Amid a recent string of heated exchanges and tense standoffs along sections of the Cambodia-Vietnam border, a state media outlet in Vietnam joined the chorus of coverage with a conciliatory, yet critical, propaganda article that has analysts and academics attempting to read between the lines.
Titled "The inseparable ties of villagers along Vietnam-Cambodia border", the piece was published on Sunday by state newspaper Tuoi Tre.
The article draws on the similarities between the neighbouring communities while characterising them as “victims” of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, the party whose members earlier this month led 2,000 Cambodians at a rally near the border in Svay Rieng province over alleged Vietnamese encroachment.
The article, which appears to be posted exclusively on Tuoi Tre’s English site, piqued the interest of political observer Ou Virak, who said the piece seemed engineered to make Vietnam look like a more rational actor on the global stage while still throwing jabs at the CNRP.
“First of all, it’s in English, so it is intended a bit more for the international community, and they wanted to sound reasonable. But at the same time, they still [label] the CNRP as extremists,” said Virak.
However, Virak said that calling the CNRP “extremists” masks the fact that the opposition is in part reacting to the secretive, ineffective way both governments have dealt with the conflict over many years.
For professor Carl Thayer, a Southeast Asia defence expert, the CNRP have been the prime agitators in a situation he views as a “zero-sum game” for both countries.
“I don’t see Vietnam trying to internationalise these issues at all,” Thayer said, noting that Vietnam’s current South China Sea dispute is of far great importance.
“Mainly, it’s the CNRP who has put pressure on [Prime Minister] Hun Sen.u2026… Except for during the Khmer Rouge period, Vietnam has never complained about encroachment from Cambodia.”
He cited Hun Sen’s recent letters to world leaders requesting “cooperation” in obtaining copies of internationally recognised maps of the Kingdom’s borders.
Meanwhile, CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An, who was suspended over a social media post that indirectly referred to National Assembly leader Heng Samrin as a “yuon” – a term for Vietnamese people considered derogatory by many – denied his party was inciting provocation.
“We want to live peacefully with Vietnam, but the Vietnamese need to respect Cambodia’s integrity as well,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON