Communist Vietnamese-Lao-Khmer meeting (Photo: KR Trial Web Portal) Stephen J. MORRIS in Public Forum on Khmer Rouge History From
stalin to Pol Pot-Towards a Description of
the khmer Rouge Regime 25-26 january 2007 Sunway Hotel,
Phnom Penh (Picture by: Prim Pilot)
By Stephen J. Morris
Source: The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association
Posted at Khmer Rouge Trial Web Portal
In the official mythology of the Khmers Rouges, their military victory in 1975, and the maintenance of their rule over Cambodia from 1975 until 1978 (the rule of Angka Padevat in the state of Democratic Kampuchea), was portrayed as a result of the efforts of Cambodians alone. This is the most ridiculous fantasy. Without the support of the Vietnamese and Chinese communists the regime known as Democratic Kampuchea would never have existed. Moreover, the leading Cambodian communists were deeply enmeshed in the activities of the communist world for most of their lives.
I will show how Vietnam played a vital role in the rise of the Khmers Rouges to power, and how the Vietnamese communist leaders were happy to let the Khmers Rouges do as they wished in power, so long as the regime created - Democratic Kampuchea - did not threaten or embarrass Vietnam. However the irrational belligerence of Pol Pot and his entourage in foreign policy soon became a source of concern for Hanoi, and Democratic Kampuchea's violent behaviour towards its more powerful neighbour pushed Vietnam towards a policy of armed retaliation, invasion and occupation.
VIETNAM AND THE RISE OF CAMBODIAN COMMUNISM
The Vietnamese communists were deeply involved in the inception and formation of the Cambodian communist movement. In 1930 the agent of the Communist International (Comintem) known as Nguyen Ai Quoc -- who in 1943 changed his alias to Ho Chi Minh -- founded the Vietnamese Communist Party at a meeting held in the British colony of Hong Kong. But after filing the founding documents with his employers in Moscow, Quoc was instructed by the Comintem to change the name of the party to the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). The Comintem argued that "Not only does Indochina have a geographic, economic and political unity, but above all we have a need for unity of struggle, for a unique direction of all of the Indochinese proletariat opposed to all the forces of reaction in Indochina, to the policy of division of French imperialism." The Comintern's intention was clear: Emancipation of the three different nations of French Indochina was to be carried out not by the independent efforts of each of the three peoples, but rather under Vietnamese Communist tutelage.
As it happened there were no revolutionary movements in Cambodia at this time. And of the 211 founding members of the Indochinese Communist Party, not a single one was from Cambodia or Laos. One finds in the Comintem archives in Moscow, Quoc's actual correspondence about this with his leaders. In September 1930 Nguyen Ai Quoc claimed to have an ICP party membership of 124, of which 120 were Chinese and 4 were Annamites [Vietnamese]. The Party controlled labor union consisted of 300 ethnic Chinese. The French suppressed the communist structures throughout Indochina in 1935, and by March 1935 there were only 9 communists in all of Cambodia. But the ethnic situation in Cambodia remained much the same throughout the 1930s. In 1938 the Cambodian branch of the ICP had a mere 16 members, all of them ethnic Chinese.
After World War II the Vietnamese communists, operating through their front organization popularly known as the Viet Minh, began their offensive against the French colonialists. However they sought to rely heavily upon ethnic Vietnamese for their efforts. Two of the most important Viet Minh leaders during the 1940s were Sieu Heng and Son Ngoc Minh, both of mixed Vietnamese and Khmer ancestry. Armed units of the Viet Minh were stationed in Battambang, where all the units were ethnic Vietnamese, and in southeast Cambodia, where again ethnic Vietnamese were predominant in the revolutionary committees.
In March 1950, at a meeting of Viet Minh and Khmer Issarak leaders held in Ha Tien, Vietnam, Nguyen Than Son, head of the Viet Minh's committee for foreign affairs in southern Vietnam, spoke of the Vietnamese emigre population in Cambodia as a "driving force destined to set off the Revolutionary Movement in Cambodia." Later he seemed to be complaining when he stated that the ICP, which controlled the Cambodian Movement, was composed of mostly Vietnamese and "did not have deep roots among the Khmer people."
