During the years of the Vietnam War, and for some time afterwards I used to view the Voice of America (VoA) news services with deep suspicion. It was propaganda. In recent years my respect for their service as an independent and fair news provider has climbed. I really think they’re offering a much needed service, especially since the Phnom Penh Post has been degutted to become, shamefully, little more than a government mouthpiece. The VoA keeps its eye on stories that matter.
Today 11/01/2019 I saw a piece on their website that caught my eye. It concerned the current tit for tat between the US and China over who did, or didn’t drive the fall of Sihanouk at the hands of Lon Nol and the subsequent rise of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Says the VoA in their report:
The online skirmish began when the U.S. Embassy posted a statement on its Facebook page, Jan. 30, saying the Khmer Rouge “ignorantly depended on a superpower,” an apparent reference to China. The embassy later issued comments claiming Washington was not involved in the coup led by Lon Nol that ousted Sihanouk.
The inference is that China was boots and all involved in supporting Pol Pot and that US attitudes had little to do with the events that led, ultimately to the awful genocide.
China has responded said the VoA:
In response, the Chinese Embassy posted a statement on its Facebook page, Feb. 1, mocking the idea that the coup “was not related to the U.S., but the CIA.”
The truth is China and the USA were both instrumental in events. One history of Chairman Mao, I read, said even the Chinese viewed Pol Pot as dangerously extreme, or even crazy. I need to check my references on that one – but the picture was clear: any backing by China was arms length, but included supply of landmines.
But the USA already had blood on its hands with Kissinger’s vast and illegal bombing campaign in Cambodia’s north east. The closest the current embassy comes to acknowledging that is to state:
“The United States has addressed its war legacy by long-standing and substantial efforts for humanitarian de-mining and removing unexploded ordnance (UXO), including the removal of hundreds of thousands of Chinese-made mines, which have injured and killed people for decades,” she said in an email.
Even then, in reviewing its war legacy, the US takes a snipe at who made many (or most) of the 4-10 million landmines said to be laid in Cambodia. Journalists and commentators lay the blame for laying these landmines on several forces during Cambodia’s decades-long war: by the Cambodian army, the Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge, the non-communist fighters and US forces.
In any case, the USA blotted its reputation by suddenly pulling out of landmine removal in late 2017. “Well just have to raise the money ($2million annually) by going elsewhere,” said Hun Sen at the time. To that date, the US had sent $132 in removing unexploded mines and bombs.
Why the war of words today? It appears that the USA is trying to remind the China-leaning Hun Sen Government that they are the good guys here and that it is unwise to put 100% faith in China. But the words may prove a cheap shot in a losing battle. If you follow the flow of money, then the US has very little to do with Cambodia relative to China. Phnom Penh is mushrooming with Chinese cash and large tracts of Sihanoukville are basically Chinese. Moral arguments are not effective with this government: especially when they are flawed, revisionist or simply too cheap.
Link to the Voice of America
Landmine clearing organisations:
Landmine Monitor – relevant figures on mine clearance in Cambodia. Click here.
Mine clearance is undertaken mainly by the national operator, CMAC, and two international mine action NGOs, The HALO Trust and MAG. A national NGO, Cambodian Self-help Demining (CSHD), has been active since 2011.
More discussion. Is China’s investment going to choke Cambodia? click here.