PM Lee saying that voters would prefer their own race as President (Screengrab from CNA's YouTube)

Vietnam’s envoy to Cambodia on PM Lee’s online remark: We have not forsaken lessons of history

Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported yesterday (‘Singapore PM Stirs Flap in Cambodia by Bringing up Vietnam’s 1979 Invasion‘, 5 Jun) that the Cambodian officials are unhappy with a recent online remark by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, recalling Vietnam’s January 1979 invasion and decade-long occupation of Cambodia.

Last Friday (31 May), while sending condolences to Thailand on the death of former Thai PM General Prem Tinsulanonda, PM Lee wrote on his Facebook page, “Thailand was on the front line, facing Vietnamese forces across its borders with Cambodia. [Then] General Prem was resolute in not accepting this.” And added, “This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being legitimized. It protected the security of other Southeast Asia(n) countries, and decisively shape(d) the course of the region.”

While political analysts said PM Lee’s remarks may be factually correct, Phnom Penh officials made it clear they felt his account was not politically correct. The analysts said PM Lee’s post would be offensive to PM Hun Sen, who was installed in 1985, during the era of the Vietnamese-controlled People’s Republic of Kampuchea.

At the same time, it was reported that Cambodia’s Defense Minister General Tea Banh had asked Singapore’s Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen to relay a message to PM Lee, demanding that he changes his online statement.

“We cannot accept what he said. Vietnamese volunteer troops came to liberate our people,” General Banh said. “We still consider them as saviors – this means a lot for us.”

Vietnam’s Ambassador to Cambodia weighs in

Meanwhile, RFA reported that Vietnam’s Ambassador to Cambodia, Vu Minh Quang, has also weighed in on the issue.

He wrote on his Facebook page, “Invade or liberate. Occupy or protect. It does not matter (if) the cat is black or white.”

“Nothing forgotten. Nobody forgotten. This year 2019 we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge Genocide Regime. We put the past if full of pain and hatred behind, to look forward to the future, but it does not mean we have forsaken lessons of history,” wrote the envoy.

In 1991, after signing the Paris Peace Accord, Vietnam withdraw its troops from Cambodia. In 1995, Vietnam joined ASEAN as the seventh member and in 1999, after the stabilization of its government, Cambodia also joined in. With Vietnam joining ASEAN, it ushered a new era of stability in the SE Asian region. Still, PM Lee went ahead to post an online remark deemed by Cambodia and Vietnam as “not politically correct”.

RFA is a private, nonprofit international broadcasting corporation established in the 1990s with the aim of promoting democratic values and human rights. It is funded by a grant from the U.S. Agency for Global Media, an independent agency of the US government. On its website, RFA said its mission is to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press.