US, China Face Off Over Legacy in Cambodia

US, China Face Off Over Legacy in Cambodia


“China supported the Khmer Rouge during the 1970-1975 war and was the sole critical supporter throughout the 1975-1979 Democratic Kampuchea period of genocide. With Chinese money and support, Pol Pot carried out the period of murder, starvation and brutality.” – Said Elizabeth Becker

ចិនគាំទ្រខ្មែរក្រហមក្នុងកំឡុងសង្គ្រាមឆ្នាំ១៩៧០-១៩៧៥ ហើយជាអ្នកគាំទ្រសំខាន់តែមួយគត់ក្នុងរវាងឆ្នាំ១៩៧៥-១៩៧៩នៃរបបប្រលៃពូជសាសន៌កម្ពុជាប្រជាធិបតេយ្យ។ ជាមួយថវិការនិងការគាំទ្ររបស់ចិន ប៉ុល-ពតប្រតិបត្តិការវាលពិឃាត ទុរភិកអត់ឃ្លាន និងឃោរឃៅព្រៃផ្សៃ។ – ដោយអេលីសាបុិត បែកខើរ

Op-Ed: VOA Khmer

February 09, 2019 10:40 PM


FILE - A man cleans a skull near a mass grave at the Chaung Ek torture camp run by the Khmer Rouge in this undated photo. The last surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime were convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes Nov. 16 by an international tribunal.
FILE – A man cleans a skull near a mass grave at the Chaung Ek torture camp run by the Khmer Rouge in this undated photo. The last surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime were convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes Nov. 16 by an international tribunal.

 PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA  — 

Almost half a century ago, the U.S.-backed Gen. Lon Nol led a coup in March 1970, overthrowing Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihanouk while the monarch visited Moscow.

Sihanouk took refuge in Beijing until 1975, when brutal Khmer Rouge guerrillas leading a resistance movement against Lon Nol’s Khmer Republic captured Phnom Penh on April 17 and took over the country.

Sihanouk initially supported the Khmer Rouge regime and was installed as head of state by the communists but resigned in 1976. He spent the rest of the regime as a de facto prisoner of the Khmer Rouge, which wreaked havoc on the country, killing or starving to death an estimated 1.7 million people from 1975 to 1979.

FILE- Cambodia's King Norodom Sihanouk in Vichy, Jan. 11, 1980. Cambodia's former King Norodom Sihanouk, whose life mirrored the turbulent history of his nation where he remained a revered figure, died in Beijing, Oct. 15, 2012, at the age of 89.
FILE- Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihanouk in Vichy, Jan. 11, 1980. Cambodia’s former King Norodom Sihanouk, whose life mirrored the turbulent history of his nation where he remained a revered figure, died in Beijing, Oct. 15, 2012, at the age of 89.

Echoes of the Cold War

Today, that sequence of events reverberates in a diplomatic face-off in Phnom Penh that echoes the Cold War even as it has gone viral in Cambodia. The online skirmish began when the U.S. Embassy posted a statement on its Facebook page, Jan. 30, saying the Khmer Rouge “ignorantly depended on a superpower,” an apparent reference to China. The embassy later issued comments claiming Washington was not involved in the coup led by Lon Nol that ousted Sihanouk.

“Instead, there is a lot of evidence showing that [the] Chinese government actively supported [the] Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979 and after that,” read a post by the U.S. Embassy.

In response, the Chinese Embassy posted a statement on its Facebook page, Feb. 1, mocking the idea that the coup “was not related to the U.S., but the CIA.”

Elizabeth Becker, author of When the War was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution, said the current tit-for-tat was “a distorted argument started by the Hun Sen government.”

“The subject is too serious for these propaganda potshots,” she wrote VOA Khmer in an email. “Both China and the U.S. have blood on their hands.”

FILE - A photo taken in the 1970 outside of Cambodia, shows China's chairman Mao Ze Dong, left, greeting top Khmer Rouge official Ieng Sary, right, also known as " brother number three," while Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, center, looks on.
FILE – A photo taken in the 1970 outside of Cambodia, shows China’s chairman Mao Ze Dong, left, greeting top Khmer Rouge official Ieng Sary, right, also known as ” brother number three,” while Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, center, looks on.

War of words

Chheang Vannarith, president of the Asian Vision Institute (AVI), an independent think tank based in Phnom Penh, said the current war of words is another indication that the U.S.-China competition in Cambodia will continue to intensify.

“I think Cambodia has become the proxy of U.S.-China geopolitical rivalry,” he said in an email. “The winner writes history. It is … real politics.”

Meas Nee, a political analyst who holds a doctorate in sociology and international social work from La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, said Cambodia should be cautious of falling into a trap if a new Cold War emerges.

“Those two superpowers can take advantage” of a vulnerable country like Cambodia, he said, adding that Phnom Penh’s closeness with Beijing makes it unlikely to take a stand. China is Cambodia’s largest aid donor.

Although many consider the U.S. involvement to be a matter of historical record, Emily Zeeberg, U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, told VOA Khmer that there was “no evidence that the United States was involved in the coup that brought Lon Nol to power.”

FILE - President Lon Nol in Cambodia in 1972.
FILE – President Lon Nol in Cambodia in 1972.

“The United States has addressed its war legacy by long-standing and substantial efforts for humanitarian demining and removing unexploded ordnance (UXO), including the removal of hundreds of thousands of Chinese-made mines, which have injured and killed people for decades,” she said in an email.

“We hope the Chinese government will acknowledge its legacy in Cambodia and make amends to all the Cambodians its policies affected,” Zeeberg added.

Repeated efforts to reach the Chinese Embassy in Cambodia were unsuccessful.

Phay Siphan, a Cambodian government spokesman, could not be reached for comment.

Cambodia’s Ministry of National Defense said in a statement issued last week that Cambodia had suffered from a civil war that arose from “a coup supported by United States in 1970.”

“Cambodia doesn’t want to see the same history, as Cambodia has full peace,” it read.

‘Supporting the Khmer Rouge’

Sophal Ear, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College at Los Angeles, said: “It looks like the U.S. Embassy simply reminded Cambodia of who was supporting the Khmer Rouge at their height of power-1975-1979.”

“Indeed, with the withdrawal of the U.S., the Khmer Republic collapsed,” he added.

Continue reading “US, China Face Off Over Legacy in Cambodia”
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The Pol Pot dilemma

In relation to that war, the cables give insight into some of the tactics employed by the Vietnamese to topple the Khmer Rouge, including allegedly training up Cambodians to operate as subversives in their homeland. They also reported the Khmer Rouge assertion that the murder of British academic and Khmer Rouge sympathiser Malcolm Caldwell during a trip to Cambodia was perpetrated by infiltrating enemy agents. Elsewhere in the cable, they relayed reports that the killers had been dressed differently from most cadres, and noted that, at the very least, the killing would be great propaganda for the Vietnamese.

“That such an incident took place in their presumably heavily guarded compound in Phnom Penh will be a propaganda coup for the Vietnamese, who have been harping for months on how insecure the Pol Pot government is,” reads a cable from the China US Liason Office to the State Department on December 23, the day of Caldwell’s death.
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“[Chinese foreign minister] Huang Hua noted that having defeated the US and acquired large quantities of US arms, the Vietnamese had ‘swollen heads’, and that they have long harbored plans for an Indochinese Federation,” reads a cable from the US Embassy in Malaysia to the State Department on April 27, sent after a meeting with a member of a Swedish government delegation that had just visited China.

Op-Ed: The Phnom Penh Post

The Pol Pot dilemma

Khmer Rouge senior defence personnel look at a map during the 1970s

Khmer Rouge senior defence personnel look at a map during the 1970s. Cables from the State Department released on WikiLeaks earlier this week outline the US’s reluctant backing of the brutal Pol Pot regime. AFP

A trove of more than 500,000 US diplomatic cables from 1978 released by WikiLeaks on Wednesday includes hundreds that paint a vivid picture of a US administration torn between revulsion at the brutality of Pol Pot’s government and fear of Vietnamese influence should it collapse.

“We believe a national Cambodia must exist even though we believe the Pol Pot regime is the world’s worst violator of human rights,” reads a cable sent by the State Department to six US embassies in Asia on October 11, 1978. “We cannot support [the] Pol Pot government, but an independent Kampuchea must exist.”

Continue reading “The Pol Pot dilemma”

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Cambodian leadership between US and China

Dr. Lao Mong HayWhile the Vietnamese government celebrated the 40th anniversary of Vietnamese unification between North and South on this April 30, 2015, Vietnamese leaders have eloquently contained the scheme that US has separated Vietnam; those Vietnamese leaders frequently termed American as  imperialist, or American hegemony during the post cold-war. This statement coincided with the prediction that Vietnam and China shall have no space to be doubtful on their diplomacy tie dis-aligned. Historically, China is the essential partner to help Vietnam unified. And another indisputable history is the Cambodia that opened space such as Ho Chi Minh trail to help Vietnam achieve their unification goal. But what Cambodian people are wishing to see their government’s uncontested role is to encourage Vietnamese government to say “thank you” to Cambodia for their unification at the same level that present Cambodian government leadership that has always said “thank you” to Vietnam that help Cambodia to stop Khmer Rouge brutality.

angkor sangrkan controversyAccording to political ideology, peace and war history, and economic cooperation etc. Vietnam cannot distance themselves from China at all. China and Vietnam have pursued political ideology of communism and neo-Marxist capitalism. Vietnam and China fought hand to hand against Nazism and Japanese militarism; recently Vietnam and China traveled to Russia to join the 70th anniversary of the victory of the World Anti-Fascist War or WWII, and the economic cooperation especially the TPP project that Vietnam shall benefit a lot from it.

Above few findings can conclude that the Cambodia-Vietnam relations is remained strong even-though as Chair of ASEAN Cambodia reinforced its relations with China by neglecting Vietnam’s effort to instate multilateral resolution on behalf of ASEAN with China rather than bilateral one regarding the dispute on Spratly island. The assumption has also surprised everyone when Cambodia prime minister Hun Sen visited Vietnam while his leadership has been shaken by Cambodian people in 2013 election. His visiting happened during tension and protests to call him to step down; and he was publicly speaking Vietnamese to his Vietnamese audience regardless of diplomacy code of conduct he must abide by.

Below are some references of above description with their quote and link to the original complete articles and documents.

Phnom Penh cannot afford to be a Chinese proxy [3]. While China is of great economic interest to Cambodia, Vietnam is also vital to Cambodian security given the country’s geographical proximity. Balancing its foreign policy between China and Vietnam (and ASEAN as a whole) would be the wisest option for Cambodia. At the same time, the fiasco of the 2012 ASEAN summit should demonstrate to other ASEAN members the necessity of responding to the security concerns of its smaller members.

Cambodia’s betwixt and between foreign policy

+++++++++++

As many will recall, for the first time in its 45-year history, the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in July 2012 failed to issue a joint communiqué [3] because of the failure of the ministers to achieve consensus on a common ASEAN position on issues involved in the South China Sea. The failure took place despite the fact that such a consensus had been worked out in the past and was again expressed in an ASEAN ministerial statement on the South China Sea a few days later. Many pointed to Chinese pressure on Cambodia as the main reason for this undeniable debacle.

The United States and ASEAN

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In order to prevent Cambodia from choosing China over the US, Washington first needs to stop creating, and believing in the existence of, two distinct, contending, and mutually exclusive sides. The US should see China and Cambodia as two separate fronts. It should stop adjusting its Cambodia policy according to the level of Chinese engagement. If bilateral standoff is not the desired outcome, then trilateral cooperation is the only solution.

