Monday, January 28, 2008

A Discussion by Email with a (Nationalistic?) Khmer

I think this is a discussion worthy of being put in the public domain. Here goes (this writer in black, the response in blue):

As a fellow blogger about Cambodia I came across your web page and was a little surprised at your heading, which states you are concerned about an imminent threat to being reduced to a minority in your own country. You appear to be well-educated and secure economically in Cambodia. I know there are a lot of Vietnamese living in Cambodia illegally and the government doesn't do squat about it. Sam Rainsy even accuses the government of using these illegals to register them as voters to support the CPP in the upcoming elections. The number of illegals is variously put between 1 and 4 million. I am a Westerner, but please don't say I don't understand anything about Cambodia and its people, but I don't think Khmer people run the risk of being a minority. You country will become a multi-ethnic country, which in large part it already is, just like Thailand, or the U. S. for that matter. The U. S. is currently battling the exact same problem. The Vietnamese people you have in Cambodia are for the most part economic refugees from their own country for the simple fact that it is much easier to make a living in Cambodia than in Vietnam. Vietnam's rural population is just as poor as Cambodia's. And as long as the government doesn't fight this they will continue to come. However, there will come a point when even the current government will realize that these illegals take away much needed jobs from the their own population, and then even the mostly passive rural population will demand action, creating a backlash against the current tacit tolerance of those illegals. It's almost like a natural law. So consequently, I believe your motto for your blog is somewhat overdone, but, of course, it is your right to say and choose as you see fit. And, after all, who really is 100% Khmer these days. Officially, the Chinese part of the populations is put at 1%, Vietnamese 5%, others 4%, and Khmer at 90% (CIA World Fact Book). But you must admit that the Khmer-Chinese part is much, much larger. So all these immigrants were eventually absorbed in your society. It might happen with those Vietnamese too. This is the way the world operates these days.

I would like to express my sincere thanks for your observation even though it's rather superficial.

Please find attached Chapter 4 and Chapter 5 of "The subjugation of Cambodia" written by Simon ROSS.

I don't think it was superficial but there are limits imposed by an email format. I read the chapters you sent me with interest. The point I am trying to make is that Khmer people should try to live in the present and look into the future rather than dwell too much on the past. I know these events of VN aggression won't be forgotten, but to base the assumption of VN imperialist ambitions just on the past is patently wrong in today's world. Each country pursues its economic interests and VN is no exception when it utilizes weak spots in a country's position and takes advantage of a pliable government that has no knowledge nor experience in performing in an international arena. After all, most of the cabinet were either schooled in Moscow or Hanoi, from which they took instructions during the Communist era, and, therefore, are still beholden to the VN government. I only touched on the reasons for Vietnamese (illegal) immigration into Cambodia. Other countries also have a 10% share of foreigners in their population, and yes, there are groups that cry foul and want to stop it. But the world is truly global nowadays, where xenophobia and old enmities must slowly be erased, hard as it is. With 10% foreigners there is no risk of becoming a minority in your own country. The problem are not the Vietnamese but your own externally weak government. It is up to the intellectual Khmer elite to educate the people so they can vote knowledgeably in the future.

To be perfectly honest with you, I was stunned by your first message and that was the reason why I did not say much in my response to it. Your second email gave me a TKO right on chin. I almost fell off my chair.

From your writing, you appear to be extremely intelligent. But it was the lack of depth in it that knocked the daylight out of me. I am sorry to be so straightforward. Nonetheless, this is me whether you like me or not.

