Cambodians complicit in Vietnamization

By: Gaffar Peang-Meth
I promised last week to discuss today the 25-year treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation concluded by Heng Samrin, a former Khmer Rouge commander who is now a leader in Cambodia's government, and Vietnam's prime minister Pham Van Dong on Feb. 18, 1979.

This treaty binds Cambodia and Vietnam in what the treaty terms, "militant solidarity and fraternal friendship." In a stroke of the pen, the signatories extol a symbiosis of interests between Cambodia and Vietnam, opening the door to an even more thorough Vietnamization of Khmer land and culture than might have taken place in a federation of the states of the former French Indochina.
Retired Johns Hopkins professor Naranhkiri Tith observes on his Web site that the 1979 treaty between Hanoi and its puppet in Phnom Penh "became official in 2005" when Cambodia's King Sihamoni, "with the support of his father Sihanouk," put his royal signature on "supplements" to the treaty, thereby making Cambodians complicit in the Vietnamization of Cambodia.
Some readers have requested a review of Vietnam's historical expansionism and its contemporary revolutionary activities that ended with the 1979 treaty. I will provide that review today and then deal with the treaty.
A saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of invention."
Vietnam, which broke off its thousand-year bondage to China in 939, began its southward movement a few decades later, to escape Mongol and Chinese military threats in the north. Migration to the west was hampered by natural and physical barriers. To the south, the territory was unoccupied and the land was fertile. The horizon seemed infinite.
The migration was ongoing, even as other kingdoms were encountered. In 1406, the ancient kingdom of Champa's capital, Vijaya, was seized and the kingdom was extinguished in 1471. Then, in 1630, Vietnamese princess Ngoc Van, married to Khmer King Chey Chetha II, promoted Vietnamese settlements in the low delta in Khmer Preah Suakea (Ba Ria) and Prey Nokor (Saigon).
The 1979 friendship-cooperation treaty brings Hanoi's influence as far west as the border with Thailand.
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What started as a necessity dictated by the search for security and growth became a strategy for expansionism. The intention to expand its influence is illustrated even in the name of the political party founded by modern Vietnam's leader, Ho Chi Minh, in 1930 -- the "Communist Party of Indochina." Ho Chi Minh didn't just want to liberate Vietnam from the French; he defined the task of CPI "to make Indochina completely independent."

In 1941, Minh created the Viet Minh, an abbreviation of "Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi," or "League for the Independence of Vietnam," and spread its anti-French activities to Laos and Cambodia, where the Viet Minh later fragmentized the anti-French local Khmer Issarak front into a Khmer Viet Minh front.
In 1949, the Viet Minh instituted the "Ban Van Dong Thanh Lap Dang Nhan Cach Mang Cao Mien" -- "Canvassing Committee for the Creation of the Revolutionary Kampuchean People's Party" -- and created the Kampuchean People's Liberation Army in 1950.
Although the CPI was dissolved to demonstrate Vietnam did not harbor expansionist intentions toward its neighbors, it resurfaced in February 1951 as the Vietnam Workers' Party (Lao Dong), with the same agenda. In November of that year, the Revolutionary Kampuchean People's Party was created. It has been said the RKPP and the Cambodian local Communist Pracheachon Party were one and the same.
As Prince Sihanouk wrote in February 1960, the Pracheachon Party was "working indefatigably ... and specifically to bring Cambodia under the heel of North Vietnam."
Finally, in 1952, the Hanoi-created "Kampuchean Resistance Government" emerged to rival Sihanouk's royal government.
When the 1954 Geneva Accords ordered the Viet Minh to leave Cambodia, they took with them to Vietnam between 4,500 and 8,000 Cambodians, mostly young children.
According to Cambodian Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Kampuchea was born on Sept. 30, 1960, after the first party congress of 21 people met for three days and three nights. According to Pol Pot, a Cambodian revolutionary movement that "truly belonged to our people," existed prior to the Geneva Convention, but its dissolution after the 1954 agreement was acknowledged because "people lacked a correct and enlightened guideline." Pol Pot described 1968 as the year when armed struggle -- civil war -- began.
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Undoubtedly, Hanoi was aware that its publicly proclaimed "fraternal brothers and sisters," the Khmer Rouge, were not so "fraternal" privately, and it knew its relationships with the Khmer Rouge were unsatisfactory. But Hanoi let the Khmer Rouge be while it looked to building its own Kampuchean puppets. Hanoi was biding its time.

And as it was fighting a war against the Americans in Vietnam, Hanoi threw in its battle-tested troops to fight Lon Nol's republican army, enemies of Prince Sihanouk, who had allied himself with Hanoi. It was Hanoi's troops that routed Lon Nol's army and put Pol Pot in power in Phnom Penh.
Neither Hanoi nor the world governments intervened to stop the genocide that followed. However, when the Khmer Rouge's fierce independence of Hanoi was more than the latter would tolerate, Hanoi concluded it was time to teach its insolent comrades a lesson. The invasion of Cambodia followed, on Christmas Eve 1978.
Phnom Penh was captured and a subservient regime was installed, leading to the signing of the February 1979 treaty between the master and the puppet comrades.
A. Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., is retired from the University of Guam, where he taught political science for 13 years. Write him at

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