Theary Seng's Commentary

[…] Here are excerpts, emphasis added, from Brother Enemy— The War after the War: A History of Indochina Since the Fall of Saigon (New York, 1986) by Nayan Chanda to give some historical context to the VOA report of 16 June 2011 Assembly Approves Triple-Country Convention

“Cambodia’s ruling party on Thursday approved a regional convention that would set up a joint development area between Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, but which opposition critics argue would cede land to Vietnam.”

Theary Seng (Photo: Nigel Dickinson, 2010)

Chapter 11:  Indochina: War Forever?

Three Countries, One Current (p. 370)

[…] One refrain that I heard constantly from the survivors was “If the Vietnamese hadn’t come, we’d all be dead.” That expression of gratitude was, however, often laced with apprehension that the traditional enemy—Vietnam—might now annex Cambodia.  “I fear they [the Vietnamese] want to stay here to eat our rice,” a former schoolteacher whispered to me on the road on his long march back home.

[…] The Vietnamese certainly did not help to foster confidence.  In the three months following the occupation of Phnom Penh they had systematically plundered the capital.  Convoys of trucks carrying refrigerators, air conditioners, electrical gadgets, furniture, machinery, and precious sculptures headed toward Ho Chi Minh City.
[…] Thousands of Vietnamese officials and technicians were commandeered to Cambodia to restore the water supply and electricity in Phnom Penh, put the railway line back into service, and reopen rudimentary health clinics with Vietnamese doctors and paramedics and a handful of Cambodian doctors.  Ministries were set up, with Vietnamese advisers running things behind the scenes.  Hundreds of Khmers were sent to Vietnam to take crash courses in health care, education, banking, foreign trade, and security work.
[…] Militarily, Cambodia was brought under the responsibility of Vietnam’s Fourth Army Corps… three Khmer divisions had been raised to play a supporting role, the 180,000 strong Vietnamese army led by Fourth Corps commander General Le Duc Anh

[…] Three shadowy Vietnamese organizations controlled the pulse of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, as the new regime calls itself.  The highest of these organizations was a body called A-40 composed of some experts from the Vietnamese party’s Central Committee.  They maintained liaison between the Cambodian and Vietnamese parties and offered advice on all key issues.  Another group, called B-68, was headed by Tran Xuan Bach, a member of Vietnamese Party secretariat and consisted of midlevel Vietnamese experts attached to various Cambodian ministries and participating in day-to-day decision making.  A third group of advisers, A-50, consisted of experts who worked with provincial administration.

[…] In rural areas, civilian advisers from Vietnamese “sister” provinces worked in Khmer provincial offices and services.  Below the provincial level the advisory work was left to special teams from the Vietnamese army commanded by captains.

[…] In the years since its invasion and occupation of Cambodia the Vietnamese have refined their justifications for an Indochinese alliance and raised it to the level of some immutable natural law—a law dictated by geography and history.  “For centuries,” General Le Duc Anh wrote in a major article, “the three-countries [Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam] shared the same fate as victims of aggression by the Chinese feudalistic forces, imperialism, and international reactionary forces.” Dividing one country from another, using one as a springboard from which to annex another, and then annexing all three countries “became the law for all wars of aggression by outside forces against the Indochinese peninsula.” Consequently, Anh argued, building a “strategic and combat alliance among the three Indochinese countries constitutes the law of survival and development for each individual country and the three countries as well.”

[…]  “If Phnom Penh falls, Saigon falls.  If we have to fight and die, we do it here, not in Vietnam.” This was the way Vietnamese officers explained the reason for their presence in Cambodia.

[…]  Thenceforward such gatherings became regular biannual affairs to present the latest Hanoi position as that of the whole Indochinese grouping. By associating Laos and Cambodia with its policy position, Hanoi only formalized its leadership role vis-à-vis those countries but sought to boost the legitimacy of its client regime in Phnom Penh and to convey a sense of irreversibility to the newly formed alliance.


What Hanoi sought was not only the security of a politically bloc, but the creation of an economically integrated unit in which to achieve “gradual implementation of labor distribution, ensuring an effective use of labor and land potentials of the three countries.” With its 6 million hectares of cultivated land and population of 60 million (1985), Vietnam clearly saw potential in sparsely populated Cambodia (7 million population) with its 1.5 million hectares of cultivated land and enormous fishing grounds.

Pursuing a policy begun since the signing of the Lao-Vietnamese treaty of 1977, all the Lao and Cambodian provinces were coupled with sister provinces in Vietnam.  Vietnamese advisers, technical experts, and doctors from the provinces were dispatched to sister provinces in Laos and Cambodia to help in small projects and to build a special Indochinese bond.

[…]  Whether it was Hanoi’s deliberate policy to settle Vietnamese in Cambodia, as its opponents charged, or whether it was just the continuation of the historical pattern of spontaneous movement of the Vietnamese to less populated areas, the result could only be strengthening of the Vietnamese hold over the country.  According to the estimate of a leading Western demographer, by 1985 more than one hundred and seventy-five thousand Vietnamese civilians—including former residents, new landless immigrants, traders, and discharged soldiers—had settled in Cambodia.  Other estimates were as high as six hundred thousand.


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