I hope it didn't hurt too much. Again, this is the gist of what can be said about foreign infiltration of a population. Naturally, seeing this in a historical context resentment and animosity will arise. But it is exactly these sentiments that need to be overcome. The literature you sent looks backwards and the paper from France contains estimates, which I am not in a position to doubt at this time. Only a properly conducted census would give an exact number. That report, however, is from 2004. It left out completely that according to independent statistical data 50% of the current population is under 21, in other words they were born between 1986 and now. So there has been some hefty natural population growth. I don't want to discount or dismiss certain claims but it appears that many arguments are based on past numbers that have been rendered outdated. I know there are segments that believe the Vietnamese immigrants are welcomed by the government to bolster their voting rolls. In part this is probably true. But that was not the point. The point is that the fear of becoming a minority some people have is not borne out by the facts. Nor is it borne out by the ethnic diversity in the Khmer population itself. Who nowadays can say he is 100% Khmer, without any Chinese, Laotian, Thai, or Vietnamese blood? Judging from your name I suppose your are of Chinese ancestry yourself. In other words foreign infiltration into the Khmer population is an age-old phenomenon, but they are all Khmer today. And again, if the government signs a territorial agreement to Cambodia's detriment, don't blame the others for that.I should point to the people of Israel to make a point of how forgiveness works and can lead to a harmonious cooperation. Because the Jewish people forgave, if not forgot, the post-war German generation Germany's Holocaust against their people. This is my point.And please don't accuse me of being superficial or lacking in depth. This is an email exchange of opinions, not a scientific discussion. Your remarks are rather insubstantial and as such not conducive to the subject matter, though I would look forward to a more comprehensive exchange.

Please let me pick up only a few points from your last e-mail message.

My question: Do you have a more recent report on the exact number of illegal Vietnamese immigrants in Cambodia? If you do, please send me a copy and I'll send you a cheque of US$10.00 as a token of my appreciation. It's not much, of course. But that's all I can afford at the moment.

I disagree totally. The Kingdom of Champa was heavily defeated by the Vietnamese in 1471. It took Vietnam only 250 years to completely wipe out Champa of the wolrd map in 1720. The Kampuchea Krom (Lower Cambodia or Cochin-China or South Vietnam) was ceded to Vietnam against Cambodia's will by the French Protectorate on June 04, 1949. Twelve million or so of Cambodian people living in Kampuchea Krom have already become an ethnic minority in their own contry and have been at the mercy of the successive Hanoi genocidal regimes since that illegal hand-over by the French almost 60 years ago. The Lao PDR has been under Hanoi's total control since the fall of Indo-China into the hands of the communists in April 1975. So has Cambodia since the well reported Vietnamese total invasion of this South-East Asian country on January 9, 1979. Soon after Hanoi had secured its illegal occupation of Cambodia by installing a puppet regime under the name of Heng Samrin government only weeks after its victory over Pol Pot, it forced its lackey in Phnom Penh to sign a bilateral treaty which was aimed mainly at getting then People's Republic of Kampuchea to provide food, shelter, land and security to any Vietnamese settlers who wish to come and live in Cambodia without restriction of any sort. That treaty was called the 1979 treaty.

You have no fear of your country being annexed by Vietnam. You are lucky because your country is thousands of miles away. But the fear the Cambodian people have about the Vietnamese domination is legitimate because it's borne out of fact, not fiction. Journalists, diplomats, academics and historians know it. The World knows it. Only you do not know it. Well, on this particular point, I'd better stop my comment right here.

Since the end of the WWII, have the Germans put millions of Jewish people in concentration camps and killed them ever again? Not that I know of. Nevertheless, the Vietnamese expansionistic endeavour (Nam Tien in Vietnamese or southward march in English) to conquer all Indo-Chinese states and put them under one roof, the Uncle Ho's dream of an Indo-Chinese Federation, is real and unrelenting. On the other hand, Cambodians do know how to forgive and forget and move on. How many hundreds of thousands of Khmer people who perished under the ruthless and atrocious French rule from 1863 to 1953? And how many hundreds of thousands of Khmer people killed in a period of only 10 years from 1965 to 1975 by heavy bombings by the Americans? But no complaint has been whispered thus far by any Cambodian people about the atrocities inflicted upon them. Yet, you still want to profess about forgiveness. Well, I'd better stop my comment right here.

Last but certainly not least, I wish to say that I have tried my best to make you understand the apprehension or fear the Cambodian people have towards the Vietnamese. Who are the right people to allay this chronic fear? They must be the Vietnamese who are causing fear, not the Cambodians who have it. Have you ever heard or seen of any public statement made by Hanoi government to guarantee that the Cambodians should not fear the Vietnamese? Please send me a copy of that statement if you have. Another cheque of US$10.00 will be readied for you.

