​PDK theory proved correct over time | Phnom Penh Post

PDK theory proved correct over time


Publication date
14 July 1995 | 07:00 ICT

Reporter : Michael Vickery

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D AVID Ashley's "The end justifies the means?" (Phnom Penh Post, 2-15 June, pg

6) is a pitiful example of a newly minted UNTAC Cambodia expert attacking

ideas he dislikes with scatter-gun innuendo because he lacks the knowledge to

present cogent arguments against them.

Presumably he would accept that

the "17 years of blanket socialist-communist propaganda in Cambodia" ended at

the latest with the 1993 election, placing the beginning of that period in the

second Pol Pot year, 1976 indicating that Ashley denies any change in 1979 - the

upper limit of ignorance or willful misrepresentation, and implicitly putting

Ashley in the camp of Stephen Morris who is trying to undermine the State

Department-financed Cambodian Genocide investigation through mischievous attacks

on its director Ben Kiernan. And I wonder what he knows about that propaganda,

since it was nearly all in Khmer. What was getting through to the

English-language public was a different kind of blanket propaganda to which I,

beginning in 1982, tried to offer some balance.

Ashley is not the first

to be irritated by what I wrote. Far better people than he, including some

Cambodian specialists, were also piqued, but none has been able nor, so far as I

have seen, have even tried to demonstrate that I was wrong. Like Ashley, they

can do little more than rant. My writings on the PRK/SoC have withstood the test

of time.

Evidence for this is that much of what I was one of the first to

write has become standard consensus, even finding its way into Ashley's screed

when he tries to get close to historical fact.

Thus, it is straight

Michael Vickery line to write that "the centrally-planned economy was far weaker

than in Eastern Europe", "already in the late 1980s, following the Vietnamese

example, free-market reforms had moved much faster and with much less opposition

than... in Eastern Europe". In fact, there was a large free-market area in

Cambodia already in the early 1980s, in advance of Vietnam.

It is also

the Michael Vickery line to deny that the internationally-organized election was

about democracy, but rather just to get a government that the great powers would


I would differ with Ashley, though, on some of the details.

The "war" was not "between Vietnam (Moscow) and the Khmer Rouge

(Beijing)". The Khmer Rouge were not revived by China alone but by a joint

effort in which the United States played a leading role, with enthusiastic ASEAN

cooperation. In the end, China pulled out before the US, when its interests were

no longer threatened, and it was US resentment of Vietnam which prolonged

Cambodia's suffering.

The "achievements" of stopping the war and securing

a stable central government were not just "already largely in place in

late-1991". As to the first it had been brought down to the level at which it

still continues ("a low-intensity conflict against an out-dated Maoist

movement") by the late 1980s, and this was underscored by the Vietnamese

military withdrawal in 1989, ahead of the previously announced timetable. There

was a stable central government no later than 1985.

Another item which

started as the Michael Vickery line, at least in English-language writing, but

which has become the generally accepted view, is the critique of Sihanouk's

Sangkum from the left which Ashley, correctly, has adopted.

At the time I

first propounded this view, mainstream US criticism of Sihanouk treated him as a

Red Prince and it was trendy on the Western left to accept this

characterization, but consider it positively. (See Vickery, "Looking Back at

Cambodia, 1942-76", and in Ben Kiernan and Chanthou Boua's, "Peasants and

Politics in Kampuchea, 1942-1981," pp. 89-113. The first draft of this,

including a description of the Sangkum years, was written in 1973.)


Ashley knows of a signed agreement between CPP and Funcinpec in advance of the

election he could do us all a favor by publishing the evidence. But does he

realize what he  is saying?

There certainly was a plan for cooperation,

and the CPP was obviously hoping to co-opt Sihanouk to their side; and if they

had succeeded a joint CPP-Funcinpec campaign would have led to a government much

like what now exists, but without the violence of the 1993 campaign and the

secession which followed the election.

Cooperation ended, as we know,

with violence against Funcinpec for which the CPP was blamed.

Now whose

interests were most endangered by Funcinpec-CPP cooperation? The interests of

the Partie of Democratic Kampuchea, as Pol Pot fretted in his February 1992 talk

to cadres which has not yet received the attention it deserves, and of the

United States who hoped to see the CPP totally eliminated.

For the CPP it

would have been the best possible solution to their problem - how to retain the

largest share of power while cooperating in a free election. Violence against

Funcinpec to destroy the potential cooperation was entirely against their


No wonder Hun Sen protested that he was being set


Recall that the truth-seekers of the Western press in Cambodia and

UNTAC "information" specialists blamed two CPP figures in particular for

organizing the violence. Recall also that not long after the election both of

them received invitations to visit the United States, one of them incidentally

invited by a Senator who opposed an improvement of US-Vietnam relations, while a

Phnom Penh Post writer reported a State Department official as saying they had

done nothing which disqualified them from receiving a visa. That fearless

investigative reporter initially expressed shock at the invitations, then

loyally dropped the issue like the hot potato it was.

If those two

persons qualified for US visas, they were implicitly not guilty of the crimes of

which they had been accused a few months earlier; or else they were being

rewarded for their role in thwarting a Cambodian effort to form a new government

which was viewed as contrary to "the interest of the international community",

which Ashley correctly states was the paramount concern of the UNTAC process,

concealed behind a smoke screen of verbiage about "democracy".

- Michael Vickery, Penang.

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