In 1951 the underground ICP resurfaced as the Vietnam Workers Party, and simultaneously announced the emergence of two "fraternal" parties for Laos and Cambodia. The latter was called the Revolutionary Cambodian People's Party. According to Bernard Fall the statutes of the Cambodian party had to be translated from Vietnamese into Cambodian, and ethnic Vietnamese dominated the leadership of the party. Over the next three years the Vietnamese tried to recruit ethnic Cambodians into the political and military structures of the party, but with limited success. For example, according to a French intelligence document of 1952, the Phnom Penh cell secretariat had a membership of 34, of whom 27 were Vietnamese, 3 were Chinese, and only four were Cambodians.
In November 1953 Cambodia under the royal government of Sihanouk was given complete independence by the French. After the signing of the Geneva Agreements in 1954, the Viet Minh Sees retreated from Cambodia, taking with them half of the cadres of the Revolutionary Cambodian Party. These cadres were to be given further training in Hanoi, and kept in reserve until history provided an opportune moment for their return.
During this period of the mid 1950s there was influx of younger communists back to Cambodia from a period of study France. Most notable of this group was Pol Pot (then known as Saloth Sar, Jeng Sary, Khieu Samohan, Hou Youn and Hu Nim. Some of these communists had come into contact with the ideas of Marx and Lenin before, they went to France. But they had all developed their communist ideology in France under the influence of the Stalinist French communist party. Some of them, like Pol Pot had fought in the last stages of the Viet Minh war against the French. But we should not make too much of the French experience of Pol Pot and long Sary. because other important members of the future Khmer Rouge inner circle -- notably Nuon Chea and Ta Mok -- never went to France. More important to note is that none of the younger communists exhibited any anti-Vietnamese sentiment at this time.
The returnees from France were able to seize control of the Cambodian communist movement by the ena of the 1950s Yet in 1960 the party's name was changed to Kampuchean Workers Party, to conform with the Vietnamese name, and in 1966 it was changed again to Kampuchean Communist Party In 1963 Pol Pot became secretary general of the party. Throughout the 1960s the Kampuchean communists remained friendly and deferential towards the Vietnamese. In July 1965 Pol Pot traveled to Hanoi and discussed with the Vietnamese politburo the appropriate policy for Cambodia.
It is not exactly clear when the Cambodian communists developed their attachment to Maoism. The imbibing of Maoist ideology by the Khmer Rouge seems to have been quite gradual. And the Vietnamese communists themselves must have played some direct role in assisting that process since they themselves had been under Chinese communist influence during the years 1950-56 and 1963-64, years when Vietnamese communist influence over Cambodian communists was still significant. Pol Pot made his first trip to China in late 1965 and stayed into 1966. This was the beginning o the Maoist terror and ideological campaign known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Pol Pot visited China again in 1970. Pol Pot's visits to China probably did not initiate, but most likely intensified, Maoist ideological influence upon the Khmer Rouge.
In January 1968 the Kampuchean Communist Party initiated an armed uprising against the royal government of Prince Sihanouk. This would seem to have been in contradiction with the Vietnamese communist policy of recognizing the royal Cambodian government, a government which had allowed the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong to use eastern Cambodia as a sanctuary and supply line in their war against the American-backed anticommunist government of South Vietnam. However this Khmers Rouges uprising was mostly confined to the hill dwellers (Khmer Loeu) of the mountainous of northeast Cambodia - Ratanakiri and Mondolkiri - and it did not pose any real threat to he survival of the government of Prince Sihanouk. Hence it did not really threaten the strategy of the North Vietnamese.
During the late 1960s many Cambodians, especially among the Cambodian political and military elites became unhappy with the Vietnamese communist occupation of Cambodian soil. They preferred Cambodia to have a closer relationship with the United States. Sihaniouk slowly and reluctantly changed his policy in this regard, and in 1970 he traveled to China and the Soviet Union to try and persuade the big communist powers to pressure Hanoi to remove its forces from Cambodia, Sihanouk was not successful, and on March 18, 1970, while Sihanouk was still in Moscow, Lon Nol led a bloodless palace coup d'etat. This totally changed Cambodia's situation.
