Deutsche Welle

China is shoring up its sphere of influence in Southeast Asia through aid and investment. My story for Deutsche Welle.

Chinees nieuwbouwproject in Phnom Penh. Foto: Ate Hoekstra

Last week, China and Cambodia signed 19 agreements during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s meeting in Phnom Penh with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen that will heavily increase Chinese investment in Cambodia.

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In October the funeral of the deeply loved Thai King Bhumibol Abdulyadej took place. For Deutsche Welle I looked into what the end of this era means for Thailand’s future.

Thai people have gathered to bid farewell to their king. Photo: Ate Hoekstra

Thousands of people have gathered around the Grand Palace in Bangkok to pay tribute to King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The late king’s five-day funeral will start Thursday.

Bhumibol, who reigned for 70 years and died last year in October at the age of 88, was more than just a king for most Thais. He was a role model for citizens. In times of political upheaval in the country, Bhumibol often played his role as a mediator between feuding political groups.

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Thailand’s attractiveness as a tourist destination remains evergreen as millions of tourists continue to flock to the Southeast Asian nation, providing much needed momentum to its economy. But challenges remain. My story for Deutsche Welle.

The Grand Palace in Bangkok. Photo: Clay Gilliland / Flickr

Close to the Grand Palace in Bangkok a group of Asian tourists steps out of a brightly colored tourist coach. Most of them wear blue hats, colorful t-shirts and sunglasses. With hasty steps they follow a man wearing a vintage pair of glasses. He unfolds an umbrella and raises it up in the air. Now the tourists know who to follow.

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Five Cambodian human rights defenders have spent one year in pre-trial detention. Their detention is widely criticized and seen as politically motivated. For Deutsche Welle I looked into the facts behind their detention.

A motorbike passes a campaign banner to release the Adhoc 5. Photo: Ate Hoekstra

“When Nay Vanda gave up his job as an English professor in 2008, he did so because he wanted to defend the rights of his fellow countrymen. He joined Adhoc, Cambodia’s oldest human rights organization.

But it’s been one year since Vanda was incarcerated along with three of his colleagues and Ny Chakrya, the deputy secretary general of Cambodia’s National Election Committee. The Adhoc 5 – the name given to the five detainees – are accused of bribing a witness.”

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Cambodia’s garment industry provides cheap labor that allows for low prices and fast fashion around the world. But the people producing the clothing are struggling to stitch together a living. For Deutsche Welle I investigated if a recent wage increase makes a difference for the workers.

Garment worker Phon Chane. Foto: Ate Hoekstra

“Garment worker Eang Sok Nath often works 12 hour days six times a week. But despite these long working hours and a salary increase early this year, 26-year-old Eang still has trouble making ends meet.

“In January I earned 93,300 riel ($230), but everything has gotten more expensive,” Eang told DW. “The prices of vegetables, meat and fish have all gone up. And just before the salary increase, my landlord raised the rent of my room 20,200 riel ($5.00) per month.””

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A new movie about the Khmer Rouge, recalling the atrocities and agony suffered under the regime, is going to be launched this weekend. For Deutsche Welle I look into how movies, books and education help Khmer Rouge victims to face their demons.

Foto: Ate Hoekstra

“Un Samboth was in her late twenties when life in Cambodia changed forever. The Khmer Rouge regime had just taken control of the country. Tens of thousands of people were forced to do hard labor. Others were taken away to be killed or died from starvation. “When we ran out of food, people started to disappear,” Un recalls in the nation’s capital Phnom Penh. “We were hungry all the time. We were forced to grow a lot of rice, but there was never enough food to eat.””

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For decades jade trade has been a profitable business for a small group of people in Myanmar. At the largest jade market in the world, in Mandalay, jade traders are now hoping they can conquer the West with their precious stones.

Photo: Ate Hoekstra

“Jade trader Ko Art takes another look at the heavy jade stone that lies on the table in front of him. He puts a flashlight in it and the stone turns green from the inside. The seller, an Indian man with a moustache and a pale white shirt, looks over his shoulder. He hopes to receive $6,000 for it, but Ko thinks differently. “I can offer you $1,000.””

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