fresh voices from the front lines of change







I write from a patio overlooking the palmed courtyard of the Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The colonial vestiges have their appeal. Phnom Penh, which I imagined as a sleepy French influenced capital with rickshaws and tuktuks, is a bustling metropolis, sprawling with new, shiny office skyscrapers, municipal buildings, commercial districts, marked by traffic jams of cars and swarms of scooters, honking and braking in the day’s heat.

China has invested over $1.2 billion here. Hillary Clinton just announced that the U.S. will “put its money where its mouth is,” and offered up $50 million for the Mekong Delta Regional Development project.

The U.S. is said to be “pivoting” to Asia, but this is like Britain reclaiming the colonies after World War I. We are operating on former glories, military prowess and fumes. China is the force here. And these capitals have the energy of America’s first Gilded Age: corrupt, vibrant, pulsating, oppressive, alive.

But I didn’t write to offer a travel guide, but a thought. Myanmar is opening—after decades of sanctions—to the West, seeking to counter the Chinese influence. There is a mother lode of jewels, minerals, oil, etc, on the crossroads between India and China.

European and U.S. companies are like horses moving into the gates, snorting, pawing at the earth, eager to join the race.

Someone will win a Pulitzer and more by reporting on the transformation. The rush of capital. The corrupt deals with the military that still demands its piece of everything, even as it opens more quasi-democratic space. The exploitation of a workforce that now is the literal bottom of the world labor market. The cowboys and confidence men, the gamblers and adventurers all descending on a country previously oppressed by a vicious dictatorship, but cut off significantly from the rapacity of modern capitalism.

Since HuffPost is the only growing newsroom that I know of, I thought I’d suggest this beat to them. It doesn’t fit in naturally with the daily pace of the blogosphere. But there will be an unending stream of stories between the contrast of the military, the Chinese and Western investors, the dignity of Aung San Suu Kyi and what will be beleaguered Democrats, the efforts to build a labor movement in the frenzy, etc.

It strikes me that one could get philanthropic support for a project, perhaps jointly with the Asia Society, to place a reporter there with the explicit beat of covering what surely will be the rape and, less certainly, the redemption of a society suddenly opened to the global market. Not a lot of readership is for this kind of thing, I know, but it would be a great service to our understanding.


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