SINGAPORE — Vietnam may object to Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong’s comments on its invasion of Cambodia in 1978, but it does not change the past as many view it, according to Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin.
It also does not detract both countries from being good friends or neighbours, he wrote in a post on his Facebook page on Friday (7 June).
He was responding to a tweet on Wednesday by Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), which took issue with Lee’s Facebook post on 31 May. Lee was paying tribute to the late former Thai PM General Prem Tinsulanonda, who passed away on 26 May.
In the post, Lee said that General Prem was PM when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) opposed “Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and the Cambodian government that replaced the Khmer Rouge”.
Responses from Vietnam, Cambodia to PM Lee’s post
Vietnam’s MFA tweeted that Vietnam “regretted” Lee’s remarks, saying they did not objectively reflect the historical truth and have adversely affected public opinions.
Cambodia’s Defence Minister Tea Banh also criticised Lee’s remarks as “untruthful”, according to a report by the Khmer Times.
Vietnam and Cambodia have long maintained that the conflict was to “liberate” Cambodians from the massacres carried out by the Khmer Rouge. Up to 3 million Cambodians were estimated to have died under the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge.
Different views of the past
Tan said in his Facebook post that Vietnam “may not like some of the comments made by PM and I guess they can choose to define the past as they see fit”.
He added. “This doesn’t change the past as many view it. Nor does it detract from us being good friends or neighbours today. We are committed to that.”
Tan explained that the events in Indochina took place in the not-too-distant past, and had significantly preoccupied Singapore’s security agencies, who were concerned about the threat of communism and its spread from China.
Singaporeans who ‘jump the bandwagon’
Tan also used his post to criticise Singaporeans who “happily jump on the bandwagon and take issue with our Government and having no regard for history”.
He said, “Perhaps they have not read nor have any idea about what happened? Or worse. They know but still choose to snipe because it’s politically expedient.”
He also posted several links to online articles on the 1978-1989 Indochina war:
A 2011 speech by former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng on Singapore’s stand on the Cambodia conflict
a 1979 New York Times news article on Cambodia’s late Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s appeal to the United Nations council to get Vietnam out of Cambodia
An overview on the current disagreement due to PM Lee’s remarks
An article from the Public Services Division outlining Singapore’s approach as a nation as it seeks to establish its place in the world
“Do spend sometime reading and having a view about what happened and how it shaped us,” Tan said in his Facebook post.
“It was a significant series of events for a young nation and it’d be unfortunate to forget it just because some choose politicking over a sense of nationhood.”