Eric Schmidt: Get to Know the Digital Leaders of the Future!

Mr. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, gives a lecture about technology and economic growth at the John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Wednesday, November 20, 2013. (Sophat Soeung)

Mr. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, gives a lecture about technology and economic growth at the John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Wednesday, November 20, 2013. (Sophat Soeung)

Speaking to international affairs students and professionals at the John Hopkins University’s SAIS on Wednesday, Google’s Eric Schmidt advised them get to know the digital leaders of the future in additional to foreign policy leaders as the world is seeing a gradual shift of power.

“I think that the leaders of this digital revolution have earned a seat at your table. I really believe this. I think they’re just as important – they are not more important but they are just as important. And I would advise you to get to know them early. Get to know them when they are young. Get to know them when they are on their way up. Watch them change the world, figure out a way to support them, and figure out a way to follow them. Because those will be the people who will ultimately shape the discourse a decade from now, or two decades from now because they will then be, in power.”

Mr. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, gives a lecture about technology and economic growth at the John Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Wednesday, November 20, 2013. (Sophat Soeung)

Mr. Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, gives a lecture about technology and economic growth at the John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Wednesday, November 20, 2013. (Sophat Soeung)

He also advised countries and companies to attract and keep innovators:

“In building these networks, we are going to need innovators. Innovators are the lifeblood of these [network] models. You have to have entrepreneurs. You have to have people who have new ideas and you have to protect them.”

You can watch the full lecture and panel here, including my questioning at 52:00.

Predicting Cambodia: Before and After a Historic Election

My research paper for the East-West Center's Asia-Pacific Bulletin about growing influence of social media on pre-election Cambodia.

My research paper for the East-West Center’s Asia-Pacific Bulletin about the growing influence of social media in pre-election Cambodia.

I have finally received a color copy of my first policy paper published by the East-West Center, a prominent U.S. education and research institution. This short research has greatly boosted my confidence in predicting and analyzing events in Cambodia.

In this paper, I primarily argued that on the eve of Cambodian fifth general elections, a number of new socio-political variables have entered Cambodian politics, including a merger of Hun Sen’s political opposition, a sudden and accidental political awareness of a new generation I termed “post-Khmer Rouge baby boomers”, and a rise in nationalism that – unlike the 2008’s Preah Vihear drama – was more favorable to the opposition party’s anti-Vietnam campaign. Just months before the election, these new variables converged on the country’s exploding Facebook and other social media platforms, which are in themselves a significant variable. The growth pace of this “digital democracy” had kept it largely under the government’s radar.

Although (or because) published just days before the elections, the paper received only moderate publicity, except for the Bangkok Post. I was also too busy after the election to write a follow-up to it.

Nevertheless, I was among the first few observers who seemed to have fully grasped the changes in pre-election Cambodia. The points I laid out would later be confirmed by the election results and other Cambodia observers have since followed up on those social changes. It is a current hot topic among researchers and journalists and this latest piece in the Southeast Asia Globe could easily have been my own follow-up writing.

Predicting Cambodia is always interesting because the country must be one of the world’s most unpredictable. Due to its modern history and political ideology, Cambodia does not easily fit established political and social theories. New terms like “auto-genocide” and references like Phnom Penh’s 2012 “high-profile failure” over the South China Sea dispute had to be developed. July’s surprising general election also seemed to have put Cambodia closer to an Arab Spring than any other Southeast Asian country.

Well, these all make the job of guessing “what’s next?” in Cambodia all the more fun.

At Harvard, Room To Write Uncensored

Note: The bove video is in Khmer.

Sophat Soeung, VOA Khmer, May 29, 2012

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS – Although violence against writers and academics in Cambodia has decreased in recent years, many say they still face strong censorship. A literary program at Harvard University, in Massachusetts, provides a place for writers from countries like Cambodia to work uncensored.

Harvard’s Scholars at Risk program put on the “Living Magazine” in April, where written works were performed for an audience, and where writers like Keo Chanbo, who is originally from Battambang, told their stories.

“I had to flee the country for my life, but I can’t stop writing,” Keo Chanbo, who now lives in Minnesota, told the audience of about 100 students, professors and local Cambodian-Americans. She wept as she spoke. “Writing is my life.”

Kho Tararith, who is a fellow with the Scholars at Risk program, recited a poem called “Bopha,” which describes his nostalgia for Cambodia and is, like many of his poems, subtly political.

“In Cambodia, writing not withstanding, Cambodians don’t even dare to openly discuss or read anything critical of powerful people,” he said in an interview. “This might be due to their fears—fears of imprisonment—they fear that what they say might affect politicians and the powerful and cause them trouble. This is why everyone keeps quiet.”

Cambodia’s information environment remains highly restricted. The US-based Freedom House has categorized the country as “not free” in political and civil rights, including literary freedom. Some critics also say censorship has taken hold in the country’s universities, where many topics are unofficially taboo.

At the Royal University of Law and Economics this year, academic leaders banned thesis topics that included land disputes, the Cambodian Red Cross, run by the prime minister’s wife, and the burgeoning stock exchange. Cambodian university officials have defended the practice of banning topics, given a variety of justifications, including the prevention of plagiarism and the repetition of annual thesis topics.

Kho Tararith said such literary and academic censorship goes against the academic environment fostered by the US and other Western countries.

In the US, he said, “we can write about anything. They even give us money to write. They say, ‘All you need is to submit a proposal,’ and they never bar us from any topics.”

Aisha Down, a student of literature at Harvard who spent nine months in Cambodia, said she did not immediately realize Cambodia was a censored society, because there are no obvious censors. However, she said, she came to realize that a culture of fear and violence contributes to self-censorship.

“And because you don’t know where it comes from…there’s no way to really defend against it,” she said.

But the effects of censorship go beyond personal security. They can also affect a society over time, said Steven Pinker, a renowned professor of psychology at Harvard.

“So how was it that in the ‘killing fields’ in Cambodia, the Holocaust, it looked like all of the people were fooled all of the time?” he said. “And one of the reasons is that the people were too intimidated to say what they wanted. You might have very few people actually believing the terrible ideology, but everyone thinks everyone else believes it because no one can say the truth because they’ll immediately get killed.”

Programs like Scholars at Risk can help writers from other countries develop their ideas outside of a repressive environment.

Jane Unrue, who is on the Scholars at Risk committee and organized the Living Magazine, said she hopes the program will inspire the writers of today and tomorrow. It has helped Kho Tararith already, she said before the Living Magazine performance. “I think that people are going to, especially tonight when they hear his poetry, they are going to know that he is an important poet.”