Are Cambodians Better Informed in the Internet and Facebook Era?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

For the first time, the internet has surpassed traditional media as the main source of news for Cambodians, according to The Asia Foundation’s 2016 annual survey on mobile phones and internet usage. This has significant implications in terms of connectivity and information access in Cambodia: just three years ago, only 15 percent of people said they received their news from Facebook or other online sources, compared to 30 percent today. The survey, based on 2,061 interviews across Cambodia, found that 96 percent of Cambodians now own a phone and that 48 percent own a smartphone, a 21 percent increase from 2015. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said they use or have used the internet, and 33 percent said they accessed the internet using their own phone. Forty-eight percent said they have used Facebook while 37 percent of Cambodians indicated that they used Facebook on their own phone. With greater access to the internet, Cambodians now have more choices in terms of where information comes, from instead of relying only on the state-controlled media. However, having access to more information does not necessarily mean that people are better informed. In one of many examples (and certainly not unique to Cambodia), last week, a story about canned fruit produced in Thailand being contaminated with HIV/Aids went viral on Facebook in Cambodia. The incident prompted the Thai embassy in Cambodia to issue a statement to clarify that the message was a hoax. Cambodians face a new challenge in navigating this online space and deciphering what content is trustworthy, particularly as the campaign season heats up ahead of local elections scheduled for June 2017 and national elections in 2018. In addition, online censorship appears to be on the rise as Cambodians exercise their online freedom. Recently, the president of the main opposition party, Sam Rainsy, and two of his Facebook page assistants were sentenced in absentia to five years in prison for being accomplices to another opposition lawmaker who posted a video on Facebook that cited inaccurate border treaty information and criticized the government. The survey also found a strong correlation between education and mobile… Read more

Asia’s Biggest Issues in 2017: Experts Weigh In

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

In 2016, Asia was rocked by major events that tested the region’s perseverance and proved its strength. While many countries in the region proved to be economically resilient and politically stable, others were challenged by shifting alliances and leadership change, including the passing of a beloved monarch, and threats of regional security and resource shortfalls. To find out just what to expect in 2017, I asked Asia Foundation experts to share what they view will be the pivotal issue in their respective countries this year. Here are perspectives from 18 countries. — In Asia editor, Alma Freeman Afghanistan Afghanistan will continue to face challenges in 2017 to provide adequate employment opportunities for its youth. Besides the problem of “brain drain” that persisted in 2016, an inevitable and significant increase in the number of Afghan returnees from Pakistan and Iran will need to be addressed through a comprehensive employment and reintegration program. Prolonged and inconclusive peace negotiations with the Taliban, coupled with delays in conducting parliamentary elections, could further damage the National Unity Government’s legitimacy in 2017. — Abdullah Ahmadzai, country representative Bangladesh The security situation was exacerbated by violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, forcing thousands of Rohingyas to flee into Bangladesh. In the face of growing conflict and rising religious intolerance, can the Bangladeshi people continue to demonstrate resilience to such security threats and ensure peaceful coexistence and continued economic prosperity in 2017 and beyond?  This will no doubt be the most pressing issue for 2017. — Hasan Mazumdar, country representative Cambodia Cambodia’s local elections on June 4, 2017, will be the biggest event of the year. Should the opposition—chiefly the Cambodian National Rescue Party—win the popular vote, Prime Minister Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party will have hard calculations to make regarding the national elections slated for 2018. If this scenario unfolds, will the regime seek a peaceful transition of power through compromise and dialogue or will they double down against the opposition? We are likely to see a combination of both, perhaps maintaining political order while widening fractures within the opposition. — Silas Everett, country representative China It will be a… Read more

