The Singaporean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has explained the context of a recent statement by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong accusing Vietnam of 'invading' Cambodia to overthrow the Khmer Rouge in 1979, saying its leader did not mean to hurt either of the two countries.
In a Facebook post uploaded on May 31, PM Lee declared late premier Prem Tinsulanonda’s time as Thailand’s prime minister “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.”
He had made the same statement in a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue earlier the same day in Singapore, in the presence of defense officials from the U.S., China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and other countries.
ASEAN, or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was founded in 1967 by Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.
In a statement released on Friday evening, the Singaporean foreign ministry said these remarks should be taken into the context of PM Lee’s condolence letter on the passing of the late Thai premier and his Shangri-La Dialogue speech.
“Singapore highly values its relations with Cambodia and Vietnam,” the foreign ministry’s spokesperson said. “Notwithstanding our differences in the past, we have always treated each other with respect and friendship.”
|Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has yet to make any official statement on the issue. Photo: AFP|
The foreign ministry said the Singaporean leader’s references to the painful chapter of Indochina’s history “are not new.”
“They reflect Singapore’s longstanding viewpoint, which has been stated publicly before,” it said, referring to what Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his memoirs.
The ministry also said the ASEAN, then comprising five members, stated its position on Cambodia clearly in a joint statement that was circulated to the UN Security Council in 1979, that “affirmed the right of the [Cambodian] people to determine their future by themselves, free from interference or influence from outside powers in the exercise of their right of self-determination.”
The Singaporean foreign ministry also said Singapore “had no sympathy for the Khmer Rouge, and did not want to see the Khmer Rouge return to Cambodia.”
This part of the statement appears to respond to a post on the verified Facebook page of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen late Thursday, which said in both Khmer and English that PM Lee’s remarks reflect “Singapore’s position then in support of the genocidal regime and the wish for its return to Cambodia.”
The post continued stating that “His [PM Lee’s] statement is also an insult to the sacrifice of the Vietnamese military volunteers who helped to liberate Cambodia from the genocidal regime.”
The Singaporean foreign ministry underlined that PM Lee had made reference to this history 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. “
“He also wanted to emphasize that regional stability and prosperity, as well as ASEAN unity, cannot be taken for granted. The current geopolitical uncertainties make it all the more important that ASEAN countries maintain our unity and cohesion, and strengthen our cooperation.”
|A screen grab of a June 6, 2019 Facebook post by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen responding to his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong’s May 31 remarks|
These remarks by PM Lee were also discussed during telephone talks between Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and Singaporean foreign minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Friday afternoon.
During the talks, held at a request by the Singaporean side, Deputy PM, Minister Minh stressed that the remarks have caused a negative response, especially in the context that the Cambodian people recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of their escape from the Pol Pot genocidal regime.
In response, Balakrishnan underlined that the context of the remarks are not meant to hurt Vietnam and Cambodia, the Vietnam News Agency reports.
|Former Khmer Rouge leaders stand trial at a court in Cambodia in 2018. Photo: Reuters|
At least 1.7 million people died from starvation, torture, execution, and slave-like labor during the rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, according to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
Khmer Rouge leaders are guilty of “crimes against humanity," the ECCC said in a verdict issued on November 16, 2018.
Deputy PM Minh affirmed that the justice and the huge contributions and sacrifices by the Vietnamese volunteer troops, who were described by the Cambodian as “Buddha’s army”, helped Cambodia out of genocide, contributed to peace, stability and development of the region, according to the Vietnam News Agency.
Minh said he and the Singaporean foreign ministry agreed to continue the close cooperation so as to consolidate and develop the Vietnam – Singapore relations as well as to strengthen the solidarity and unity of the ASEAN.
The telephone talks with Deputy PM Minh were mentioned in the statement of the Singaporean foreign ministry, which said Balakrishnan also made a separate phone call to Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhonn on Friday.
“Minister Balakrishnan explained these points to his counterparts. They agreed that notwithstanding the serious differences in the past, we have taken the path of cooperation, dialogue and friendship,” the ministry said.
“Singapore is committed to building on our good relations with Vietnam and Cambodia, and hope that they can continue to grow from strength to strength, based on candor and trust.”
|eputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh holds telephone talks with Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on June 7. Photo: Vietnam News Agency|
A joint military operation by the Cambodian People’s Party with assistance from Vietnamese military volunteers helped liberate Cambodia from the regime’s rule in 1979.
“We still consider them [Vietnamese military volunteers] as saviors – this means a lot for us,” Cambodian Defense Minister and Deputy PM Tea Banh said on Monday.
“We are grateful for what [Vietnam] did to help us,” he added.
Cambodia's foreign ministry said in an official statement released on Friday that "Singapore was the host of the tripartite meeting that led to the formation of the coalition government of the Democratic Kampuchea, which had prolonged the war and the suffering of Cambodian people for another 10 years."
“It was an act against the survival of the Cambodian people,” the statement reads.
Vietnam has expressed its “regret” that the Singaporean premier's remarks “do not objectively reflect the historical truth" and have caused negative impacts on public opinions, foreign ministry spokesperson Le Thi Thu Hang said in a statement sent to the press on Tuesday.
Vietnamese officials also wired a diplomatic note to the Singaporean Embassy in Hanoi concerning PM Lee’s statement, Hang said at a press briefing on Thursday.
“I believe that Singapore fully understands Vietnam’s message,” she told reporters in the Vietnamese capital.