietnam and Cambodia-Thailand relations. For example, Cambodian youth on Facebook seem to only be interested in the relations between Cambodia and Vietnam or Thailand. Politics is a very big and broad topic, so it’s not their fault. Moreover, it is because Cambodia has been through a lot of wars. Our dark history caused people to resort to violence and revenge. That said, I have much hope for the future generation because it’s the first time I see them being more open-minded and interested in international and regional issues.
YT: Who are your most common readers?
Mr Tain: Through my observations, I cansay that my books are mostly read by university students. High school students, government officials, university lecturers, and media practitioners also enjoy reading my books. Even if my books are for the general public, those who read my books are usually already familiar with the subjects I tackle.
YT: In terms of the present politics, what should Cambodia focus on?
Mr Tain: Cambodia’s first priority in international relations in the twenty-first century should be economic development, as Cambodia aims to become a tiger economy and to gradually become independent. Without economic strength, you cannot become independent. If Cambodia wants to be independent, it must strengthen its economy first. Of course, democracy is very important. I think democracy should be a significant goal for Cambodia. It should run in parallel to economic development. Democracy is required to develop a country with quality and balance. Democracy through the rule of law can reduce corruption, punish without discrimination legal offenses, and distinguish between nation and individual property.
YT: Which do you think is more important – development or democracy?
Mr Tain: Between democracy and development, I think they both need to go together. We have to develop our economy as fast as possible because we have lagged behind our neighbours for decades. The Asia Pacific region is the heart of global economic development and we’re part of this zone. Therefore, we need to go faster. Today, most developmental aid comes from China, which sees Cambodia as being beneficial to its geopolitical interests. The United States and the European Union don’t appear as interested. As Chinese investment grows, Cambodia will find it itself growing closer to China.
YT: How can democracy prosper in Cambodia?
Mr Tain: Democracy demands time, genuine willingness from the government, continued hard work from a civil society without a hidden political agenda, and a balanced media. Democracy also requires a highly educated population. With education comes integrity, and with integrity comes democracy. Moreover, democracy needs to come from inside, and not from external factors. Again, an educated population is an integral part of democracy. Undereducated citizens are the targets of politicians because they can easily be manipulated and misinformed. Improving our democracy would significantly improve Cambodia’s global reputation. Cambodia is one of the few countries in Southeast Asia that’s on the road to democracy. It’s time to ask how Cambodian citizens can be made happy. We need economic development, democracy, stability and peace. Can all of them be reached together simultaneously? If not, which one should be prioritised? It’s not for me to decide.