Singapore committed to good relations with Vietnam and Cambodia, says MFA after furore over PM Lee's comments

In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "Singapore highly values its relations with Cambodia and Vietnam. Notwithstanding our differences in the past, we have always treated each other with respect and friendship."
In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "Singapore highly values its relations with Cambodia and Vietnam. Notwithstanding our differences in the past, we have always treated each other with respect and friendship."PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore is committed to building on its good relations with Vietnam and Cambodia and hopes that they can continue to grow based on candour and trust, Singapore's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday evening (June 7), in response to the furore over Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's comments on the 1978 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia.

"Singapore highly values its relations with Cambodia and Vietnam. Notwithstanding our differences in the past, we have always treated each other with respect and friendship," the ministry said in a statement.

"Bilateral relations have grown in many areas, and we worked together with other South-east Asian countries to build a cohesive and united Asean."

This was the context of PM Lee's comments, said the statement, adding that they reflect Singapore's longstanding viewpoint, which has been stated publicly before.

Singapore upholds the principle that no country should violate the sovereignty of another.  Additionally, if it were not opposed, Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia would create an undesirable precedent for small nations like Singapore.

It added that Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan made separate phone calls to Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhonn on Friday.

Dr Balakrishnan explained these points to his counterparts. "They agreed that notwithstanding the serious differences in the past, we have taken the path of cooperation, dialogue and friendship."

Both Hanoi and Phnom Penh have protested since PM Lee wrote a Facebook post on May 31 that mentioned Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1978. The Vietnamese troops then ousted a Khmer Rouge regime which had wiped out up to one-third of Cambodia's population.

 
 
 

In expressing his condolences for the death of Thai statesman Prem Tinsulanonda, PM Lee wrote about how Asean - then comprising Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines - came together "to oppose Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia and the Cambodian government that replaced the Khmer Rouge".

"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," PM Lee wrote.

"This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being legitimised. It protected the security of other South-east Asia countries, and decisively shaped the course of the region."

PM Lee also mentioned the issue during his keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue last Friday when he was talking about the formation of Asean.

Cambodia and Vietnam objected to PM Lee's remarks.

Cambodian Defence Minister General Tea Banh told the local media earlier this week that Mr Lee's comments were "unacceptable" and "not true".

Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it "regretted" that Mr Lee's remarks did not "objectively reflect the historical truth" and as a result, caused "negative impacts" on public opinions.

Netizens from Vietnam also flooded Mr Lee's Facebook post expressing unhappiness.

On Thursday night, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in a Facebook post that he deeply regretted PM Lee's statement and said it revealed that the "leader of Singapore had indeed contributed to the massacre of Cambodian people".

"His statement reflects Singapore's position then in support of the genocidal regime and the wish for its return to Cambodia."

In its statement on Friday, Singapore's MFA noted that Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote about Singapore's longstanding view of what happened in his memoirs.

Asean, then comprising five members, also stated its position on Cambodia clearly in a joint statement that was circulated to the UN Security Council in 1979, that "affirmed the right of the Kampuchean people to determine their future by themselves, free from interference or influence from outside powers in the exercise of their right of self-determination".

The MFA statement said: "Singapore had no sympathy for the Khmer Rouge, and did not want to see the Khmer Rouge return to Cambodia.

"In 1988, Asean sponsored UN General Assembly resolutions condemning the Khmer Rouge to ensure it would not be part of any eventual government in Cambodia. Singapore and Asean were keen to provide humanitarian assistance to the Cambodian people. Asean spearheaded the 1980 International Meeting of Humanitarian Assistance and Relief to the Kampuchean People, which took place under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council."

 
 

The statement said PM Lee had made reference to this history "to explain how statesmanship and foresight helped to end the tragic wars that caused great suffering to the people of Indochina, and to bring about the peace and cooperation that the region enjoys today".

Said the statement: "He also wanted to emphasise that regional stability and prosperity, as well as Asean unity, cannot be taken for granted. The current geopolitical uncertainties make it all the more important that Asean countries maintain our unity and cohesion, and strengthen our cooperation."

MFA said that 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".

"Likewise, Singapore has worked hard to forge a good relationship with Cambodia following internationally supervised elections that elected a new Cambodian government, and to bring it into the Asean fold once it was ready. An understanding of the past enables us to fully appreciate and value the good relations that we now enjoy."


Here is the statement in full:

MFA SPOKESPERSON’S COMMENTS IN RESPONSE TO MEDIA QUERIES ON PM’S CONDOLENCE LETTER ON THE PASSING OF FORMER THAILAND PRIME MINISTER AND PRIVY COUNCIL PRESIDENT GENERAL PREM TINSULANONDA AND 2019 SHANGRI-LA DIALOGUE SPEECH

In response to media queries on PM Lee Hsien Loong’s condolence letter on the passing of former Thailand Prime Minister and Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda and 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue speech, the MFA Spokesperson said:

 “Singapore highly values its relations with Cambodia and Vietnam. Notwithstanding our differences in the past, we have always treated each other with respect and friendship. Bilateral relations have grown in many areas, and we worked together with other Southeast Asian countries to build a cohesive and united ASEAN.

This is the context of Prime Minister Lee’s condolence letter and Shangri-La Dialogue speech. His references to this painful chapter of Indochina’s history are not new. They reflect Singapore’s longstanding viewpoint, which has been stated publicly before. Our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, wrote about this in his memoirs. ASEAN (then comprising five members) also stated its position on Cambodia clearly in a joint statement that was circulated to the UN Security Council in 1979, that ‘affirmed the right of the Kampuchean people to determine their future by themselves, free from interference or influence from outside powers in the exercise of their right of self-determination’.

Singapore had no sympathy for the Khmer Rouge, and did not want to see the Khmer Rouge return to Cambodia. In 1988, ASEAN sponsored UN General Assembly resolutions condemning the Khmer Rouge to ensure it would not be part of any eventual government in Cambodia. Singapore and ASEAN were keen to provide humanitarian assistance to the Cambodian people. ASEAN spearheaded the 1980 International Meeting of Humanitarian Assistance and Relief to the Kampuchean People, which took place under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council. 

Prime Minister Lee had made reference to this history to explain how statesmanship and foresight helped to end the tragic wars that caused great suffering to the people of Indochina, and to bring about the peace and cooperation that the region enjoys today. He also wanted to emphasise that regional stability and prosperity, as well as ASEAN unity, cannot be taken for granted. The current geopolitical uncertainties make it all the more important that ASEAN countries maintain our unity and cohesion, and strengthen our cooperation.

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. Likewise, Singapore has worked hard to forge a good relationship with Cambodia following internationally supervised elections that elected a new Cambodian government, and to bring it into the ASEAN fold once it was ready. An understanding of the past enables us to fully appreciate and value the good relations that we now enjoy.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan made separate phone calls to Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhonn on 7 June 2019.  Minister Balakrishnan explained these points to his counterparts. They agreed that notwithstanding the serious differences in the past, we have taken the path of cooperation, dialogue and friendship.

Singapore is committed to building on our good relations with Vietnam and Cambodia, and hope that they can continue to grow from strength to strength, based on candour and trust.”

MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS

SINGAPORE

7 JUNE 2019