Cambodia Seen through the Lens of a Disillusioned Western World

Tourists ride rickshaws, locally known as "Cyclo", along a street near the the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh on February 16, 2024. (Photo by TANG CHHIN Sothy and TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP)

“Why Cambodia is the best country in the world”

Under this blaring title, journalist Sean Thomas went about singing the praises of the country in a story published in a March 2024 issue of the British weekly news magazine The Spectator.

The beaches, the temples, nature, the food, the welcoming ways, the economic environment: everything enchants him.

Of course, the author makes sure to write a few lines on the flaws that, according to him, prevents the kingdom from being “paradisiacal.” But above all, it is the optimism of the population that prompts him to put Cambodia in the hall of fame of nations. “The French, Americans and Brits rightly sense stagnation, which makes for sadness, disquiet, then anger,” he writes. “In young, go-getting Cambodia, by contrast, GDP [gross domestic product] per capita rose by 7 per cent per year for a decade, pre-pandemic, and it now seems to be returning to that path. That is what makes people truly smile: if you think that life, however hard this year, will be better next year, and the year after that, and much better for your kids, then you look at the world with hope. You get up in the morning with a sense of purpose. Life improves.”

Having started from zero after the Khmer Rouge years and with the return of peace, the same has applied to Cambodia as it did to Europe or the United States after World War II. Does it take a tragedy to know joy, which might eventually run out through its excesses (overdoing it), one might wonder.

More than about the “best country in the world,” it is a certain form of somewhat short-sighted Western despair that is being discussed in this article.

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