Courtesy Reuters

The Kampuchean Problem: A Southeast Asian Perception

In the five years since Vietnam invaded Kampuchea to depose Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot and install its own client regime, the situation in Kampuchea has settled into what is widely viewed as a long-term stalemate. Despite strong international condemnation, and ongoing guerrilla resistance from the Khmer Rouge and other nationalist groups, Vietnam has retained close control over Kampuchea through its puppet leader, Heng Samrin, and has shown little apparent interest in either a military withdrawal or a political compromise settlement. U.N. and other efforts to initiate peace talks have been fruitless, and the prospect of a long-term Vietnamese occupation has seemed virtually unavoidable.

On closer inspection, however, it may be premature to accept the current impasse in Kampuchea as permanent. Such a judgment neglects several significant dimensions of the problem-most importantly the consequences of the existing situation for Vietnam itself. Five years after the invasion, Vietnam is still bleeding. In addition to the 180,000 Vietnamese troops occupying Kampuchea, it has to bear the formidable costs of maintaining a 600,000-man military and militia force at and near the Sino-Vietnamese border. Its economy, which never really recovered from the dislocations of earlier wars, continues to stagnate. Deprived of international assistance (except from the Soviet bloc, Sweden, France and India), it has no realistic prospects of improving. Vietnam's gross domestic product (GDP) per capita decreased from $257 in 1978 to $189 in 1982, and after 40 years of war, malnutrition levels in Vietnam remain at extremely high levels. Economic scarcities and exposure to bourgeois lifestyles in the South have made the traditionally disciplined Vietnamese party cadres more susceptible to corruption from southern Vietnam. Several observers have noted the slow process of social and political deterioration in Vietnam.1 The long-term consequences of this could be very telling.

Inside Kampuchea, Vietnam still faces important challenges. The Vietnamese-installed satellite regime, unlike parallel regimes in Eastern Europe, or even Laos, remains shaky. As the Kampuchean nation recovers from the ravages of the Pol Pot years, when at least one million people died

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