Cambodia, Singapore to ‘move on’ from Lee remarks storm

PHNOM PENH (The Phnom Penh Post/ANN) - Cambodia, Singapore and Vietnam have agreed to follow the path of cooperation, dialogue and friendship.

Cambodia, Singapore and Vietnam have agreed to move on from the
controversy caused by remarks from Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien
Loong and follow the path of cooperation, dialogue and friendship.

The foreign ministers of the three countries had separate telephone
conversations on Friday after Lee’s comments questioning the legitimacy
of Cambodia’s first post-Khmer Rouge government drew ire from the
Kingdom and Vietnam over the past week.

On May 31, Lee took to Facebook to express his condolences on the
passing of former general Prem Tinsulanonda, who was Thai prime minister
from 1980 to 1988.

“Thailand was on the frontline, facing Vietnamese forces across its
border with Cambodia. General Prem was resolute in not accepting this
fait accompli and worked with Asean partners to oppose the Vietnamese
occupation in international forums."

“This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being
legitimised. It protected the security of other Southeast Asian
countries, and decisively shaped the course of the region,” Lee said.

On Friday, the three foreign ministers talked separately on
the phone agreeing to move on from the controversy, one born of
different historical perspectives, strengthen relations and cooperation
and “leave the past behind”.

Singaporean Minister of Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan told his
Cambodian counterpart Prak Sokhonn that Lee had expressed his
understanding of the suffering of Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge
regime, and that there was no malice intended from Singapore.

He said Lee’s message was just recalling the challenging situation at that time, as previously stated publicly.

Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement on
Friday saying Balakrishnan had also spoken with his Vietnamese
counterpart Pham Binh Minh by phone to clarify Lee’s remarks.

“While Singapore and Vietnam were on opposing sides in the past and
have different views of that history, our leaders chose to set aside
differences to forge a close partnership both bilaterally and in Asean,”
the statement said.

The three ministers agreed that notwithstanding serious differences
in the past, they have chosen the path of cooperation, dialogue and
friendship, it added.

The statement added: “Singapore is committed to building on our good
relations with Vietnam and Cambodia, and hopes that they can continue to
grow from strength to strength, based on candour and trust.”

Meanwhile, the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
International Cooperation said on Friday: “Despite different
perspectives on the historical facts, the two foreign ministers
concurred that both countries are committed to strengthening the spirit
of friendship and good neighbourliness.

“Both countries will endeavour to make every effort to leave the past
behind and continue to engage in further productive dialogues."

“In order to prevent any further misunderstandings in the present and
in the future, Cambodia will endeavour to avoid digging into the past."

“Both countries will work together to build a cohesive and united
Asean, which is the will of both the leaders and the people of Asean.”

Kin Phea, the director-general of the Institute of International
Relations at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said Asean countries had
been victims of the ideologies contested during the cold war and salt
should not be rubbed into old wounds.

“All should be focusing on development and how Asean has a common
identity, working together towards a community that has a common
destiny,” he said.

He used the US-Vietnam war, France’s 90-year colonisation of the
Kingdom and the historical loss of Cambodian territory to Vietnam,
including an island the size of Singapore, as examples of history to be

He said bringing up such topics would only hinder international cooperation and development.

“Cambodians, as well as Asean’s leaders, should not unearth the dead
bodies that have been buried because this brings only suffering and
prevents regional cooperation and development,” Phea said.

Chheang Vannarith, president of the Asian Vision Institute, said each
country involved in the controversy held a firm position on the past
and so should look to the future together to find solutions to regional
problems and focus on the common interests of the three nations rather
than complex history.