Over the weekend, a seven-storey building in Cambodia’s coastal city of Sihanoukville collapsed. Rescue teams are still pulling people from the rubble, but as of Monday morning 25 people have been found dead beneath its weight, and nearly as many injured. Authorities estimate there could have been as many as 60 people sleeping between in the unfinished building when it fell.
Already two things have been made clear by the authorities: that the project was owned by a Chinese national apparently cashing in on Sihanoukville’s construction boom, and that the project was illegal. The question of why a building with no approval or permission was even standing in the first place – and how many more illegal buildings might be being rising across the Kingdom – is certainly one that many shocked Cambodians will be wanting a clear answer to.
This week, we will be looking at the role China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative is playing in driving up demand for illegal animal products often used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). While Southeast Asia has been no stranger to TCM, its usefulness to the Chinese state as yet another soft-power weapon in its fight against Western hegemony may end up having devastating consequences for endangered species across the region.
Breaking down the world’s plastic waste in a way that doesn’t leave the oceans choked with the glittering refuse of trillion disintegrating plastic bottles is a challenge that should unite the entire planet. We’ll be looking at how Cambodia can overcome its mounting plastic problem at a time when other nations across the ASEAN region are following China’s lead in closing their doors to plastic waste imports that once fuelled booming recycling industries.
While this might seem like an insurmountable issue for those wandering past the plastic-clogged canals of Phnom Penh, greater investment in recycling facilities and strong support from the government could turn this crisis, as the cliche has it, into an opportunity.
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