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Thayer China and the Khmer Rouge: Coming Clean

Thayer China and the Khmer Rouge: Coming Clean

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Published by Carlyle Alan Thayer
A critical analysis of a Chinese editor's argument that the United States is using the legacy of the Cold War to highlight Cahina's support for the Khmer Rouge.
A critical analysis of a Chinese editor's argument that the United States is using the legacy of the Cold War to highlight Cahina's support for the Khmer Rouge.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Carlyle Alan Thayer on Oct 08, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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11/06/2012

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Background Brief:China and the Khmer Rouge:Coming Clean?Carlyle A. ThayerOctober 3, 2012
[client name deleted]We are interested in your assessment of this op-ed published in the
Global Times
:http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/735647.shtml It interests us because Mr. Ding (an editor at the
People's Daily 
) suggests that Chinaacknowledge its role during the Khmer Rouge regime, and suggests that it is time todeal with said role. China has no part in funding the Khmer Rouge tribunal, andChina
s official stance is that clothes and food were sent to Cambodia during theregime to alleviate problems of starvation. There are, however, allegations thatChina
s involvement ran deeper, for instance, with an airfield built using slavelabour:http://thediplomat.com/2011/12/17/what-was-china%E2%80%99s-khmer-rouge-role/ Is it unusual for this kind of opinion to be made from within China by someone in themedia, and do you think it would resonate at all with those in power there?Would it benefit China at all to take the same approach as the US - which oncefunded the Khmer Rouge - and is now helping to fund the tribunal?Q1. Is it unusual for this kind of opinion to be made from within China by someone inthe media, and do you think it would resonate at all with those in power there?
ANSWER: Ding Gang’s views are as exceptional as they are disingenuous. Ding Gangbasically skates over China’s moral, political and material support for the Khmer
Rouge. When Indochina was a unit, China channeled its aid through Vietnam andLaos down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia fighting the LonNol regime (Khmer Republic). China provided vital assistance to the Khmer Rougeonce it assumed power in 1975. Chinese weaponry, ammunition and militaryequipment was provided to the Khmer Rouge regime, especially in 1977-78 whenKhmer Rouge began to make cross border raids into Vietnam. And of course, Chinacontinued its military support to the Khmer Rouge after Vietnam invasion
. China’s
aid was channeled through Thailand.
 
Ding Gang’s account distorts history. The United States government initially declined
to support the Khmer Rouge tribunal. It did so in September 2008 long before theObama Administration announced its pivot to Asia-Pacific. There is no evidence tosupport his claim that the U.S. is taking advantage of the Cold War legacy. I have notseen a single statement by n ranking official in the Obama Administration criticizing
 
Thayer Consultancy
ABN # 65 648 097 123
 
2
China for its support for the Khmer Rouge. U.S. charges that Cambodia has put a rent
in ASEAN unity related to China’s ‘pivot’ from supporter of the Khmer Rouge up to
1991 to supporter of the Hun Sen regime.
 
In 1967 ultra-leftists Maoists Khmer took to the jungle and attempted to launch aviolent revolution to overthrow the Kingdom of Cambodia headed by PrinceNorodom Sihanouk. Sihanouk was deposed in an internal coup in March 1970 bymilitary forces w
ho opposed Sihanouk’s
policy of granting the CommunistVietnamese establish sanctuaries in eastern Cambodia from which to attackVietnam. Sihanouk also permitted Chinese military support to be off loaded at the
port of Sihanoukville and transported overland to these sanctuaries. Ding Gang’s
remarks about the U.S. support for the Lon Nol regime should be placed in historic
context. During the Cold War both China and the U.S. took sides in Cambodia’s
internal affairs and bear responsibility for their policies. China has a huge deficitconsidering that the Khmer Rouge regime presided over the deaths of 2-3 millionpersons.
Ding Gang’s comments if acted upon by the current Chinese Government would
shed light on the amount of assistance China provided the Khmer Rouge since 1970.U.S. assistance to Vietnam and Laos to clear up the legacy of war
 –
land mines andother unexploded ordnance
 –
 
also predated the Obama Administration’s pivot to
Asia. There is no question the U.S. has a moral responsibility to assist in clearing upthis legacy of war. But it must be understood that both Vietnam and Laos wereuncooperative with the U.S. in assisting with the return of prisoners of war (POW)and information on missing in action (MIA). Progress on these two issues
 –
 contributing to healing the wounds of war and an accounting for POWs/MIAs
 –
werelinked in the Paris Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring the Peace in Vietnam(1973).
 
The question of Agent Orange, and dioxin in particular, is not as straight forward asDing Gang present it. When Agent Orange was used its full effects were not known.Many U.S. and allied servicemen, such as Australians, were exposed and fell ill. Therewere also complicated legal arguments over culpability. No U.S. court ruled in favourof Vietnamese plaintiffs.
 
The U.S. Congress made funds available to begin to assist in cleaning up the effects
of Agent Orange long before the Obama Administration’s pivot to Asia. There has
been a marked step up in U.S. efforts in recent years in response to demands by theVietnamese side. U.S. assistance to Vietnam in this respect is unrelated with DingGa
ng’s sophistry that it forms part of the U.S. ‘back to Asia’ strategy.
 
Q2. Would it benefit China at all to take the same approach as the U.S. - which oncefunded the KR - and is now helping to fund the tribunal?
 
ANSWER: The United States as a matter of policy never supported the Khmer Rougedirectly with any form of material, military, or political assistance. It was U.S. policyto back the non-communist resistance
 –
 
the Sihanoukists, and the Khmer People’s
National Liberation Front
 –
who were partners with the Khmer Rouge in theCoalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea formed in 1982.
 

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