1) In preparation for the elections in 1993 UNTAC put the population of Cambodia at around 7.1 – 7.5 people in 1992. In 2007 50% of the population is under the age of 21, so population growth was considerable in the intervening years. Given this fact it is entirely logical that the Khmer population is 14 million people as published by independent sources, e.g. CIA World Fact Book, which is based on own intelligence data as well as on both UN and government sources. That number does not contain any illegal immigrants. The varying numbers given for those are estimates by all parties cited therein, including the paper you sent (which I somehow must have deleted). That group based its estimates on interpolations of birth rates, came up with a lower figure and attributed the difference to Vietnamese immigration, neglecting to look at the latest figures. This is pure demagoguery. As mentioned before, only a proper census would reveal the accurate numbers.

2) We are talking about the now and here, not the then and there. Your phrasing is typical of national conservatives, which in political terms would be called revanchist. The history of Cambodia vs. Vietnam is well known and no matter what happened in the past there is now an independent (capitalist) Cambodia and an independent (communist) Vietnam, two sovereign countries.

3) You grossly distort the facts. Nobody knows or presumes to know or can point to any hard facts that Vietnam wants to annex Cambodia, or wants to dominate it, except some part of the older Khmer generation, to which you seem to belong. No journalist, diplomat, historian, or other academic in his/her right mind would pronounce such an unrealistic thesis. This is pure propaganda disseminated by exiled national conservative Khmer, older overseas Khmer, and nationalistic Khmer in their homeland. The issue of annexation or domination is entirely separate from the issue of illegal immigration (and don’t point again at history, e. g. Kampuchea Krom).

4) You may have had sad experiences in your own life, for which you have my sympathy and empathy, and also my understanding for having certain beliefs and convictions. But again, the concept of Vietnamese hegemony of Indochina is a concept of the past. Vietnam and Cambodia are members of ASEAN and are both heavily dependent on foreign trade and aid. No country can afford to pursue illegal territorial expansion at a fellow member’s expense without serious repercussions. Former archenemies Vietnam and the U. S. are on very good terms again, despite Hanoi’s desolate state of human rights. Change is brought about by development, not by fomenting resentment.

5) You people must ask yourselves what Vietnam would gain by annexing or even dominating Cambodia in terms of economy, natural resources, etc. It simply doesn’t make sense. The disadvantages greatly outweigh the advantages. A thorough analysis of both countries’ economical and sociological structure strongly underlines this. Why would a country reaching Thailand’s or Malaysia’s level of development annex one of the poorest countries in the world? Are you guys thinking at all?

6) I think you vastly overstate the apprehension of a minority in Cambodia in the face of the majority’s position on this question. For most Cambodians today the question of how to feed their family is uppermost in their mind. The majority couldn’t care less about your unrealistic paranoia. You and the likes of you see a Vietnamese agent lurking behind each and every step the current government takes. This is detrimental to the development of Cambodia.

7) The Hanoi government does not need to make such a policy declaration guaranteeing Cambodia’s sovereignty, as it has no such (expansionist) policy on the books. Furthermore, Vietnam is a signatory to the Paris Agreements, protecting the territorial integrity of Cambodia. Their membership in ASEAN also precludes such a policy. Therefore, your call for such a guarantee is redundant.

You seem to continue living in the past. You (as does the SRP) keep calling for a re-convening of the Paris Peace Conference. That conference was to prepare and achieve a lasting peace between the warring factions in Cambodia. Cambodia is now a sovereign nation that concludes its own bi- and multi-lateral treaties. The signatory powers to the Paris Conference no longer have any say in Cambodian affairs.
That paper by the Free Vietnam Alliance, an archconservative extremist group with no political clout, is simply ludicrous. Hun Sen may have the support of the Vietnamese government, but other sources (see below) see the context of the 1997 coup d’etat quite differently.

8) I am not taking any Vietnamese position in this case, but I think the past should remain the past and should not be warmed over again and again to justify certain political positions. I need to come out strongly against conservative nationalists trying to sway public opinion by stating that recent history will repeat itself. This is patently false. I am raising a Cambodian family (with Cambodian nationality) who will return to Cambodia upon completion of their education. I want them to return to a liberal, progressive country, untainted by nationalistic ideologies, so they can help and contribute in re-building a truly free Cambodia. This is why I believe I have a right to voice my opinion as a Westerner. The world has been changing dramatically. Extreme nationalism has always been the cause for civil unrest and civil war.