US-China-Cambodia Relations: The trilateral balance

+++++++++++

 In 2014, Vietnam ranked 119th out of 175 countries in the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perceptions, 126th on the World Bank’s Control of Corruption Index, and 74th on the International Country Risk’s Guide corruption rankings. Meanwhile, Vietnam’s top echelons have repeatedly warned that the country’s wealth widening wealth gap poses the most worrying threat to the survival of the political regime.

How the US continues to impact Vietnam 40 years on

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The institute, established in 1999 around 80 km (50 miles) from Phnom Penh, is part of China’s rising military aid to Cambodia. Interviews with serving officers and a senior Cambodian government official shed light on how far the school’s influence has grown in recent years.

Military aid, alongside arms sales and billions of dollars of investment, have strengthened China’s ties with Cambodia, and analysts see it as part of a push to extend regional influence, including in the disputed South China Sea.

Chinese influence in Cambodia grows with army school, aid by Reuter

+++++++++++

 Cambodia, like neighboring Myanmar and Laos, has been a major beneficiary of Beijing’s push in recent years to cultivate ties with developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. From 2006 to August 2012, Chinese companies invested more than $8.2 billion in Cambodia, besting second-placed South Korea’s $3.8 billion and the $924 million from American companies, according to the Cambodian Investment Board. Since 1992, Beijing has offered Cambodia $2.1 billion in aid and loans to fund agricultural development and the construction of more than 2,000 kilometers of roads and bridges, Chinese and Cambodian officials say.

U.S. Faces China Hurdle in Cambodia

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There is no doubt that Cambodia needs China’s assistance to further its economic development. Likewise, China sees Cambodia as an important ally for exercising greater influence in Southeast Asia and counterbalancing the United States. Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Pan Guangxue recently said that the positive relationship China and Cambodia have built over the years serves as a role model of friendship between countries of different social systems. He is convinced that, with the careful guidance of its leaders and the efforts of its people, China and Cambodia can further deepen their mutual trust for one another and improve cooperation, so as to develop the relationship to a greater level.

Chinese investment and aid in Cambodia a controversial affair

+++++++++++

The China-Russia relationship has been fruitful in the past. During the past two years, their heads of state have met eight times, reaching a series of important consensus on bilateral cooperation in all areas.

During their meeting in May, they are expected to add new content to bilateral ties and break new ground together, showing their relationship has entered a new development phase.

Xinhua: Xi’s visit to deepen, celebrate China-Russia relations

++++++++++

China has always offered instant rewards for displays of loyalty. When the Cambodian government sent 22 Uighur refugees back to China in 2009, the United States once again suspended aid to Cambodia as a retributive measure. China, on the other hand, pledged a total of US$1.2 billion two days after the incident. This generous gesture, however, does not necessarily guarantee that the money is indeed received, as some observers caution.

But looking beyond the ‘big old friend’ rhetoric, what’s in this relationship for China? The strings attached to China’s generosity are undoubtedly strong and many-stranded.

Why China charms Cambodia

+++++++++++

The CPP still maintained a tight grip on power, and its leaders were wary of China given the troubling relations of the past. Only after 1997 did Cambodia-China relations began to improve. One possible explanation was that in the aftermath of the deadly clash in July 1997, it was clear that the CPP would be the dominant power in Cambodia’s politics once it had defeated and captured forces loyal to the royalist FUNCINPEC party.

This shifting balance of internal power may have made China realize that it had to revisit its past strategy and engage with the CPP’s leaders if it wanted to reinvigorate its crumbling diplomatic relations with Cambodia. As a result, China quickly emerged as one of Cambodia’s most important donors. More importantly, China’s long-standing policy of non-interference perfectly aligns with the interests of the ruling elites.

Besides financial support, China has also assisted Cambodia in strengthening its security forces, and has given millions of dollars worth of military equipment to its ally. For instance, in 2010, China agreed to give 257 military trucks and 50,000 uniforms to the Cambodian armed forces. In addition, China also provided 1,000 handguns and 50,000 bullets to the national police. These are just a few highlights of the military cooperation between the two countries.

