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Issue No. 64 

Two Views on the 








t x - r 


southeast^* I 



Issue No, 64 September- October 1978 

Where We Stand (Editorial) 1 

Origins of the Conflict 3 

Raising the Stakes (Role of the Major Powers) 19 

The Propaganda War 31 

The Border Dispute on the Land 37 

The Border Dispute on the Sea 39 

The Chronicle has made a policy of using Ihe proper name Kampuchea ralher than the more familiar Cambodia. French colonialists in the 19th 
century found themselves unable to pronounce the proper name of their new colony. They turned Kampuchea into Cambodge That, in turn, the 
Americans had difficulty pronouncing. The Americans then labelled the country Cambodia. The united front government before 1975 restored the 
country's original name. Kampuchea has been maintained by the current government as the country's proper name. 

Cover photos: Stephen Heder and Vietnam News Agency. 
Special Production Assistance from: Typeset and Archetype (Typesetting) and Ink works (Printing) 

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It is important not to evade the political complexities 
of this war in favor of "good guy-bad buy" positions. 

Wc began work on this issue of the Southeast Asia 
Chronicle with both trepidation and hope. Wc 
hesitated to undertake an effort similar to finding a 
path through an intellectual and emotional minefield, but wc 
looked forward to finding answers to tormenting questions. As 
we go to press, wc arc still picking our way among the mines, 
realizing that the task of identifying and interpreting the roots 
of the Vietnam- Kampuchea, Vietnam-China conflicts has barely 
begun. Its difficulty arises not only from the need for extensive 
research and analysis. Dealing with any conflict in which former 
allies become enemies presents serious problems of political 
principle. This is as true for outside observers and supporters as 
it is for the direct antagonists. 

What is the purpose of an analysis of the terrible conflicts in 
Indochina? Is it merely to describe the conflict and explain as 
objectively as possible the positions of the combatants, "letting 
the facts speak for themselves"? Wc feel we should go beyond 
this to reaffirm clear principles and ideals. For there is a real 
danger of despair, which can lead us to turn our backs in 
disappointed cynicism on concerns beyond our immediate 

For a whole generation of Americans and Europeans, the 
anti-war movement was a central political experience, forcing 
them to become aware of distant peoples and to take 
responsibility for the effects of the policies of their own 
governments on others.. Many came to identify with the 
political ideals of the Indoehincsc liberation forces as they 
struggled to overcome American aggression. The present 
con fliers appear to call these ideals into question. During the 
war, the three national liberation movements appeared united in 
pursuit of common goals. Today, the contrast between the 
policies of the ruling parties in Vietnam and Kampuchea is so 
stark that many people feel the ideals themselves have been 
shattered. The continued fighting between the two countries 
over what appear at first glance to be relatively trivial issues 
adds to that anguished sense, making former opponents of the 
war vulnerable to charges that they were naive and misguided, 


It is in this context that official and unofficial apologists for 
the United States' war on Indochina are undertaking a massive 
campaign to justify the war retroactively and deny the 
legitimacy of the peace movement. A major component of the 
ideological offensive has been allegations of atrocities in 
Kampuchea, whose leaders have been portrayed as brutal, 
cold-blooded men calmly planning the murder of close to one 
half their country's population. It has been difficult to respond 
to this propaganda, because the Kampuchean government has 
refused to explain its policies to any but its closest stare and 
party allies. Others do not want to defend mass murder and do 

not have convincing evidence that the charges are not true. 
While not responding directly co the allegations against the 
Kampuchean government, Stephen Hedcr's article helps to 
explain the nature and origin of its policies. 

It is important to expose the exaggerations and distortions 
which characterize Western accounts of Kampuchea, because 
these accounts are being used to justify past U.S. intervention in 
Kampuchea and in the whole of Indochina. Increasingly, 
specific but unproven charges against the Kampuchean 
government are now linked to generalizations about "commu- 
nist dictatorship" in Vietnam and Laos, despite much more 
freely available positive information about realities in these 
countries. Such charges arc being used to rebuild the ideological 
basis for future American intervention in liberation struggles in 
other countries by undermining the convictions of those who 
would conceivably oppose such intervention. 

Yet if the precise character of current developments in 
Kampuchea is unclear, the brutal impact of American 
intervention in that country and in Laos and Vietnam remains 
unmistakable and unforgettable. In Kampuchea, virtually an 
entire way r of life was destroyed by the massive assault of U.S. 
bombs, while Vietnamese and Laotians will suffer for years to 
come from the human, social and environmental wounds 
inflicted by the U.S. effort to control their future. Disagree- 
ments among those who opposed the war over the current 
situation in Indochina should not be allowed to get in the way 
of fulfilling our central responsibility. Wc must continue to 
remind the American people of the horrors of American 
intervention in Indochina, and we must continue to press for 
national acceptance of responsibility to help repair the 
destruction there, 


This, then, is our purpose in publishing this issue of the 
Southeast Asia Chronicle: to provide information and analysis 
which can help our readers begin to think about the current 
hostilities without retreating into cynicism, despair or indiffer- 
ence. We do not intend this issue of the Chronicle to choose 
sides in the current conflict, and the two major articles clearly 
represent very different points of view. Wc welcome the 
perspectives raised by the two authors, because we believe they 
help to clarify some of the strategic and historical elements in 
the conflict. While they do not point to some easy solution or 
formula for peace, they demonstrate that real issues are at stake. 
The terrible fighting is not just the arbitrary exercise of military 
power by bloodthirsty tyrants. Nor is it something that could 
have been prevented by further American intervention. Rather, 
it has been exacerbated by the U.S. involvement. 

The difficulties of dealing with the current conflicts arc 
many. The hostilities clearly have deep and complex historical 

Issue No. 64 


origins, but there are few historical reference points on which to 
base judgments. Much of the already available historical analysts 
focuses on the character of the colonial and neo- colonial 
experiences of Vietnam and Kampuchea, from which much of 
today's tension arises. Much more work remains to be done on 
the relationships between the leaderships of the three countries 
of Indochina and the interaction between domestic and 
international concerns. 

Another serious obstacle to understanding the current 
situation is the dearth of information on key topics other than 
that provided by the protagonists themselves. Little inde- 
pendent information, for example, is available on the precise 
actions by cither side in the Vietnam- Kampuchea border region. 
There is precious little information on internal Kampuchcan 
policies and on the character of the divisions and conflicts 
within the Kampuchcan leadership. At the other extreme, the 
available material on such subjects as China's foreign policy is 
too massive to be included within a single article. 


Those who arc concerned about developments in Southeast 
Asia also need to assess the changing pattern of international 
relations in the region. The American role in Southeast Asia did 

conflicts between the superpowers will exacerbate tensions 
between the Southeast Asian nations. It is our responsibility to 
understand what issues are involved and how the U.S. in 
particular is attempting to further its own interests regardless of 
the cost to the peoples of Southeast Asia. 


The articles in this issue of the Southeast Asia Chronicle do 
not deal directly with all of these issues, nor do they take 
definitive stands. Questions related to the nature of socialist 
construction and the principles which guide relations between 
socialist states, for example, are beyond the scope of these 
articles. Within the editorial collective, there are different 
positions on these issues in genera! and on their application to 
the conflict between Vietnam and Kampuchea in particular. We 
agree, however, that it is important not to evade the political 
complexities of the current confrontations in favor of 
emotionally more comfortable "good guy-bad guy" positions. 

As Americans, we believe the United States government has 
an obligation to end its economic blockade of Vietnam and 
Kampuchea. We advocate immediate normalization of diplo- 
matic relations with Vietnam and an end to the cynical policy 
of trying to use the suffering left by the war to force the 

These children were stabbed 
by Kampuchea n troops, ac- 
cording to the Vietnamese. 
Thousands of civilians have 
been killed during the fighting 
—on both sides, (photo: Viet- 
nam News Agency) 

not end with the U.S. defeat in Indochina in 1975. The 
continued U.S. hostility toward Vietnam, for example, is part of 
an effort to manipulate countries in the region. This effort 
could well intensify the existing conflicts between neighbors. 
Making such an assessment is not easy. The clashes between 
Vietnam and Kampuchea and Vietnam and China have eroded 
the clearly directed and unified critique of U.S. imperialism 
which once guided our understanding of the politics of the 

The readjustment of relations between the socialist countries 
in the area and between those countries and members of 
ASEAN is still going on. It is hardly surprising that these nations 
are soliciting support from the major powers— the U.S., China 
and the Soviet Union— in their effort to strengthen their 
positions within the region. But there is a real danger that 

Vietnamese to give up the independence they won at such a 
high cost. This endorsement also applies to U.S. relations with 
Kampuchea if the Kampuchean government indicates its 
willingness to enter into formal relations. 

Finally, we believe this position is consistent with a general 
commitment to minimizing outside interference in the 
Southeast Asian region. For at this time, the U.S. refusal to 
normalize relations with Vietnam is not a "hands-off" policy 
but one calculated to heighten tensions between Vietnam and 
China as well as Kampuchea. The countries in the region should 
be allowed to resolve their differences on their own terms rather 
than being forced to pay for major power "assistance" by 
becoming involved in conflicts which are irrelevant to the 
development of their countries or the welfare of their people. □ 


Origins of the Conflict 

Traditional antagonism, colonial manipulation, 

and incompatible ideology have led to open warfare. 

The split between Kampuchea and Vietnam 

is probably as deep as any in the world today. 


Behind the current conflict between Kampuchea and which the two parties carried out their revolutions. Perhaps 
Vietnam and their governing communist parties lie most significant was the nature of the forces against which they 
differences so profound thai each revolution stands as an fought. The Vietnamese revolutionaries faced a foreign enemy, 

eh uid the current eon flic t between Kampuchea and 
, Vietnam and their governing communist parties lie 
(differences so profound thai each revolution stands as an 
implicit critique of the other. That the existence of each 
revolutionary model challenges the basic premises of the other is 
the result of a complex interaction of history, politics and 
geography. For two such different neighbors to avoid conflict 
would require extraordinary good will and a mutual commit- 
ment to cooperation and compromise. Such elements have not 
characterized the relationships between the two parties or the 
states they rule. Furthermore, historically and presently, the 
question of how closely the two parties and states will work 
together has been a key source of tension. This, perhaps more 
than any other, is the irresolvable issue at the core of today's 
fighting. An examination of the contrasting histories of the two 
parties and of the different situations of the two states reveals 
why this is so. 

The radical differences in domestic and international policies 
separating the Kampuchean and Vietnamese governments, 
which deeply color each side's view of the other and make even 
simple coexistence difficult, were shaped by the settings in 

while the Kampuehcans sought to overthrow a neo-colonial but 
indigenous regime. Consequently, for the Vietnamese, the 
primary focus of the revolution during its formative years was 
not an attack on tradition or feudal class relations, but a 
nationalist struggle against foreign domination, which drew in a 
wide spectrum of the population. Class struggle and the 
establishment of a socialist society remained key components of 
the revolutionary program, but they were overshadowed fur 
long periods by the struggle for national independence. For the 
Kampucheans, on the other hand, the enemy was a 
feudal-bureaucratic state clad in nationalist trappings. Its 
overthrow demanded a strategy based on radical class struggle 
coupled with nationalist claims even stronger than those of this 

Stephen R. lleder was in I'hnom Penh from 1973 to 1975 as a 
Stringer for Time and NBC. He is presently a Ph.D. candidate 
in the Southeast Asia program at Cornell University. 

Issue No. 64 

The CPK's Khiau Samphan and Sihanouk in 3 1973 propaganda photo. 
Six years before, Khiau Samphan had fled Phnom Penh to escape 
Sihanouk's stepped -up repression against the communists. (Photo: 

In Vietnam, the communist movement, while retaining its 
commitment to socialist rcvofution, early became the virtually 
unrivaled representative of Vietnamese nationalism. A scries of 
compctitors-the Bao Dai, Diem and Thieu regimes— 
conspicuously relied on foreign support for their survival. In 
addition, the French colonialists had helped prevent the 
emergence of an alternative nationalist leadership by under- 
mining the political importance of the Vietnamese court 
without establishing an indigenous commercial-capitalist polit- 
ical regime in its place. In this setting, the party came to 
emphasize continuity with pre-modcrn traditions of gentry-led 
peasant opposition to foreign rule rather than class conflict and 
class struggle. 

With the liberation of the north and partition of the country 
in 1954, this tendency took on a new dimension, for it was 
essential that socialist construction in the north not disrupt the 
united front for national liberation in the south. Hence, the 
transformation to socialism in the north had to take place 
cautiously and with a minimum of provocative class conflict to 
avoid frightening elements of the southern population who 
wanted to expel the Americans and destroy the regimes 
dependent on them but did not support socialism. Such 
conditions injected into the theory and practice of the 
Vietnamese revolution relatively high degrees of class caution 
and traditionalism. In practice, this is manifested in a preference 
for administrative measures rather than relatively violent mass 
movements in resolving social contradictions. In theory, it is 
manifested in an emphasis on the forces of production (i.e., 
science and technology) rathet than the relations of production 
(i.e., class struggle and conflict) in the post-liberation stage of 
socialist construction. 

The setting in which the Communist Party of Kampuchea 

(CPK) launched its revolutionary movement was quite different 
and pushed it in a much more radical direction. The party was 
founded in 1960, and it launched its armed struggle to take 
power in 1968. Hence, its theory and practice— and much of its 
current leadership— were developed not during the period of 
French colonial rule or of the U.S.-backed Lon No! regime but 
during the Sihanouk era. This meant that the party had to direct 
its tcvolution against a highly nationalistic autocracy which 
enjoyed diplomatic, economic and military support from the 
Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the National Liberation 
Front, the Soviet Union and China. Coopting many nationalist 
and anti-impcrtalist themes, the Sihanouk regime enjoyed a 
progressive image abroad, while its vaguely anti-capitalist 
ideology allowed it to proclaim its commitment to certain types 
of social reform as well. But in reality, Sihanouk's internal 
policies were viciously repressive and failed to resolve any of the 
major socio-economic problems in the countryside. Further- 
more, in contrast to Vietnam, French colonial rule had 
strengthened the Kampuchcan monarchy. After independence, 
the royal house was reinforced and stabilized and a repressive 
colonial bureaucracy modernized by aid first from the United 
States, then from the Soviet Union and China- 

In launching a revolutionary movement against such a state, 
the Communists could not tely on simple nationalist and 
reformist themes to build up a popular base. Rather, they had 
to emphasize class struggle against a deeply rooted indigenous 
enemy with strong nationalist credentials, and the CPK's 
nationalist line had to outdo Sihanouk's. These tendencies 
toward radical class struggle and nationalism became integral 
elements of the Kampuchcan communist movement in the 
period before 1970, particularly as armed struggle against the 
Sihanouk state expanded from a handful of armed guards for 
CPK cadre in 1968 to a peasant guerrilla army of 5,000-10,000 
persons in 1 970. These forces became the nucleus of the party 
and full-sized revolutionaty army after the March 1970 coup 
which deposed Sihanouk. 

The coup unexpectedly catapulted Sihanouk and members of 
his personal political entourage into a united front with the 
CPK. It did not, however, weaken the CPK's class emphasis or 
its extraordinarily strong nationalism. On the contrary, the 
party was forced to develop even more radical class and 
nationalist standpoints to set itself apart from the nationalist 
and reformist monarchism displayed by Sihanouk in his united 
front role. As head of state, Sihanouk had repressed the 
Kampuchcan Communists with ferocious brutality, and the 
party could not allow the united front to become a means of 
protecting Sihanouk's political power, which drew strength 
from his popular image as the embodiment of Kampuchcan 
nationalism. Hence, the very formation of the united front 
would require an eventual intense and violent class struggle 
against those elements within it which represented the social 
bases of the monarchy and bureaucracy. As a result, the theory 
and practice of the Communist Party of Kampuchea have come 
to reflect systematically the class and nationalist radicalism 
forged during this period. In its practice the CPK relies on 
disruptive and even violent mass- based struggles to resolve social 
contradictions, including such fundamental ones as those 
between city and countryside and between mental and manual 
labor. The party's thcoty of socialist construction stresses the 
absolute primacy of mass mobilization, subjective resolution 
and learning through practical work over technology and 
theoretical sophistication. 



Emerging from such contrasting experiences, the 'Vietnamese 
and Kampuchea!! communist parties took power in 1975 in 
equally different post-revolutionary siruations. The nature of 
the post-liberation crisis confronting each party further widened 
the gulf between them. As has been the case in most other 
revolutionary situations, the victorious parties faced an 
immediate need to consolidate their power and protect 
themselves against their enemies. Typically in such a situation, a 
radical and often violent campaign is directed against potential 
enemies of the revolution, who may include former members of 
a united front or even factions within the party. But the threats 
confronting the Vietnamese and Kampuchean communist 
parties in 1975 were not on the same scale. 

The Vietnamese communists came to power in the south in 
far more secure circumstances than those surrounding the CPK 
victory in Kampuchea. Not only had the Thieu regime and its 
forces disintegrated in a complete rout, but the existence of a 
consolidated socialist state in the north provided a major source 
of strength to the new government in the south. The 
Vietnamese party had in fact passed through its initial 
post-liberation crisis in 1956 during the radical land reform 
campaign in the north, an episode generally recognized as the 
most violent in Vietnamese revolutionary history. * This struggle 
against reactionary social groups was marked by serious internal 
party strife. Eventually the struggle was moderated and its 
violence partially repudiated, to be followed by a period of 
relative social calm. In the south, a full-scale post-revolutionary 
crisis has not yet occurred, although the attack on bourgeois 
trade in Ho Chi Minh City may be a harbinger or a first step. 
The delay in attacking potential enemies and the step by step 
pace of social and economic transformation in the south are 
possible because, with socialist rule well established in the 
north, there is no apparent threat of a counterattack which 
might successfully overturn or subvert the revolution. 

In Kampuchea, however, the post-victory crisis was acute. 
The final battle between the forces of Lon Nol and those of the 
revolutionary army had been the biggest and bloodiest of the 
war, and it had left the revolutionary army badly battered. In 
Kampuchea, there was no socialist state in another part of the 
country to guarantee the fruits of victory, and both the 
Communists and their enemies realized that there was a real 
possibility that the victories won in war might be sabotaged in 
post-war strife. Without experience in administering major 
urban areas and faced with a desperate food shortage in the 
newly-captured cities, the Communist Party of Kampuchea 
moved swiftly and drastically to consolidate its position. The 
evacuation of the cities— strictly implemented despite what must 
have been serious opposition from within the united front and 
from many urban residents- dissipated the immediate security 
problem by dispersing the CPK's enemies. It also provided a 
means of dealing with the food emergency. But it was not only 
the pressing needs of the moment which persuaded the party 
leadership to choose this particular form of struggle. The 
evacuation and subsequent integration of war refugees and 
native city dwellers into the rural cooperative system was a 
radical step toward resolving the contradiction between city and 

* For a detailed critique of exaggerated accounts of the level or violence 
employed, ice D. Gareth Porter, The Myth of the Bloodbath: North 
Vietnam's Land Reform Reconsidered. (Cornell, 1972) |Kd.] 

Issue No. 64 

countryside, a resolution which history had made a high priority 
for the CPK. 

Another historical factor has pushed the two revolutionary 
states in contrasting directions. Vietnamese revolutionaries have 
held state power in the north for nearly a quarter of a century. 
Hence in a pattern typical of governing revolutionary parties, 
the rourinizing requirements of running a state have gradually 
transformed their revolutionary exuberance into either admin- 
istrative efficiency or administrative stagnation. This tendency 
toward bureaucratization has strongly influenced even the 
southern cadre who moved directly from guerrilla warfare to 
state administration. In Kampuchea, on the other hand, the 
primary experience of all cadre is with quite recent and intense 

More than 2.5 million Kampucheans poured into Phnom Ponh to escape 
U.S. bombing from 1969 to 1973. More than one-tenth of the 
population (over one million people) were killed or mounded during the 
U.S. war. (source: Congressional Record) 

military and class conflict. Their administrative experience is 
limited, and administration remains ad hoc, with revolutionary 
zeal the overwhelming administrative theme. Experiment and 
chaos rather than efficiency or stagnation appear to be the 
outstanding characteristics of the new Kampuchean state. 


Just as their contrasting political histories shaped the 
Vietnamese and Kampuchean communist parties in sharply 
different ways, so too the economic conditions they inherited 

** 4. .* * ■ f*L % * . - a * 

fv ^R . H 

Post-war economic development in Kampuchea, "an "agricultural cooperative." (Official Kampuchean photo) 

presented them with different opportunities and limitations for 
the post-war reconstruction period. Although both countries' 
economies are relatively backward and characterized by 
scarcity, they are far from identical. In both its rural and urban 
sectors, the south Vietnamese economy in 1975 was Signifi- 
cantly more "modern"— i.e. more' highly industrialized and 
commercialized— than the Kampuchean. Similarly, the^cco'nomy 
of socialist north Vietnam was more advanced than that of the 
Kampuchean liberated zones. Yet at the same time over- 
population and land pressure in Vietnam made the situation of 
scarcity there fundamentally more serious than in under- 
populated and relatively land-rich Kampuchea. This contrast 
was heightened, because both north Vietnam, which is very 
densely populated, and the liberated zones in the south, which 
covered only limited areas, had to import rice, while the 
liberated zones of Kampuchea, which extended over large 
territories, produced a rice surplus. The double contrast 
between Vietnamese economic modernicy coupled with rice 
deficit and Kampuchean economic backwardness coupled with 
rice surplus helps explain the divergent paths taken by each 
government in post-war revolutionary transformation and 

In Vietnam, analysis of the various elements of the existing 
economic system suggested a strategy of transformation in the 
south which would attempt the conversion of modern, 
productive facilities into components of a state socialist system. 
Relatively advanced commercial networks, urban infrastructure 
and industrial or semi-industrial complexes were already 
available in both south and north. Drawing managerial and in 
some cases material resources from the north, it was possible 
simply to take over components of the old southern economy, 
supply them with new socialist management (or socialist 
supervision of the old capitalist management) and integrate 
them into a state socialist planning system. Highlighting the 
value of inherited economic resources was the underlying 
situation of general scarcity, which had probably conditioned 
the Vietnamese Communists to be cautious in considering 
disruptive or radical measures for economic transformation. At 

the same time, there appeared to be relatively little political risk 
in allowing old capitalists to continue to function within the 
limits imposed by a state socialist economy, because their close 
association with foreign economic interests had left them with 
little domestic political base. Thus, in order to break their 
political power it appeared sufficient to nationalize their 
interests and draw their enterprises into the state economy. 

