Phnom Penh Post: What is your view of Vietnamese-Cambodian relations?
Ambassador Chuong: When Prince Sihanouk was in power, there were about half a
million Vietnamese living here. They did various jobs-rubber plantation workers,
plasterers, carpenters, fisherman. In general they were very poor-both then and now.
In the 1970s some incidents occured, such as the massacres of Vietnamese people,
the aim of which was to overthrow Sihanouk's regime. Killing Vietnamese and undermining
their economic activity in Cambodia was one method to create social disorder and
destabilize the economy to topple the king. It's hard to estimate the numbers of
Vietnamese killed, but many fled Cambodia after that.
From 1975 to 1978, the Khmer Rouge performed a very terrible deed that we all know
about. The "killing fields" included the killing of Vietnamese-many fled
Cambodia with bare hands. Everyone knows about the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, which
led to an uprising of Cambodian people in 1978 against them.
Also from 1975-1978, the Khmer Rouge attacked Vietnam provinces bordering Cambodia,
causing heavy losses in human lives and material for Vietnam. They even attempted
to annex some provinces of Vietnam. Vietnam used its right of self defense and responded
to the call of the Cambodian people to come to help them to bring Cambodia back to
life. At that point Vietnamese who had formerly lived in Cambodia began returning.
The State of Cambodia statistic [for Vietnamese residents in Cambodia] is roughly
Post: What role do ethnic Vietnamese play in Khmer society?
Amb. Chuong: Today, still, the Vietnamese are poor laborers. They are still construction
workers, fishermen, day laborers.
They are honest and hard-working people and they respect Cambodian laws, religions
and tradition. They have added much to Cambodian rehabilitation and reconstruction.
The easiest place to find Vietnamese people is in the poor areas along the river,
where you will find the shacks of poor fishermen or construction workers. It's obvious
that the Vietnamese don't own the banks, big villas, hotels or restaurants.
In general, people who hold high positions such as bank presidents are not Vietnamese.
If you walk along Achar Mean Boulevard you can see who controls the economy-it's
not the Vietnamese.
Post: You've said that many Vietnamese have lived in
Cambodia for generations. Have more people started coming in the last several
Amb. Chuong: Most of the people coming back since 1979 are the former Vietnamese
residents of Cambodia. Recently some are coming to Cambodia because of all the new
construction. Cambodia lacks skilled workers, especially in construction of concrete
Post: What are the workers' immigration status? Are they coming legally?
Amb Chuong: These workers coming [to Cambodia] are under signed contracts between
Cambodian and Vietnamese companies. They stay a very short time. After completing
their project, they will return to Vietnam. Provincial authorities in Vietnam, especially
in the provinces near Cambodia, are instructed not to allow anyone into Cambodia
without legal documents.
We have a very long border with Cambodia-about 1,000 kilometers-so there are some
problems with enforcement.
Post: Given some of the recent murders and violence against Vietnamese residents
here , what kind of protection can the Vietnamese Embassy offer Vietnamese residents?
Amb. Chuong: Our measures to protect our citizens are peaceful and according to law.
We've asked the State of Cambodia-because they control 80 percent of Cambodia-to
protect Vietnamese residents here according to the laws of Cambodia, international
law on foreign residents, the conventions on human rights, and the Paris Peace Accords.
We've also asked UNTAC and the SNC to do the same.
If there's no peace, there can be no economic development of Cambodia. The campaign
of natural hatred must be stopped. A xenophobic campaign won't just affect Vietnamese,
but may well expand to other foreign residents.
Post: How do you react to members of the Supreme National Council (SNC) objecting
to the presence of ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia?
Amb. Chuong: Mr. Khieu Samphan, Chairman of Democratic Kampuchea, recently remarked
that more Vietnamese [people] might be massacred unless they return to Vietnam. What's
the goal of this anti-Vietnamese propaganda? It's an attempt to stir up national
hatred between the two people and create racial discrimination.
Recently the Khmer Rouge have encouraged a kind of protest [against Vietnamese] in
different areas. They demand that Vietnamese be repatriated and not allowed to vote
in the elections. Mr. Akashi is very clear in the electoral law as to who can vote.
There's no need for Vietnamese residents to try to do what they are not allowed to.
The aim of the Khmer Rouge is to use the Vietnamese as a scapegoat to disrupt the
peace process and weaken the State of Cambodia government. By disrupting the political,
economic, and social situation here, they paralyze the government machines of Cambodia-and
hope to topple the SOC government.
What they're doing is wrong, and violates the peace agreement, human rights conventions,
and international agreements in regard to foreign residents making a living in Cambodia.
Their political aim is obvious-it's the same as in 1970 when the Vietnamese issue
was used to overthrow the Sihanouk government. The same is being done right now to
sabotage the implementation of the Paris Peace Accords and topple the SOC government.
They're very worried that they won't win the election.
Anti-Vietnam propaganda is against Prince Sihanouk's policy. Since his return to
Cambodia, Prince Sihanouk made very clear the need to have good relations and friendship
with neighboring countries, especially with Vietnam, at the top of his list.
Post: What are the origins of the conflicts between Cambodians and Vietnamese?
Amb. Chuong: Some countries existing next to each other have these kinds of conflicts.
Vietnam and Cambodia have been dominated by foreign countries which created many
Other countries have similar problems with borders, settlers. This question has to
be settled by peaceful means, by negotiation; respecting each other's sovereignty
and territorial integrity and for mutual benefit.
Post: How do you respond to charges by various Cambodian political parties that
Vietnam has encroached across the Cambodian border, extending its territory?
Amb. Chuong: It's a brazen distortion. Vietnam absolutely respects the independence
and territorial sovereignty of Cambodia. As we had to sacrifice a lot for our own
independence, we understand the value of national independence. The more we sacrifice
for independence of our own country, the more we respect independence of other countries.
The understanding between the two countries was that each would respect the map drawn
up by the Indochinese Geographic Department of France commonly used before 1954.
During his visit to Cambodia in January 1992, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Nguyen
Manh Cam signed a joint communique with Prince Sihanouk stating that all existing
problems between the two countries should be settled by the government of Vietnam
and the new government of Cambodia that emerges after next year's elections, through
Post: Many Cambodians continue to raise the issue of Kampuchea Krom, "lower
Cambodia"-the Mekong Delta area in Vietnam that formerly was part of Cambodia.
Amb. Chuong: Kampuchea Krom are an ethnic minority group living in Vietnam.
Post: And as a geographical term?
Amb. Chuong: They try to use this issue for political aims.
Post: How do you respond to the charge that Vietnamese soldiers have returned
to Cambodia, some in State of Cambodia army uniforms and others in civilian clothing?
Amb. Chuong: We have stated many times our rejection of this fabrication. On May
30, 1992, we sent a note to U.N. Special Representative Yasushi Akashi, officially
informing UNTAC that we withdrew all our forces from Cambodia in September 1989 and
have never since reintroduced any to the country.
I consider their charge as only a slanderous allegation.
Post: How do you respond to charges that Vietnamese have been taking fish and
timber out of Cambodia for many years?
Amb. Chuong: It's unreasonable. We take nothing from Cambodia. Doing trade is
normal. The fact is that we sacrificed a lot for the rebirth of this country.
Post: How do you see the future relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam, given
the possible change in government next year after the election?
Amb. Chuong: The joint communique between Sihanouk and Nguyen Manh Cam outlines
five principles of peaceful coexistence governing the relations between the two countries,
including mutual respect for each other's independence, sovereignty and territorial
We respect the right to self determination for the Cambodian people. We'd like to
have peaceful and friendly relations with Cambodia-Vietnam needs peace to develop
our country as our foremost task.
Post: The idea of a multi-party system is being promoted in Cambodia now, through
the implementation of the Paris Accords. What are the chances for similar approaches
taking root in Vietnam?
Amb. Chuong: It depends on the will of the people. Now the Vietnamese don't like
the multi-party system. The communist party of Vietnam is from the people and for
the people. The party has led our people from slaves to freedom, and Vietnam, from
a no name country on the world map to an independent and united country.
The problem for Vietnamese people now is to build our country's wealth and prosperity.
The Communist Party of Vietnam adopted the policy of "renovation" in all
fields in December 1986, which has yielded some initial but very important achievements,
such as increases in rice exports and foreign investment.
Since 1987, there's been more than $3.5 billion of foreign investment in Vietnam.
IMF (International Monetary Fund), WB (World Bank) and ADB (Asian Development Bank)
consider Vietnam's economic renovation as going in the right direction. Vietnam also
carried out steps in political renovation, democratizing the social life.
Post: How do you feel about some Cambodians use of the word "youn" to
refer to Vietnamese people?
Amb. Chuong: It's a way to insult. We all know who persistently uses this term
and their ill purpose. I fully share the view of Mr. Yasushi Akashi when he stated
that the use of pejorative terms is unseemly and objectionable in public discourse.