Vietnam's withdrawal from Cambodia: regional issues and realignments

Author/s (editor/s):

Leszek Buszynski, Nayan Chanda, David P. Chandler, Bernard Gordon, Khieu Kanharith, Gary Klintworth, Michael Leifer, David G. Marr, Thelma O'Con-Solarzano, Doug Sturkey, Nancy Viviani

Publication year:


Publication type:

Policy paper

Canberra Papers on Strategy and Defence No. 64

Vietnamese armed forces invaded Cambodia in December 1978. A decade of Vietnamese occupation had important political and security consequences for Cambodians, for Vietnam, for the ASEAN states, for China and the superpowers and, indirectly, for Australia. Vietnam was condemned in UN General Assembly Resolutions passed annually since 1979. Most Vietnamese armed forces have now been withdrawn from Cambodia.

The significance of the withdrawal and the regional impact of the end of possibly the last major war in the Western Pacific were examined at a symposium arranged by Professor Nancy Viviani of the ANU's Department of Political Science in October 1989. These papers are a product of that symposium.

Generally, there was a strong view that the governments of Vietnam and Cambodia would eventually experience a less hostile attitude from China, the US and several of the key ASEAN states as the fact of the Vietnamese withdrawal was accepted. The Hun Sen government in Phnom Penh, or some variant of it, would also probably be recognised, provided it could survive renewed attacks by an increasingly isolated Khmer Rouge and if a suitably graceful exit was found for China. An alternative more pessimistic view was that most governments would continue to defer to Beijing, that the Khmer Rouge were a potent and ruthless force and that the Hun Sen government would be fighting for its life. While there was scepticism about the viability of the Hun Sen government and doubts about China's agenda, as well as expressions of opposition to recognition of what was described as a puppet regime established by the use of force, the symposium overall leaned towards cautious optimism about Cambodia's future and, notwithstanding some uncertainties in a period of change, improvements to regional security.

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