Kampuchea in 1975, however, possessed little that could be 
usefully and productively converted directly and immediately 
into components of a modern socialist economic system. 
Kampuchea had remained an undeveloped colonial backwater 
while French modernization efforts focused on Vietnam. Later, 
the Sihanouk regime had neither attracted foreign investment 
nor successfully mobilized the population for economic 
achievements. Although the country had received some 
industrial plants from the Soviet Union and China and had 
constructed some elements of a modern infrastructure, these 
had been heavily damaged during the war— which was even more 
destructive in Kampuchea than in Vietnam. With such a small 
modern sector, it was possible for the Kampuchean Communists 
to choose a reconstruction strategy which would rapidly 
rehabilitate those facilities considered salvageable and useful 
while ignoring some of the previously advanced sectors, most of 
which were unproductive and damaged. Furthermore, in 
considering the food crisis at the end of war and the highly 
favorable ratio of land to population, the new government was 
encouraged to concentrate its reconstruction efforts on the 
rapid transformation and expansion of agricultural production 
without fear of the temporary losses in production which mighr 
result from a radically disruptive policy. From a political 
perspective, the decision to discard much of the old regime's 
economically advanced sector was made more attractive because 
the facilities and networks in question were part of the old 
political power structure. Many had been part of Sihanouk's 
state capitalist system— and few were tainted by direct 
association with foreign capital. Thus with Sihanouk in the 
united front, there was real fear that the resurrection of these 
sectors as part of a socialist state enterprise system might only 


Post-war economic development in southern Vietnam: a "New Economic Zone." (Vietnam News Agency) 

restore the political influence of Sihanouk's state capitalists. 
This fear was heightened by the fact that the economy of [he 
liberated zones was entirely agricultural, offering no socialist 
industry as a counterweight to the economic power of the old 
industrial sector. Hence, unlike the situation in Vietnam, simple 
nationalization and direct conversion of the existing economic 
structure to a socialist system were not adequate to break the 
power of the revolution's long-standing enemies. 


Taken together, ail these factors acted to push the 
Kampuchean and Vietnamese communist parties in strikingly 
different directions, particularly after they had seized power 
throughout their respective countries. Each revolutionary model 
points out the real or imaginable shortcomings of the other and 
thereby questions its legitimacy. In addition to the implicit 
mutual critique contained in the contrasting practice and theory 
of the two parties, their differing positions on the question of 
revisionism in the communist movement— an issue arising with 

This complacency about internal revisionism dovetailed with the 
Vietnamese party's de-emphasis on class struggle. By con- 
sistently deploring the break between the Soviet Union and 
China, it downplayed the substantive issues that divided the 
communist giants. The Kampuchean Communist Party, on the 
other hand, was born and grew up in the midst of the debate. 
Like most other non-ruling Asian communist parties in the 
1960s, it took the issue of revisionism very seriously, quickly 
taking a staunch and vigilant anti-revisionist position. The CPK's 
struggle against revisionism fit well with its radical classist 

With so many points of difference between them, even mere 
coexistence as neighbors became difficult. Two revolutionary 
leaderships dedicated to bridging the gaps between them might 
have been able to overcome their differences under favorable 
circumstances. Instead, the inherent tension between the 
Vietnamese and Kampuchean Communists were exacerbated by 
serious disagreements over foreign policy, a history of 
antagonistic relations between the two countries, and mutual 
suspicion bred by their experience of forced cooperation during 

"Each revolutionary model points out the real or 
imaginable shortcomings of the other and thereby 
questions its legitimacy." 

powerful insistence out of the Sino- Soviet split— strengthened 
the theoretical basis for their criticism and suspicion of each 

The Vietnamese party was already well established when the 
debate began. While it criticized as "revisionist" Khrushchev's 
refusal to fully support Vietnam against the United States in the 
early 1960s, it did not join the debate over the proper internal 
policies of ruling communist parties or launch an insistent or 
violent campaign against "revisionism" within its own ranks. 

the war against the United States. The irresolvable conflict 
hinged around rhe degree to which the two parties would work 
together after the war, for the interaction of all these factors 
made it impossible that this question could be resolved to the 
full satisfaction of both sides. 


As communists and nationalists, Vietnamese and Kampu- 
chcans approach the outside world very differently. Their 

Issue No. 64 

differences, conditioned by geography, history, and culture, 
have created forms of nationalism which are not only divergent 
but incompatible. As a result, the basic premises and goals of 
Vietnamese and Kampuchcan foreign policy are often in 
conflict, particularly on such issues as international activism 
versus radical self-reliance, and cooperation within the socialist 

A glance at the map reveals a basic reason for opposing 
assumptions about relations with other countries. Vietnam's 
long, essentially indefensible coastline, dotted with major 
towns, faces one of the world's more important maritime 
routes. Despite the traumatic nature of most of Vietnam's 
interactions with foreign powers, such interactions have been 
made unavoidable by the constant commercial and military 
traffic off its coast, traffic which makes Vietnam strategically 
important. Hence, Vietnam has had to learn to turn outside 
interest to its own advantage, dealing with external threats by 
balancing and manipulating foreign groups, even while allowing 
them a fairly substantial presence in Vietnam. Simple exclusion 
and an isolationist stance have never been feasible possibilities, 
Kampuchea, on the other hand, is a primarily inland country 
with a short coastline, conspicuously lacking the overgrown port 
city typical of former colonics. (Saigon provided Kampuchea's 
outlet for colonial exports and Kompong Som, the only port, 
was developed during the Sihanouk era to reduce dependence 
on Vietnam,) Furthermore, only traffic between Vietnam and 
Thailand passes along the Kampuchean coast. Hence, Kam- 
puchea has a potential Vietnam lacks for using isolationism as a 
general means for dealing with foreign threats. Like the current 
regime in Burma, the only other Southeast Asian country to 
possess similar geographical conditions, the government of 
Kampuchea has sharply restricted foreign contacts. 

It is also possible to hypothesize— very tentatively, because 
the evidence is impressionistic— that the distinctive interactions 
between two elements in Kampuchean and Vietnamese cultural 
psychology teinforce the tendencies stemming from geo- 
graphical conditions. While the modern elites in both countries 
have articulated presumably mass- based fears of national 
extinction and pride in their respective histories, the treatment 
of these themes has not been the same. It is quite likely that the 
variations reflect fundamental cultural-psychological config- 
urations which directly influence patterns of foreign policy and 
nationalism. The fear of extinction has been expressed with far 
more intensity in Kampuchea than in Vietnam. This of course 
reflects the historical diminution of Kampuchean territory in 
the face of a series of successful Vietnamese (and Thai) 
annexations and invasions. Practically every analysis of 
Kampuchean history or commentaty on modern Kampuchean 
politics written by a Kampuchean repeatedly and ominously 
taiscs the specter of the disappearance of the Kampuchcan race, 
culture and nation. There is frequent reference to the fate of the 
Kingdom of Champa, which once ruled most of peninsular 
Southeast Asia but ceased to function as a coherent political 
entity in the 15th centuty, leaving its people, the Chams, at the 
mercy of foreign states. 

Similarly, the traditional Kampuchean celebration of the 
national construction aspect of historical Kampuchean glories 
has been more strongly pitched than that of the Vietnamese, 
who have traditionally emphasized their literary and martial 
achievements. The spectacular Kampuchean monuments of 
Angkor Vat provide a kind of concrete and irrefutable proof of 
a magnificent history of indigenous Kampuchean construction 


capabilities. This proof is absent in Vietnam. Extensive 
archeological excavations in Vietnam have produced nothing 
that can be compared to Angkor, despite the richness of other 
aspects of Vietnam's history. Kampuchean writings on 
Kampuchea have been permeated with the idea that Angkor Vat 
bears testimony to the infinite indigenous capabilities of the 
Kampuchean people in the field of national construction, while 
Vietnamese, when taking pride in their history, have tradi- 
tionally emphasized their repeated successes in expelling foreign 
invaders and pride in their intellectual achievements. These 
include their original and creative syntheses of high Chinese 
culture with indigenous Vietnamese traditions. 

Considering these indications of national consciousness, one 
can suggest that the combination of intense fear of racial and 
national extinction with Kampuchea's historically- based myth- 
ology of greatness in national construction is compatible with a 
national policy strongly emphasizing national exclusiveness and 
self-reliance, while Vietnam's cultural tradition, with its 
emphases on success against foreign aggression and on 
synthesizing intellectual achievement, is compatible with a 
national policy characterized by a self-confident attitude 
vis-a-vis foreigners and by interest in adopting— or adapting— 
foreign high technology. 

Another factor affecting the relative level of nationalist 
feeling in the two countries is the difference in degree of 
regional variations within them. Although the populations of 
both Vietnam and Kampuchea are much more homogeneous 
than those of most Third World countries, the people of 
Kampuchea are more so than .those of Vietnam. In both 
countries, about 85 percent of the population is composed of 
the dominant ethnic group, but there are more regional 
linguistic and cultural variations among Vietnamese than among 
Khmers. Both the French, who divided Vietnam into three 
regions, and the Americans, who supported and violently 
prolonged its partition into two zones, encouraged heightened 
consciousness of these differences. By contrast, the French in 
Kampuchea maintained cultural and political unity, even though 
they helped create an estranged Francophile elite. As a result, 
the residual and partially artificial elements of tcgionalism 
which complicate and weaken the potential for Vietnamese 
nationalism are almost totally lacking in Kampuchea. 

Even during the Sihanouk era, when the bulk of the 
Kampuchean population lived in the countryside under 
stultifying quasi-feudal socio-economic conditions and relatively 
untouched by modetn political institutions linking them to state 
politics, nationalism was obviously strong. With the intro- 
duction of communist political organizations to link ordinary 
people with the political leadership, and with a national 
mobilization for social, economic and military purposes, 
Kampuchean nationalism may well be automatically more 
intense and cohesive than Vietnamese nationalism. Further- 
more, because it is only recently that this potential has been 
fully realized through a nation-wide organization of the 
population by a modern political apparatus, namely the CPK, 
the strength of Kampuchean nationalism therefore appears more 
surprising— and so more disruptive-than that of Vietnam, which 
has become predictable and familiar. 


Just as the nature of the governments the two revolutionary 
movements opposed powerfully influenced the ways in which 


The Kampuehean temples at Angkor Vat, (photo: Heinrich Zimmer) 

they approached class struggle, so too those governments 
affected the quality of the nationalism developed by each 
communist party. As wc have already noted, the Vietnamese 
communist movement became the only legitimate vehicle of 
modern Vietnamese nationalism. Rival parties and political 
groups which tried to appear more nationalist than the 
Communists never won any mass following or succeeded in 
seriously challenging the party's nationalist credentials. The 
regimes against which the Communists fought were too clearly 
the creatures of the French or the Americans to win legitimacy. 
Thus for the Vietnamese Communists it was relatively easy to 
maintain their popularity as nationalists and make it seem that 
their enemies could not survive without massive imperialist 

For the Kampuchean Communists, the situation was far 
more complex, because their original and most important 
enemy, the Sihanouk regime, had strong nationalist credentials. 
It emphasized some of the themes which inherently tend to 

emerge in Kampuchean foreign policy, including isolationism. 
national exclusiveness, and self-reliance. In fighting this regime, 
the Communists adopted an extremely strong nationalist line 
emphasizing these themes even more forcefully. Although they 
could not convincingly portray Sihanouk as the puppet of 
foreign masters, they noted that relatively small doses of 
imperialist aid helped significantly to maintain him in power, 
After 1970, they blamed the United States' CIA for instigating 
the right-wing coup which toppled Sihanouk, believing it had 
had the opportunity because of Sihanouk's decision to reopen 
relations with the U.S. in the last years of his rule. 
Consequently, the Kampuchean Communists developed a strong 
sense of threat from even a very limited imperialist presence in 
their country. The 1970 change of government in Phnom Penh 
dul not free the Kampuchean Communists from the need to 
compete with the government for nationalist legitimacy, for 
even the Lon No! regime had better nationalist credentials than 
the successive Saigon governments. Not only was the United 

Issue No. 64 

States presence in Kampuchea less spectacular than in 
Vietnam— although the casualties caused by U.S. bombing were 
proportionately greater— but Lon Nol was able to use 
Vietnamese support of the Communists against them. Portrayed 
as the tools of Hanoi, the Kampuchean Communists had to 
prove their nationalism and independence, a challenge never 
faced by the Vietnamese party. 

The general international outlooks of the Vietnamese and 
Kampuchean governments are also differently influenced by 

foreign policy mythology of international communism have 
been and arc distinct. 

The Vietnamese Communists have been part of the 
traditional international communist movement since they 
formed their party in 1930. Although the movement was never 
a monolith, it was an ideal, articulated by the originators of 
Marxism and realized, however imperfectly, by Lenin and Stalin 
in the form of the Comintern. Ho Chi Minh, who worked for 
the Comintern as well as for his own country, and other leaders 

"Even in the face of their split with China, the Vietnamese do not 
appear to have abandoned the ideal of communist unity. . . But for the 
Kampuchean Communist Party, born in 1960, the Comintern was 
nothing more than an historical curiosity." 

two factors derived from their positions in world politics. First, 
in any system or subsystem of states, ideologies of inter- 
nationalism and interdependence tend to serve the interests of 
the larger and more powerful states within that system or 
subsystem. The smaller and weaker states find their interests 
better served by ideologies of nationalism and independence. 
The implications of this tendency are obvious for Vietnam and 
Kampuchea, with populations of 50 million and 8 million 
respectively, in their roles in peninsular Southeast Asia and 
within the socialist bloc. Second, their relationships to the 

of Vietnamese communism have always shared the ideal with its 
implications of the need for proletarian internationalist 
cooperation and coordination among the parties in the socialist 
camp. When the Sino-Soviet split emerged, they refused to 
accept it as proof of the demise of this ideal, viewing it as a 
temporary disagreement within the movement rather than the 
irreversible splitting up o/the movement. Throughout the 1960s 
and into the early 1970s, the Vietnamese saw themselves as 
senior members of the movement who could use their influence 
to mediate the dispute. Significant propaganda and material 



Kampuchea's Prince Sihanouk, P.R.G. President Nguyen Huu Tho, D.R.V. Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, and Prince 
Souphanouvong of Laos link arms in a show of unity at the 1970 Summit Conference of Indochincsc Peoples, (photo: VNA) 

support from both the Soviet Union and China for their 
struggles to liberate the south encouraged the Vietnamese in this 
attitude, and no member of the socialist bloc ever seemed to be 
aiding an armed enemy of the Vietnamese revolution. Even now 
in the face of the split with China, the Vietnamese do not 
appear to have abandoned the ideal of communist unity. China 
has simply been excluded from the bloc, while Vietnam has 
linked itself more closely to it by joining COMECON. 

For the Karnpuehean Communist Party, born in 1960 when 
the Sino- Soviet split was already serious, the Comintern was 
nothing more than a historical curiosity. It evidently did not 
attend the last world congress of Communist Parties, held amid 
acrimonious Sino-Soviei rem; ions .11 the end <>! 19rH) 
Throughout the 1960s it was publicly shunned by all other 
communist parties. Rather than providing it with propaganda or 
material aid, the Soviet Union and China both supported the 
Sihanouk regime. In fact, Soviet diplomats in Phnom Penh 
denounced the CPK in 1967, and China shipped a large amount 
of military aid to Sihanouk in 1968, just as the Communists 
were about to launch an armed struggle against his government. 
After 1970. the Soviet Union openly and materially supported 
Lon Nol, maintaining a diplomatic presence in Phnom Penh 
until its liberation in 1975. While China supported the CPK with 
both military aid and propaganda against Lon Nol, it was 
already embarking upon rapprochement with the United States, 
which was engaged in the destruction of Kampuchea. With such 
experiences, it is hardly surprising that the Karnpuehean 
Communists have little faith in the reliability of aid from or 
alliances with fellow communist parties. Hence they reject the 
concept of a socialist bloc and eschew membership in it, while 

often seeming to pay little more than lip service to the duties of 
proletarian internationalism, which have never had much 
practical import for the CPK. 

Thus a reinforcing constellation of factors ranging from 
geography to experience with the mythology of communist 
internationalism operate to shape the foreign policy outlooks of 
the Vietnamese and Karnpuehean revolutions differently. For 
the Vietnamese, the logical path suggested by all these factors is 
one of relatively mild nationalism and moderate self-reliance. 
Their foreign policy is characterized by international activism 
and emphasis upon the concepts of proletarian internationalism 
and the socialist bloc, with close cooperation between 
communist parties. The Karnpuehean Communists, on the other 
hand, arc pushed toward more intense nationalism and radical 
self-reliance. Their foreign policy is marked by isolationism, 
rejection of the concept of the socialist bloc and little 
attachment to the ideal of proletarian internationalism. They 
place strong limits on cooperation with other communist 
parties. Such significant disjuncturcs between the foreign policy 
outlooks of the two revolutions make the adoption of joint 
policies difficult. Added to the contrasting domestic tendencies 
of the two revolutionary movements, they become mutually 
negative judgments of the other's line and practice. 


Not only are the Vietnamese and Karnpuehean revolutions 
fundamentally diffcrent-and in many ways incompatible— for 
the complex reasons already described. Because the two 
countries are neighbors, a number of factors push them 

Issue No. 64 


For a Kampuchean regime, 
relations with Vietnam 
strongly affect the regime's 
domestic legitimacy. 

specifically to clash directly with each other. These stem from 
the nature of relationships between the two nations, regardless 
of what kind of government is in power, and from the concrete 
experiences of the two communist parties in interactions often 
marked by severe conflicts of interest. 

The sheer imbalance of power between the two countries 
creates serious tension. which could probabiy only be resolved 
by the effective abrogation of Kampuchean national sovereignty 
and Kampuchean inclusion in a Vietnamese or Thai sphere of 
influence. The refusal of the Kampucheans to play such a 
subordinate role keeps the tension alive, while the disparity of 
the threat the two countries pose to each other profoundly 
influences the way each views the other. For a Vietnamese 
regime, relations with Kampuchea are crucial to national 
defense but have little effect on its internal stability and 
political popularity. By itself, Kampuchea can never be a major 
threat to Vietnam, but a hostile Kampuchean regime can 
seriously undermine Vietnam's ability to defend itself from 
attacks along its long and vulnerable coast or from China. 
Beyond such defense-related concerns, relations with Kam- 
puchea per se have never been an overriding domestic issue in 
Vietnam, nor has there ever been acute popular concern with 
the precise location or the possibility of readjustment of the 
frontier with Kampuchea. Thus, a Vietnamese regime can 
conduct its policies toward Kampuchea relatively free of 
domestic political constraints. 

For a Kampuchean regime, however, relations with Vietnam 
strongly affect its domestic legitimacy. Even in isolation, 
Vietnam always poses a potentially serious military threat to 
Kampuchea, while Kampucheans alone see themselves as no real 
danger to Vietnam. Moreover, the events of the 1830s and 
1840s {see box) as well as the subsequent propaganda of the 
French and the Sihanouk regime have made relations with 
Vietnam an extremely delicate and important domestic political 
issue with inevitable repercussions on the popular legitimacy 
and the cohesion and stability of any Kampuchean regime. 
Friendship with Vietnam appears to entail certain dangers for 
any Kampuchean government, since such friendship exposes it 
to possible charges of selling out Kampuchean interests to 
Vietnam. Such charges can appear more or less spontaneously at 
the mass level and undermine the regime's nationalist credentials 
among the population. At the top, a government's friendship 
with Vietnam can provide an issue for subordinate or rival 
factions which want to challenge the ruling group. A 
Vietnamese regime does not face this problem. For Vietnamese 
leaders, friendship with Kampuchea is domestically costless. 

Thus Kampuchean political leaders have much less domestic 

AFFAIRS, (photo: The Call) 

political maneuvering room available in their relations with 
Vietnam than do their Vietnamese counterparts, who face no 
such political risks or sacrifices in entering close bilateral 
relations. If the risks and sacrifices appear worthwhile for other 
reasons, it may be possible for all concerned to gloss over the 
importance of domestic Kampuchean political constraints. Such 
an effort might be justified by the prospect of still greater risks 
and sacrifices in other quarters or of great benefits and security 
as compensation. Without such compelling considerations, the 
domestic implications of Kampuchean friendship with Vietnam 
are more prominent and obvious. Under such circumstances, 
what arc known in diplomatic parlance as "correct" relations 
may be the maximum that are in the domestic political interests 
of a Kampuchean leadership. 