In the aftermath of the July 2013 election, which the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) claims was plagued with massive irregularities, China was among a handful of countries that endorsed the CPP’s victory. During his visit to Cambodia in August 2013, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi promises the ruling elites that “China will firmly support Cambodia to prevent foreign disturbance.

Cambodia-China Relations: Overcoming the Trust Deficit

++++++++++++

This is the first time Cambodia‘s leader has openlystated his position on the South China Sea issue.Cambodia has faced criticism for its handling of thematter during a meeting of the ASEAN countries in 2012.  Hun Sen said Cambodia should not be the onlycountry criticized for continued problems in the area.

After Cambodia, Brunei also could not find a solution;Myanmar failed as well. Now I am waiting to see ifMalaysia will be able to solve the problem,” said Hun Sen.

Cambodia Supports China’s Position on South China Sea

++++++++++++

The military objective, in the long term, stands to make the greatest contribution to China’s national security. Cambodia sits in a critical geostrategic position, and China has since 1955 demonstrated an almost bewildering desire for access to Cambodia, whether the purpose was to counter US influence, to funnel supplies to North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, or to counter Vietnam. During the height of Sino-Cambodian relations, during the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge regime, PLA engineers supervised the slave-labor construction of an airfield at Kampong Chhnang that was (and is) capable of handling any aircraft in the world. Given that the Khmer Rouge had no air force and that the base included a command center built into a nearby mountain, the facility was clearly intended as a forward base for the PLA air force.

China’s Cambodia Strategy

+++++++++

But in Cambodia, a small band of historians has been clamoring for Beijing to acknowledge its role in one of the worst genocides in recent history.

In the 1970s, Mao wanted a client state in the developing world to match the Cold War influence of the United States and the Soviet Union. He found it in neighboring Cambodia. “To regard itself as rising power, China needed that type of accessory,” Andrew Mertha, author of “Brothers in Arms: China’s Aid to the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979,” said in an interview.

China Is Urged to Confront Its Own History

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 Irritated Relations as a Reflection of the Global and Regional Politics

Initially, China might have come into contact with Cambodia in the context of Indochina. China‟s policy in Southeast Asia was to keep her southern neighbors in check and free from another challenging power. The Indochina Union was not only a geopolitical locality for theFrench colonization but also tacitly represented a block of Communist countries within whichVietnam was a team leader of the Indochina Communist Party. With a fear of the Soviet Union‟s influence in the region through a proxy of the Vietnamese
, China broke up the Indochinese Communist Party in the mid-
1950s in order to reduce Vietnam‟s domination in the block.
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Cambodia-China Relationship and Its Enlightenment

Looking back to the history, Cambodia-China has longest tied relationship with each other. It is in both historical and contemporary co-operation. The name of Funan, an ancient Cambodian capital city, was literally coined by Chinese trader, and many other names of Khmer Kings during Funan period were entirely Chinese vernacular. The most significant notion is the Chinese Ambassador Chau Takuan who visited Cambodia Empire of Angkor. He inscribed the situation there vivaciously. His thesis becomes important historical manuscript for students and researchers to understand the culture of Khmer Empire in that time prior to its declination and seizing by the Siam eventually.

Recently, many Chinese top officers came to Cambodia with the same intention is to strengthen the relationship and boost the economic co-operation between two countries. There are several reflections to this tie and its future trend.

After the cold war, the tie with China was promoted in both economic development and political bloc rivalry. China provided aids to build Cambodia infrastructure and other industrial development tools. During Songkum Reastr Niyum led by King Norodom Sihanouk, there were concrete legacies of China’s support left in many fields. But when the aura of American war spread out in the region, China became the leading supporter to the Khmer Rouge to rally against America. American imperialistic war and China’s hard line resistance to the influence of America in the region resulted intractable conflicts and catastrophe in Cambodia. China and America were very keen proportion of peace and war in Cambodia in that time.

Continue reading “Cambodia-China Relationship and Its Enlightenment”

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