The VN Express reported today (5 Jun) that Ms Le Thi Thu Hang, spokeswoman for Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Vietnam “regrets” that PM Lee’s recent online statement did not reflect history objectively, causing negative public opinions. Ms Hang said her ministry has discussed with Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the matter.
VN Express is the first Vietnamese online newspaper launched since 2001. It is widely read and attains the highest ranking among other e-newspapers in Vietnam on Alexa.com, after Yahoo!, Google, and Google Vietnam.
Ms Hang said Vietnam’s contribution and sacrifice in helping Cambodian people end Khmer Rouge’ genocide is true and widely recognized.
The UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia found two leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge guilty of genocide on November 16 last year, almost four decades after the regime which oversaw the “Killing Fields” was overthrown.
In a Facebook post on May 31, Prime Minister Lee expressed condolences on the passing of former Thai PM and President of the Privy Council, General Prem Tinsulanonda, who he said served at the time five ASEAN members came together “to oppose Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and the Cambodian government that replaced the Khmer Rouge”.
“Thailand was on the frontline, facing Vietnamese forces across its border with Cambodia. General Prem was resolute in not accepting this fait accompli, and worked with ASEAN partners to oppose the Vietnamese occupation in international forums. This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being legitimised,” PM Lee wrote.
Cambodia’s Defense Minister Tea Banh and Cambodian People’s Party legislator Hun Many have both rebutted PM Lee’s insensitive remark earlier.
Minister Banh told The Khmer Times that he has requested Singapore to amend the Lee’s statement as it “was not true and not reflective of the history.”
“We cannot accept what he said. We have already clarified that Vietnamese volunteer troops came to liberate our people,” he said.
Hun Many also said that Vietnam had assisted Cambodia in fighting the Khmer Rogue. “We wanted to be saved from the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rogue. The help came in form of the Cambodian People’s Party with the assistance of our neighboring country’s Vietnam.”
Between 1975 and 1979, Cambodia was ruled under the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot, which carried out the Cambodian genocide leading to the deaths of 1.5 to 3 million people or around 25% of Cambodia’s population.
Online, Vietnamese netizens were furious with regard to the remarks made by PM Lee on his Facebook page:
Vu Anh: “The truth is that Vietnam helped Cambodian people to overthrow the genocidal Pol Pot regime. Why it is called “invasion” PM Lee?”
Le Hieu: “I think his action is on purpose. Vietnam should oppose more strongly.”
David Tran: “PM Lee, you should study carefully history again when you talk Vietnam invade Cambodia… In this dark chapter of history, the blood of innocent victims falls not only Cambodians but also Vietnamese who lived near the Vietnam – Cambodia border so you aren’t enough behavior to judge about it even your father also. You should come and see the proofs which have still exited at Cambodia and Vietnam until now before you have any irresponsible speaking like this. With these words, you don’t deserve with Vietnamese respects and love in during the past time.”
Tiet Xen Xen: “This statement should be protested bitterly as it is not only wrongly reflective of the history, taking VN’s contributions and sacrifice for granted, it could also impair VNese people’s image in front of international public. We request a prompt amendment to the remark.”
This is not the first time PM Lee has made insensitive remarks which angered other countries. In 2017, at a State Dinner hosted by President Obama for PM Lee in White House, PM Lee made some comments which angered China.