The issue of Kampuchea's border with Vietnam concentrates 
and focuses the constraints on relations between the two 
countries. Indeed, since the Sihanouk era, when an intense 
public education effort focused on the history and problems of 
Kampuchea's frontiers, the border issue has consistently been 
for Kampucheans the key barometer of the state of 
Vietnamese-Kampuchean relations. Even more important than 
assessing Vietnam's true attitude toward Kampuchea, this 
standard has been used as a popular measure of a Kampuchean 
ruling group's fidelity to Kampuchean national interests. 
Concessions on the border issue entail even greater and more- 
certain risks and sacrifices than friendship with Vietnam, since 
even the appearance of concession can be destabilizing, perhaps 
inviting a coup by those who would renounce or reverse the 
apparent concession. These implications of the border issue 
reduce the potential for flexibility of any Kampuchean regime 
almost to the vanishing point. The Vietnamese, however, may 
be insensitive to the difficulties experienced by the Kam- 
pucheans on this score, failing to realize that what would be 
reasonable in terms of Vietnamese domestic politics is 
provocative and even treasonable in Kampuchea. 


Much more than these lasting national tensions bedevil the 
bilateral relations between the Vietnamese and Kampuchean 
communist parties, however. Their histories, both before and 
after the constitution of an independent Communist Party of 



Pi^miO BLAME? 

Western repotting on the current war between Vic mam 
and Kampuchea frequently suggests that it arises 
from age-old hatred between Khmers and Vietna- 
mese. Although traditional ethnic animosity and stereotypes 
do play a role in the conflict, their appearance in the propa- 
ganda of both sides is a result of the current fighting rather 
than a sign that they arc its cause. Indeed, until recently the 
Kampuchean and Vietnamese communist parties both appar- 
ently tried to avoid and even extinguish such attitudes. 

It is now common for Kampucheans to depict Vietnamese 
as aggressive, devious, arrogant, egoistic, politically domineer- 
ing and brutal. Vietnamese in turn describe Kampucheans as 
ignorant, parochial, peasant-minded, ungrateful, politically in- 
capable and brutal. These specific stereotypes are derived from 
events in the 19th century rather than from millennia of mu- 
tual hatred. In the 1830s and 1840s, delegates from the Viet- 
namese feudal court partially co-opted and partially displaced 

the Kampuchean royal center in i'hnom Penh and attempted 
to impose Vietnamese administrative, religious and cultural 
forms on the Kampuchean countryside. The Kampucheans re- 
sponded with large-scale popular revolts. For the rebels, t :a 
rural Kampuchean cultural stereotypes of Vietnamese merged 
with negative class images of ruling courts in genera!. Similarly, 
for the Vietnamese, earlier elite cultural stereotypes of Kam- 
pucheans merged with negative class images of peasants in 

As part of its divide and rule policy toward the peoples of 
Indochina, the French colonial administration helped refine, 
cultivate and disseminate the resulting images. Their continued 
survival was encouraged by Sihanouk, Lon Nol, Diem and 
Thicu, as well as the Americans, and the images are widespread 
at elite and popular levels in both countries, Hence ihe\ ire 
easily invoked in a confrontation, but they are hardly the 
cause of the conflict itself. S.K.II, 

Issue No. 64 


Before the break the Vietnamese showed Kampuchean troops 
in a favorable light. (1975 VNA photo) 

Kampuchea in 1960, have been marked by frequent and often handicap arose because the Vietnamese, by their very presence 
deep conflicts of interest revolving around the separate needs of as advisors and instructors, often provoked Kampuchean 
the revolutionary movement in each country. Inevitably, these anti- Vietnamese nationalism. King Sihanouk, an increasingly 

conflicts reflected the relative strength of the two nations, as 
well as the differing views of the two parties on what was 
required to drive first the French and then the Americans out of 
Indochina as a whole. This history does much to explain the 
CPK's hostility toward Vietnam. 

In 1930, the newly founded Indochincse Communist Party 

dynamic figure, exploited the divisions among the communists 
to win support for his rival strategy for achieving Kampuchean 
independence without armed struggle or significant social 
reform. As a result of such problems, the communist movement 
which emerged in Kampuchea was characterized by internal 
conflict and high-level defections, and it was never formally 

(ICP), led by Ho Chi Minh, took on the task of establishing constituted as a communist parry. The Vietnamese supervised 

itself as the communist movement in both Laos and 
Kampuchea. Until 1945, however, little was accomplished in 
Kampuchea other than the recruitment of Vietnamese residents 
there. After World War II, the ICP helped encourage and provide 
with cadres a Kampuchean independence movement which was 
communist and integrated into the ICP. However, since so little 
had been achieved during the 1930s, the organizational work 

the foundation of an entity known as the Khmer People's Party 
in 1951, when the ICP became the Vietnam Worker's Party 
(VWP), but this organization was a united front apparatus 
apparently designed as a preliminary to a communist party. 

Between 1954 and 1960 — from the Geneva Conference to 
the founding of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) — 
the Kampuchean communists suffered a series of disasters, 

had to begin virtually from scratch, and non-communist groups many of which they blamed on their Vietnamese mentors. 

succeeded in declaring Kampuchean independence first in 1945. 
Returning to Kampuchea, the French dissolved the inde- 
pendence government, and its supporters fled to Vietnamese 
and Thai frontier areas, where ICP cadres tried to recruit them. 
In Vietnam, recruiting efforts were hampered by conflicts 
between Vietnamese and Kampucheans in 1946 over the degree 
of autonomy to be granted to the larger ethnic Khmer 
community in south Vietnam and by successful French military 
operations against Viet Minh bases. In Thailand, where a 
left-wing government had provided a haven for the communists, 
a right-wing military coup disrupted ICP recruitment in 1947 

Under pressure from the Soviets and Chinese, the Vietnamese 
had acquiesced in the seating of Sihanouk at Geneva as the 
representative of Kampuchea. In the final Geneva agreement, 
Vietnamese communists were allowed to consolidate their 
power in the north, while Kampuchea was granted inde- 
pendence under Sihanouk's rule with no recognition of the 

After Geneva, it appears that the Vietnam Workers Party, 
now holding state power in north Vietnam, advised the 
Kampucheans to dissolve their resistance organizations and fall 

back on parliamentary and journalistic struggles. Facing a 
Deprived of their frontier bases, the Vietnamese supported a situation similar to that of VWP cadres in south Vietnam, the 
communist-led resistance movement in three relatively autono- Kampuchean communists were confronted with a choice 
mous zones within Kampuchea. Rivalry and discord between between exile in north Vietnam, where they would be cut off 
these zones apparently weakened the movement and prevented from their society and its politics, or repression at home, where 
the consolidation of its communist leadership. A further they had few or no means to defend themselves effectively. 



Much of the leadership of the Kampuchean communist 
movement chose the relative safety of exile. As the exile 
dragged into years, showing increasing signs of becoming 
permanent, they suffered severe demoralization and lost touch 
with the realities at home. Many of those at home, on the other 
hand, were little more than the victims of those realities. 

As was the case in southern Vietnam, the sacrifices made at 
Geneva to win peace and ensure the establishment of a socialist 
state in north Vietnam had been followed by much worse: after 
partial withdrawal into exile and almost total disarmament came 
repression and decimation. Parliaments, newspapers and jour- 
nals, legal activities, international opinion and organizations, 
and the strong rear base in north Vietnam all proved to have 
little protective value. After a few years of repression, all that 
was left of the prc-Gencva communist movement in many parts 
of Kampuchea was a handful of embittered cadres. What had 
been achieved with Vietnamese aid and advice up to 1954 had 
been lost. The losses could credibly be blamed upon what the 
Vietnamese had done at and since Geneva. 

During this period, the developing vacuum in the Kam- 
puchean communist movement was filled in part from new 
sources, the most important of which were French universities. 
Beginning in 1953, when a young Kampuchean who would later 

Worker's Party found itself unable or unwilling to provide 
material or even propaganda support to the Kampuchean 
Communists. Worse, the Vietnamese Communists were becom- 
ing friendly with the Sihanouk regime. Indeed, precisely as 
Sihanouk's intensifying repression made it harder and harder to 
carry out united front activities, organize legal opposition and 
do underground work in the cities and towns, relations between 
the VWP and Sihanouk became warmer and warmer. For the 
Vietnamese, the need to protect the flank of their struggle to 
liberate the south — launched in I960 - had become the 
compelling priority, making correct and even intimate relations 
with Sihanouk vitally important. Accordingly, they felt that the 
Kampuchean Communists should find some expedient way to 
build up their own strength while simultaneously cooperating 
with and supporting Sihanouk's anti-imperialist foreign policy. 
This the CPK was unable or unwilling to do, and relations 
between the two communist parties were increasingly marked 
by conflict of interest and suspicion rather than warmth and 

A political crisis in Phnom Penh early in 1963 resulted in the 
CPK transferring the bulk of its efforts to the countryside, 
where it engaged in organizing peasants against Sihanouk and 
abandoned all pretense of a united front strategy in support of 

"Between 1954 and I960, the Kampuchean communists 
suffered a series of disasters, many of which they blamed 
on their Vietnamese mentors/ 5 

adopt the name Pol Pot returned from France to join the 
maquis, and continuing until 1959, when Khieu Samphan came 
home, the communist movement was invigorated with Kam- 
pucheans who did not come out of the ICP tradition. In this 
period after the division of the ICP into three national 
movements and after the Geneva settlement, these cadres could 
not be formally associated with the Vietnam Worker's Party, 

As a result, when the Kampuchean communists held their 
first national congress in September 1960 to found the 
Communist Party of Kampuchea, there were many among them 
whose feelings toward the VWP were cither bitter or indifferent. 
Although there were undoubtedly some ex- ICP cadres who 
remained loyal to the "ICP tradition" despite what had 
happened, others preferred to forget it. For many of the 
Kampuchean communists who had been students in France, the 
tradition was simply irrelevant or the object of scorn. 


The foundation of the Communist Party of Kampuchea 
might nevertheless have opened a new era of relative warmth 
and friendship between Kampuchean and Vietnamese com- 
munists. By adopting a line of combined political struggle and 
armed self-defense, the new communist party eliminated one of 
the major causes of bitterness in the post-Geneva period: 
exclusive reliance on peaceful political struggle in a context of 
repression. But a process of healing past wounds and erasing 
past wrongs soon became impossible. 

Sihanouk responded to the formation of the CPK by 
escalating his anti-communist campaign, while the Vietnamese 

his anti-imperialism. Sihanouk meanwhile, looking for support 
against the U.S.-supportcd south Vietnamese and Thai regimes, 
took a harder line against the United States, renouncing all U.S. 
economic and military aid late in the year. As the U.S. stepped 
up its intervention against the Vietnamese revolution in the 
south, the need to support and encourage Sihanouk's 
anti-imperialism and prevent the establishment of U.S. bases in 
Kampuchea became more urgent for the Vietnamese Com- 
munists—just as the CPK felt itself forced to resort to complete 
opposition to Sihanouk if it was to survive. To the CPK it 
appeared that Sihanouk's anti-communism would ultimately not 
only outweigh his anti-imperialism but actually destroy the 
strongest anti-imperialist forces in Kampuchea. 

The last strong link between the old (CP and the new CPK 
had been broken in 1962, when Sihanouk's agents killed Touch 
Samouth, an ex-ICP cadre who had been elected CPK party 
secretary in 1960. The CPK was now almost fully in the hands 
of former students in France, who formed a nucleus around 
which probably crystallized a good number of cx-ICP cadres 
who agreed with their ideas about the situation in Kampuchea, 
including the near impossibility of working with Sihanouk and 
the unreliability of the Vietnamese. The CPK plotted an 
independent course which its leadership considered appropriate 
to the realities of the Sihanouk regime and the socio-economic 
situanon in Kampuchea. But this course was at best oblivious 
and at worst damaging to what the Vietnamese believed were 
the essential and immediate requirements of the liberation and 
reunification of Vietnam. With most of its work now done in 
the countryside, the CPK had become a threat to the stability of 
the Sihanouk regime, which the Vietnamese were cultivating as 

Issue No, 64 


3 bulwark of progressive bourgeois an ri- imperial ism. In theory, 
the contradiction should have been resolvable by proper 
implementation of united front tactics within Kampuchea by 
the CPK. In practice, these were not forthcoming to the 
satisfaction of the VWP, and they probably were not available, 
given the intensity of Sihanouk's anti-communist repression, to 
which the Vietnamese appeared indifferent. 

Each year the contradiction— and with it the conflicts and 
suspicions— grew deeper. In 1965, Sihanouk severed diplomatic 
relations with the U.S., and the full-scale U.S. military attack on 
Vietnam forced Vietnamese military personnel to seek refuge in 
Kampuchean territory, first with the CPK's permission and then 
with Sihanouk's acquiescence. At this point, cx-lCP cadres from 
Kampuchea began to return home from their Vietnamese exile. 
However, rather than leading to rapprochement between the 
two parties, these returnees only generated more problems. At 
an earlier point they might have been warmly welcomed. Now 
they were suspected as infiltrators sent to turn the CPK toward 
greater cooperation with Sihanouk. 

After 1967, the basis for CPK- VWP solidarity diminished 
even further. In that year the CPK declared total war on the 
Sihanouk regime, and the war situation in Vietnam made 
Kampuchean territory an irreplaceable sanctuary rather than 
merely a convenient refuge for Vietnamese troops. In 

leadership that it was necessary to begin final preparations for 
full-scale armed struggle against Sihanouk. Meanwhile, the 
Vietnamese were preparing for the 1968 Tet offensive, in which 
the use of Kampuchean territory as a sanctuary and supply 

Kampuchea charges that Vietnam wants to impose an 
"Indochina Federation/' while Vietnam protests that 
all it desires is a "special friendship/' 

northwestern Kampuchea, peasants reacted to forced rice 
collection by Sihanouk's armed forces by launching a 
spontaneous revolt. Blaming the uprising on the Communists, 
Sihanouk moved to eliminate the left entirety from legitimate 
Kampuchean political life and drove the CPK's remaining legal 
cadres into the countryside. These events convinced the CPK's 

Vietnam's Prime Minister Phan Van Dong {above left) ; 
Kampuchean Prime Minister Pol Pot (above right) 

route was critical. Hence, they moved even closer to the 
Sihanouk regime. 

Thus, when the CPK founded a revolutionary army and 
began all-out warfare against Sihanouk in January 1968, it 
found its decision opposed by the Vietnamese, who did not 
change their position until the March 1970 coup which 
overthrew Sihanouk. During this period, the CPK learned to 
work completely independently of the Vietnamese and 
discovered that such an independent stance was viable. In 
contrast to the disaster, bitterness and decimation of the late 
1960s, 1968-70 was for the CPK a period of isolated defiance, 
self-confidence and success. 


When the March 1970 coup forced them to work closely 
together, relations between the Kampuchean and Vietnamese 
parties were probably worse than they had ever been. Each 
party was most likely deeply convinced that the other had 
consistently proved itself incapable of thinking of anyone's 
interests but its own. More specifically, the CPK probably 
believed that the VWP had showed itself unable to understand 
the revolutionary situation in Kampuchea, and that its foreign 
policy, in particular its policy toward the CPK, was governed 
more by Vietnamese national interests than by consideration for 
the needs of the Kampuchean revolution. To the VWP, the 
CPK's program for revolution in Kampuchea must have 
appeared to be little more than a blind and hopeless offensive 
against the Sihanouk regime, while the CPK seemed willfully 



oblivious to the disasters its struggle might bring upon the 
struggle to liberate south Vietnam and aJl of Indochina, 

The alliance forged in April 1970 did not erase these 
conceptions. Although cooperation again became possible and 
even necessary, they did not transform suspicion into trust or 
fundamental conflict of interest into harmony. Disagreements 
between the two parties again came to the fore in 1972-73, as 
the Vietnamese negotiated the peace agreements with the U.S. 
When, after the terror bombings of Hanoi, the Vietnamese 
agreed to a cease-fire removing American forces from south 
Vietnam, the Kampucheans found the full strength of the U.S. 
Air Force turned against them. At the same time, they believed 
the Vietnamese were trying to pressure them into negotiations 
with the U.S. by reducing their provision of military supplies. 
Kampuchean uneasiness was intensified because the Vietnamese 
continued to negotiate with the U.S. for six months on the issue 
of reconstruction aid, which Kissinger insisted would be 
conditional on a cease-fire agreement in Kampuchea.* The 
Kampuchean Communists probably felt that if the Vietnamese 
had continued to tie down the Americans in direct combat 
while offering full logistical and material support to the CPK, 
their armed forces could soon have taken Phnom Penh and 
ended the war in Kampuchea. Instead, the nation was subjected 
to two more years of war, including the most concentrated 
bombing in history. Memories of Geneva, when Kampuchean 
interests were sacrificed, and of the late 1960s, when the 
Vietnamese refused to support their fight against the Sihanouk 
regime, were revived. Past suspicions were reconfirmed. Coop- 
eration with Vietnam appeared to be a path full of pitfalls, and 
the reliability of the Vietnamese as allies appeared to be low. 
The Vietnamese perception of this period must have been radi- 
cally different 

These experiences are exacerbated by the general tendencies 
in domestic and international policies which drive the two 
revolutions apart as well as the great disparity in the threats the 
two countries pose to each other, which so strongly color their 
attitudes toward mutual relations. Overall, the Kampucheans 
view the Vietnamese as prone to make decisions in their own 

* For an alternative analysis, asserting the Vietnamese did not pressure 
the Kampucheans, see D. Garcth Porter, A Peace Denied. The U.S., 
Vietnam, and the Paris Agreement (Indiana, 1975) [Ed.] . 

national interest without regard to the losses such decisions 
inflict on Kampuchea. From the Vietnamese perspective, 
however, the Kampucheans seem unable to recognize the 
requirements of the collective good. 


The differences in the two revolutions and the history of 
mistrust between the two parries set the parameters and tone of 
the present conflict. Within this context, the fundamental issue 
of conflict seems to be an irreconcilable difference over the 
extent to which the two revolutions are to cooperate with each 
other. This is reflected in contrasting propaganda themes. 
Kampuchea charges that Vietnam wants to impose an 
"Indochina Federation," while Vietnam protests that all it 
desires is a "special friendship." The first is probably an 
exaggeration; the second is probably a euphemism. Between the 
exaggeration and the euphemism lies a very concrete reality: the 
Vietnamese side wants more cooperation in more fields, both 
domestic and international, than the Kampuchean side is willing 
to accept. If the arguments presented here are correct, the 
Kampuchean side is in fact unable to accept more cooperation. 
Exactly how much the Vietnamese want is not clear, although 
some indications can be seen in the close relationship between 
Vietnam and Laos, For the present Kampuchean leadership, 
which has set itself on a course of total independence and 
radical self-reliance, the Vietnamese desire for closer relations is 
a threat, for history has made it unlikely that closer cooperation 
can be achieved unless that leadership is replaced. 

The border issue is at once secondary and crucial to the 
conflict. It is secondary, because it is only a symptom of wider 
disagreements and because only a relatively small area is in 
dispute, despite the propaganda charges made at times by both 
sides. It is crucial, however, because of its role as a barometer 
for the Kampucheans. The government uses it to gauge 
Vietnamese attitudes, and the population employs it to measure 
the regime's nationalist credentials. In addition, the presence of 
troops along the frontier transforms it into a military flashpoint. 
The Vietnamese refusal to withdraw from zones in dispute as a 
prelude to rather than as a result of negotiations in 1975-76' 
and their request for a readjustment of a maritime frontier the 
Kampucheans felt had been recognized by the National 

Vietnamese and American delegations at the 1973 Paris Peace Talks. 
The Kampucheans flatly refused to negotiate with the U.S. (photo: VNA) 

Issue No. 64 



Liberation Front and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 
1967 1 resulted in a cut-off of negotiations by the Kampucheans. 
The escalacory rounds of armed clashes which eventually 
followed probably began when the Kampucheans attempted to 
drive Vietnam esc forces out of disputes zones they felt had been 
illegally occupied by the Vietnamese between 1965 and 1975. 
Although the Kampucheans may have fired the first shots, 
they considered their action a response to de facto Vietnamese 
aggression by long-term occupation of Kampuchean land. They 
wanted to demonstrate that Vietnamese military superiority 
would not protect them from attack if they refused to withdraw 
from the disputed territory before negotiations began. By so 
doing, the Kampucheans hoped to convince the Vietnamese that 
it would be less costly to withdraw than to insist on negotiating 
from a position of strength. 3 The Vietnamese, however, did not 
withdraw. In some instances, they may have counterattacked. 
By early 1977, some local Kampuchean commanders apparently 

resorted to artillery barrages and small-scale raids into what they 
recognized as Vietnamese territory. From their perspective, such 
raids were merely a response in kind to Vietnam's prolonged de 
facto aggression against Kampuchean territory. To the Viet- 
namese, however, the raids were a new escalation of 
Kampuchean aggression, and in April they sent several thousand 
troops into Kampuchean border /.ones in response, 4 

In June, the two sides exchanged notes. The Vietnamese 
proposed a high-level meeting, and the Kampucheans replied by 
proposing that both sides pull their troops back 0.5 to one 
kilometer from the frontier. 5 Since the Vietnamese ignored the 
proposal to disengage forces, the Kampucheans ignored the 
proposal to meet. Then, in mid-July 1977, the Eastern Region 
Committee of the Kampuchean administration decided to 
respond to any new Vietnamese attack with coordinated quick 
assaults across the frontier into Vietnamese territory. 6 Follow- 
ing incidents in late July and throughout August in which the 
Vietnamese apparently took the battlefield initiative, and which 
the Kampucheans saw as provocative, 7 such assaults were 
launched in late September. The intensity and scale of 
Vietnam's December retaliation finally led to an episode of 
full-scale war and the Kampuchean decision to break openly 
with Vietnam. Since then, large-scale fighting has flared 
occasionally, and the diplomatic situation has remained 
deadlocked. Each side has rejected the other's negotiating 

Meanwhile, the Vietnamese have begun to call openly for the 
overthrow of the Kampuchean regime. They appear to be 
gathering forces, including many Kampucheans, which could be 
used in such an attempt. This has probably ended any chance 
that remained of a limited rapprochement that would have 
settled some differences and overlooked the rest. The conflict is 
probably as permanent and deep as any in the world today. D 


References trc provided only for the last section of this article. For 
documentation of the historical analysis, sec Stephen Hedcr, "The His- 
torical Bases of the Kampuchean- Viet nam Conflict; Development of the 
Kampuchean Communist Movement and Its Relations with Vietnamese 
Communism, 1930-1970," Bull? tin of Concerned Asian Scholars, forth- 

1. See Anonymous, "Intelligence." in Far Eastern Economic Review, 
Feb. 27, 1976, p. 5: Ellen J. Hammer, "Indochina: Communist but 
Non-Aligncd," in Problems of Communism. May-June 1976 (Vol. XXV), 
pp. 3-4; Milton Osborne, "Kampuchea and Vietnam," in Pacific 
Community, April 1978, (Vol. IX. No. 9), pp. 260-61 ; and Russell Spun-, 
"Comment," Flil-R, January 20, 1976, p. 13. 

