Stop the massive landgrabbing by Chinese-owned Hengfu in Cambodia

February 5, 2018

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) expresses its strong condemnation of the Chinese-owned company Hengfu Group Sugar Industry Co., Ltd.’s recent spate of harassment against the indigenous Kuy people of Preah Vihear, Cambodia. 

We deplore Hengfu’s response to the growing resistance to its massive landgrabbing scheme: the setting up of local “people’s guards” to conduct surveillance in villages, the prohibition on residents from assembling in groups of more than five, and the restrictions on the entry of outsiders into the area. 

It is revolting that Hengfu is determined to forcefully evict the Kuy people from the 42,422-hectare land granted to its five subsidiaries as economic land concessions (ELCs) by the government of Cambodia in 2011, and that Hengfu’s large-scale landgrabbing has already displaced 20,000 Kuy people from 25 villages. 

We take the side of the locals who have been robbed of their livelihood, and who are victims of the destruction of the environment, particularly the Prey Lang forest, their source of livelihood. We are saddened that many residents have been forced to migrate elsewhere in order to find work. We are angered by the continuous harassment being inflicted on residents and by efforts to force community leaders to accept compensation.  

Such exploitation frequents farmers, farm workers, fisherfolks, indigenous peoples and small-scale food producers as advanced capitalist countries like China expand control over lands of underdeveloped nations. In doing so, these lands become implements to profiteering of a few big landlords and capitalists who run our world, and produce are dictated by the demands of the world market.  

Mega-trade deals now loom to facilitate further economic liberalization, especially in ASEAN member-states. China, in particular, continues to push for its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which would affect Cambodia and other countries in the Mekong region. Its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) / Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) would build interconnected large-scale infrastructure projects on transportation, energy, and communication in order to expedite global trade. This could only further displace the poor, underdevelop their economy, and destroy the environment. 

Worse, international platforms that are supposed to curb the excesses of states and corporations turn out to be their enablers. These organizations and programs tolerate the unfair relations among countries and give premium to the role of the private sector in supposedly pushing for development.  

In Cambodia, government-backed ELCs supersede customary tenure rights and systems as a matter of national priority, while land reform policies are too sloppy and slow. The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT) – of which both China and Cambodia are bound as members of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) –has not been able to hold water. To begin with, VGGT allows the transfer of customary tenure rights as long as these are legally binding. CFS also endorses the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems, which is consistent with international trade and investment agreements that promote the monopoly control of our agriculture and food systems.  

To note, China has been trying to control Cambodia in the past decade. As a rising monopoly-capitalist country and a superpower competing with the US, it also weaves its influence and cultivates its ties through “development aids” in the form of massive loans, foreign investments, and military support.  

Farmers, farm workers, indigenous peoples and all peoples of the world are intensifying the struggle for land – against repression and the neoliberal policies that goes along with it – in return, to defend our basic rights and advance our interests for food sovereignty and genuine progress. Likewise, the Kuy people are undertaking efforts in the past many years to thwart Hengfu’s actions amid worsening repression, and PCFS would like to convey its commendation and fervent support. We encourage the farmers and peoples of the world, their organizations and advocates, to voice our unity with the Kuy people of Cambodia in their struggle for the advancement of their inherent right to self-determination – on their land, territory, resources, and development according to their needs and interests. 

We call on the PCFS members across the globe to show their support by sending protest letters to Hengfu and the Cambodia government concerning the ongoing repression and forced eviction of the Kuy people. 

The Coalition urges both Cambodia and China to fulfill their obligation as signatories of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We call the attention of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz to investigate Hengfu’s operations in the Kuy ancestral domain and immediately act upon the issues raised by the locals, particularly in relation to repression and forced eviction. 

Let us show our solidarity with the Kuy people who are against Hengfu and China’s development aggression in Cambodia as well as in the greater Mekong region. Let us carry on with our worldwide struggle against injustice, and for food sovereignty! ###