Singapore tries to ease Lee’s Pol Pot blunder 

The Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has tried to ease tensions with Cambodia and Vietnam after Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s Facebook post referred to Vietnam’s 1978 “invasion” and “occupation” of its neighbour. 

Lee made similar comments at a security forum in Singapore last weekend, noting how Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia had posed a serious threat to non-communist Asean.

Singapore’s ministry said, “Singapore highly values its relations with Cambodia and Vietnam” and had “no sympathy” for Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. 

It said Lee’s controversial Facebook post aimed to “explain how statesmanship and foresight helped to end the tragic wars that caused great suffering to the people of Indochina, and to bring about the peace and cooperation that the region enjoys today”.

Singapore’s foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan has also made phone calls to Hanoi and Phnom Penh to end any ill feeling over Lee’s post. 

Both Cambodia and Vietnam use the term “liberation” from one of the 20th century’s most brutal regimes. 

Lee was expressing his condolences over the death last month of former Thai prime minister, General Prem Tinsulanonda, who backed the Khmer Rouge’s jungle insurgency against the Vietnamese forces.

“His time as PM coincided with the [original five pro-western] Asean members coming together to oppose Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and the Cambodian government that replaced the Khmer Rouge,” Lee posted. 

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen accused Lee of expressing “support of the genocidal regime and the wish for its return to Cambodia”. 

“His statement reveals to the Singaporean people and the world that leader of Singapore had indeed contributed to the massacre of Cambodian people,” Hun Sen posted on Facebook.

A former Khmer Rouge cadre, Hun Sen, 66, fled Cambodia in 1977 and returned with the Vietnamese military during the war against the savage regime in December 1978. He was first appointed foreign minister and named prime minister in the Vietnamese-supported government in 1985.

It is odd that Lee chose to refer to the morally bankrupt period of Asean history when the west supplied arms to what remained of the deposed Khmer Rouge to weaken Vietnam and its Soviet supporters. 

Pol Pot’s fanatics battled Vietnamese forces in Cambodia from sanctuaries on the Thai border.

China, a rival of Moscow and Hanoi, invaded Vietnam briefly in 1979 in a botched attempt to force a Vietnamese withdrawal from Cambodia, suffering a military humiliation in the process. 

A decade of fighting, economic sanctions, the unravelling of the Soviet Union and the international isolation of Vietnam pressed Vietnam to finally withdraw its troops from Cambodia and sign the October 1991 Paris Peace Accord.

Vietnam joined Asean in 1995 followed by Cambodia in 1999.


The west and its Asean allies should avoid highlighting their alliance with the Khmer Rouge. Picture credit: Wikimedia