2. For the Kampuchean version of this problem, see its December 31, 
1977 statement and Pol Pot's March 1978 interview with the Yugoslav 
journalists. For the Vietnamese version, see their white book Dossier 
Kampuchea. The Vietnamese position since January 1978 has been that 
they never recognized the so-called Brevie line, which the Kampucheans 
claim as the maritime frontier, as one dividing up territorial waters, even 
if it establishes sovereignty over ocean islands. However, in August 1977. 
a senior Vietnamese official, evidently referring to the 1967 statements 
by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the National Liberation 
Front, explained the matter rather differently. He stated that, "At the 
time wc agreed to the Brevie line, we were not aware of the problems of 
territorial water, continental shelf, etc.- these new phenomena." 
Apparently on this basis, the Vietnamese have been asking to reopen 

negotiations on the maritime frontier question. Nayan Chanda, "That's 
Far Enough, Says Hanoi," in FEES, August 19, 1977, p. 12. 

3. This line of action apparently combines elements of Sihanouk era 
diplomacy with an adaptation of the Chinese belligerence strategy for 
deterring stronger adversaries. See the explanation by Chea San of the 
Kampuchean adoption in late 1965 of a blow-for-blow policy of 
counter-attacks against Thai and Vietnamese territory, as presented in the 
journal Kambuja (Phnom Penh), January 15, 1966, pp. 13, 100; 
February 15, 1966, p. 9, and Allen S. Whiting, The Chinese Calculus of 
Deterrence (Ann Arbor: U, of Michigan Press, 1975), p. 202. 

4. Don Obcrdorfer, "Hanoi is Massing Troops at Border with 
Cambodia." Washington Post, April 8, 1978, p. 14. 

J. For information on the Vietnamese note, sec Dossier Kampuchea. 
For information on the Kampuchean note, see the March 17, 1978, letter 
from leng Sary to the governments of the members of the non-aligned 

6. Sec "Decisions Concerning the Report of the Eastern Region 
Conference Mid- Year 1977," p. 84. This document was captured by (he 
Vietnamese during military operations in Kampuchea and copies have 
circulated among the foreign press. 

7. Intelligence sources in Thailand began reporting Vietnamese 
attacks on Kampuchean forces, including forces on Kampuchean 
territory in laic July 1977. For example, sec Hau /Huang (Bangkok), July 
28, 1977, pp. 1-2. The Thai delegation publicized these and early August 
clashes at the ASEAN meeting. Sec, for example, the Reuters dispatch 
from Kuala Lumpur, dated August 6, 1977; and Rodney Tasker, "Enter 
the Japanese," FF.HR, August 19, 1977, p. 22. Thai sources also reported 
Vietnamese raids into Kampuchean territory that occurred in late 
August. See Anonymous. "This Week," FEF.R, September 16, 1977, p. 7, 
The Kampucheans obliquely referred to the fighting in an early August 
radio broadcast. See Phnom Penh radio, August 8, 1977, in Foreign 
Broadcast Information Service Daily Report. Asia and Pacific, August 9, 
1977, pp. H 1-2. 



The Major Powers Still Play 
for Keeps in Indochina 


The current war between Vietnam and Kampuchea has 
deep roots in local problems between the two nations. 
Yet the scale and intensity of the fighting can only be 
understood if the interests and involvement of the major powers 
are recognized. When Zbigniew Brzezinski described the conflict 
as a "proxy war" between the Soviet Union and China, his 
remark was correctly criticized by a number of experts for 
ignoring the local issues fueling the dispute and oversimplifying 
the roles played by the Soviet Union and China. However, it is 
increasingly clear that Sino-Soviet rivalry for influence in 
Southeast Asia has deeply affected the development of the 
Kampuchea-Vietnam hostilities. It is equally clear that the 
United States is once again maneuvering in a major power game 
being played out in Indochina, despite the stinging U.S. defeat by 
revolutionary forces there only three and a half years ago. The 

perspective and actions of each of the three major powers reveal 
the shadowy diplomatic struggle which they are waging far from 
the actual shooting along the borders of Vietnam and 


Peking's view of the situation has led China to turn against 
the Vietnamese revolution which it had supported through the 
long struggle against U.S. imperialism. China's material and 

Lowell Finlcy is co-director of the Southeast Asia Resource 

Issue No. 64 


technical support for Kampuchea's war with Vietnam is based 
less on concern for Kampuchea than on a desire to block what it 
sees as the threatening spread of Vietnamese influence in 
Southeast Asia. Apparently an independent-minded Vietnam, 
the third largest communist country, with a well-equipped and 
experienced military larger than any other on China's Asian 
borders, is regarded by the Chinese leadership as a potentially 
dangerous rival. This alone suggests art explanation if not a 
justification for Chinese backing of Kampuchea. However, 
because Vietnam is friendly with the Soviet Union, Chinese 
fears arc multiplied. China believes that its arch-enemy is 
increasingly influential in Vietnam's policies. The Chinese claim 
that, although Moscow's strategic emphasis is still on Europe, it 
is also attempting to expand its presence in Asia at the expense 
of the other "superpower," the U.S., in order to dominate the 
region. 1 In China's view, Soviet support for Vietnam is an 
indirect route to this goal. 

China believes that the Soviet Union backs Vietnam in the 
fighting with Kampuchea for two reasons, both threatening to 
China. The first is a desire to reduce Chinese and U.S. influence 
in Southeast Asia by developing a string of Soviet bases to 
control vital sea lanes, intimidating Japan and the weaker 
governments in the region. The already existing close ties 
between Vietnam and neighboring Laos are seen by China as the 
first step toward such a Vietnamese/Soviet power grab. If the 
Kampuchcan regime were overthrown or defeated militarily by 
Vietnam, the Chinese believe, it would be another big step 
toward Vietnamese domination of mainland Southeast Asia, 
providing a convenient base area for Soviet operations. "The 
Soviet Union is using two pairs of pincers," said the Chinese 
news agency Hsinhua. "A pair of pincers is the Cuban forces 
which serve Moscow in Africa and the other is Vietnam, known 
as 'the Cuba of Asia.' 

The second explanation the Chinese have offered for 
Soviet support of Vietnam portrays Soviet intentions as more 
devious and cynical, and more immediately threatening to 
China. In this view, the Soviets have incited Vietnam to attack 
Kampuchea as a provocation of China. They have also goaded 
Vietnam to provoke China directly by persecuting and expelling 
Vietnam's ethnic Chinese residents and by disputing Chinese 
claims to ownership of two groups of islands in the South China 
Sea. (China seized control of the strategic and potentially 
oil-rich Paraccl islands in 1974. Despite the fact that the 
Paracels lie more than 500 miles south of China and only 250 
miles off the coast of Vietnam, China claims that Vietnam is 
demanding them back strictly because the Soviets would like to 
use the islands for naval bases. The other disputed islands arc 
the Spratleys, which lie roughly equidistant from China's 
Hainan island and the central coast of Vietnam.) By embroiling 
Vietnam in economically and politically debilitating conflicts, 
the Chinese believe, the Soviets could force concessions from 
the Vietnamese. Specifically, the Soviets could demand 
permission to build missile bases aimed at China and naval bases 
at Cam Ranh Bay and Haiphong in return for military protec- 
tion against China and economic aid to replace recendy termi- 
nated Chinese projects. 3 Pro- Peking newspapers in Hong Kong 
have reported that such Soviet bases are already in use or under 
construction, but the reports have been challenged by U.S. 
intelligence sources and recent foreign visitors to the alleged 
installation sites. The charges are more likely intended as a 
warning to Vietnam and to other Southeast Asian nations to 
steer completely clear of the Soviets or face Chinese retaliation. 

Vietnam^ troops with victim of recent China- Vietnam 
border clash, (photo: Asia Week) 


China's suspicion of Vietnam's ties to the Soviet Union have 
been public knowledge since 1963. In that year, the Hanoi 
leadership tilted toward China in the growing dispute with the 
Soviet Union over ideological revisionism, but the shift was not 
enough to please the Chinese. Hanoi joined Peking in 
condemning Moscow for signing the first nuclear test ban 
agreement with the United States. Both saw the test ban treaty, 
in which the Soviets agreed to abrogate their nuclear sharing 
agreement with China, as a dangerous indication of Soviet 
Premier Khrushchev's willingness to expose less powerful 
members of the socialist bloc to nuclear blackmail. Khrush- 
chev's pursuit of peaceful coexistence, although it was based on 
genuine Soviet fears of the devastation of nuclear war, 
nevertheless threatened to undermine the positions of militarily 
weaker China and Vietnam. Both China and Vietnam were, at 
the time, confronted by the most hawkish elements of the U.S. 
military, backed by right-wing, "rollback communism" cold-war 
politicians. 5 Chinese leaders were pleased with Hanoi's concur- 



rence in their criticism of the test ban treaty. However, they 
were not satisfied with Vietnam's more equivocal attitudes 
toward the rest of Soviet policy. Chinese Prime Minister Liu 
Shao-chi, in a May 1963 speech to the Hanoi Party School, 
warned the Vietnamese against choosing to "look on with 

between the two governments. 12 After the purge of the "gang of 
four," however, there was a perceptible warming in Sino- 
Victnamese relations. Chinese press coverage improved, *nd 
work on Chinese aid projects, slowed almost to a halt as 
relations worsened, suddenly resumed. A January 10, 1977, 

"Beneath the charges concerning Vietnam's 'per- 
secuted Chinese nationals,' China's real concern was 
the Soviet presence in Vietnam." 

folded arms or follow a middle course" in the Sino- Soviet split. 6 

Moscow- Hanoi relations continued to sour through most of 
1964 as Khrushchev hinted that he was considering reducing or 
ending support for the Vietnamese communists. The Tonkin 
Gulf incident in August 1964, signaling an impending U.S. 
escalation of the war, and Khrushchev's ouster two months 
later, led to renewed assurances of Soviet support for the 
Vietnamese revolution and a rapid improvement in relations 
between Hanoi and Moscow. 7 

The next year, in obvious reference to the Vietnamese, who 
were relying on the Soviet Union for aid to meet rapid U.S. 
military escalation, Chinese Communist Party Deputy Secretary 
Teng Nsiao-p'ing denounced revolutionaries who took an "op- 
porrunist" attitude in the Sino-Soviet quarrel. The Chinese press 
began to stress the need to defeat Soviet revisionism before 
victory over U.S. imperialism would be possible, 8 In 1966, 
China refused to join a "joint action" proposal backed by a 
number of Asian communist parties that would have put a par- 
tial moratorium on their dispute with the Soviet Union so that 
military and economic aid to Vietnam could be coordinated and 
expedited. This joint action plan was strongly favored by the 
DRV, which was by then under heavy U.S. aerial bombardment. 
China's refusal indicated the degree to which the rivalry with 
the Soviet Union already influenced key Chinese decisions 
governing Vietnam. China continued its own separate aid 
program, and permitted shipment of Soviet supplies to Vietnam 
by rail through China, but only if Vietnamese delegations went 
to meet them at the Soviet border. There were some hints by 
Vietnamese officials that these shipments were intentionally 

These tensions threatened the very survival of the Viet- 
namese revolution. Vietnamese leaders skillfully controlled 
them as long as the war with the U.S. continued. They managed 
to keep both the Soviet Union and China as allies, despite 
attempts by Nixon and Kissinger to exploit the rift between the 
two major communist powers to weaken Vietnam's defenses, 
within months of the final Kampuchcan and Vietnamese 
victories in 1975, however, it was clear that Chinese leaders 
were far from relieved. Speaking at a welcoming banquet for 
Thailand's Prime Minister Kukrit Pramoj in Peking on June 30, 
1975, Teng Hsiao-p'ing, now Chinese Vice Premier, declared 
that "the other superpower" was replacing the defeated U.S. as 
a threat to the peace and security of Southeast Asia. While on 
the same trip, Kukrit met with Mao, who reportedly warned 
him that the Vietnamese had plans for conquest in the region as 
the cutting edge of Soviet imperialism in Asia." 

The Chinese media carried almost no coverage of Vietnam in 
the first three quarters of 1976, an indication of the strains 

article in China's People's Daily, in an indirect critique of the 
"gang of four," referred warmly to Chou En-lai's efforts to help 
Vietnam. The article even acknowledged that all had not been 
well in past Chinese treatment of Vietnam, quoting the late 
premier in a 1960 visit to Hanoi chastising Chinese experts and 
workers for harboring "big- nation chauvinism" toward Viet- 
nam. 1 ' In the spring of 1977, top Vietnamese general Vo 
Nguyen Giap was taken on a tour of Chinese military 
installations, something that would have been out of the 
question in the atmosphere of the preceding year. 

For a time, then, it appeared that China's new leaders had 
decided a friendlier approach would help to strengthen Hanoi's 
visible efforts to maintain independence vis-a-vis the Soviet 
Union."* But by the fall of 1977, all such signs disappeared. 
China greeted Kampuchea's Pol Pot with great fanfare in 
October, lavishing the kind of attention on him that 
would indicate close solidarity. In a highly significant step in 
December, China terminated all technical cooperation with the 
Vietnamese army. At least one account of the decision, in the 
French newspaper Le Point, suggested that China's reason for 
ending military cooperation wafcdhinoi's growing closeness to 
Moscow. 15 This action was reported the same day that the 
Kampuchcan government made its decision to break relations 

Kukrit in Peking, 1975. A warning from Teng Hsiao P'ing 
about Vietnam's intentions , . . 

Issue No. 64 


with Vietnam, The close timing of the Chinese and Kampuchean 
actions indicates the degree to which the Sino-Soviet and 
Kampuchea- Vietnam disputes were already intertwined when 
the border fighting first drew worldwide attention. 

China terminated all economic aid to Vietnam in May, 1978. 
The sudden aid halt paralyzed hundreds of projects in Vietnam. 
The vehemence of the accompanying propaganda attacks 
indicated that China was preparing to make a thorough and 
perhaps permanent break with Vietnam. The official explana- 
tion of the aid termination said that resources previously routed 
to Vietnam had to be diverted to care for more than 1 50,000 
ethnic Chinese who had recently left Vietnam for China. Large 
numbers of ethnic Chinese chose to leave Vietnam after the 
Vietnamese government's move to close down capitalist trade 
networks. But Teng Hsiao-p'ing made it clear 0bt. beneath the 
charges concerning Vietnam's "persecuted Chinese nationals," 
China's real concern was the Soviet presence in Vietnam. In 
clear reference to the Soviet Union, Teng told visiting Japanese 
journalists in June that there was a "third country behind the 
conflict" between China and Vietnam. 1 * 


The anti-Vietnam dimension of China's relationship to 
Kampuchea may long pre-date Pol Pot's October 1977 visit to 
China. Some academic experts believe that as early as 1956, 
China offered to guarantee Kampuchea's security against 
harassment from the D.R.V. 17 To varying degrees since that 
time, China's cultivation of friendly relations with political 
forces in Kampuchea has benefited from Kampuchean fear of 
domination by Vietnam— north, south, or reunified. The 
Chinese were apparently taking long-term precautions against 
the possibility that an adversary relationship would eventually 
develop between China and a reunited Vietnam. 

Before 1970, the Chinese government maintained friendly 
state- to-state relations with the Sihanouk regime, while the 
Chinese Communist Party worked surreptitiously with the 
Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK). Chinese support for the 
CPK was low-key during the 1960s, however, since state- to-state 
relations with the neutralist Sihanouk government satisfied 
Peking's main foreign policy objective, which was to keep U.S. 
troops, bases, and military aid presence away from China's 
perimeter. A brief exception came in Octobct 1967, when the 
CPK decided to launch armed struggle against Sihanouk, whose 
government had adopted increasingly severe policies of internal 
repression. The Cultural Revolution was at its peak in China, 
and radicals who had briefly seized control of the Chinese 
Foreign Ministry may have signaled endorsement of the armed 
struggle decision. Within months, however, Prime Minister Chou 
En-lai regained control of the Foreign Ministry, withdrew 
Chinese support for the fledgling war on Sihanouk, and actually 
shipped weapons to the Sihanouk regime which were probably 
used against the "Khmer Rouge" (Red Khmer), as Sihanouk had 
dubbed the revolutionaries. 18 

When Sihanouk was deposed in 1970 by his former 
right-hand man, General Lon Nol, he was offered asylum by 
both the Soviet Union and China. He chose China, and with the 
advice and mediation of Chou En-lai, a tactical alliance against 
Lon Nol was hastily worked out between Sihanouk and his 
former enemies, the CPK. Together they formed the Royal 
Government of National Unification of Kampuchea (GRUNK). 

This September 1977 meeting cemented the China- Kampuchea .tlli, 

China's leaders were well aware that the exile government they 
were sponsoring was a potential ally in a struggle with Vietnam. 
Sihanouk made some accommodations with the Vietnamese 
communists and sometimes spoke as their supporter against the 
U.S. But he also frequently expressed fear and distrust of 
Hanoi's intentions. The Kampuchean communists, although 
they were entering into unprecedented cooperative efforts with 
Vietnamese revolutionary forces, had already developed sharp 
disagreements with Hanoi and saw themselves as being closer to 
China ideologically. At a minimum, both Sihanouk and the KCP 
were solidly anti-Soviet after Moscow recognized the Lon Nol 
government soon after the coup. 

Sihanouk and the CPK had very different reasons for 
working with China. Although firmly anti-communist, Sihanouk 
believed that China more than any other major power had 
reason in the 1950s and 1960s to desire a neutral Kampuchea. 
Until 1970, he successfully used relations with China as leverage 
to counterbalance western influence threatening his country's 
precarious neutrality. Sihanouk also relied on substantial aid he 
received from China beginning in 1956, More importantly, in 
the current context, he turned to China for protection against 
pressure from Thailand or Vietnam. "Westerners are always 
astonished that we Cambodians are not disturbed by our future 
in which China will play such a powerful role," he told reporters 
in 1961. "But one should try to put himself in our place; In this 
jungle which is the real world, should we, simple deer, interest 
ourselves in a dinosaur like China when we are more directly 
menaced, and have been for centuries, by the wolf and the tiger, 
who are Vietnam and Thailand." 19 Sihanouk evidently 
succeeded in getting China to pressure Hanoi to make 
concessions on territorial issues as early as 1963 in return for his 
country's friendship toward China. *" This early Chinese 
intercession on Kampuchea's behalf may have planted the seeds 
of Vietnamese resentment of China's role in Kampuchea. 

The CPK, on the other hand, held ideological views very 
close to those of the Communist Party of China. The 
Kampucheans agreed with the Chinese critique of Soviet 
revisionism. Because of strained relations with the more 
powerful and experienced Vietnamese communists, CPK leaders 
probably thought Kampuchea's relationship with Vietnam was 
analogous to China's struggles with its one-time "big brother," 



Far Eastern Economic Review 

leng Sary and Pol Pot with China's Hua and Teng. 

the Soviet Union. That identity would strengthen further the 
i CPK's conscious identification with the Chinese. 

