Cambodia: Sihanouk's Initiative

Courtesy Reuters

For many years the conflict over Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia appeared intractable: Vietnam refused to negotiate except with China, while China flatly refused to negotiate; Hanoi would not consider any settlement in which the Khmer Rouge had a role, while the Khmer Rouge, backed by China, insisted there could be no settlement that did not include them. Cambodia seemed to be condemned indefinitely to Vietnamese military occupation, on one hand, and the continuous threat of the return to power of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, on the other.

But since former Cambodian chief of state Prince Norodom Sihanouk opened direct negotiations with the Vietnamese-sponsored People’s Republic of Kampuchea last December, a peace settlement has for the first time become a real possibility. Indeed, the broad outlines of such a settlement, built around Sihanouk’s return to Cambodia, have begun to emerge. Although the negotiations could still be snagged on the problems of power-sharing in a transitional Cambodian regime and insulating national elections against Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army, the international context is far more conducive to a peace agreement today than it was in the early 1980s. Hanoi’s interest in a negotiated settlement has increased as it has encountered difficulties with its plan to withdraw unilaterally all of its troops by the end of 1990. The passage of time has also brought a more pragmatic Chinese attitude toward Cambodia and a new configuration of relations among the United States, China and the Soviet Union that gives both China and Vietnam reasons for wanting an early settlement.


Underlying the diplomatic stalemate that prevailed over the Cambodian war for so many years was the bitter conflict between China and Vietnam. Although an element of geopolitical rivalry over influence in Laos and Cambodia was undoubtedly involved, the conflict was fueled primarily by Chinese animosity and Vietnamese fears. Chinese leaders were angered by Vietnam’s "ingratitude" for China’s aid in the war against the United States and "betrayal" following a

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