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 Cambodia Politics of Nostalgia: From Indochina to AEC 2015

In the meantime, the challenges Cambodia is facing for Asian integration is its slow increase of population including skill labors and strengthening the rule of laws within the country.

  1. The eyes-catching danger for Cambodia right now is the influx of population flowing from Vietnam. While the population of this country is hiked up to 90 millions, Cambodia is likely existing only 14 millions. The westward travelers of Vietnamese population is encouraged by both geographic frontier that blocks by China vast sea at the East, and their Vietnamese existing networks in Cambodia established since 1979 during more than 20,000 Vietnamese armed soldier trespassed into this country and anchored the power base in this land for more than 10 years.
  2.  Cambodian opposition party, CNRP, must promptly initiate the very jargon present Immigration Laws by introducing new up-to-date Immigration Laws and Laws on Nationality Naturalization and Names Change that other countries have effectively used it. Current Immigration Laws and Laws on Nationality Naturalization don’t respond to reality of Cambodia and to the policy of Asian Integration including its upcoming AEC at all. Some few recommendations, the Immigration Laws and its Control must be under Special Force of National Authority Level, not under the Ministry of Interior as practicing at the Present. While nationality application and name change (?) are under the Royal Decree, the Citizenship Identification Issuance must be under National Authority Level, not under provincial governor as presently practicing etc.
  3. The Immigration Authority must enforce the Laws and Implement them effectively and equally. As evidence, Cambodia must accept the reality that those remaining Vietnamese populations, at least since 1979, are in large number and omnipresently living throughout Cambodia. Those citizens have not yet been well integrated and naturalized. Of course, those citizens have created their living community in Cambodia before the birth of current Immigration Laws and Its Enforcement. This is odd. And this is imperative to create and effectivate National Level Policy to handle with those populations.

The most reliable way to anticipate the future is by comprehending the past and understanding the present

After indulging into the prolific description of Henry Mouhot for his book “Travels in Siam, Cambodia, Lao and Annam” during his visiting of these countries between 1859-1861 as a nature researcher and explorer (botanic naturalist); I am keen to glancing back to Angkorean period, the Indochina Federation of France, and the Vietnam’s War or the War that can change France Indochina into Vietnamese Indochina. After that, I am keen to looking at the present for different available scenarios to bring back the Spirit of Angkorean the Great for the Future Cambodia.

Recalling the Past of Greatness

Indochina King Norodom 1865
King Norodom 1865 Courtesy of: Keo Chanbo

Not need to describe much on the glory of Khmer empire between 8th century to 14th century as those gigantic monuments such as Angkor Wat, Bayon, Preah Vihear, Banteary Srey, Banteay Chmar, and groups of Sambo Prey Kok etc. are still discerning truth for all of us. Henry Mouhot visited Angkor Wat and he was stunned that Angkor Wat was built by Rome or Greece, and it is a world’s famous architect of Michelangilo in this plunged state. Of course, many believed and stated that Henry Mouhot is a botanic researcher (naturalist and explorer), but I am convinced that he is the France’s spy who recorded all treasures, natural resources, and geographic map for France to plan its colonization on this region. He is not different from Chou Ta Kuan who visited Angkor during the 14th century as a Chinese Ambassador but his detailed descriptions were sent directly to Mongol Emperor for conquering attempt on this region while China was a Mongol’s vassal state.

France firstly learnt about Cambodia and the Angkor from a Portuguese  Christian monk, António da Madalena , who visited Cambodia during the the 1586. The motivation behind France to arriving Cambodia, Vietnam and Lao, could be variable but I am believed, France was inspired by the Greatness of Angkor Wat depicted by Henry Mouhot, and the Official Invitation by the Khmer King Ang Duong. Many scholars wrote that France favoured Vietnam more than Cambodia and Lao as Vietnamese were so welcoming to the arrival of France including their subservient attitude, diligent, industrious, and more populated than Cambodia and Lao. But my argument is that France took their accessibility as a key decision-making by creating head-quarter in Vietnam as during that time only through China’s Sea that France can embark and transfer manpower and goods. France’s base in Vietnam is important to go through Cambodia and Lao, to Thailand, and to counter England in Burma.

Indochina Money 1 Riel Indochina Money 1 riel 1 Indochina Money 1 Riel 2 Indochina Money 1 Riel 3 Indochina Money 1 Riel 4 Indochina Money 1 Sen Indochina Money 2 Riel Indochina Money 5 Riels Indochina Money 5 Sen Indochina Money 10 Riels Indochina Money 10 Sen Indochina Money 20 Riels 1 Indochina Money 20 Sen Indochina Money 100 Riels

France created Indochina currency by using Vietnamese (Chinese pictographs), Laotians and Khmer scripts within all money bank-notes (see above bank-notes photos: courtesy of Keo Chanbo). France employed Vietnamese to work more than Cambodians and Laotians. France built schools and universities in Vietnam, not in Cambodia and Lao.

Continue reading “The Cambodia Politics of Nostalgia: From Indochina to AEC 2015”

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