The CPK also identified with the emphasis on economic 
self-reliance and crash development programs which charac- 
terized earlier periods of the Chinese revolution. Hu Nim, Pol 
Pot, Khieu Samphan, and others developed understandings of 
rural class structure, the pitfalls of western aid and loans, the 
practice of guerrilla warfare, and the central it)' of class struggle, 
similar to but greatly distorting main precepts of Chinese 
communism in the 1960s, 11 CPK policies appear to have been 
influenced by purified radicalism that many of Kampuchea's 
current leaders carried over from earlier Paris student days. 
Kampuchean leaders sometimes refer to their own revolution as 
a "Great Leap Forward," although their actual policies bear 
little resemblance to China's Great Leap Forward of the late 

As soon as they assumed power in April 1975. the CPK 

of Kampuchea in the dispute with Vietnam goes beyond 
common dislike for Vietnam and the Soviet Union. The 
Kampuchean communists have pushed principles often identi- 
fied with the Chinese revolution to such radical extremes that 
their domestic policies arc reportedly viewed privately by the 
current, nghtward-leaning Chinese leadership as ultra- leftist. The 
CPK, for its pan. labeled Chinese Vice-Premier Teng Hsiao-p'ing 
"anti-socialist and counter-revolutionary" when he was still out 
of power two years ago. Teng is believed to have bluntly told 
visiting Kampuchean Defense Minister Son Sen in August that 
Chinese aid would not be able to save his regime unless it 
abandoned his divisive domestic policies in favor of a broad 
united front to fight the Vietnamese. Teng and other Chinese 
leaders believe that the CPK was influenced in the early 1970s 
by the gang of four, which maintained party-to-party relations 
with thiPCPK As a result, the Chinese believe, the CPK adopted 
a disastrous policy of instant revolution and absolute egalitarian- 
ism. According to well-informed Indochina correspondent 
Nay an Chanda, China is most distressed as the "ruthless series of 
purges and executions" which have apparently occurred in 
Kampuchea. The "internationally bloody image" of Kampu- 
chea, Chanda reports, is seen by Chinese leaders as a serious 
obstacle to China's efforts to form alliances with the 
non-communist world against the Soviet Union. 23 

China's reported dissatisfaction with the Pol Pot regime is the 
first indication that Chinese leaders might back away from 
supporting Kampuchea, unless they arc more successful than in 
the past in influencing changes in the CPK's domestic policies. It 
seems clear, however, chat China is not especially concerned 
with the fate of Kampuchean peasants or the course of 
revolution in Kampuchea except as it affects Chinese global 
strategy. Nor is this a new attitude on the part of China's 
leaders. China was happy to work with the CPK's bitter enemy, 
Sihanouk, throughout the late 1950s and 1960s, as long as 
Sihanouk was capable of checking the spread of U.S. powet into 
Kampuchea and the threat of U.S. encirclement of China. For 
many years, in fact, Chinese policy towards Kampuchea was 
remarkably similar to the policy of the Vietnamese communists 

'The Kampuchean regime's domestic policies are re- 
portedly viewed privately by the rightward-leaning 
Chinese leadership as ultra-leftist. . . " 

reaffirmed and strengthened ties to China. Within months, 
Kampuchea was receiving substantial military aid from its 
northern ally. In August of that year, the new Kampuchean 
premier Khieu Samphan went to Peking to sign an agreement on 
economic cooperation with China. He also signed a joint 
communique endorsing China's line on all foreign policy issues 
which included an attack on both the Soviet Union and the U.S. 
for seeking world hegemony. 33 For the next two years, China 
was to be the only country with which Kampuchea would 
maintain any alliance or even close contact. 


Despite apparent affinities, it is unlikely that China's backing 

which the CPK has so roundly condemned. Before the 1970 
formation of the CPK-Sihanouk coalition, China gave very little 
material support to the Kampuchean communists, and. like the 
Vietnamese, opposed the CPK's 1967 decision to launch armed 
struggle to overthrow Sihanouk. 


The conflict between China's relations with the Sihanouk 
regime arid its party-to-parcy tics with the Kampuchean 
communists in the 1960s foreshadowed a much more serious 
problem in China's current foreign policy. Tension between 
state-to-state and party- to- party relations has always been 
present in Chinese foreign policy. In the 1950s and 1960s, in 

Issue No. 64 


Southeast Asia, China was largely successful in reconciling those 
differences. The US. was clearly the principal enemy, U.S. 
imperialism the main threat to China's security. In this 
situation, China was able to make relatively clear-cut decisions, 
supporting anti-U.S. and atiti-impcriaJist governments, like the 
D.R.V., or, where the government was a U.S. ally, like Thailand, 
supporting the country's revolutionary movement on a 
party- to- party basis. Most of the parties China supported during 
this time were anti-Soviet as well as anti-U.S. The aim was to 
weaken the U.S. and its allies vvhile forming a strong bloc of 
communist parties with sufficient leverage to convince the 
Soviets to return to what China saw as a correct path, closing 
the rift in the ranks of socialist nations. 

A series of major reverses doomed this strategy. First Hanoi 
moved back toward closer relations with the Soviet Union after 
its brief tilt towards China in 1963 and 1964. In 1966, the once 
powerful, pro -Peking Communist Party of Indonesia was 
virtually destroyed, after a bloody right-wing military coup. 
These and other setbacks, together with clear threats of a Soviet 
military attack in 1 969, convinced a powerful clement of the 
Chinese leadership that a drastic reorientation was necessary. 
The shift became clear in 1972 when China openly identified 
the Soviet Union as its chief enemy, and invited Nixon to China 
in a major step toward an anti-Soviet alliance with the U.S. 

In the new Chinese strategy, party-to-party relations have 
been subordinated to statc-co-statc ties with any tegimc willing 
to agree with China on the overriding priority of opposing the 
Soviet Union. China's goal is to exclude Soviet influence from 
Southeast Asia. For this, alliances with ruling governments are 
faster and more secure than support for revolutions that 
promise long and difficult struggle before state power is gained, 
China's support for the anti-Soviet communist parties in 
Thailand and the Philippines has decreased, for example, as 
vigorous efforts have been made to cement alliances with the 
right-wing military dictatorship in Thailand and Marcos' martial 
law regime in the Philippines. In other parts of the world, China 
has thrown its support behind reactionary regimes such as Chile, 
Zaire, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Even China's alliance with the Pol 
Pot regime is based on current state-to-statc criteria of 
anti-Sovietism. There are deep differences between the two 
countries on the party- to- party level. For China, however, the 
fact that a fraternal communist party, whatever differences 
there may be, rules Kampuchea is less significant than the fact 
that Kampuchea is fighting Vietnam, which China sees as a 
puppet of the Soviets. 

Stated most simply, when a conttadiction developed between 
continued support for revolution, on the one hand, and China's 
interests in state-to-state relations to reinforce its campaign 
against the Soviet Union on the other, revolution was sacrificed. 
In his memoits, Richard Nixon recalls that French writer Andre 
Malraux, who had known Mao and Chou En-Iai in the 1930s, 
visited him at the White House just before Nixon's historic 1972 
trip to China. Nixon approvingly quotes Malraux as saying; 
"China's action over Vietnam is an imposture. China has never 
helped anyone! Not Pakistan. Not Vietnam. China's foreign 
policy is a brilliant lie! The Chinese themselves do not believe in 
iti they believe only in China. Only China!" 1 * China's actions 
since then appear to support this bold assertion, at least to the 
satisfaction of U.S. policy-makers, with whom the Chinese are 
rapidly proceeding to build an anti-Soviet alliance, an alliance 
with ominous implications fot third world countries. 


The Soviet Union has sided with Vietnam in the dispute with 
Kampuchea. Like Vietnam, the Soviet Union sees China's hand 
behind Phnom Penh's decisions. Vietnam endorses most of the 
Soviet Union's foreign policy stands at the UN and at meetings 
of the Non- Aligned Nations. However, there is no evidence to 
support the Chinese charge that the Soviet Union is behind the 
Vietnam-Kampuchea fighting. It was not until September of this 
year that the Soviet Union shipped additional military 
equipment to the Vietnamese, more as a sign of support in the 
event of direct armed confrontations with China, than as 
reinforcement for the Kampuehcan front. The Soviet Union has 
supported Vietnam's proposals for a negotiated settlement of 
the Kampuchea dispute. 

The Soviet Union contends that China is attempting to 
become a hegemonic power in Southeast Asia. Moscow charges 
that China has incited the Kampueheans to aggress against 
Vietnam and distorted the issue of Vietnam's ethnic Chinese in 
order to attack Vietnam's revolution. The Soviets also warn that 
China is attempting to expand southward by claiming territorial 
waters adjoining Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and 
Malaysia. China is cultivating diplomatic relations with 
Southeast Asian governments, the Soviets say, so that China can 
interfere in their internal affairs. (All of the countries have 
si/cable ethnic Chinese populations, and Moscow warns that 
China may use them to pressure other countries as they have 
done with Vietnam.) The Soviet Union charges that China's 
actions will harm all of the countries in the region, to the 
ultimate benefit of the United States, 15 


The Soviet Union would undoubtedly like to sec a pro-Soviet 
Vietnam become a major influence in Southeast Asia, and 
would welcome the chance to build bases in Vietnam. In this 
sense, there is a kernel of truth in China's efforts to create a 
Soviet scare in Southeast Asia. However, it is fairly clear that 
these goals are low priorities for Moscow. The Soviet Union is 
pursuing regional policies which rely upon diplomacy and trade, 
rather than military conquest. More importantly, the lack of 
evidence for China's recent allegations about Soviet base- 
building in Vietnam indicates that the Vietnamese have firmly 
resisted whatever pressure Moscow may have applied. This is 
not the first false alarm on Soviet bases. China also charged that 
the Soviets were constructing bases in Vietnam in 1975. China 
was, at that time, proven wrong, as it has been recently. 2 * 
China's frequent loud warnings of a Soviet military threat to 
Southeast Asia have focused on alleged buildups of missiles and 
increased naval activity. However, China has deployed its own 
missiles with a 2,500 mile range within reach of all Southeast 
Asia, as well as beefing up its own naval presence in the region. 27 

While Vietnam is now politically as close as it has ever been 
to the Soviet Union, Hanoi made serious efforts after the 
victory in 1975 and reunification in 1976 to maintain Vietnam's 
independence and non-alignment. One indication of this policy 
was the relaxation of trade and investment codes designed to 
attract business from the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan. 
Vietnam also attempted to secure enough aid from these 



countries to meet about SO percent of its overall postwar 
reconstruction and development needs. This diversification 
would have reduced Vietnam's dependence on aid from the 
Soviet Union and China, which in turn would have lessened the 
vulnerability to political pressures such dependence implied. 18 
Vietnam's turn toward the West and the slight improvement 

press heaped praise on Kampuchean reconstruction efforts, 
remained silent on the mounting human rights charges, and 
continued to call for good relations with the Kampuchean 
government, emphasizing past Soviet "moral and material 
support. " j2 The only response was a perfunctory Kampuchean 
message of congratulation on the 1976 anniversary of the 

'The lack of evidence for China's allegation of Soviet 
base building indicates the Vietnamese have resisted 
any pressure Moscow may have applied . . . " 

in Si no- Vietnamese relations in this period led to some tensions 
with the Soviet Union. Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong 
appeared to snub the Soviets during an October 1976 reception 
offered by the Soviet embassy in Hanoi on the 59th anniversary 
of the Russian revolution. There were also reports that Soviet 
officials spoke privately of "fraternal differences" with the 
Vietnamese about this time. 39 By late 1977, however, Vietnam 
pulled back from these tentative efforts to put distance between 
itself and the Soviet Union. At the October 1977 Moscow 
celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Russian revolution, 
Vietnam adopted a high profile, in contrast to its coolness of 
the preceding year. Hanoi also publicized a number of meetings 
in the latter months of 1977 between top Vietnamese and 
Soviet military leaders. 

The latest tilt toward the Soviet Union reflected Vietnam's 
discouragement at the lack of progress in normalization talks 
with the U.S. and the lukewarm response to its policy of 
opening to the West. It also reflected Hanoi's concern that 
China was moving quickly to isolate Vietnam, signalled by 
Kampuchean party head Pol Pot's big October reception in 
Peking and Chinese attempts to promote good relations between 
Thailand and Kampuchea. 30 In May, after it became clear that 
China intended to halt all economic aid, and with no sign of 
progress toward ending the U.S.-imposed trade embargo, Viet- 
nam joined the Soviet-East European trade bloc COMECON, 
which also includes Mongolia and Cuba, this move was taken 
by China as further proof of Vietnamese subservience to the 
Soviet Union. It was seized on by the official Chinese press 
to justify the Chinese aid cut, although sharp reductions 
indicating an impending full termination began before the 
COMECON decision. The Soviets and East European govern- 
ments have since sent aid teams to Vietnam to determine which 
former Chinese projects will be continued with their assistance. 


Relations between the Kampuchean communists and the 
Soviet Union have been bad since at least 1967, when the Soviet 
ambassador in Phnom Penh reportedly refused to loan the CPK 
£160 to start a newspaper and denounced the CPK as 
ultra-leftist for attacking Sihanouk. Soviet recognition of the 
Lon Nol government only worsened matters. When the Khmer 
Rouge took control of Phnom Penh in April 1975, they 
expelled the Soviet embassy staff, along with all but a handful 
of other foreigners. Yet for some time after this action, in a 
belated effort to woo Kampuchea away from China, the Soviet 

October revolution. Kampuchea boycotted the 25th Congress of 
the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1976, 33 


The U.S. role in the current China-Kampuchea-Vietnam 
situation hinges on the interlock between U.S. policy toward 
China and Indochina. Long before the final defeat of the U.S. in 
Indochina in 1975, a sweeping reassessment of this interlock 
was underway in American policy-making circles concerned 
with Asia, In the 1950s and early 1960s a primary motive for 
U.S. intervention in Vietnam had been the highly questionable 
but firmly held conviction that Chinese communism was 
determined to expand throughout Asia, directly threatening 
American security. By the early 1970s, many of the same 
cold warriors who had held this view, escalating U.S. interven- 
tion in Vietnam, even supporting "preventative" nuclear attack 
on China, were beginning to advocate a U.S. alliance with China 
against the Soviet Union. A major catalyst for this turnaround 
was the recognition of the seriousness of the split between the 
Soviet Union and China. Leading the conversion were Richard 
Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and top U.S. military leaders in the 
Pacific, who saw an opportunity to exploit the growing 
Sino-Soviet rift. By playing the Chinese against the Soviets, they 
hoped to gain greater leverage in U.S. relations with both. They 
also hoped to drive a wedge between both the Soviet Union and 
China, on the one hand, and Vietnam on the other. Vietnam 
was now seen as posing its own, independent threat to U.S. 
power and prestige. When the U.S. -China thaw began in earnest 
in 1972, the competing socialist powers each allowed Nixon to 
visit their capitals even though the U.S. was simultaneously 
escalating the war in Vietnam. This U.S. effort to strip away 
Vietnam's support ultimately failed. However, the opening to 
China presented an obvious alternative for continued U.S. 
pressure on Vietnam, since there were ample indications that 
China would regard suspiciously a victorious and reunified 
Vietnam, allied with the Soviet Union. That alternative, fraught 
with bitter irony, was U.S. support for China against Vietnam. 


From the start, Kampuchea played a prominent role in the 
calculations. The December 1975 Reader's Digest contained a 
remarkable article on the first signs of the emerging 

Issue No. 64 


Kampuchea- Vietnam conflict and its implications for the major 
powers. Written by right-wing columnist Joseph Aisop and 
entitled "Showdown Over Southeast Asia," this article deserves 
serious attention, because it revealed three years ago the 
outlines of a startling new U.S. policy in Asia which is only now 
becoming visible. 3S The Reader's Digest has a circulation of over 
30 million and is often used by U.S. government opinion-makers 
to popularize a new high-level foreign policy consensus. Alsop's 

make this prediction come true by worsening the tensions 
between Vietnam and China. By imposing a full trade embargo, 
refusing to discuss reconstruction aid or normalization of 
relations, and repeatedly vetoing Vietnam's bid for a U.N. seat, 
Kissinger left Vietnam without an alternative to greater 
dependence on the Soviet Union. This in turn increased Chinese 
distrust of Vietnam, making cooperation with the U.S. more 
attractive and urgent in the eyes of China's leaders. 

"By the early 1970's, many of the same cold warriors 

who had supported 'preventative' nuclear attack 

on China were advocating a U.S. alliance with China. " 

writing represents the views of the cold war conservative lobby 
which has long been preoccupied with Asia, a group symbolized 
by Nixon. His information on the new developments in 
Indochina evidently was provided by U.S. intelligence sources. 

Alsop reported that serious fighting between Kampuchea and 
Vietnam had already taken place in mid-1975. He saw this as 
proof that Vietnam planned an imperialistic campaign to 
control all of Indochina and Thailand. More significantly, Alsop 
reported that Mao and other Chinese leaders agreed in this 
assessment of Vietnamese ambitions and saw such a "North 
Vietnamese military empire" as a major threat to China because 
of Vietnam's increasingly close ties with the Soviet Union. 
Alsop reported that in June and July I97S a special meeting of 
the entire Chinese military leadership had been devoted to the 
issue. A substantial flow of technicians, military advisors, and 
military equipment began immediately to Kampuchea, although 
Alsop thought that these were only temporary, stop-gap 
measures. "I would guess that the Chinese will go on 
temporizing for a while, using military aid and diplomacy to 
keep Hanoi's expansion within bounds," Alsop wrote, "but 1 
would also guess that these half-measures will fail over time. In 
that case, the Chinese will eventually have to make the fearful 
choice between preventative military measures in Southeast 
Asia— with all the risks of Soviet intervention— and acceptance 
of paralyzing encirclement by Soviet power to the north and 
North Vietnamese power to the south." Resurrecting the 
discredited domino theory, Alsop warned that unless China was 
able to stop the Vietnamese, the rest of Southeast Asia would 
be threatened "and the whole hard-won American position in 
the Western Pacific will begin to founder." It was with this dire 
prediction that he delivered the real message of his article: "As 
the Soviets are effectively allied to the North Vietnamese, so 
we, in an odd way, are at least the silent partners of the 

There were clear signs at the time of Alsop's writing that 
such a silent partnership was in fact developing. On May 3, 
1975, three days after the final defeat of the U.S. -backed Saigon 
regime, Henry Kissinger was interviewed by television corres- 
pondent Barbara Walters. Kissinger remarked that China "now 
has 40 million Vietnamese on its frontiers who do not exactly 
suffer from a lack of confidence in themselves." He predicted 
this would lead China to redouble its efforts to normalize 
relations with the United States, and made it clear that this was 
an important U.S. policy objective, 36 

Kissinger's postwar policy toward Vietnam was designed to 

Kissinger's statements were among the many indications of 
an accelerated movement toward alliance between the U.S. and 
China but Alsop's article is remarkable because there seems to 
have been no other acknowledgement that this alliance might 
eventually involve de facto U.S. support for Kampuchea in a 
war with Vietnam. Alsop's sympathetic portrayal of Kam- 
puchea's plight appeared just months after President Ford, in a 
senseless display of American muscle designed to shore up 
flagging domestic morale, unleashed the U.S. Marines on 
Kampuchean forces in the Mayagucz incident, calling the 
Kampuchcan communists "international pirates." Alsop, no 
supporter of drastic revolutionary measures, even defended the 
CPK's decision to evacuate immediately all of Kampuchea's 
cities, a move which was being widely condemned by U.S. 
politicians and the press. The only explanation is that Alsop was 
preparing the public for the mind-boggling prospect of de facto 
U.S. support, via China, for communist Kampuchea against 
communist Vietnam. Alsop, at least, was aware of the 
implications. "If all this seems bewildering," he wrote, "it is 
because a wholly new political game— begun soon after the fall 
of Saigon— is under way in Asia ... we have now entered a quite 
novel, considerably more dangerous phase of world politics." 

Three years have passed, a new administration is in office, 
and many of Alsop's predictions short of charges of Vietnamese 
expansionism, have been proven correct. The question then 
arises: is the U.S. today acting as China's "silent partner" in the 
dispute between Kampuchea and Vietnam? A look at the 
line-up of political forces in this country provides the basis for a 
strong educated guess that it is. Powerful elements in the 
Congress and the Carter administration arc pushing for the 
alliance with China worked out by Kissinger and Nixon. A less 
influential grouping of politicians, dubious of the rapid tilt 
toward China, is pushing for U.S. relations with Vietnam. As it 
now stands, the group wanting to play the "China card" 
apparently has Carter's ear. 


The Carter administration has continued to move toward full 
diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, a 
process begun under Nixon with the signing of the 1972 
Shanghai Communique. In the fall of 1977, Carter sent 
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to China, but the talks actually 
seemed to set relations back. The pace picked up again in 1978. 
National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, a much stronger 



Wolff was careful to add that the delegation had sensed the 
"sobering effects of the very real strategic and political 
problems facing China" in the form of the Soviet Union and 
"what the Chinese call the Soviet Union's 'Asian Cuba', 
Vietnam." 40 Meanwhile, White House leaks indicated that 
preparations are under way to send an ambassador to Peking by 
the end of 1979. The military implications are clear, since 
Carter has already approved the sale to China of U.S. 
technology with military applications, and has given the 
go-ahead to Western Europe to sell China actual weapons 
systems. 41 


Another group, representing liberal foreign policy views, 
challenged the administration's rile toward China, advocating 
stepped-up efforts to establish U.S. ties with Vietnam as a 
balance to Chinese and Soviet influence throughout Southeast 
Asia. Although Carter had promised to pursue early normal- 
ization with Vietnam and talks were held between American 
and Vietnamese officials tn 1977, the U.S. showed little 
flexibility and there was no real progress. The major government 
figures pushing for closer Vietnam ties include Senators George 
McGovern, James Abourczk, and Mark Hatfield, Representatives 
G. V. Montgomery, Jonathan Bingham, Ron Dcllums, Tom 
Harkin, Elizabeth Holtzman, George Danielson, and George 
Miller. Before his death at the end of 1977, Hubert Humphrey 
was also a leading advocate of rapid Vietnam normalization, tn 
August, Rep. Montgomery led an eight-member delegation to 
Hanoi which came back with MIA remains and a unanimous 
recommendation for early normalization. 42 Members of 
Congress for Peace Through Law, a bipartisan body of 174 
senators and representatives which opposed the U.S. war in 
Vietnam, released a policy paper in August which favored rapid 

Only six years ago: U.S. Indochina policy, 

advocate of close China ties than Vance, went to China in May. 
He reportedly listened with approval BO China's version of the 
Vietnam- Kampuchea fighting. Brzezinski, to whom Carter seems 
to have given full control over U.S. Asia policy, told Chinese 
leaders at a banquet, "we recognize— and share— China's resolve 
to resist the efforts of any nation which seeks to establish global 
or regional hegemony." Nayan Chanda, the most seasoned and 
astute Indochina correspondent reporting today, noted that 
Brzczinski's reference to "regional hegemony" was aimed at 
Vietnam. Strongly anti-Soviet Senator Henry Jackson, who 
visited China in February, urged rapid steps to normalize 
relations so that "strategic cooperation" could be promoted. 38 
Carter himself, trying not to appear too eager, said on April 11 
that he hoped "over a period of months— we're not in a big 
hurry, neither are the People's Republic of China leaders— we 
will completely realize the hopes expressed in the Shanghai 
Communique," 39 

In July, a Congressional delegation headed by Rep. Lester L. 
Wolff, another advocate of close China ties, returned from 
China with word that China was willing for the first time to 
negotiate directly with Taiwan. This indicated that one of the 
major stumbling blocks to normalization might be removed. 

