Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s recent remarks on Vietnam’s intervention in Cambodia preceding the Khmer Rouge regime’s downfall “suggest an insolence” to over 1.6mil victims of the genocide, said Singaporean international human rights lawyer Ravi Madasamy, more commonly known as M Ravi.
In the wake of former Thai PM and President of the Privy Council Prem Tinsulanonda’s passing, Mr Lee said in a Facebook post on 31 May that he had written to Thai PM and junta leader Prayut Chan-o-Cha to express his condolences.
Calling the late General Tinsulanonda a “capable and immensely respected leader”, Mr Lee said that the General’s leadership “coincided with the ASEAN members coming 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,” wrote Mr Lee.
“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,” he added.
In his op-ed piece in The Phnom Penh Post on Fri (7 Jun), Mr M Ravi added that Mr Lee’s “denial of the legitimacy of the Cambodian government under Heng Samrin that saved the lives of over four million Cambodians with support from the Vietnamese forces” have been interpreted as a sign of support for “an autocratic and repressive rule by a dictatorial figure” such as Pol Pot.
He observed that not only have Singaporean statesmen refrained from condemning “the auto-genocide conducted by the Pol Pot administration” until today, they have also “provided military assistance and denied offering humanitarian assistance to the survivors of the Khmer Rouge who went fleeing into Vietnam and Thailand” as a result of the late “Lee Kuan Yew’s own strategic agenda for the region”.
“Singapore instrumentally rallied the global community to deny legitimacy of Heng Samrin’s pro-Vietnamese communist regime,” wrote Mr M Ravi, adding that “Singapore was sadly also the first Southeast Asian country that offered to provide military assistance to guerrilla forces based in Vietnam to fight against Heng Samrin’s regime”.
Singapore’s “disdain” against Vietnam, Mr M Ravi suggested, stems from the perception that Vietnam has been aiming to “impose communism” on other Southeast Asian nations.
“Prime Minister Lee’s views clearly cannot be taken as the Singaporean position, however, as so many Singaporeans have taken to social media to express their utter distaste over the comments,” he said.
Lee Kuan Yew had previously made controversial statements regarding Tiananmen massacre; “unfortunate” that there is a pattern of expressing such views among Singaporean politicians: M Ravi
Mr M Ravi also drew attention to Mr Lee’s “utterly insensitive” statement on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, during which students protested the dearth of democracy, free speech and a free press in China, particularly following the death of former Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang who had strived to introduce democratic reforms in the republic.
Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan wrote in a 2014 commentary for current affairs platform The Conversation that when Mr Lee “was asked whether China would be more prosperous and stable had the students succeeded in overthrowing the communist government and established a democracy in 1989,” he replied: “I didn’t think so then, and I don’t think so now”.
Mr Lee then reportedly went on to quote Deng Xiaoping’s notorious statement: “If I have to shoot 200,000 students to save China from another 100 years of disorder, so be it.”
Mr M Ravi stressed that the former prime minister’s comments have “deeply hurt the feelings of the families who lost loved ones who were brutally crushed to death by rolling tanks” in the protests, and were out of tune with “the feelings of millions of Chinese people who were yearning for democracy in China”.
Singaporean politicians “need human rights awareness and training”, must be “acutely aware of the several landmines of sensitivities in the region”: M Ravi
Proposing solutions to the current tensions with Cambodia and Vietnam following PM Lee’s remarks, Mr M Ravi said that while it is “unfortunate” that “our politicians have got away with so much in the past with things said and done”, “human rights awareness and training” in conjunction with consistent engagement with the human rights community and non-governmental organisations will improve the diplomacy skills of Singaporean politicians.
“If an apology is sought by the Cambodian side, I am optimistic that Singaporean diplomacy will grant this graciously somehow,” he wrote.
He added that in a time where political and trade stability are “critical” for the progress of Asean and its communities, Singaporean statesmen “need to be acutely aware of the several landmines of sensitivities in the region”.
“We need to get our [Asean nations’] internal squabbles out of the way through mutual respect and recognition,” Mr M Ravi concluded.