Vietnam officials have joined Cambodians in criticising Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent remarks referring to the Khmer Rouge regime.
The Khmer Rouge regime murdered hundreds of thousands of their perceived political opponents. Ultimately, the Cambodian genocide led to the deaths of 1.5 to 3 million people, around 25 per cent of Cambodia’s population.
Criticism against the Singapore Head of Government mounted after he published a Facebook post on Friday (31 May), 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 have lashed out at PM Lee’s remarks, asserting that the Vietnamese rescued Cambodians from the Khmer Rouge.
A spokeswoman for Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, Le Thi Thu Hang, said that Vietnam “regrets” that PM Lee’s statement did not reflect history objectively and caused negative public opinion.
Revealing that the ministry has discussed the matter with its Singapore counterpart, Hang asserted that Vietnam’s contribution and sacrifice in helping Cambodians end the Khmer Rouge genocide is true and widely recognized.
The spokeswoman added that Vietnam will continue its partnership with other member nations to build a strong community that plays central roles in the region, as a responsible ASEAN member.
Meanwhile, Vietnam’s Ambassador to Cambodia, Vu Minh Quang, also commented on the matter on social media. The envoy wrote:
“Invade or liberate. Occupy or protect. It does not matter (if) the cat is black or white.
“Nothing forgotten. Nobody forgotten. This year 2019 we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge Genocide Regime. We put the past if full of pain and hatred behind, to look forward to the future, but it does not mean we have forsaken lessons of history.”
Members of the Cambodian Government have also criticised PM Lee’s remarks.
Calling PM Lee’s statement “unacceptable,” Cambodian Defence Minister General Tea Banh told the press: “He [PM Lee] did not say the truth and his statement does not reflect history. It is not true because he said Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia. We wish for him to make corrections. It is not true.”
Cambodia National Assembly member Hun Many has also said that he was “beyond surprised” by PM Lee’s remarks. Speaking to the Phnom Penh Post, Many – who is the Cambodian Prime Minister’s son – said that the genocide, atrocities and crimes the Khmer Rouge committed should never be overlooked or forgotten. -/TISG