Manv people think that the coup d'etat led by Lon Nol, was the work of the United States and its Central Intelligence Agency (ClA). At the time Hanoi, Beijing and Moscow, and their western friends with the help of Sihanouk, did everything to try to spread that myth. There is absolutely no evidence of that. No evidence has been found even by the most critical western writer, William Shawcross. Of course the Americans welcomed the coup.
Many people also think that it was the US and South Vietnamese invasion of eastern Cambodia on April 30, 1970, that brought Cambodia into the Vietnam war. That is also plainly false. It was me Vietnamese communists who spread the Vietnam war inside Cambodia. One of Lon Nol's first public proclamations was to demand that the Vietnamese communist forces leave Cambodia within 48 hours. They ignored his demand, and at the end of March 1970 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces moved out of their border sanctuaries and began to attack the armed forces and towns of the newly proclaimed Khmer Republic. At the same time approximately one thousand of the Khmer Viet Minh, who had been trained in Hanoi, were reinfiltrated back into Cambodia. Their task was to help supervise the areas that would be captured by the Vietnamese communist armies.
On April 30, 1970, exactly six weeks after the Lon Nol coup, and four weeks after the North Vietnamese began their attacks on the Khmer Republic, troops of the United States and South Vietnam began a major attack on the communist sanctuaries inside Cambodia. The Vietnamese communists, anticipating the attack, fled in advance of the allied sweep. However public protests and congressional opposition within the United States precluded the extended American military operations inside Cambodia that any successful pursuit of the communist armies would have required.
When American forces withdrew from the border areas after only two months inside Cambodia, they had successfully cleared most of the base areas that threatened the Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam. But they had hardly diminished the communist manpower available inside Cambodia as a whole. In the first four months of fighting the Vietnamese communists had seized control of half the territory of Cambodia, In spite of continued American bombing attacks upon them, North Vietnam's battle hardened veterans remained in a good position to deal with the highly motivated but poorly trained and equipped army of the Khmer Republic.
For the next two years of the struggle for Cambodia, it would be Hanoi that would determine the outcome of military events. By the end of 1970 there were four North Vietnamese combat divisions in Cambodia, with some ten thousand of these troops targeting the republican army, and others protecting the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply line to the South Vietnam battlefield.
At the beginning of the war it was obvious to both the Vietnamese communist leaders and Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge that the latter were not yet strong enough to seize Phnom Penh on their own. If Cambodia was to have a communist government, then the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong armies would have to play a role. The Hanoi leaders made explicit in their secret meetings that their party's policy was to "strengthen the revolutionary base in Cambodia and lead the country along the path to socialism." And despite their dismay with the general capabilities of the Cambodian insurgency the Vietnamese were optimistic about the prospects of a communist victory in Cambodia. As one captured communist document summarized the Hanoi view: "The Cambodian revolution is entering a new phase ... From a vacillating neutralist regime, Cambodia can now follow a steady policy. When the enemy is defeated, she will become a democratic and independent country and proceed toward socialism."
Between April 1970 and March 1972 it was the battle hardened Vietnamese army which crushed most of the best units of the army of the Khmer Republic. During this period Vietnamese and Cambodian communist forces, after seizing control of an area, set up a political administration controlled by the National United Front (FUNK) and nominally under the authority of Prince Sihanouk's Royal Government (GRUNK) which was based in exile in Beijing. There were three elements in the political coalition opposed to the Khmer Republic. First, the Khmer Viet Minh communists, trained in Hanoi since 1954, and backed by Vietnamese communist army units. Second, the Pol Pot led Khmers Rouges guerrillas. Third, the followers of Prince Sihanouk, who were militarily weak.
FUNK propaganda appeals emphasizing Sihanouk's leadership role in the insurgency were important in the first year of the war, and reflected the influence of the North Vietnamese upon Cambodian insurgent propaganda. It undoubtedly helped the communists to recruit Cambodian peasant support. However sometime in the middle of 1971, as Pol Pot's Khmers Rouges leaders began to consolidate their control within FUNK, they began the process of removing the pro-Sihanouk elements from positions of power in insurgent-controlled areas. Two years later the Khmers Rouges began an intensive propaganda campaign to discredit the Prince in the eyes of the Cambodian peasants.
