chapter  5
16 Pages

Cambodia

Civil war in Cambodia involved four different Khmer factions and each one had an outside sponsor state (Solomon 1999). Despite its reputation from the war in Vietnam and the bipolar constraints of the Cold War, the US was seen as the most ‘neutral’ member of the Security Council, “with the political influence and resources to help structure the settlement” (Solomon 2000, 4). At the moment the US-led peace talks took place in the final months of 1989, the government in Phnom Penh was headed by Hun Sen, whose faction assumed power thanks to a Vietnamese military incursion into Cambodia in December 1978 which overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime (Hampson and Zartman 2012, 4). The proVietnamese government, named the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), was backed only by the USSR and its allies and did not enjoy the support of the West. Also, it certainly did not have good relations with the authorities in Beijing. China was concerned about Vietnamese expansionist policies, interpreting them as Soviet efforts to contain Chinese influence in South-East Asia. Once dethroned, the Khmer Rouge fled to the jungles along the border with Thailand and thanks to Chinese support, started an insurgency campaign against Vietnam’s client regime (Solomon 1999, 284). Given its experience with Vietnam and the positioning of the Soviet Union in the matter, the United States chose China as its partner. It was clear to the US that China was interested in improving its international reputation after the June 1989 events at Tiananmen Square and thus that it would be more willing to cooperate with the US even at the cost of distancing themselves from the Khmer Rouge (Hampson and Zartman 2012, 6). The two sides managed to reach initial convergence of interests in supporting a future coalition government led by Prince Sihanouk, who had governed Cambodia in its first decade as an independent state, only to be toppled by Khmer Rouge forces in 1963. Ironically, Chinese acceptance of Sihanouk was coupled with a request to allow for the Khmer Rouge to be included in the future power-sharing arrangement. The US did not object to this, as it wanted to keep the Khmer Rouge engaged in the peace process, fearing that they might otherwise act as spoilers. At the same time, the US was confident that if the Khmer Rouge agreed to participate in the future political life of Cambodia, its unpopularity with local people would certainly not allow them to gain power through elections.