College Entrance Exam Poses Steep Obstacles to Afghan Students

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Every year in Afghanistan, over 150,000 high-school students across all 34 provinces take a nationwide tertiary entrance exam, known as the Kankor, required for entrance to all public universities. Based on exam marks, the Ministry of Higher Education then recommends successful candidates to particular universities. However, only about 30 percent pass with high enough scores to make it into a public institute of higher education, a troubling obstacle to Afghanistan’s overall efforts to strengthen access to education. The exam covers all subjects, including science and art, taught in the high school curriculum. The students who don’t pass only have one more chance to take the exam, or must apply to private school—the cost of which is prohibitive for most. The low passage rate is primarily a result of the overall weak educational system in the country, as well as limited access to education for the majority of Afghans. According to The Asia Foundation’s latest Survey of the Afghan People, 52 percent of respondents report having no formal or informal government or private education, including two-thirds of women and nearly 38 percent of men. The issue is compounded by limited preparation by students, who in most cases do not have access to the necessary training resources. The current system effectively deprives over 100,000 students a year from accessing higher education. They are instead compelled to look for low-paying jobs due to their lack of professional skills, which negatively affects both an individual’s confidence in pursuing better opportunities and his or her ability to contribute to the country’s economic development. Since 2014, The Asia Foundation, with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) under the Strengthening Education in Afghanistan (Phase II) project, has been providing a wide range of support to institutions and civil society organizations working in Afghanistan’s education sector to address emerging and strategic education needs. One aspect of this work is a new project with the General Directorate of Science and Educational Technology (GDSET), and that helps to increase the number of students accessing tertiary education in Afghanistan by providing science and math training (which makes… Read more

Can One of the Fastest Growing Economies Nail Green Growth?

Wednesday, December 21st, 2016

Over the last decade, Bangladesh has experienced impressive economic growth, with GDP growth expanding steadily by an average of 6 percent, and projected to maintain 6.8 percent growth in 2017, according to the World Bank. The steady rise is thanks in large part to the country’s strong garment export industry and rising consumption, making Bangladesh one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Yet at the same time, the country faces profound challenges in its ability to sustain rapid economic development, including extreme vulnerability to climate change, a high population density, persistent poverty, and heavy pollution from its major export industries. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that damage from climate change alone could cost Bangladesh up to 2 percent of its GDP by 2050. To meet these challenges in the coming decades, Bangladesh requires an integrated strategy and agenda focused on sustainable and inclusive economic growth. Although the government is well-aware of the environmental challenges that the country faces, policymakers have yet to develop a comprehensive policy framework that would incorporate both environmental and economic concerns. Recently, however, there have been some positive steps in the right direction. The Industrial Policy of 2016 acknowledges the significance of a budding “green industry” in Bangladesh, and states that special incentives will be provided to industries that promote green growth and renewable energy. The government has also pledged to encourage the installment of effluent treatment plants, and provide the necessary support to industries to bring them under the Clean Development Mechanism, which allows emission-reduction projects in developing countries to earn certified emission credits to meet part of their emission reduction targets under the Kyoto protocol. Since 2013, The Asia Foundation has been conducting studies on green growth in partnership with local research organizations, and has found that the absence of government’s proactive measures to support green growth has not deterred private sector industries from introducing innovative tools and mechanisms to promote green growth. This emerging interest can be boosted further through active participation of government agencies, business chambers, civil society organizations, and the media to develop a consensus on strategies to promote… Read more

Korea Marks 20 Years as OECD Member: What do Next 20 Years Hold?

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

This month, Korea celebrates 20 years of membership in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the 35-member forum of mostly high-income countries that helps advance economic sustainability and the market economy. Only the second Asian country to join OECD, it is hard to imagine that just two decades ago, Korea was itself entrenched in poverty and still a recipient of foreign aid. Today, Korea is ranked as the 14th-largest donor country in the world. Korea’s dramatic success story is well-known and often held as a model for other countries. Set aside the ongoing issue of national unification and the major corruption scandal and impeachment of President Park Geun-hye currently gripping the nation, to outside observers, things seem to be going fairly well. Korea is performing above the OECD average in civic engagement, education and skills, personal security, jobs, and earnings. But domestic headlines in South Korea paint a picture that shows people are clearly worried about the direction of their country, the fourth-largest economy in Asia. Beyond the President Park scandal, typical headlines on any given day might read: “Household Debt Soars to 90% of GDP,” or “Bank of Korea Slashes its 2017 forecast to 2.8%” (KDI just lowered the projection to 2.4%), or “Fresh Woes for Hyundai Crisis as Exports Plunge by Half,” or “Youth Unemployment Hits New Record.” With headlines like these, it is no wonder why the highly educated South Korean youth population, which faces a tough job market, scores lowest among OECD nations on one other measurement: happiness. Household debt at highest level in recorded history When it comes to cost of living versus income level, the Seoul Metropolitan Area, which contains nearly half of Korea’s 50 million population, is one of the world’s most expensive areas to live in. Seoul’s housing prices have skyrocketed 360 percent in the last 30 years. The city’s price-to-income ratio (PIR) of 16.64 percent is larger than other major cities such as Vancouver and San Francisco, with an average Korean needing to save all their income for almost 17 years to buy a home. Household debt, now more… Read more