The Hanoi-trained communists never attained leadership positions within the Cambodian Revolutionary Organization itself. All the top military and political position within FUNK were held by the Pol Pot forces, who identified themselves as members of Angka Padevat (Revolutionary Organization). During 1970 and 1971, in some areas under Vietnamese military control Khmer Viet Minh political cadres held positions of local state power from the village to the tambon (sector) level. As for the Khmer Viet Minh military cadres, upon their return to Cambodia they were given low ranking positions within the insurgency. Eventually they, together with the political cadres, would be liquidated by Pol Pot's security forces.
By late 1971 the Pol Pot leadership of the KCP had become frustrated with Vietnamese attempts to control the insurgency. They decided to try to expel the Vietnamese communists from Cambodia, even though the Khmer Republic was at that time not yet defeated. Fighting broke out between the Pol Pot led guerillas and some Vietnamese units in late 1971 and especially in 1972.
However it was not the actions of Pol Pot's forces, but rather events pertaining to the struggle for South Vietnam, especially the launching of the Easter Offensive in March 1972, that led Hanoi to remove the bulk of its combat forces from Cambodia. The terrible losses suffered by Hanoi in that offensive, and the signing of the Paris Peace Agreements in January 1973, meant that Hanoi could no longer afford to be deeply involved in the struggle for control of Cambodia thereafter. Yet they did allow Chinese military supplies through to the Khmers Rouges until the war ended.
The Hanoi leaders had already laid the foundation for a Khmers Rouges victory. During the two years from March 1970 the North Vietnamese army had severely mauled the army of the Khmer Republic, and Hanoi sponsored cadres had recruited thousands of peasants under the deceptive banner of the politically impotent Sihanouk. Hanoi's actions by themselves did not determine the outcome of the war. But they greatly helped place Pol Pot's forces in a position to seize power in April 1975.
VIETNAM AND DEMOCRATIC KAMPUCHEA
When Phnom Penh surrendered to insurgent forces on April 30, 1975, the Khmers Rouges victors were enthusiastically congratulated by the Vietnamese communists. By the time the North Vietnamese army had marched into Saigon some two weeks later, Phnom Penh and most of the major towns of Cambodia had been emptied of their former inhabitants. Cambodia, now renamed Democratic Kampuchea, had begun its long march towards the hyper Maoist Utopia. But in spite of real differences between the Vietnamese and Cambodian approaches to revolution, there were few public signs of Vietnamese communist dissatisfaction with their neighbour's social experiment.. However, concealed from international view, the tensions that had surfaced during the war years had been exacerbated. The ostensible issue of the dispute was the border between Vietnam and Cambodia.
Between 1870 and 1914 the French had redrawn the borders between Cambodia and Vietnam, by amputating large chunks of Cambodian territory and making them administratively part of their Vietnamese colonial entities. In June 1948, in the Along Bay Agreement, the French recognised their colony of Cochinchina -what had formerly been southern Cambodia (Kampuchea Krom to the Khmers Rouges) - as part of Vietnam. The resentment felt by most Cambodians at this humiliation, combined with the spirit of triumphalism that permeated the Khmers Rouges, fed into an amition for forceful recovery of lost territories. Sihanouk reports that in 1975 the Khmers Rouge had told him "we are going to recover Kampuchea Krom." Yet such ambition of the Khmers Rouges should have been restrained by military realities. The Vietnamese army was ten times the size of the Khmers Rouges army. Vietnam also had a significant air force and navy, which the DK did not.
Nevertheless in early May 1975 the Khmers Rouges attacked Vietnamese islands in the Gulf of Thailand, claiming the islands that the French had assigned to their Vietnamese colony, and which had been inherited by South Vietnam. The Vietnamese, though surprised, responded decisively. By the end of May the Vietnamese had recaptured the islands by force, taking 300 prisoners. In early In early June the Vietnamese retaliated further by attacking and occupying the Cambodian island of Puolo Wai. These actions seemed to restrain for a time the Khmers Rouges enthusiasm for military challenges to Vietnam.
