Criticism against the Singapore Head of Government mounted after he published a Facebook post last month, which described a letter he had sent to his Thai counterpart to express his condolences on the passing of former Thai PM General Prem Tinsulanonda. He wrote, in part:
“His leadership also benefited the region. His time as PM coincided with the ASEAN members (then five of us) coming together to oppose Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and the Cambodian government that replaced the Khmer Rouge. Thailand was on the frontline, facing Vietnamese forces across its border with Cambodia.
“General Prem was resolute in not accepting this fait accompli, and worked with ASEAN partners to oppose the Vietnamese occupation in international forums. This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being legitimised. It protected the security of other Southeast Asia countries, and decisively shaped the course of the region.”
Cambodian politicians and prominent academics subsequently lashed out at PM Lee’s remarks, asserting that the Vietnamese rescued Cambodians from the Khmer Rouge. A spokesperson for Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said that Vietnam “regrets” that PM Lee’s statement did not reflect history objectively and caused negative public opinion.
Speaking to the press at the sidelines of the 34th ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, Thailand on Saturday, Vietnam PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc said that PM Lee’s comments were incorrect and offensive.
Cambodian PM Hun Sen also criticised PM Lee’s comment. Speaking to Reuters earlier this month, he had said that PM Lee’s view “reflects Singapore’s position then in support of the genocidal regime and the wish for its return to Cambodia” and sharply asserted that Singapore “had indeed contributed to the massacre of the Cambodian people.”
PM Hun Sen and PM Lee have since decided to bury the hatchet in favour of putting an end to what Cambodian foreign minister Prak Sokhonn has called “a nightmare in a bilateral relationship.”
Major regional publication The Khmer Times reported that the leaders agreed “not to scratch old wounds”. Mr Sokhonn, who was part of a meeting between the leaders at the sidelines of the 34th Asean Summit in Bangkok, said:
“During the meeting, both Prime Minister Hun Sen and Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong viewed the spat as a nightmare in bilateral relationship. Both countries since the beginning have had a good relationship.
“Both leaders recognised there are differing views on events that happened in the past and none can correct things that happened in the past. However, it is very important that we consider the past as an ‘old wound’ and do not scratch it and make it painful.”
Mr Lee also acknowledged the meeting and said that he has reached a mutual understanding with his Cambodian counterpart. He told the national broadsheet:
“He [Hun Sen] had the same view that ‘you are not going to convince me of your perspective, I am not going to convince you of my perspective, but we should move forward.
“I think we have a mutual understanding. It is helpful for us to understand where each other stands, rather than to gloss over and pretend that there is no issue whatsoever.” -/TISG