Why is this interesting? - The Virus Edition

On politics, trade with Cambodia, and contagion

Colin here. On Valentine’s Day, the Prime Minister of Cambodia allowed the cruise ship MS Westerdam to disembark after their request had been turned down in Japan. It was a photo opp of sorts, with the American ambassador to Cambodia, W. Patrick Murphy, the Prime Minister, and other government officials attending. The optics were very closely staged, with people wearing masks reportedly asked to take them off

According to reporting from the BBC:

About 20 passengers had clinical tests on board because they were ill. But the vast majority had their temperature taken and filled out a form. Most of these passengers then left the boat.

One passenger - an 83-year-old US woman - took a plane to Malaysia along with 144 other passengers. She recorded a high temperature on landing in Kuala Lumpur and tested positive for the virus.

Only after that were the remaining passengers quarantined and clinically tested - but by then hundreds had already left.

Now, public health officials worry that as passengers return to their home airports, this might be yet another node that spreads the virus across the world. 

Why is this interesting? 

The interesting subtext here is not the absurdity of the action, but the underlying political calculus and realpolitik that drove it. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen made a trip to Beijing earlier in February expressing vocal support of how the country handled Coronavirus. According to The Diplomat, he wanted to visit Wuhan, something the government declined, saying in an official statement that with the city “doing all it can to fight the outbreak and given the tight schedule, a visit to Wuhan at this moment cannot be properly arranged...”. 

When you put together the facts, a question of motivation arises: with the rest of the world carefully managing quarantine, why is the Cambodian prime minister so eager to place himself and his country in the middle of potentially dangerous action?

According to the Times, “Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision to allow it entry appeared to be a political calculus as much as anything else. The region’s longest-serving ruler and a close ally of China, he is known for his survival skills. But Mr. Hun Sen’s critics worry that the aging autocrat might have acted rashly.”

The underlying motivation could be commerce between the two countries. As Cambodia seeks to retain its economic growth rate of 8% between 1998 and 2018, deals with other regional players are the accelerant. 

Indeed, there’s a free-trade deal on the table between China and Cambodia. First-round negotiations were held in January. According to the Bangkok Post, “there will be a huge opportunity for Cambodia when it comes to increasing the amount of its products being sent to the world’s second-largest economy and the world’s biggest population at 1.4 billion.”

Ding ding ding. As always, when you spot a geopolitical story that just doesn’t add up, it’s worth following the money.  (CJN

Tip of the Day:

As a heavy Google Chrome user, there are two little things I’ve discovered recently that I use a lot. I’m sure lots of you knew about this before, but I’ve found them super helpful. 1) Pin tab makes it easy to keep a tab (say something with music playing) pinned to the side and will stay there even if you … 2) Close other tabs, which closes all open tabs except the one you choose (there’s also a close all tabs to the right option). In another installment, I’ll get into what might be my favorite Chrome feature: custom wildcard searches. (NRB)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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