On June 2 Pol Pot received Nguyen Van Linh, who was representing the Vietnamese Workers Party (as the Vietnamese communist party was still called). Pol Pot told Linh that the fighting had been due to "ignorance of the local geography by Kampuchean troops." In June 1975 Pol Pot, leng Sary and Nuon Chea led a KCP delegation that secretly travelled to Hanoi for negotiations. In July 1975 a high powered delegation from Vietnam, headed by Communist Party first secretary Le Duan, undertook what was described as a "friendly visit" to Cambodia. In August the Cambodian island that Vietnam had occupied was returned.
Publicly the Vietnamese gave no hint of any problems. The September issue of the official Vietnamese monthly Vietnamese Courier spoke of the talks being held in a "cordial atmosphere full of brotherly spirit." The article went further when it praised Cambodia's new social order without qualification. "Liberated Cambodia is living in a new and healthy atmosphere."
The Vietnamese had retained some of their military forces on Cambodian soil after the joint communist victories of 1975. It took some political effort by the Chinese to convince the Hanoi leaders that the troops should be returned to Vietnam.
Throughout 1976 there were public greetings exchanged on special occasions. For example in April 1976 the first anniversary of the Khmers Rouges victory was hailed by Vietnamese party and government leaders. The Vietnamese media spoke glowingly of the "achievements" of the "Cambodian workers, peasants, and revolutionary army." Various official delegations from Vietnam visited Cambodia in 1976. In July an agreement was signed to open an air link between Hanoi and Phnom Penh. In September 1976 that air service was begun.
Thus by the end of 1976 the outward signs suggested close relations between the communist parties and governments of Vietnam and Cambodia. Yet these outward signs concealed the real feelings of both parties The Vietnamese leaders hoped that some pro-Vietnamese elements would appear within the leadership of the Kampuchean Communist Party. At the same time the leaders of Democratic Kampuchea were possessed by a seething hatred and fear of the rulers of Vietnam - a hatred and fear that threatened to boil over into armed confrontation.
The Vietnamese leaders had a poor grasp of the real political situation within the leadership of Democratic Kampuchea. They felt that Pol Pot and leng Sary were pro-Chinese and therefore bad people but that Nuon Chea was different. On November 6 1976 Pham Van Dong told the Soviet ambassador to Vietnam that "with Nuon Chea we are able to work better. We know him better than the other leaders of Kampuchea." At a meeting with the Soviet Ambassador on November 16, 1976 The Vietnamese Communist Party first secretary Le Duan stated that he was glad that Pol Pot and leng Sary had (apparently) been removed from the leadership, because they constituted "a pro-Chinese sect conducting a crude and severe policy." Le Duan also asserted that Nuon Chea, a member of the Standing Committee and Secretariat of the Kampuchean Communist Party, who had replaced Pol Pot as Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea in September, was a person of pro-Vietnamese orientation. Le Duan added that "he is our man and my personal friend." Le Duan was to repeat this opinion in private conversations with Soviet diplomats over the next two years. .
The Cambodian communists had good reason to fear the ambitions of the Vietnamese communists in the long term. But the question arises as to how imminent a threat to the power of the Khmers Rouges the Vietnamese posed. The Vietnamese had devised a strategy for controlling the communist movements of Laos and Cambodia. A key element had been inflitrating the communist parties of these countries with people that Hanoi had trained and indoctrinated. In the case of Cambodia Hanoi had trained and supported the so-called Khmer Viet Minh, whom it assumed would act as its agents. So the Khmers Rouges leaders did have real enemies in Hanoi. But Pol Pot and his supporters had anticipated the Vietnamese strategy, and had preempted it by arresting all the Khmer Viet Minh soon after they returned from Hanoi with the Vietnamese army in the early 1970s, and again after the victory of 1975. Nevertheless Pol Pot and his inner circle still feared that Soviet or Vietnamese agents might still be hidden within the party. Thus Pol Pot conducted a series of bloody purges of the party, guided in his choice of victims by paranoid fears rather than real evidence of disloyalty or conspiracy. Not only did Pol Pot carry out bloody internal purges to crush what he thought were enemies within. He also directed the regime's violence against its neighbours.