Rep. Lester Wolf [D-N.Y.] is a leading Congressional 
advocate of U.S.-China normalization. 

Issue No. 64 


1 "Kennedy does not mention Vietnam when 
' ? he calls for relations with China. But he does 
ir mention China when he switches hats to pro- 
mote relations with Vietnam." 

normalization wiih Vietnam and expressed disapproval of Brzc- 
/itiski's single-minded pursuit of a China link. 

Senator Edward Kennedy has positioned himself quite 
carefully in the debate. While advocating an early normalization 
with Vietnam, he has also been active in the drive for 
normalization with China. Kennedy launched an unofficial trial 
balloon on Carter's formula for China normalization in an 
August 1977 speech. 43 Kennedy has indicated that he wants 
China ties so that the U.S. will have more leverage on the Soviet 
Union. U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union and China should 
aim at "cooperating where possible, but competing where 
necessary," Kennedy wrote last August. "Our objective should 
be to maintain closer and stronger relations with each country 
than they can have with each other." 

Kennedy does not mention Vietnam when he calls for 
relations with China. Ik does mention China when he switches 
hats to promote relations with Vietnam, however. Apparently 
he hopes that U.S. relations with Vietnam will give the U.S. 
leverage on China and the Soviet Union, since both powers arc 
deeply involved with Vietnam. In August, the same month that 
Kennedy offered his "divide and rule" formula for U.S.-China 
relations, he told the Senate Judiciary Committee it would be 
"a tragic tost opportunity" if the U.S. failed to normalize 
relations with Vietnam. "Indeed, we have arrived at an historic 
decision point in our foreign policy toward Southeast 
Asia— where we now have an opportunity to do through 
peaceful means what we sought to do for so long through war-, 
to protect United States national interests in Southeast Asia by 
assuring Vietnam's independence from the domination of any 

I'UtSlJ, |«>V..' 

The only administration figure to identify himself clearly 
with this position is Andrew Young. In 1976, just before the 
Senate confirmed his appointment as UN ambassador, Young 
said, "I think it is in the United States' interest CO have a strong 
Vietnam, Vietnam as an independent entity in Southeast Asia 
with some strength is one of the things that curtails the 
expansion of the People's Republic of China." 

There are some indications that Richard Holbrooke, the 
State Department official who led the U.S. delegations in talks 
with the Vietnamese in 1977, favors a simultaneous normaliza- 
tion of relations with Vietnam and China. But neither he nor 
any other administration official has said so in public and no 
one, including Andrew Young, has repeated Young's strong 
1976 pro- Vietnam position since that time. 

The Vietnamese have made a number of gestures recently 
indicating their desire to normalize relations with the U.S. as 
soon as possible. They have issued numerous invitations to 
American business representatives to visit Vietnam, returned 
more MIA remains, and given permission for U.S. dependents to 
leave Vietnam. Most significantly, in August Vietnam dropped 
its demand for the reconstruction aid promised in the 1973 
Paris peace agreement. 

The State Department responded to Vietnam's dropping of 
aid demands coolly, arguing that the change in position had not 
hcen communicated "officially." The "ambiguity" in Vietnam's 
position on the aid issue is a "godsend" to the Carter 
administration, according to the Walt Street Journal, which says 
that the administration "appears to be deliberately avoiding 
talks with the Vietnamese, given the problems it already has 
with Congress and in normalizing relations with the Chinese." 47 
The State Department backed Carter's decision to extend the 
executive embargo on trade with Vietnam when it expired on 
September 14, 1978. State Department officials acknowledged 
that fear of angering China had played a role in the decision. 
Another indication of the State Department's position came in 
July, when U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Charles S. Whitehousc, 
who advocated normalization with Vietnam, was relieved of his 
post. His replacement, Morton Abromowitz, is a Pentagon China 
specialist. A Thai newspaper editorial commenting on the 
appointment noted that Carter was hoping Abromowitz 's 
Chinese language skills would help him establish close contact 
with the Chinese ambassador to Thailand. "As his past activities 
indicate," the editorial explained, "Abromowitz is one hope of 
the United States in its effort to cooperate with China to block 
Soviet and Vietnamese influence in Southeast Asia . . ." 4 * 


Q early the future of U.S. relations with Vietnam is closely 
linked with the future of U.S. China policy. Mypothetieally, 
Carter and his advisors have five options on the relative timing 
of normalization with Vietnam and China. They are to normal- 
ize with (I) both countries at about the same time; (2) China 
first, followed by Vietnam, a few months, perhaps a year, 
later; (3) China only, delaying action on Vietnam indefinitely; 
(4) Vietnam first, China a few months later; and (5) Vietnam 
only, putting off China indefinitely. The last two options 
can safely be ruled out, given (he strong indications that 
normalization with China is the Administration's priority. 
Option four would probably be viewed by China as an insult, 
causing Peking to suspect Carter's intentions and pull back. The 
third option, putting Vietnam relations off indefinitely, might 
come about if Carter fails to act decisively to overcome 
Congressional hostility. Yet the recent signs of Vietnamese 
willingness to drop demands to which the U.S. had objected, 
together with the sizeable minority opinion in Washington 
favoring Vietnam ties, suggests that U.S. -Vietnam relations will 
be established within the next two years. 

This leaves the first two options; roughly simultaneous steps 
toward normalization of relations with both Vietnam and 
China, or faster action on China, with Vietnam ties to follow. 

Simultaneous normalization, or at least a serious U.S. effort 
to carry it out, would seem to indicate U.S. impartiality in the 



China and Kampuchea versus Vietnam fighting. However, it 
would actually constitute a tilt toward Vietnam,- since US. 
diplomatic and trade activity would weaken China's case that 
Vietnam is a Soviet puppet. Recognizing this vulnerability, the 
U.S. might pressure China, as part of the normalization bargain, 
to reduce or end support for Kampuchea. The recent signs that 
China's leaders are upset with the Pol Pot regime's domestic 
policies and its conduct of the war with Vietnam suggest that 
this might be possible. Kampuchea might then be forced to 
agree to a negotiated settlement, since it would be difficult to 
sustain military activity without Chinese support. The strains on 
Vietnam's economic reconstruction would be reduced, and this, 
together with U.S. trade, would help to speed up development. 
Because it would prefer to see Vietnam weakened as far as 
possible short of full dependence on the Soviet Union, China 
would probably resist this approach, favoring instead U.S.- 
Vietnam relations only after U.S. -China normalization. 50 In 
terms of U.S. public and Congressional response, however, 
simultaneous normalization might be the easiest path for the 
administration to follow. 

Implementation of the second option, in which U.S. ties with 
Vietnam would not be established until months, perhaps more 
than a year, after China normalization, would for two reasons 
signal the strongest possible U.S. tilt toward China, As in the 
first option, it would strengthen China's budding alliance with 
the U.S., giving China increased leverage in its global rivalry with 
the Soviets. Secondly, this approach would put Vietnam in a 
very difficult situation, since it would signal tacit U.S. support 
for China and Kampuchea in their conflicts with Vietnam. With 
no strong incentive to reconsider its support for Kampuchea, 
China would likely continue it; since to do otherwise would 
damage its credibility as an ally. With no let-up in the fighting 
and the prospect of the continued economic drain necessary to 
maintain military mobilization, the Vietnamese could be forced 

sent to Kampuchea to "knock this government out of power." 
McGovern based his suggestion on the charges that the 
Kampuchcan government was committing what he called 
"systematic slaughter of people by their own country." 

McGovern's intervention suggestion was quickly rejected by 
the committee, as he no doubt anticipated, but his statement 
could eventually cause Jimmy Carter discomfort when he takes 
the first concrete steps toward full diplomatic tics with China, 
Kampuchea's only major ally. It is likely that McGovern chose 
to speak when he did partly for this reason. As the most 
consistent official advocate of improved relations with Vietnam 
ever since the US. pullout, McGovern now has some moral 
leverage on Carter, who himself described the Kampuchean 
regime last April as "the worst violator of human rights in the 
world today. " sl 

On August 24, a report entitled "Vietnam and China: An 
American Diplomatic Opportunity" by Members of Congress 
for Peace Through Law (MCPL) was printed in the Congres- 
sional Record. The report warned thatallowing the "China card" 
global strategy to shape American diplomatic relations with 
Vietnam would endanger peace and stability in Southeast Asia. 
It argued that U.S. relations with Vietnam should proceed apace 
with US.-China relations, to provide Vietnam with the 
alternative it needs to maintain independence from both the 
Soviet Union and China. Taking aim at Rrzezinski, the report 
asked: "Arc we letting the Chinese determine our policy for us? 
Are we recognizing a Chinese ' sphere of influence ' in the 
region? The United States does not now appear to appreciate 
either the dangers or the opportunities. The issue is not whether 
the U.S. should normalize relations with Peking. Rather, the 
issue is whether by rushing into China's arms the U.S. will 
forfeit its potential for influence on the mainland of Southeast 
Asia and give its de facto approval to Chinese policies which 
destabilize the old Indochina area. The unfortunate irony may 

''Senator George McGovern now calls for an 
'international force to knock the Kampuchean 
government out of power. ' ' ' 

into greater reliance on Soviet support. But this would lessen 
Vietnam's hard-won political and economic independence, and 
would only worsen the tensions with China. Thus, US. 
relations, when and if they were established, might do little to 
improve the situation. By its very weakness in the face of great 
power manipulation, the inspiration to other Third World 
countries of Vietnam's earlier victory over the U.S. might be 
lessened, much to the satisfaction of Peking and powerful forces 
in Washington. Given the power represented by Brzczinski, 
Jackson, most of the Asia desks in the State Department, and 
Carter himself, in favor of playing the "China card," there is 
likely to be over the next year an attempt to implement the 
second option, favoring China over and against Vietnam. 

This is not to say that the decision will go uncontested by 
the advocates of more equitable Vietnam relations. In fact, the 
fireworks may already have begun. On August 23, 1978, George 
McGovern, a firm advocate of Vietnam relations, told the 
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chat he thought the US, 
government should call for an international military force to be 

Issue No. 64 

be that the very Soviet influence which the ' China card ' global 
strategy is designed to ward off will be increased in Southeast 
Asia by the shortsighted play of the card, vis-a-vis our relations 
with Vietnam." The MCPL membership, which represents one- 
third of the Congress, will be ready for a fight when Carter and 
his advisors take their first move. 


The U.S. may be able to contribute to the peaceful 
resolution of the Vietnam-Kampuchea conflict, and lessen 
Vietnam-China tensions, if it proceeds simultaneously and 
even-handedly toward normalization of relations with both 
China and Vietnam. This could be accomplished by seeking 
assurances from both governments that they will disengage from 
Kampuchea as a precondition of normalization. This, of course, 
would not put an end to the deep differences between the 
Vietnamese and Kampuchean leaders. The U.S. government is in 
no position to do so, especially after its recent aggression against 


both countries, aggression which deserves a major share of the 
blame for pitting the revolutionary movements there against one 
another in the first place. It could, however, assist in removing 
the element of regional confrontation between major powers 
which has fueled the conflict. 

For those who opposed U.S. intervention in Indochina and 
defended the rights of the three Indochina countries to 
non-interference and independence, this is the only principled 
position, and is one which can potentially influence the policy 
of the Carter administration. 

It is likely that the Vietnamese would pull back into a 
strictly defensive posture if they had a U.S. guarantee that 
China was no longer supporting and encouraging the Kam- 
puchcans. This would leave Kampuchea to deal with its own 
internal problems. Such Vietnamese inaction would leave the 
Kampuchean regime without the threat of an outside enemy on 
which to focus widespread popular dissatisfaction and griev- 
ances. Judging by the nearly universal condemnation of the Pol 
Pot regime's internal policies, condemnation evidently now 
joined even by China's top leadership, the regime would then 
face a simple choice; change its policies, or be destroyed by its 
own people. 

For the U.S. to choose a normalization strategy favoring 
China over Vietnam could lead to heightened tensions between 
Vietnam and China, continued bloody confrontations between 
Vietnam and Kampuchea, and a growing and dangerous 
Sino-Soviet face-off in Southeast Asia. It appears that Bxzezinski 
and other presidential advisors may actually prefer this scenario. 
The turmoil it would set off would not be easy to control, 
however, even from their point of view. In the long run, 
everyone would lose. □ 


1. Peking Review, June 23, 1978, p. 26. 

2. San Francisco Examiner, September 7. 1978, p. 18. 

3. David Bonavia, Far Eastern Economic Review. June 9, 1978, 
p. 10. 

4. Nayan Chanda, Far Eastern Economic Review, July 7, 1978. p. 8. 

5. For discussions of the early 1960s disagreements over nuclear 
weapons and peaceful coexistence vs. armed struggle, see Franz 
Schurmann, The Logic of World Power (New York: Pantheon Books, 
1974), pp. 307-27; and Donald Zagoria, Vietnam Triangle (New York; 
Pegasus, 1 967), pp. 109-10. 

6. Donald Zagoria, Vietnam Triangle, p. 109. 

7. Ibid., p. 43. 

8. Ibid., p. SO. 9. Franz Schurmann, The Logic of World Power, 
pp. 346-47. 

10. Edwin W. Martin, Southeast Asia and China: The End of 
Containment (Boulder, Colorado: Wesi view Press, 1977), p. 2. 

11. Joseph Alsop, "Showdown Over Southeast Asia?", Reader's 
Digest, December 1975, p. 138. 

12. Usha Mahajani, "Sino-Soviet Conflict and Rivalry in Southeast 
Asia in the Post- Viet nam Phase," London Yearbook of World Affairs. 
1978, p. 169. 

13. Nay an Chanda, Far Eastern Economic Review. February 25, 

1977, pp. 18-20. 

14. Ibid. 

15. Paris Le Point, December 26. 1977, p. 25. 

16. Militant (New York), July 21, 1978. 

17. Roger M. Smith, Cambodia's t'oreign Policy, (Ithaca, New York: 
Cornell University Press, 1965). p. 118. 

18. Stephen R. HeJer. "The Historical Bases of the Kampuchea- 
Vietnam Conflict," Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, forthcoming. 

19. Roger M. Smith, op. eit., p. 117. 

20. Ibid., p. 121. 

21. Timothy Michael Carney, Communist Party Power in Kampuchea 
(Cambodia). Documents and Discussion, Data Paper No. 106 (Ithaca, 
New York: Southeast Asia Program, Department of Asian Studies, 
Cornell University. January 1977), p. 14. See also "Underdevelopment in 
Cambodia," Indochina Chronicle, No. 51-52, September-November 1976. 

22. Usha Mahajani, op. eit,, p. 167, 

23. Nay an Chanda, Far Fastens Economic Review, September 8, 

1978. pp. 11-12. 

24. Los Angeles Timet, May 2, 1978; excerpted from ftN- The 
Memoirs of Richard Nixon, 

25. Usha Mahajani, op. eit., pp. 158-59. 

26. Far Eastern Economic Review, June 13, 1975, p. 25. 

27. Usha Mahajani, "Sino- American Rapprochement and the New 
Configurations in Southeast Asia," London Yearbook of World Affairs 
1975, p. 114. 

28. Nayan Chanda, Far Eastern Economic Review, February 25. 
1977, pp. 18-20. 

29. Ibid. 

30. Nayan Chanda, Far Eastern Economic Review, November 11, 

31. Interview with Kampuchean Deputy Prime Minister leng Sary. 
The Call (Chicago). August 28. 1978. p. 9. 

32. Usha Mahajani, loc. eit. 

33. Usha Mahajani, "Sino-Soviet Conflict and Rivalry in South-east 
Asia," p. 167. 

34. Banning Garrett, Indochina Chronicle, No. 45, December 1975. 

35. The significance of the Alsop article was first recognized by Usha 
Mahajani, op. cil. 

36. Los Angeles Times, May 6, 1975. 

37. Nayan Chanda, Far Eastern Economic Review, July 7, 1978, p. 9. 

38. Christian Science Monitor, April 26, 1978. 

39. New York Times, April 27, 1978. 

40. Baltimore Sun. July 20. 1978. 

41. Banning Garrett, International Bulletin, July 31, 1978. 

42. Sow Francisco Chronicle, August 28, 1978. 

43. Asia Mail, April 1978. 

44. Asia Mail. August 1978. 

+5. "Report of the Study Mission to Vietnam," Congressional 
Record, August 22, 1978. 

46. Washington Post, December 19. 1976, p. A-20. 

47. Wall Street Journal. September 1, 1978, 

48. Christian Science Monitor. August 29, 1 978. 

49. Bangkok Ban Muang, August 3. 1978; cited In FB1S Daily 
Reports, APA. August J, 1978, pp. J-l. 2. 

50. Wall Street Journal, September 1, 1978. 

51. Los Angeles Times. April 22, 1978. 









The bitter exchange 

reveals little ground 

for compromise 

between Hanoi and 

Phnom Penh. 

(Above): Mrs, Nguyen Thi Cu tails a press conference of the Sept. 1978 Kampuchea!) raid on their village, four miles from the border in Vietnam's 
Tay Ninh province. She says she and her nephew were the only survivors of the attack which left 463 people massacred. 
(Below): A January 1978 press conference in Ho Chi Minh City, (photos: VNA) 


Most Western news reports of the 
conflict between Kampuchea and 
Vietnam have focussed mainly on 
foreign diplomatic and intelligence obser- 
vations. Listening directly to what the 
combatants themselves have to say pro- 
vides some keys to understanding the con- 
flict, keys that are often negleeted by out- 
siders. There is no shortage of material; 
since the conflict was first aired, at the be- 
ginning of the year, an increasingly all-out 
war of propaganda has filled the airwaves 
of the official radio stations in both Viet- 
nam and Kampuchea. Both governments 
have distributed their own versions of the 
story at the United Nations and to the 
international press. They have produced 
films, white papers, photographs, con- 
fessions of captured soldiers, and eyewit- 
ness accounts of peasants and visiting for- 
eign delegations. 