9) You state on your blog that you live in Phnom Penh. Why do you publish your blog in English? Why don’t you try to reach Khmer people in Cambodia? It appears as though you want to give yourself legitimacy by using a Khmer residence. In reality you only reach mostly overseas Khmer, which are the backbone of that nationalistic movement. Maybe you don’t even live in Cambodia? You must realize that the political weight of 300,000 overseas Khmer is negligible, and not all of them support your beliefs. Most of the items on your blog are just reposts that have been covered on KI-Media already. And that blog is as nationalistic a mouthpiece as they come.
10) For some more scholarly reading on various subjects concerning Southeast Asian, Vietnamese, Cambodian relationships please visit

These are all excerpts published on so no purchase is necessary. But it will give you a more in-depth look at the current geo-politics of the region.

Those who always look back will only see their shadow!


KSaron said...

The guy that wrote in black.

Although the logic might sound ludicrous to you because of the ASEAN thingy and Cambodia is poorer etc etc but the fact remain. Vietnam is practically devoured Laos and Cambodia is not that far behind. They are doing this right under the world's eye.

Why do you think there are no real census in Cambodia? Why is Hun Sen hiding the fact as to how many Vietnames are in Cambodia? Being smart by reading books is one thing but knowing the real issue is another. You don't know the real issue so here you trying to tell his to lay down our guard. The documentation is in uncle Ho's "the southern march" dream. Please read it.

KJE said...

You demonstrate once more the flawed thinking of the Khmer national conservatives. Yes, Ho Chi Minh had designs on an Indochina under Vietnamese hegemony. It is a well-known fact. But just as Uncle Ho's writings have been overtaken by events after the fall of the Soviet Union, the economic liberalization in Vietnam itself, and the fall of the Iron Curtain, so has the school of thought that holds that annexation is imminent. Using those writings as a basis for Vietnam's intentions would be the same as using Hitler's 'Mein Kampf' or Lenin's Manifesto in today's political arena.

These nationalistic Khmer people must learn to live in the present and work towards the future in a conciliatory manner. Vietnam now has no political designs on Cambodia these days. It sees Cambodia as a trading partner and a fellow member of ASEAN. I have not found any other interpretation of current events anywhere with the sole exception of those by ultra-conservative overseas Khmer and some segments in Cambodia.

If you lived in Cambodia, as I do at least part-time, you would know that by and large the people couldn't care less about this question. They care about jobs and money. The young people see the Vietnamese in Cambodia just as the English see their immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, French see their North African immigrants, the Germans their Turkish and Eastern European immigrants. They are a segment of the population, whether temporary or permanent.

My knowledge does not come from books, it comes from personal experience since 1988. I have seen the development of Cambodia first-hand.

ksaron said...

If Vietnam has abandon its plan for Indo-china why is it controlling Laos and Cambodia via puppet government? Why is Vietnam instilling Viet people to run Cambodia? Yes, Hun Sen is Khmer but the brain and mind behind that one-eye man is non other then Hanoi. You keep trying to tell us to drop our guard and that the people of Cambodia only cared about job and money. Well, of course they are what else are they to do beside trying to survive right now?

You are propaganating for Hanoi even if you are aware of it or not. You are an accomplist to the murdering of Khmer race. It is great that Cambodia has been a haven for you but just because there are cheap hookers and cheap living does not mean the country is developing in the right direction.

KJE said...

This is the argument you revanchist overseas Khmer make all the time. Vietnam neither controls Laos nor Cambodia. There is not one single shred of concrete evidence for your claims. These are just the ramblings of people who continue to live in the past. You are obviously one of them. Yes, the CPP is possibly too Vietnam-friendly, but just because this country was the only one they could turn to immediately after 1993. No other country was there to assist in a larger way, and cross-border trade has always been substantial. But I guess you don't know about this living your comfortable life in the U. S.
Your other accusations are pointless and do not deserve a reply.
Cambodia is not a haven for me but a place I like. If you intimate that I am there because of prostitutes and cheap living I will not post your comments here any longer. This is an insult. This is not KI-Media. I am raising a family with 4 Khmer children who are getting a very good education. I am also providing jobs for 100 people in Cambodia. What do you do for your native country?