In April 1977, on the second anniversary of the "liberation" of Phnom Penh, the government and government controlled media in Hanoi offered their congratulations and praise for the Democratic Kampuchea regime. But this goodwill gesture reaped no beneficial consequences for Vietnam. The Khmers Rouges chose the second anniversary of the communist conquest of South Vietnam to leave a bloody message to their former "elder brothers." On April 30, 1977 DK units attacked several villages and towns in An Giang and Chau Doc provinces of South Vietnam, burning houses and killing hundreds of civilians. The Vietnamese leaders were shocked by this unprovoked attack and could not understand any strategic rationale. Nevertheless they decided upon military retaliation. Throughout 1977 armed clashes occurred between Vietnam and Democratic Kampuchea in the border area. Yet when in September 1977 Pol Pot publicly announced that what had previously been known as the Revolutionary Organisation (Angkar Padevat) was in fact the Kampuchean Communist Party, the Vietnamese Communist Party Central Committee sent a message of congratulations, publicly expressing its joy. Interestingly, this message was sent after hundreds of Vietnamese civilians had been killed in Khmers Rouges raids on September 24.
In a conversation with the Soviet ambassador in Hanoi in November 1977 Le Duan indicated that he thought that the anti-Vietnamese behaviour of the DK leaders was because of the outlooks of the “Troskyist” Pol Pot and the “fierce nationalist and pro-Chinese” Ieng Sary. But Le Duan thought that Nuon Chea and Son Sen “have a positive attitude towards Vietnam.” Apparently Le Duan and the other Vietnamese leaders were hoping that the foreign policies of Democratic Kampuchea could be changed by a coup within the Khmers Rouges leadership circles.
In December 1977 the fighting between Vietnam and Democratic Kampuchea escalated. Hanoi used warplanes, artillery and about 20,000 men in an attack inside the Parrot's Beak region of Svay Rieng. After inflicting a serious defeat on the army of Democratic Kampuchea, the Vietnamese withdrew, taking with them thousands of prisoners as well as civilian refugees. They might have been in a position to seize Phnom Penh at that point. But they were concerned about what China’s reaction might be, and hoped that their strong but limited military blows would force the leaders of Democratic Kampuchea to negotiate a settlement. Instead the leaders of DK hardened their attitudes. The DK broke diplomatic regions on December 31, 1977. And they declared the Vietnamese withdrawal a major victory for “the Kampuchean revolution.” Despite their losses, and despite the massive disparity between the Vietnamese and Cambodian armies, with the Vietnamese superiority in both numbers (more than eight one) and quality of military equipment, the army of Democratic Kampuchea persisted in launching attacks inside Vietnamese territory. Phnom Penh radio broadcasts exhorted Cambodians to fight and win total victory over Vietnam, with the deranged assertion that one Kampuchean soldier was equal to thirty Vietnamese. The DK leadership was living in a fantasy world.
Upon realising that the leadership of Democratic Kampuchea was utterly implacable, Hanoi decided upon a new strategy for changing the DK regime. After two and a half years of pretending that Democratic Kampuchea was a nice regime for Cambodians to live under, they began for the first time to denounce the domestic terror of the DK. Between January and June they slowly changed their description of the DK leadership from :the Kampuchean authorities” to the “Pol Pot-Ieng Sary clique.” Hanoi radio called for the need to save the Cambodian people from genocide at the hands of the “Pol Pot-leng Sary clique.”
Vietnam began building a “liberation army" from among the refugees and other civilians that they had brought back from Cambodia. Pol Pot also inadvertently helped the Vietnamese to build their army by conducting his internal terror and purges of the party and army. The brutal terror resulted in many cadres and even units of the DK army fleeing for their lives to Vietnam. These defectors, mostly from the Eastern Zone of Democratic Kampuchea, joined the forces being assembled by Vietnam. But The Vetnamese leaders realised that an insurgency based upon the "liberation army" of Cambodians would not be strong enough to prevail. Sometime in the middle of 1978 the Vietnamese leaders decided that they had to launch a full scale invasion of Cambodia, and install a new regime that would not only not be hostile, but also one that would be friendly to Vietnam.
