Hanoi— Last week, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc paid an official visit to Cambodia which was seen as a significant event for the two neighboring countries. Cambodia and Vietnam are celebrating their 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year.But while the Cambodians and Vietnamese consider each other brothers and partners on several points in history, the last half century was not without wars, strifes and tensions.
Here are four things you must know about the Vietnamese and Cambodian relations.
1. Sharing a border and helping overthrow the Pol Pot regime. Vietnam shares its border with Cambodia, China and Laos. But the one in the Cambodia had seen bloody disputes in the past. One of the most notable conflicts between Cambodia and Vietnam as a result of the border dispute was the 1979 Cambodian-Vietnamese war. It started from isolated clashes along the land and maritime boundaries of Vietnam and Cambodia between 1975 and 1977.
The Vietnamese sent its own troops Cambodia to fight the Pol Pot regime in 1979.
While some quarters regard it as a full-scale Vietnamese invasion, the intervention had helped the Cambodians successfully overthrow the Pol Pot regime which had wiped out one-fourth to one-third of the Cambodian population. The Vietnamese military presence in Cambodia lasted for 10 years.What was the primary motive of Vietnam for fighting Pol Pot? In 1975, Pol Pot’s army raided and took Phu Quoc, a Vietnamese island off the coast of Cambodia. Pol Pot’s army then attempted to seize parts of Southern Vietnam, killing Vietnamese villagers. At this point, the relations between Vietnam and Cambodia had broken down and fear of further attacks prompted Vietnam to send its troops to remove Pol Pot from power.
Seven years after the Vietnamese troops left Cambodia, Cambodia’s First Prime Minister openly accused Vietnam of encroaching on Cambodian territory . Discussions on settling the dispute have been going on since.Even if the last Joint Border Committee meeting in 2016 deadlocked, both sides have expressed the desire to agreed to complete efforts to demarcate and plant markers along their 700-mile long border.
This year, the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments announced that 84 percent of the border delimitation treaties between the two countries have been accomplished. The two neighbors both agreed to finish the land border demarcation and marker planting process as soon as possible.
“The two sides expressed the determination to complete the planting of border sub-pilars and supplementary makers within 2017 as well as finalize and approve demarcation marker planting dossiers,” the joint statement released by the prime ministers of Cambodia and Vietnam during Phuc’s visit.
Cambodians are generally grateful to the Vietnamese for liberating the country and overthrowing the genocidal regime.
In a joint statement issued by the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments last week during Phuc’s visit, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen extensively expressed gratitude to the Vietnamese.
“The Cambodian side expressed deep gratitude for the strong support and assistance given to Cambodia by Vietnamese leaders and people in the past and present and reaffirmed that the Cambodian people would always remember the assistance of Vietnamese voluntary soldiers with Cambodian people to liberate Khmer Rouge genocidal regime in 1979,” the statement reads.
But some critics of the Cambodian government regard the 1979 Vietnam’s intervention as an invasion and believe the current government led by PM Hun Sen is a puppet and pro- Vietnamese.
3. Flourishing trade
While you may see the relations between Vietnam and Cambodia over the past decades as bittersweet, the trade between the two countries has been flourishing in the last few years. Vietnam is Cambodia’s major trade partner and investor. Vietnam is Cambodia’s sixth largest trading partner and its tenth largest foreign investor.
According to the Vietnamese Embassy in Phom Penh, the bilateral trade rose to USD3.3 billion in 2013 from $1.8 billion in 2010. It declined slightly to USD 3.02 billion in 2015.
Bilateral trade is expected to reach $3.5 billion in 2017.
Vietnam has taken over around 130 projects in the fields of rubber, fertilizer, banking, aviation and telecommunications in Cambodia.
During Phuc’s visit in Cambodia, the two governments have both agreed to continuing cooperation in different areas, especially those in which each country has advantages such as education and training, border trade, tourism, telecommunication, aviation, banking, oil and gas, rubber, agriculture, and electric power.
The two reaffirmed their goal of bilateral trade volume of USD 5 billion in the next 3 years.
4. Anti-Vietnamese sentiment in Cambodia
On one side, Cambodians may see the Vietnamese as saviors from the Pol pot regime, but on the other, the antagonism against the Vietnamese still runs high in Cambodia. It is a deep-rooted sentiment often fueled by the political opposition parties in Cambodia.
The ethnic Vietnamese, the largest ethnic minority in Cambodia with about 156,000 people mostly residing in southeastern parts of Cambodia bordering on Vietnam, have been subjected to hatred and xenophobic attacks.
The first Vietnamese set foot in modern-day Cambodia from the early 19th century during the era of the Nguyễn lords. Most Vietnamese came to Cambodia during the periods of French colonial administration and the People’s Republic of Kampuchea. But still many Vietnamese Cambodians have not been issued with identification papers under the Cambodian Government’s regulations. Many could not own lands and personal property. They could not vote.
Phuc’s visit, however, could be viewed as a positive development for the two countries’ bilateral relations. There were no reports though if the plight of the enthic Vietnamese in Cambodia has been tackled in the meeting of the two leaders.
But in the joint statement of Cambodia and Vietnam, the two sides pledged to continue to create favorable conditions for expats of one country in accordance with each country’s laws.
“In spirit of friendly neighborliness, the Vietnamese side hopes that the Cambodian side would continue to take approproate measures to ensure the legitimate rights of Vietnamese residents, equally treated as other foreign residents living in Cambodia in conformity with Cambodian laws and regulations,” the statement reads.
It remains to be seen , however, whether conditions would improve for the Vietnamese community living in Cambodia.