Issue No. 64 



Kampuchea's Version 


Kampuchea fired rhc first shot in the 
propaganda war. In a statement issued 
December 31, 1977, it charged the Viet- 
namese army with "heinous crimes," 
worse than the mercenaries of the Thieu- 
Ky government, comparing Vietnam's ac- 
tions to Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia 
in 1939. ' From this starting point, which 
must rank as the harshest opening state- 
ment in a feud between two socialist 
states, Kampuchea's vilification of Viet- 
nam has steadily intensified, A Kampu- 
chean broadcast on July 31, 1978, labeled 
the Vietnamese communists "rotten, cor- 
rupt, shameless beggars" and charged that 
northern party cadre were ruling southern 
Vietnam as "oppressors" and "plunder- 
ers," It also made the unbelievable charge 
that corrupt Vict nam esc Communist Party 
members had guided U.S. B-52 bombing 
attacks against Vietnam's own forces dur- 
ing the eight years of the U.S. air war. 2 
Other broadcasts and press releases have 
condemned the Vietnamese as revision- 
ists, placing "Socialist Republic of Viet- 
nam" in quotation marks. Denouncing 

Vietnam for its decision to accept aid and 
investment from capitalist countries, one 
broadcast warned "the Vietnamese en- 
emy," that "if he wants to follow the 
road of the U.S. imperialists he will de- 
stroy himself for it is a deadend, adven- 
turous policy." 3 

Kampuchea has consistently blamed 
the fighting on Vietnamese attempts to 
force it into a Vietnam-dominated "Indo- 
china Federation" comprised of Vietnam, 
Kampuchea, and neighboring Laos. The 
Kampuchcan government has, on infre- 
quent occasions, also explained die con- 
flict as the result of Vietnam's attempt to 
plunder Kampuchcan grain stocks to meet 
its post-war food crisis, 

Kampuchean Communist Party Secre- 
tary Pol Pot, the leading figure in the gov- 
ernment, has charged that the Vietnamese 
communists, ever since the founding of 
their party in 1930, coveted a federation 
joining die three countries into "one parry, 
one people, one army and one country." 
He claims that since 1975 Vietnam has 
hidden these ambitions under the guise of 
advocating a "special friendship" and 
"special solidarity," formalized through 
treaties governing all aspects of each na- 
tion's affairs. Such treaties, Po! Pot be- 
lieves, would destroy Kampuchcan auton- 
omy. He has charged that the Vietnamese 
drive for domination of Kampuchea, and 
Vietnam's relative shortage of arable land, 
has even led it to make plans for moving 
millions of Vietnam settlers onto Kampu- 
chcan soil, assuring Vietnam's control by 
having Vietnamese residents outnumber 
Kampucheans. 4 

Because it failed to secure these aims 

through diplomatic routes, Pol Pot says, 
Vietnam supported a scries of attempted 
coups beginning in September, 197S, act- 
ing through spies and agents infiltrated in- 
to the Kampuchean army, party, and gov- 
ernment. Alleged confessions of captured 
Vietnamese soldiers and agents have been 
offered as proof of these claims. The 
authenticity of the confessions is very 
questionable, however, raising serious 
doubts about the charges themselves. 
Some of the statements of the captured 
Vietnamese "agents," for example, con- 
form to the official Kampuchcan line so 
closely that they appear to have been writ- 
ten for the prisoners by their captors. 
One confession read over the radio by a 
captured Vietnamese soldier purported to 
recall the words of his training officer ex- 
plaining Vietnam's strategy: "If wc can 
take over Kampuchea, wc will become 
the owners of Indochina. Indochina must 
be under the domination of the Indo- 
chinesc Communist Party, with Vietnam 
as its leader. After wc take over Kampu- 
chea, wc will be renowned in the areas of 
state administration, economy, [and] in- 
fluence in Southeast Asia, which we will 
further dominate. Vietnam Radio'sbroad- 
casts about peaceful negotiations are only 
a political trick." 5 


The Kampuchcan people have received 
a steady stream of exhortations to vigi- 
lance, continued sacrifice, and absolute 
obedience to the Party's directives in the 
effort to ward off Vietnamese conquest. 
The exhortations have dwelt on popular 
fears of national extinction, the memory 

The only U.S. journalist allowed lo visit 
Kampuchea since 1975 represented the 
U.S. Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), 
Dan Bursteln, Editor of the CP-ML's news- 
paper The Call, toured the country In April 1976. He met with Kampuchean leader leng Sary {above 1 ) and held a press conference upon 
his return to the U.S. (right), (photos: The Call) 




. . one Kampucliean soldier 
is equal to 30 Vietnamese . . . we 
will certainly win, even if this 
fight lasts 700 years." 

of the fallen Khmer empire, and the suc- 
cessful struggle against the U.S. Racial 
hatred towards all Vietnamese has been 
emphasized and encouraged. In an aston- 
ishing and ominous exercise in cold marh- 
cmatic calculation, a May, 1978, govern- 
ment broadcast reviewing the 1977-1978 
"defense effort" appeared to call for an 
all-out war of annihilation against the 
Vietnamese people. "In terms of num- 
bers," the broadcast said, "one of us had 
to kill 30 Vietnamese ... So far, we have 
succeeded in implementing this slogan of 
t against 30 . . . Using these figures, 1 
Kampuchean soldier is equal to 30 Viet- 
namese soldiers. Then how many Vietna- 
mese arc equal to 10 Kampuchean sol- 
diers? The answer must be 300. And 100 
Kampuchcans arc equal to 3,000 Vietna- 
mese; and 1 million Kampuchcans are 
equal to 30 million Vietnamese. If we 
have 2 million troops, there should he 60 
million Vietnamese, For this reason, 2 
million troops should be more than 

Kampuchean troops display Vietnamese 
weapons captured during Sept. 1977 fight- 
ing, (photos: TheCati) 

enough to fight the Vietnamese, because 
Vietnam has only 50 million inhabitants. 
We do not need 8 million people. We 
need only 2 million troops to crush the 
50 million Vietnamese; and we still would 
have 6 million people left. We must for- 
mulate our combat line in this manner in 
order to achieve victory ... If we can use 
one against 30, we will certainly win, 
even if th is f igh t lasts 7 00 years or more. " 6 
It should be noted that the Khmer em- 
pire was at its peak of power 700 years 
ago, reigning over most of the southern 
part of present-day Vietnam and Thailand. 
More seriously, the assertion that the 30 
to 1 kill ratio had been maintained 
through May is completely implausible 
if it is meant to appiy only to military 
engagements. If the Kampuchean leaders 
are actually claiming that their forces 
have outfought the much larger, more ex- 
perienced Vietnamese military on a 30 to 
1 ratio, it indicates that they are either 
seriously out of touch with reality or 

desperately attempting through every 
possible means to maintain the morale of 
an army which by most accounts had been 
severely mauled by Vietnamese forces. 
Frequent Vietnamese charges that Kam- 
puchean troops have systematically killed 
entire villages of unarmed Vietnamese 
civilians in cross-border raids, if true, sug- 
gest a second interpretation. If such kill- 
ings are in fact part of Kampuchean strat- 
egy, the slogan of "1 against 30" may ac- 
curately be intetp feted as a literal call for 
genocide. 7 


In addition to accusing the Vietnamese 
communists of harboring ambitions to 
dominate their country, and relying heav- 
ily on popular anti- Vietnamese sentiment, 
Kampuchean communist leaders also 
charge that Vietnam is colluding with the 
Soviet Union in a global expansion 
scheme. Kampuchea's views on this sub- 
ject echo those of China, Kampuchea's 
only major ally. Kampuchean Foreign 
Minister leng Sary has used the claim, 
with little success, in seeking support 
from skeptical capitalist regimes in the 
rest of Southeast Asia and non-aligned 
nations around the world. He has claimed 
that by fighting Vietnam, Kampuchea is 
defending the interests of a!! non-aligned 
governments against designs for world 
domination by the Soviet Union and the 
United States. 8 Merc again, the scant "evi- 
dence" offered by Kampuchea to support 
these claims is questionable. For example, 
Kampuchea's charge that Vietnamese 
troops are assisted by Soviet field advisors 
has been universally scoffed at by foreign 
diplomats and military observers, who 
point out that Soviet advisors were never 
used in the field during the long war 
against the much more powerful U.S. 
military forces. 


Vietnam's Version 


Vietnam's version of the conflict differs 
sharply from Kampuchea's, but the basic 
charges arc on similar themes. Reversing 
Kampuchean accusations, the Vietnamese 
point to past Kampuchean designs on 
Vietnamese territory. Vietnam has also 
played up internal contradictions and 
weaknesses in the Kampuchean Commu- 
nist Party to explain Kampuchea's provo- 

Issue No. 64 


cation of a war Vietnam claims it did not 
want. Photos of massacred Vietnamese 
villagers, captured documents and alleged 
confessions of Kampuehean soldiers have 
been offered as evidence that Kampuchea 
covets the Mekong Delta land it lost to 
Vietnam prior to and during French colo- 
nial rule, A Vietnamese correspondent re- 
ported finding leaflets dropped by Kam- 
puehean troops during the December, 
1977, fighting in Vietnam's Tay Ninh 
province, which read: "You should bear 
in mind that this is Kampuchea's land. 
Kampuchea's border extends as far as 
Saigon." 9 

For the most part, however, Vietnam, 
like Kampuchea, has maintained that the 
basis of the conflict is not a simple dis- 
pute over borders or territory. Vietnamese 
accounts have blamed the fighting on the 
Kampuehean leaders' desperate need to 
divert domestic and international atten- 
tion from serious internal problems caused 
by the Kampuehean regime's extreme re- 
pressive policies against its own people. 


Coundess articles and editorials have 
appeared in the western press charging 
the Kampuehean regime with extreme 
human rights violations, often compar- 
ing post-1975 Kampuchea to the Nazi 
holocaust. Condemnations of the regime 
by various U.S. political figures including 
President Jimmy Carter and Senator 
George McGovern have been widely re- 
ported, yet the press has made almost no 
mention of the frequent official Vietna- 
mese statements echoing these same 
themes. This omission is surprising, since 
Vietnam has argued that Kampuchea's in- 
ternal conditions are a key to understand- 
ing the outbreak of hostilities between the 
two countries, "The internal strife and 
daily purges and cases of savage bloodshed 
in Kampuchea are being exposed one after 
another," read a Vietnamese magazine 
article broadcast in Khmer by Radio 
Hanoi in May. This broadcast was moni- 
tored by the U.S. government, passed on 
to the press — and ignored, "Many Kam- 
puchcans have died because of the utterly 
savage barbarism of those executing the 
orders of the present powerholdcrs in 
Phnom Penh," the article said. It went on 
to summarize the drastic changes which 
had been ordered by the Kampuehean 
authorities: the forced evacuation of 
cities, abolition of personal property and 
money, dismandement of the school sys- 

" Those who have plundered 
and massacred you are none 
other than those who have put 
the guns into your hands — the 
present powerholders in 

tern, suppression of the family and reli- 
gion, and mistreatment of foreign nation- 
als. The Vietnamese article noted that "all 
of this has been exposed daily in the inter 
national press." The fear that their own 
people might rise up and rebel against 
these drastic policies, the article con- 
cluded, led Kampuehean leaders to fo- 
ment an external conflict as a diversion 
that would focus the people's attention 
outward - on Vietnam. "In pursuing the 
policy of fanning national hatred and en- 
mity against Vietnam, it is clear as day- 
light that the Kampuehean authorities are 
attempting to divert the attention of the 
Kampuehean people from the actual prob- 
lems that have to be solved at home and 
to confuse world opinion with regard to 
the utterly ferocious regime in 
Kampuchea." 11 

This article, like many other official 
statements, insists that it is the "unswerv- 
ing policy" of the Socialist Republic of 
Vietnam never to interfere in the internal 
affairs of any country. In April, however, 
along with reports on Kampuehean inter- 
nal conditions, the Vietnamese began to 
call for the Kampuehean people, especially 
the army, to overthrow the Pol Pot re- 
gime. Apparently this was prompted by 
Kampuchea's refusal of a Vietnamese pro- 
posal in February for a negotiated, inter- 
nationally supervised settlement of the 
dispute. The escalation of Chinese mili- 
tary aid to the Kampuehean regime in 
March further hardened Hanoi's attitudes, 
A Radio Hanoi "Station Talk" on April 3 
addressed to "Beloved Kampuehean Sol- 
diers" was a clear call for rebellion: "You 
have been told that Vietnam has attacked 
and pillaged Kampuchea because Vietnam 
is plagued by famine. For goodness sake! 
If you look at tile life of the people in 
your homeland you will realize who is 
responsible for the killing, pillage, confu- 
sion and complete change in the normal 
way of life in your homeland. 

"Those who have plundered and mas- 

sacred you and your families and de- 
ceived you arc none other than those who 
have put the guns into your hands — the 
present powerholders in Kampuchea! , . . 
In your ranks, many are turning their 
guns around. This is a manifestation of 
their awakening." 13 Since this broadcast, 
such appeals have been matched by Viet- 
namese training and support for Kam- 
puehean resistance forces prepared to 
return to their country and oppose the 
Po! Pot regime. 

To rally popular support for the war 
effort against Kampuchea, the Vietna- 
mese government has reported frequently 
on atrocities committed by Kampuehean 
soldiers againsr Vietnamese civilians living 
in border areas. It has not resorted to the 
overtly racist appeals made by Kampu- 
ehean leaders, and has instead consistently 
expressed the desire for the return of 
friendship and solidarity between the two 
peoples. Vietnamese radio stations fre- 
quently broadcast Vietnam's version of 
the conflict in Khmer to convince Kam- 
puchcans that their government's policy 
is wrong. Kampuehean stations, by con- 
trast, broadcast only in Khmer. 

Vietnam's leaders deny the charge that 
they are trying to force Kampuchea into 
an "Indochina Federation," and have of- 
fered a detailed history of the federation 
idea, which they say was abandoned 
years ago. Vietnam's only aim, they in- 
sist, has been a friendly relationship 
based on mutual benefit and the agree- 
ment of both countries to renounce ag- 
gression, interference, and force in their 
dealings with each other, Vietnam points 
out that it has not used the term "Indo- 
china Federation" since 1954, and 
charges that Kampuchea has used this 
"historical matter" only to "arouse 
national hatred and enmity." If it is 
really the Indochina Federation question 
that stands in the way of better relations, 
Vietnam's Foreign Ministry pointedly 
asks, then why should the Kampuchcans 



not agree to treaties proposed by Viet- 
nam that would guarantee their indepen- 
dence, sovereignty, and territorial integri- 
ty, laying to rest the disputes over border 
demarcation and fears of annexation? 13 


The Vietnamese have offered a some- 
what rose-colored version of the often 
strained relations between the Vietnamese 
and Kampuchcan communist parties in 
the past, Vietnamese accounts paint a pic- 
ture of relations that remained "wonder- 
fully pure" until "the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary 
opportunist elements" returned from Paris 
in the early 1950s and eventually took 
control of the Kampuchcan revolutionary 
movement. '* independent histories of the 
relationship between die two parties 
show, however, that die Vietnamese 
party's ties to the Kampuchcan revolution- 
ary movement were never as strong or 
"pure" as they were with the communist 
movement in neighboring Laos. Pol Pot 
came on the scene just before the 1954 
Geneva Agreement, but the agreement led 
to disaffection among many veteran Kam- 
puchean communists, not just returning 
students. Kampuehean communists saw 
terms accepted by the Vietnamese com- 
munists for the political future of Kam- 
puchea as threatening the survival of their 
movement. Vietnam tends to gloss over 
this difficult history including serious dif- 
ferences over strategy in the 1960s. This 
makes it easier for Vietnam to portray as 
totally irrational the current Kampuehean 
regime's apparent ingratitude toward Viet- 
nam's wartime assistance, and its vehe- 
ment opposition to any cooperation with 
Vietnam today. 

The specifics of Kampuehean objec- 
tions to current cooperation proposals 
favored by Vietnam, make the logic of 
Kampuehean sensitivity and resistance at 
least plausible. For example, Vietnam has 
scored Kampuchea for having a "closed- 
door foreign policy, enhancing narrow 
nationalism and rejecting international 
cooperation." 16 More specifically, Kam- 
puchea is criticized for refusing to take 
part in the proposed Mekong Develop- 
ment Project, a huge system of hydro- 
electric and flood control dams involving 
Thailand, Laos, Kampuchea, and Viet- 
nam. Thailand and Vietnam would be the 
major beneficiaries of the project, while 
ecological alteration, and population dis- 
placement would take place in Kampu- 

Thfs Kampuehean schoolteacher recounts 
lor Vietnamese and western Journalists 
her Jan. 1978 escape to Vietnam after her 
lather, a rickshaw driver, was killed by the 
Kampuehean regime, (photo: VNA) 

chea. Even in Thailand the plan has been 
opposed by peasants who argue that their 
livelihood would be destroyed when dams 
designed to produce electricity for far- 
away Bangkok flooded their fields and 

Kampuchea is resistant to the plan, 
developed by the UN with heavy U.S. and 
French backing, on grounds of funda- 
mental political principle. The large in- 
puts of foreign investment and aid re- 
quired to build the system, the depend- 
ence of Thailand and Vietnam on installa- 
tions deep inside Kampuchea country, 
and the substantia] alteration of farming 
techniques and social organization the 
project would dictate would deeply com- 
promise Kampuchea's frequently declared 
efforts to achieve economic and political 
Self-reliance at any cost. 17 The Kampu- 
ehean government's reluctance to join 
Vietnam in the Mekong Project along 
with negative experiences in other coop- 
eration attempts may explain the origins 
of its exaggerated charges that Vietnam is 
plotting to force it into a formal 


Kampuchea has not been the only 

target of Vietnam's verbal attacks. First 
in veiled references which by mid-year 

gave way to open, strongly worded state- 
ments, Vietnam has charged that the 
Kampuehean regime provoked the con- 
flict at the urging of the People's Re- 
public of China. As early as January, 
only weeks after the conflict had come 
out into the open, a high Vietnamese 
official told a visiting American tele- 
vision journalist, "the situation is a trap, 
but we know who the hunter is," 18 in 
late February, Vietnam began making 
direct references to the role of China as 
Kampuchea's main backer. 

It was only much later, when the 
dispute with China over treatment of 
ethnic Chinese residents in Vietnam had 
become serious, that Vietnam explicitly 
charged Kampuchea was serving China's 
foreign policy aims. Vietnamese Party 
officials claim that the real root of 
Chinese charges that Vietnam has per- 
secuted its ethnic Chinese (Hoa) popula- 
tion is China's "dark schemes" of ex- 
pansion and its fears that the Kampu- 
chcan regime, its ally in these plans, 
might be overthrown. "The Chinese 
have deliberately cooked up the story 
of Vietnam's so-called ostracism, dis- 
crimination, persecution and expulsion of 
Hoa people . , . ," said one Vietnamese 
official. "This is a calculated move aimed 
at causing difficulties to socialist con- 
struction in Vietnam, sabotaging the long- 
standing friendship between the peoples 
of Vietnam and China and directly 
breathing life into the reactionary Kam- 
puchcan henchmen," 19 If China's real 
concern was the welfare of overseas 
Chinese, the Vietnamese wondered aloud, 
why didn't they protest Kampuchea's 
harsh treatment of its own Chinese 
residents? Rather, the Vietnamese argue, 
the Chinese arc using the issue out of 
concern for the weakening Pol Pot re- 
gime. The Vietnamese charge collusion 
between the Chinese and Kampucheans 
dating back to the 1960s. 

"In the 1960s Pol Pot found his way 
to Peking," reads a July 15 Nhan Dan 
editorial, "to meet with the Chinese 
leaders at a time when the 'Cultural Revo- 
lution' was raging in China. And since 
'birds of a feather flock together,' collu- 
sion and betrayal began then. The Pol 
Pot-leng Sary clique became a reserve 
pawn of the Chinese leaders' strategy of 
expansion down to Southeast Asia." 20 

Propaganda is a tool of persuasion. In 
time of war, it is a weapon equal in im- 
portance to guns and ammunition, espe- 
cially when victory relies in part on the 

Issue No. 64 


judgment of "world opinion" or major 
outside powers. The result is that state- 
ments made by each side in the dispute 
often oversimplify complicated situa- 
tions, exaggerate charges against the 
enemy, and avoid facts which contradict 
claims to absolute righteousness. But 
while such propaganda does not reveal 
many hard facts, it does convey impor- 
tant attitudes. Kampuchea and Vietnam 
are no exception. What emerges from 
their propaganda is a strong sense that 
there is little common ground for com- 
promise and settlement between the 
current leaders in Hanoi and Phnom 
Penh. The harsh invectives which have 
been hurled back and forth and the 
serious threats each has made against the 
other have been matched by actions on 
the battlefield. Meanwhile, China, the 
Soviet Union, and the United States are 
maneuvering in the background. And 
once again, it appears that the outcome 
of a war in Indochina hangs in the 
balance. — L.F. 


1. "Statement Issued by the Government 
of Democratic Kampuchea for the Attention of 
All Friends, Near or Far, in the Five Continents 
and of the World Opinion," December 31. 
1977, p. 3, p. 8. 

2. Foreign Broadcast Information Service; 
Daily Report, Asia & Pacific. August 3, 1978, 
p. H-5. 

3. FBIS: Daily Report, Asia St Pacific, 
January 3, 1978, p. H-2. 

4. FBIS: Daily Report, Asia & Pacific, 
April 13, 1978, pp. H-l. 2. See also "State- 
ment" cited in footnote 1. 

5. FBIS; Daily Report, Asia & Pacific, May 
4, 1978, p. H-3. 

6. FBIS: Daily Report, Asia &. Pacific, May 
12, 1978, pp. H-2, 3. 

7. In a similarly unlikely statement Jan- 
uary 6, Kampuchea claimed to have "put out of 
action 29.200 enemies, killed or wounded" 
hetween September 1977 and January 1978. 
Voice of Democratic Kampuchea broadcast, 
January 6, 1978, transcript supplied by the 
Peking embassy of Democratic Kampuchea, 

8. FBIS: Daily Report, Asia & Pacific, May 
17, 1978, p. H-4. 

9. FBIS: Daily Report, Asia St Pacific, 
February 13. 1978, p. K-6. Former Head of 
State Sihanouk demanded the return of most of 
present-day south Vietnam, including Saigon, in 
1948 and 1949. At the Geneva conference on 
Indochina in 1954, the Kampuchean foreign 
minister reserved the right to make future 
claims to the territory. Thus, the last official 
Kampuchean claims to Vietnamese territory 

were made at about the same time as Hanoi's 
last official advocacy of an Indochina Federa- 
tion. See Roger M. Smith, Cambodia's Foreign 
Policy, pp. 154-5 5. 

10. George McArthur of the Los Angeles 
Times has been an exception. See his story of 
March 25, 1978. 

11. FBIS: Daily Report, Asia 8: Pacific, May 

11, 1978, pp. K-18, 19. See also Kampuchea 
Dossier (Hanoi: Vietnam Courier, 1978), pp. 
15-16. Vietnamese propaganda portrayals of 
repression in Kampuchea must be viewed with 
some caution, however, since no protest was 
made until this late date when it served to 
strengthen international support for Vietnam in 
the fighting. Also, some of the evidence offered 
by Vietnam to back up the charges is 
questionable. Nhan Dan on July 15 published a 
set of photographs purporting to show brutal 
executions, forced labor, and other examples of 
CPK-inspired repression. These same photo- 
graphs have been given wide circulation by the 
Western press over the past two years; there is 
strong evidence that the photographs were 
faked for anti-communist propaganda purposes 
in Thailand. Also, a recent Hanoi broadcast 
cited Robert Dole, Gerald Ford's 1976 running- 
mate, and right-wing Reader's Digest author 
Anthony Paul (Murder of a Gentle Land), as 
credible authorities on the situation in Kam- 
puchea. See FBIS, July 31, 1978, p. K-8; also 
Southeast Asia Chronicle, No. 58-59, December 

1977. for a critical analysis of the sources and 
the evidence that have been advanced to prove 
charges of mass executions and repression in 
Kampuchea, including the photographs and the 
Paul book mentioned above. 