Cross-Border Labor Migration Surges in Cambodia, Raising Risk of Human Trafficking

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

On Monday, Cambodia celebrated a National Day Against Human Trafficking, drawing attention not only to the challenges the country faces, but also to the strides that it has made in combatting trafficking. Last year, Cambodia implemented the first national action plan against trafficking and in June, the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report upgraded Cambodia to Tier 2 status from its Tier 2 Watch List. While these are positive steps, a surge in cross-border migration is putting an increasing number of Cambodian overseas workers at risk of exploitation. Official estimates suggest there are over one million Cambodian men and women currently working overseas, the majority in Thailand. While Korea and Japan are increasingly becoming sought-after destinations for Cambodian migrants, they demand relatively higher qualifications, including language proficiency and a significant financial package necessary to support migration-related costs. Such demands are prohibitive to the large majority of migrants who are forced to look for alternative destinations like Thailand, where most migrants are undocumented, working in construction, manufacturing, fishing, and the agriculture and service sectors. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), only about 116,000 Cambodian migrants were recruited to work legally in Thailand over the period of 2006-2016, with the remainder going through illegal channels to obtain work. Many of these migrants become victims of exploitation and trafficking. Thailand is not the only destination where cases of abuse, exploitation, and trafficking are happening. In 2011, Cambodia imposed a ban on sending domestic helpers to Malaysia in response to a rise in abuse cases. In December 2015, Cambodian and Malaysia signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to resume deployment of low-skilled workers to Malaysia, but as of now, no official recruitment has taken place under the new terms. Women are also increasingly taking great risks to migrate to China, where many work through brokers who promise them job opportunities but instead force them into marriages with Chinese men against their will. Only 100 of the 7,000 Cambodian women that Chinese authorities say have married men in China did so legally, said Chou Bun Eng, secretary-general of the Interior Ministry’s… Read more

Businesses Navigate Troubled Waters in Mongolia

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Mongolia is facing challenging times economically, especially compared to four or five years ago when the country was growing at a breakneck speed of 17 percent, that today is down to just 1.3 percent. The drop is a result of slumping demand for minerals, and for mineral-rich Mongolia this has spelled bad news for business. With the lack of confidence in the current government’s ability to dig the country out of its malaise, increasingly people are looking to the local business community to help revive the economy. But what does the business community think about issues related to investment and business development in the country? The latest Study on Private Perceptions on Corruption (STOPP), released last month by The Asia Foundation and the Sant Maral Foundation, reveals a decline in satisfaction among the business community with the current business environment. Conducted since December 2012, the 7th STOPP survey interviewed 330 senior-level managers of Mongolian businesses in Ulaanbaatar in October 2016. This year, the satisfaction level was at an all-time low, with a quarter of respondents citing that they are “very dissatisfied” with the business environment. This decline appears to be strongly correlated with the drop in foreign direct investment, which fell from $4.5 billion in 2012 to $35.2 million in the first half of 2016. In the STOPP surveys, negative assessments of the business environment have almost doubled—from -0.58 in 2012 to -1 in 2016. Small businesses, which are the main generators of employment in Mongolia, showed the highest level of dissatisfaction with the business environment in 2016. Although decreasing steadily from past years, more than a quarter of respondents say that investment conditions will improve in the next six months, a reflection of the government’s recent announcement that the economic crisis is expected to end and recovery to begin next year. The group most optimistic about investment prospects is large businesses, while medium and small enterprises are less hopeful. Since 2012, the top three cited obstacles for businesses remain the same: high taxes, access to credit, and obtainment and renewal of licenses and permits. The Tax Office and the… Read more