The Soviets were encouraged to increase their military aid to Vietnam, with the pretense that China was threatening Vietnam’s independence. Throughout the latter half of 1978 the Vietnamese prepared their military forces, and the psychological climate of revulsion for the DK regime. They hoped to achieve an easy victory over their former comrades and face few negative consequences.
On December 25 1978 Vietnam launched an all out invasion of Cambodia, As anticipated, resistance to the invasion collapsed quickly. But that invasion, and especially the Vietnamese refusal to withdraw, turned international public opinion and international political leaders strongly against Vietnam. China countered the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia by launching its own invasion of north Vietnam in February 1979. That attack was not in itself a military success for China. But it forced Vietnam to concentrate troops on its northern border and gave ASEAN confidence to be able to provide support for a coalition of Cambodian forces, including the Khmers Rouges, who were resisting Vietnam's occupation.
After more than a decade of Vietnamese military occupation of Cambodia, the pressures from United Nations Chinese American and Southeast Asian nations, and the cut off of Soviet and Eastern European aid, meant that by 1989 the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia had become untenable. The United Nations Secure Council Permanent Five agreed on a plan whereby the UN would undertake a temporary administration of Cambodia, with the purpose of bringing freedom and a just peace to the Cambodian people.
For approximately sixty years since the formation of the Indochinese Communist Party in 1930, the Vietnamese communists had always considered Cambodia part of an Indochinese Federation of socialist states, under the domination of the more numerous and powerful Vietnamese "elder brothers." The Vietnamese communist strategy was initially to infiltrate the communist movements of the neighbouring countries with ethnic Vietnamese. By the 1950s, the Vietnamese strategy was to infiltrate the Cambodian movement with ethnic Khmer whom Vietnam had trained and indoctrinated. It was certain that those Khmer whom Vietnam had trained would be loyal to Vietnam. This was the first of many misjudgments by the Vietnamese communist leaders. Many of those whom the Vietnamese communists had trained and indoctrinated turned into their enemies.
Nevertheless, based on their misperceptions of the situation, the Vietnamese communists supported the Khmers Rouges revolution. The reasons for the Khmers Rouges coming to power in 1975 were numerous and complex. However we can see from the history of Vietnamese and Cambodian communism that Vietnam played a vital role in laying the foundations for the establishment of Democratic Kampuchea.
After the establishment of Democratic Kampuchea by the Pol Pot led Khmers Rouges, the Vietnamese communists attempted to establish friendly relations with their weaker neighbour. They celebrated what they described as the "liberation" of Cambodia by the Khmers Rouges. However Pol Pot was driven by a self-destructive combination of paranoia and delusions of grandeur. He provoked the Vietnamese into an unfriendly stance by his attacks upon Vietnamese territory and civilians. And Pol Pot also provided the Vietnamese with recruits for their imperial ambition by terrorising and massacring many of his own political and military cadres. Many Khmers Rouges fled for their lives to Vietnam in 1977 and 1978, and provided the personnel for the governments that Hanoi established in Cambodia from 1979 onwards.
Hanoi's motives were never humanitarian but only self-interested. On the one hand we must not forget that the Vietnamese had a legitimate right to self defence, and the 1978 invasion was consistent with that. But the ten year military occupation, and Hanoi's simultaneous refusal to recognise the noncommunist forces or the resolutions of the United Nations, showed that they were also motivated by an imperial ambition.
Forces beyond the control of Vietnam, especially the collapse of the Soviet Union and its communist bloc, as well as the pressures of China and ASEAN, eventually caused the Vietnamese to withdraw their forces from Cambodia. But some of Vietnam's political influence upon Cambodia still remains.
- Stephen J. MORRIS : Speech On the Occasion of Public Forum on Khmer Rouge History at Sunway Hotel, 25-26 January 2007
Labels: Vietnamese, Vietnamese influence, Vietnamese interference, Vietnamization of Cambodia