“តើវៀតណាមជាឪពុកខ្ញុំ ឬជាមហាក្សត្រខ្ញុំឬ? … វៀតណាមមិនមែនជាចៅហ្វាយរបស់ខ្ញុំ ដែលខ្ញុំត្រូវស្មោះត្រង់នោះទេ។”
លោកនាយករដ្ឋមន្ត្រីហ៊ុន សែន ថ្ងៃទី ៣១ កក្កដា ២០១៦ ហ៊ុន សែន ហ្វេសប៊ុក
“Is Vietnam my father or my King?... Vietnam is not my master to whom I must be loyal.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen, 31 July 2016, Hun Sen Facebook
“In his meeting with Son Minh Thang, Deputy Head of the Steering Committee [for the Southwest Region], General [Dieng] Sarun [Deputy Commander of the Army, Deputy Commander of the Prime Minister's Bodyguard Unit] briefed the host on the political situation in Cambodia….”
Cambodia, Vietnam seek more cooperation, 16 June 2016, Vietnam Net
“[Vietnam’s Deputy Defense Minister] Mr. Don added that Vietnam supported all of Cambodia’s major activities, especially the upcoming 2017 and 2018 elections, and would always be there to help.”
Khmer Times reporter San Bunsim, 7 October 2016, Khmer Times
“Article 3 … His Majesty Preah Bat Samdech Preah Boromneath Norodom Sihamoni and other leaders of Cambodia expressed their deep gratitude for the strong support and assistance that generations of leaders and people of Vietnam accorded to the people of Cambodia in the past and at present, and affirmed that they always remember the assistance of the Vietnamese voluntary soldiers in cooperation with Cambodian people to liberate Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge genocide regime in 1979.”
Joint statement on the 1516 June State visit of President Tran Dai Quang to Cambodia, 16 June 2016, Vietnam Net Bridge
The answer to Hun Sen's questions is: No, Vietnam is neither his father nor his King. It might be, but it is not. Nevertheless, a more interesting question is, is he right to claim Vietnam is not his master?
Maybe; but he certainly treats Vietnam like one, and it behaves like one too.
First, there is a role for Vietnam in Cambodian internal politics. For instance, Dieng Sarun briefs his Vietnamese host about Cambodian political situations. Tran Don declares Vietnam supports and is ready to assist all Cambodian major activities including the forth coming local elections. Does Vietnam report to Hun Sen their internal affairs? Does Vietnam need Hun Sen to declare his support and assistance for its major activities? Unlikely.
Second, the Vietnamese role is more by design. Within the last four years, there have been at least five inter-State visits by Vietnam and nine by Cambodia – all led by top military and civilian officials including Hun Sen. Just in the last four months there are eight visits. Why must they be so consuming?
There are two recurring themes in those visits. First, it is to "deepen the defence cooperation” between the two nations. The deepened cooperation may well lend much credibility to reports of Vietnamese troop movements into Cambodia during border clashes with Thailand, and more recently, of a deployment of about 5,000 Vietnamese special forces into Cambodia to be ready to strike if the 2013 elections turbulence is getting out of Hun Sen’s hand.
The second is to express Cambodia’s gratitude to Vietnam. If Cambodia’s indispensable contributions towards the Vietnamese victory in the Vietnam war were counted for anything Hun Sen’s gratitude for the Vietnamese 1979 interventions could not be so much. Though, it keeps growing with the continuous deepening of the military cooperation.
Anyhow, Hun Sen’s firm stance against Vietnam’s interests in the South China Sea (SCS) disputes convinces many that Hun Sen has turned himself away from Vietnam – towards China. Has he?
It is inconceivable that, with the deepened military cooperation, Vietnam would let Hun Sen off the hook scot-free for damaging its SCS interests. He must be ready to pay anything to pacify Vietnam; Cambodia still has abundant natural resources including border land that Vietnam is drooling over.
While Hun Sen needs the Vietnamese deepened military cooperation, he also needs Chinese cash to grow, not necessarily the economy, business empires of his family and personal interest groups through corruption siphons. The cash that comes without any good governance conditions in exchange for Chinese control over Cambodia’s natural resources is more than enough to command Hun Sen’s loyalty.
Indeed, this is another Hun Sen’s win-win brilliance. The masters are thrilled with their tributes, his family and tycoons with their wealth, and local intellectuals with a continuous GDP growth. He does not have to choose between Vietnam and China; he can have both. After all, he is just one of Cambodian leaders who have perfected the art of serving multiple masters concurrently since the sixteenth century.
Ung Bun Ang
By The Way, A Postcard From Hanoi
Nguyen Tan Dung takes the honour of reviewing both his troops and his official guests Cambodia’s Strong Couple in Hanoi on 27 December 2013
With such a downtrodden Khmer courtesy greeting by the Cambodia’s Strong Couple looking for eye contact, the stern-face Vietnamese prime minister looks elsewhere, if not ignoring his official guests. How can he treat his official guests as if they represent a mere vassal state?
He seems to have received some sort of audacity boost during the Hanoi visit as a week later Hun Sen orders his armed forces to shoot into crowds of protesters on Veng Sreng Boulevard. Five are killed and more than twenty are injured in the name of law and order. Hanoi would be proud for the job well done.
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