Education a ‘Beacon of Hope’ in Afghanistan

Wednesday, December 7th, 2016

Education in Afghanistan has historically mirrored the ups and downs of the socio-political upheavals in the country. However, the Afghan people’s demand for quality education, their efforts to ensure greater access, and their belief in education as a transformative force has been unwavering, and is especially true today. In 2015, over 9.2 million students (39 percent female) attended schools, with local school shuras (community-led decision-making bodies) playing a key role in driving this nine-fold increase since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Despite today’s deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, schools continue to serve as beacons of hope for Afghan people. In The Asia Foundation’s just-released 2016 Survey of Afghan People, newly opened schools for girls rank fourth in a list of 10 reasons why Afghan people think that their country is moving in the right direction. This reflects the public conviction that education positively changes the trajectory of children’s lives, expands their opportunities, and has the potential to enable them to find jobs and integrate into mainstream society in the future. One of the top reasons people are pessimistic in Afghanistan is due to unemployment. Educationally marginalized Afghans tend to be further economically disadvantaged, as the survey results suggest. A positive correlation (stronger for Afghan women compared to men) exists between the respondent’s education and income level. Among Afghans who report having some level of formal schooling, 56.6 percent say they earn an income, compared to 35.2 percent of Afghans who stated they never attended formal school. Among Afghan women who report some level of formal education, 16.6 percent are employed, compared to those with no formal education of which 6.1 percent were employed. Similarly, Afghans who report higher levels of education tend to report higher monthly household income than those reporting no formal schooling. The largest differences were seen among those reporting a university education, particularly those living in urban areas. Literacy is another barometer of development. When asked about the biggest problems facing women in their area, the most frequent response was education/illiteracy (36.1 percent). I have heard many times from illiterate men and women that being… Read more

Starbucks Vietnam and The Asia Foundation Launch Project to Support Vocational Training for Disadvantaged Youth

Monday, December 5th, 2016

Hanoi, December 5, 2016 — Starbucks Vietnam and The Asia Foundation today announced a one-year vocational training program in Hanoi to prepare young people from disadvantaged backgrounds for careers in Vietnam’s fast-growing food and beverage industry. The Starbucks Vocational Training program will engage 50 youth between the ages of 18 and 24, including those who have been affected by family violence, human trafficking, and poverty, in a training program where they will acquire the professional and life skills required to succeed in the retail sector. As part of the program, youth will receive both classroom instruction focused on subjects such as customer service, English language learning, financial literacy, and work readiness, as well as on-the-job training. Starbucks partners (employees) will actively engage in the program providing seminars and in store experience. Upon completion of the program, youth will receive six months of follow-up assistance to help them secure full-time employment. “Being an active part of the communities we serve in is intrinsic to who we are as a company,” said Mark Ring, president of Starbucks Asia Pacific. “As Starbucks continues to grow in Vietnam and across Asia, so too does our aspiration to build a different kind of company – one committed to performance that is driven through the lens of humanity – and being a positive force in building the future success of young people.” “We are proud to partner with The Asia Foundation and REACH to provide lifelong experiences and skills for disadvantaged young people,” said Patricia Marques, general manager for Starbucks Vietnam. “Youth in Vietnam represent a huge pool of talent for this dynamic country but at the same time there are also challenges for many young people to gain access to work. We have created this project to build confidence, self-esteem and training which will help them to succeed in the economy.” Figures from the General Statistics Office in 2015 indicate that the unemployment rate among youth is more than triple the overall unemployment rate, standing at 6.75%. While well-educated workers are able to access expanding opportunities in the private sector, for less educated workers, and particularly… Read more

NPR: Amid Economic Crisis, Mongolians Risk Their Lives For Do-It-Yourself Mining

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

December 1, 2016 — NPR cites The Asia Foundation’s research on Mongolia’s artisanal mining industry: A 2014 report by the San Francisco-based Asia Foundation estimated that one in five rural Mongolians — 100,000 people — are mining coal and gold on their own to make ends meet. Such mining is legal with the proper license, but Nalaikh’s abandoned mines are filled with several unlicensed brigades that are mining illegally.