12. FBIS. Daily Report, Asia & Pacific, 
April 5. 1978. pp. K-1.2. 

1 3. Foreign Ministry Document on Indo- 
china Federation, cited in FBIS Daily Report, 
Asia 8t Pacific, April 7, 1978, p. K-22. 

14. FBIS: Daily Report. Asia St Pacific, July 
17, 1978, p. K-8. 

15. See the article by Stephen R. Hcder in 
this issue; also Heder, "The Historical Bases of 
the Kampuchea- Vietnam Conflict," Bulletin of 
Concerned Asian Scholars, forthcoming. 

16. Foreign Ministry Document on Indo- 
china Federation, loc. cit. 

17. Apparently concerned that Vietnam was 
scoring points with its portrayals of Kampu- 
chean isolationism in the fierce competition for 
support from Thailand and other Southeast 
Asian countries which are close observers of the 
dispute, Kampuchea announced July 5 its 
willingness to join the Mekong Project some- 
time in 1979. This surprising announcement 
could be only a diplomatic ploy, but it reverses 
the government's previous refusal even to 
discuss the project. See Bangkok Post, July 16, 

1978. For a longer discussion of the project and 
earlier Kampuchean objections, see Lowell 
Finley, "The Hidden Stakes in Indochina," In 
These Times, May 3, 1978. 

18. Personal communication from Jon Al- 
port, Downtown Community Television Center, 
New York. 

19. Speech by Mai Chi Tho, member of the 
Vietnam Communist Party Central Committee, 
at Ho Chi Minh City ceremony to send off 
troops to the Kampuchean border. FBIS: June 

12, 1978, p. K-3. 

20. FBIS: Daily Report, Asia St Pacific, July 
17, 1978. p. K-3. 

The war between Kampuchea and 
Vietman has revealed such serious, 
long-standing disagreements be- 
between the two neighboring govern- 
ments on so many fundamental issues 
that it can no longer accurately be de- 
scribed simply as a border conflict. It 
was, however, a series of disputes over the 
border which started the fighting. A look 
at how the modern boundary between 
the two countries was established and the 
history of earlier disputes over it helps to 
explain why. 

The current problem has its roots in 
the original delineation of the border by 
French survey expeditions in the late 
1 9th century, and in the early 20th cen- 
tury "readjustments" of this delineation. 
The border line thus established by the 
French and bequeathed to Kampuchea 
and Vietnam in 1954 was grossly disad- 
vantageous to Kampuchea. There were 
two main reasons for the French terri- 
torial discrimination against Kampuchea; 
1) Cochinchina (approximately the 
southern third of today's reunited Viet- 
nam) was a full colony of France where- 
as Kampuchea was only a protectorate. 
Cochinchina was thus viewed by French 
colonists as literally French territory 
whereas Kampuchea still had a form of 
nominal independence. In order to en- 
sure the fullest possible collection of 
taxes and greatest possible extent of 
arbitrary direct colonial rule, there was 
a tendency to push Cochinchina's bor- 
ders north and west. 2) The commercial 
agricultural interests of the French 
colonists in Cochinchina were much 
stronger and much better organized than 
those in Kampuchea, Thus the Coehin- 
chinese "lobby" in Indochinese and 
Parisian colonial offices was much 
stronger than that of Kampuchea. This 
lobby's desire to obtain the maximum 
possible area for commercial rice cul- 
ture (especially in the area bordering 
Svay Rieng, i.e., the western border of 
Tay Ninh, the "Parrot's Beak" area, and 
rubber plantations (especially in the rich 
"red earth" zones bordering Kampong 
Cham, i.e., the northern borders of Tay 
Ninh), reinforced the tendency to annex 
Kampuchean territory to the colony of 

As a result of the French favoritism 
toward Cochinchina, their 19th century 
delineation already included within Co- 
chinchina targe areas that were ethnical- 
ly Khmer and generally still adminis- 
tered by Khmer officials appointed by or 



map: Far Eastern Economic Review, Frank Tam 

The Border Dispute 

on the Land 

loyal to the court in Phnom Penh, The 
early 20th century border "readjust- 
ments" only made things worse, be- 
cause they brought about further 
losses of territory by Kampuchea. 

Outright fraud, contravention of in- 
ternal French law, and negligence in ful- 
filling moral and legal obligations en- 
tailed in France's "protectorate" relation- 
ship with Kampuchea might be argued to 
render the original border delineations 
and subsequent readjustments null and 
void. However, since the beginning of the 
1960s, it has been Kampuchea's consis- 
tent foreign policy position that it ac- 
cepts the final French frontiers if its 

neighbors, especially Vietnam, agree 
to their inviolability, immutability, and 
intangibility (i.e., that the borders can 
never again be "touched" by negotiations 
for further readjustments). In other 
words, Kampuchea has been willing to 
permanently shelve all protests against 
the unfair frontiers established by the 
French colonial regime in Indochina and 
permanently abandon all ethnic and his- 
torical claims on the "lost territories" if 
Vietnam is willing to agree never again to 
challenge the delineation of the French or 
to demand negotiations concerning this 

This policy was designed to put a de- 

finitive end to what were perceived as 
Vietnam's (and Thailand's) "traditional" 
salami tactics of making a scries of osten- 
sibly reasonable demands for minor read- 
justments that ultimately add up to major 
territorial losses. It was increasingly well 
articulated by Sihanouk and his foreign 
policy advisors throughout the 1960s. 
Kampuchea's insistence upon establishing 
the principle of the non-negotiability of 
its frontiers was tied to its apparently 
eternal geopolitical position of being 
sandwiched between more powerful and 
influential neighbors that seemed to have, 
no matter what their politics and inter- 
national political affiliation, more assured 
internaional diplomatic support. They 
would thus always tend to have the edge 
in negotiations. Sihanouk's policy of 
freezing the frontiers established by the 
French and refusing to negotiate their 
delineation was thus seen as a response to 
a situation where negotiation only led to 
renegotiation and loss of territory. 

This insistence upon non-negotiability, 
however, has always made it easy to pre- 
sent Kampuchea as an intransigent and 
even irrational nation. This appearance 
has been a problem for Kampuchea since 
the Sihanouk era, that is, long before the 
Communist victory in 1975. One Siha- 
nouk era editorial in an official magazine 
explained it this way: "Most foreign gov- 
ernments consider that Cambodia is not 
very sane because she grants an impor- 
tance which they lack to 'several little 
uninhabited islets,' to several acres of for- 
est, and even to some old stones (Preah 
Vihcar, a temple on the border with Thai- 
land |. Why not abandon these to those 
who want them, or at least enter into dis- 
cussions with them, for is this not the 
price, at minimal cost, of reestablishing 
good relations with neighbors? The Thais 
and the Vietnamese . . . never cease to 
avow their good intentions toward Cam- 
bodia, their desire to settle once and for 
all this frontier problem in a friendly 
spirit . . . The point at issue is not the 
value of the land claimed but much more. 
In Saigon as in Bangkok, [they] would 
only consider the most minimum satis- 
faction resulting from these claims as a 
sign that Cambodia is beginning to 'un- 
bend' . . . The actual claims are 'modest 
and reasonable' . . ., but we know from 
experience that methods begun in this 
manner lead inevitably to the annexation 
of the areas, then the provinces, and even- 
tually of all of the left bank of the Mc- 

Issue No. 64 


kong . . . The actual frontier itself is the 

Klimers' last line of resistance. To accept 

proposals to negotiate . . , would be a 

tacit acknowledgement of eventual defeat 
■ ■ 

It was from this self-consciously skep- 
tical position that Sihanouk demanded 
that Kampuchea's neighbors and all coun- 
tries that wanted to have diplomatic rela- 
tions with Kampuchea make unilateral 
declarations of respect for and recogni- 
tion of Kampuchea's "present frontiers." 
Thus although neigh hots would recog- 
nize Kampuchea's present frontiers, Kam- 
puchea would not tecognize its neighbors' 
present frontiers. This had the effect of 
reserving to Kampuchea the right to re- 
solve any ambiguity in the French deline- 
ation of the frontiers. These resolutions 
could be expected to be in Kampuchea's 
favor, but would necessarily be minor, 
since the French delineation in most ateas 
was quite clear. In return for this conces- 
sion, of course, Kampuchea felt that it 
was making a much greater one by re- 
nouncing its claims on "lost territories." 

The American-backed governments in 
Saigon and Bangkok refused to make the 
kind of unilateral declaration demanded 
by Sihanouk. However, in the period be- 
tween 1964 and 1967, the National 
Front for the Liberation of South Viet- 
nam and the Democratic Republic of 
Vietnam gradually accepted the Siha- 
noukist position on Kampuchea's land 
frontiers. In May 1967, the Front issued 
a three point communique that met Siha- 
nouk's conditions; in June, the DRV is- 
sued a similarly worded statement. As 
Sihanouk was quick to point out, Kam- 
puchea took the declarations to mean 
that the Vietnamese had formally recog- 
nized the existing frontiers not only for 
the present but the future as well. 

Moreover, the Vietnamese on several 
occasions came out with full support for 
Kampuchea's interpretation of sovereign- 
ty questions in specific cases where delin- 
eation and demarcation of the land bor- 
der were ambiguous or unclear. As Siha- 
nouk explained, the NFL recognized 
that villages in ambiguous zones claimed 
by the American-backed Saigon govern- 
ment were in Kampuchean territory if 
they had historically been under Kampu- 
chean administration and were ethnical- 
ly Khmer. 

With all the above in mind, it is pos- 
sible to look at the area where some of 
the heaviest fighting broke out in late 

1977,. the Tay Ninh-Svay Rieng fron- 
tier. This is an area where different maps 
disagree on the exact location of the bor- 
der, since it was never properly demar- 
cated. For example, U.S. Army maps 
show a number of villages with Khmer 
names on the Vietnamese side of their 
delineation of the frontier in this gen- 
era) area. This is particularly significant 
because in the late 1960s the NFL and 
DRV recognized Kampuchean sovereign- 
ty over Khmer villages in the ambiguous 
border zones precisely along the Tay- 
Ninh-Kampuchca frontier. Finally, it 
must be remembered that by the late 
1960s, large numbers of Vietnamese 
refugees were crossing the botder into 
Kampuchea in this general area, into 
which the French had already brought 
large numbers of Vietnamese to work on 
rubber plantations, This opened up the 
possibility of the emergence of a Vietna- 
mese majority population in the eastern 
areas of Kampong Cham province, which 
arc (because of the rubber plantations) a 
key part of Kampuchea's economy. This 
refugee movement, plus continuous 
uncontrolled migration of non-refugee 
Vietnamese into Kampuchean territory, 
was viewed by Sihanouk as an under- 
standable failure on the part of the NFL 
to implement effective respect for Kam- 
puchea's frontiers, given the war circum- 
stances. However Sihanouk ist spokesmen 
made it clear that it was in the best inter- 
est of Vietnamese-Kampuchean relations 
that the NFL strive to interrupt com- 
pletely illegal immigration into Kam- 

Thus it seems that the situation in the 
area of the deepest Kampuchean incur- 
sion in the battles in late 1977 was a 
highly explosive one. The Kampucheans, 
perhaps with the perception that the 
Vietnamese had been dragging their feet 
on "effective implementation" of respect 
for the frontiers during the war years, had 
deported Vietnamese immigrants to their 
homeland at the end of the war. In the 
series of talks held between 1975 and 
1977, the Kampucheans, basing them- 
selves on the NFL and DRV communi- 
ques from 1967, may have felt they con- 
tinued to have the right to resolve (in 
their favor) ambiguities in the frontier. In 
the negotiations, the Kampucheans may 
have taken the position that the only 
topics of discussion ought to be Vietna- 
mese recognition of their resolutions and 
strict Vietnamese implementation of ef- 

fective respect for the frontiers in the 
form of withdrawal from any remaining 
ambiguous zones claimed by Kampuchea 
and the prevention of migration into 
these zones. The Vietnamese may have 
taken a position closer to "let's hold 
joint discussions on the frontiers now 
that the Thicu regime and the Americans, 
our common enemies, are out of the 
way." At least, this is the way the Kam- 
pucheans seem to have interpreted the 
Vietnamese position on the maritime 
boundary line, which they may have con- 
sidered only the first step. (The Vietna- 
mese say that the 1967 declarations were 
never intended to apply to the maritime 
bound ary.) It seems likely that it was 
when the Kampucheans became con- 
vinced that the Vietnamese were attempt- 
ing to set up a situation in which the bor- 
ders themselves were to be the real topic 
of discussion and that they would thus be 
subject to "readjustment," that the Kam- 
pucheans decided to break off ncgotia- 

In the Tay Ninh area, as elsewhere, the 
Kampucheans probably perceived either 
that Vietnamese nationals were remaining 
on Kampuchean territory or, worse yet, 
that Vietnamese New Economic Zone set- 
tlers were moving onto Kampuchean Ter- 
ritory. The Kampucheans may have be- 
lieved that this territory, if in ambiguous 
zones, had been rightfully designated as 
Kampuchean on the basis of the 1967 
communiques. The Vietnamese may have 
seen such designations as arbitrary. If the 
situation that developed along the Thai- 
Kampuchean frontier is any example, 
after the Kampucheans became convinced 
that the Vietnamese were not negotiating 
in good faith, they ordered their troops 
to circulate in zones they considered their 
territory. The Vietnamese (and the Thai) 
see this as outright aggression and con- 
sider clashes with villagers simple mas- 
sacres. In these diametrically opposed 
points of view lay the seeds of the full- 
scale conflict in which the two sides are 
now entangled -S.R.H. 



The Border Dispute 

on the Seas 

Official Kampuchean map 




When Kampuchea published this 
1977 map indicating the French co- 
lonial "Brevie Line" as its maritime 
border, the Vietnamese reacted 


On May 4, 1975, weeks after the CPK 
victory in Kampuchea and only days after 
the liberation of Saigon, Kampuchean 
forces invaded Vietnam's Phu Quoc and 
Tho Chu islands. Vietnamese forces drove 
the Kampucheans off the two islands, 
pursuing them as far as Kampuchea's Koh 
Way, the island from which the initial 
Kampuchean attack had been launched. 
According to a recent Vietnamese ac- 
count of the episode, which the Kam- 
pucheans have not denied, Kampuchean 
Communist Party Secretary Pol Pot apol- 
ogized for the initial Kampuchean attack 
at the time, explaining that the Kampu- 
chean troops involved had simply been 
"ignorant of local geography." The Viet- 
namese later returned Koh Way to 
Kampuchean control, after a series of 
meetings with Kampuchean officials. 

The apparent source of the disputes 
over these islands is their strategic 
location in the vicinity of the Kampu- 
chean port of Sihanoukville. Sihanouk- 
villc, or Kompong Som, Kampuchea's 
only deep-water port, was constructed in 
the mid-1950s for the express purpose of 

reducing Kampuchea's dependence on the 
port of Saigon. In 1956, the Diem 
government attempted to occupy a 
number of the islands near the new port, 
and in 1960 demanded that Kampuchea 
renounce claims to other nearby islands 
over which Phnom Penh had always 
exercised control. Kampuchean leaders 
saw these acts as confirmation of their 
suspicions that the south Vietnamese 
were intent upon keeping Kampuchea in 
a subordinate position by keeping it 
economically dependent upon Saigon. In 
the spring of 1960, Sihanouk said "the 
loss of the islands and the territorial 
waters surrounding them would lead to 
the stifling of the port of Sihanoukville 
. . . and very soon to the end of our 

The disagreement over ownership of 
the offshore islands stemmed from the 
failure of the French to establish a clear 
maritime border between Kampuchea and 
Vietnam before the two countries won 
independence. The only maritime boun- 
dary left by the French was the Brevie 
Line. Established by the French colonial 

governor-general of Indochina in 1939 to 
resolve disagreements over offshore island 
administration and police jurisdiction, the 
Brevie Line begins on the coast where 
southern Vietnam (at that time Cochin- 
china) and Kampuchea meet, and angles 
off into the Gulf of Thailand. The line is 
broken at one point to skirt the edges of 
Phu Quoc, the largest of the islands, 
which Brevie awarded to the control of 

According to the Vietnamese, Kam- 
puchea rejected the Brevie Line as a sea 
border in August 1966 negotiations with 
the Saigon government because Kampu- 
chean leaders would not accept Viet- 
namese control of Phu Quoc. These early 
negotiations were suspended without 
agreement. When representatives of the 
communist parties of Kampuchea and 
Vietnam met two years ago, from May 4 
to May 18, 1976, to resume discussions 
on the maritime border, Kampuchea gave 
up its claims to Phu Quoc and cailed for 
recognition by the two countries of the 
Brevie Line as a full maritime border. The 
Vietnamese agreed to use the Brevie Line 

bsue No, 64 


to determine sovereignty over islands, but 
not to accept it as a border on the sea 
itself. The Kampueheans this position 
as a violation of declarations that the 
DRV and NLF had made in 1966 and 
1967 promising to respect Kampuchea's 
existing frontiers. These earlier declara- 
tions, the Kampueheans claimed, consti- 
tuted a Vietnamese recognition of the 
Brevie Line as the maritime border. The 
Vietnamese countered by arguing that 
since Kampuchea and Vietnam (Cochin- 
china) had been part of a single French 
colonial entity, there had never been a 
legal maritime border between them. 
Therefore, the 1966 and 1967 declara- 
tions did not cover the questions of 
maritime frontiers. The Vietnamese cited 
Brevie's original order, which specified; 
"only the matters of administration and 
the police are considered here, the 
question of whose territory these islands 
are remains outstanding." Brevie's de- 
marcation line could not have been 
intended as an international boundary, 
Vietnam maintained, since it was only 3 
kilometers from Phu Quoc Island, and 

French taw of the time required a 5.556 
kilometer margin of territorial waters for 
an international border. Still at odds on 
this question, the 1976 meetings were 
"temporarily" adjourned, never to be re- 
convened as fighting along the land 
borders intensified, leading to the eventu- 
al break in all diplomatic contact at the 
end of 1977. 

of annexation of a big part of the seas of 
Kampuchea." The Vietnamese, for their 
part, were incensed when the August 
1977 issue of the official pictorial 
magazine Democratic Kampuchea Ad- 
vances included a map on which the 
national sea border of Kampuchea was 
drawn according to the Brevie Line. "It 
should be pointed out that even the 
former Royal Government of National 
Union of Kampuchea [the exile govern- 
ment headed by Sihanouk from 1970 to 
1975] never drew the national sea border 
according to the Brevie Line . . . This 
action of the Kampuchcan side testified 
to its land greed and territorial ambi- 
tions," said Vietnam's Foreign Ministry. 
Vietnam, Kampuchea, and Thailand 

Kampuchea now charges that the talks 
broke down because Vietnam had "plans 
now all claim 200-mile economic /ones 
off their coasts. These claims result in 
substantial overlaps (see map). Vietnam 
and Thailand have agreed to settle the 
issue "on the basis of equitable prin- 
ciples." In Kampuchea's case, however, 
the government's refusal to negotiate its 
frontiers with either of its neighbors rules 
out this more traditional approach to the 
setdement of conflicting territorial 
claims. Added to the old concern for the 
protection of the port of Kompong Som 
is a new competition for rights to 
exploitation of oil and other sea-bed 
minerals. The result has been continued 
sporadic fighting on and around the 
offshore islands between Kampuchcan 
and Vietnamese forces throughout 1978. 
As in the fighting which erupted along 
the land border, the murky history of the 
sea border has produced a seemingly 
irreeonci (cable conflict unless one of the 
governments makes major concessions. 






maps. Glenn Hirsch 

Back Issues... 

^V i Six times a year, the Southeast Asia Chronicle provides a thorough background 
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Issue 64 Vietnam-Kampuchea War A complete historical study together 

with an analysis of the role the major powers are playing in the con- 
flict. (Sept-Oct 1978) 

Issue 63 Succession Crisis in Indonesia Cornell University's Ben Anderson 

explains why Suharto's power base is crumbling. Also: Resistance 
in E. Timor, and Indonesia's new Student Movement. (July- Aug 1978) 

Issue 62 United Front in the Philippines Dr. Joel Rocamora examines the 

united resistance to martial law— and how the front achieved its 
unity. Also: the first publication of the Nat. Democratic Front's 10- 
Point Program. {May-June 1978) 

Issue 61 Laos Recovers From America's War Church activists report in 

detail from Vientiane on Laos' tremendous economic and political 
problems. (March -April 1978) 

Issue 60 Thailand Under Military Rule A close look at the Thai Junta's 

programs, plus interviews with the new student guerillas who fled 
the junta's violence. Also: Thailand's place in current US strategy. 
(Jan-Feb 1978) 

Issue 58-59 Human Rights in Southeast Asia A comprehensive look at Thai- 
land, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and what is (and isn't) 
known about Kampuchea, (Dec 1977) 

Issue 56-57 Vietnam: Rebuilding the South An eyewitness account by Center 
staff. Also: A first-hand report from the US-Vietnam normalization 
talks. {July 1977) 

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