Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Cambodian flag over Kent

It was a surprising but interesting to see the Cambodian flag (and Singapore's too now) waving over Broadstairs seafront here in East Kent as beach-cleaning for the start of the Summer season hots up.

But interesting from a weekend of mega-publicity for Angelina Jolie's new film, First They Killed My Father about the 1970's genocide by the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot.

A story as astonishing as her first movie Unbroken.

Something of home ground from Angelina with her adopted son Maddox from Cambodia and previously she starred in one of the first Hollywood films set in post-conflict Cambodia, Tomb Raider.

First They… is the largest movie premiere in Cambodia held in the grounds of Angkor at temple in Siem Reap, (the temple features on the Cambodian flag itself - the Canterbury Cathedral of Cambodia if you will).

The new Royal Rebel book by Cambodia's Princess Soma exiled to California during the Pol Pot years details that era too.

The film features only Cambodian actors and only spoken Khmer.

And flags and bunting aside, is that where Kent is missing out?

Few would argue that Khmer is one of the most prominent languages in the world - only 15M speakers in Cambodia. But significant communities in Thailand, Vietnam and USA from the carnage of the Vietnam War years.

###Kent languages of Asia###

Hmong from Laos is also spoken in USA and intriguingly that exiled community features in the Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino.

But shouldn’t Kent with 4 universities and an international outlook with campuses in Paris - a significant Khmer community given the colonial past - and Brussels be active on Asian languages in general?

Britain seems in disarray for the Asian Century with only SOAS in London any in-depth but study of languages and even that blurring into general culture etc.
How can Britain hope to remain a G7 nation - some would argue already a G30 nation in slipping down the league tables of healthcare and education etc - without a knowledge of major cultures and economies such as China or India. Bangladesh or Vietnam. And so on.

It’s absurd that Thailand, a top 5 UK growth economy and a nation of 60M people, has only one university studying Thai - and that only in the last five years or so.

And Malaysia - understandably given the colonial past and Commonwealth present has more than double the number of Thai students studying in UK: over 20,000 plus Malaysian university campuses.

Perhaps it’s even more absurd with no Myanmar studies courses in UK for a nation of 60M people opening upto the world.

While Myanmar under Oxford's Aung San Suu Kyi has emerged from military dictatorship to almost zero UK and Commonwealth support. A tidal wave of City and ADB money should be flooding that nation. A recent visit to Kyaitiko showed me the massive potential for tourism and infrastructure upgrades whether the electric or telephone grids or rail and ports.

While the Royal Road between Angkor and Isaan is a golden opportunity for greater peace and prosperity - jade thread of Khmer temples and palaces that weaves from Battambang through Siem Reap to Isaan - between Thailand and Cambodia in ASEAN's 50th year.

For if the Pol Pot years - lingering on until 1999 - were some of Asia and humanity's darkest years then ASEAN is one of the brighter lights of the 21st century.
With almost all the Asian conflicts of the past resolved, the race is on to deliver prosperity to Asia's publics - whether rice or Resilience, the UK with English as the second official language of ASEAN should be doing more.

Failing in a cohesive programme from education to economics is almost certain without investment in Asian languages and culture.

Cambodian students - forming one of the ten current ASEAN nations and a population the size of Australia - are perhaps 200 scholarships a year. Vietnam and Philippines are negligible too despite populations of 90M.

And Indonesia with over 250M people, the largest Moslem nation and a G20 nation is invisible in UK society and economics. A recent visit to Borobodur showed how links with Canterbury and Angkor could be beneficial for all concerned.

And Mandarin and Japanese from two of the world's largest nations and economies are taught in only handful of schools.

UK has often been the bridge between USA and Europe but it should fulfil that function between Asia too.


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