Joshua Kurlantzick has an article in American Prospect that is both interesting and frustrating. It’s about Cambodia, and the Chinese language press there. Loh Swee Ping is a Malyasian-born Chinese who runs a Chinese paper in Cambodia. (The paper seems to be 柬埔寨星洲日報, although this is never made clear) The journalistic world of Cambodia seems rather free-wheeling, giving considerable scope to people like Loh, who takes journalism seriously, while also being full of all sorts of semi-corrupt types who like good coverage and are willing to get it either through payola or violence.
The hook for the article is that the Chinese government is encouraging the growth of a Sino-sphere, with Chinese language newspapers, schools, and a growing Chinese presense. So far so good, and there is some interesting stuff in here. He ends, however, with a lament on how the Americans are not doing enough to counteract Beijing’s fairly authoritarian advice on how to handle things like the press. While I as an American would also like to see the U.S. government stand up for things like freedom of the press (standing up is free, furcrissakes) I am always a bit amused at articles like Kurlantzick’s, or like this that assume that the Americans, their model, and their actions are what really matter here. I agree that the Americans could matter more, and the -very rapid- decline of American soft power is partly attributable to stupid things we have done of late and could and should stop doing. On the other hand, some decline is probably built in. You don’t need an American-style press to be an economic success, China proves it. If you are the Cambodian government and you are going to look ideologically acceptable by jumping every time someone says frog you are probably better off listening to China anyway. I just don’t think the old Cold War model of understanding Asia as either more or less like the U.S. works at all, and it is a bit frustrating to see a journalist who actually went to Cambodia and found some good stuff shoving things into that pattern.