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CERTAIN misconceptions have arisen from insufficient knowledge of the true situation in my country since it attained independence in November 1953. Although I am convinced that the leaders of the United States Government and the State Department's experts on Southeast Asia are fully conversant with Cambodian policy, I do not feel that the public has always been accurately informed about us. Americans will have learnt, from the type of magazine that serves up complex world problems in palatable and easily digested form, that Cambodia has more or less cast off its former friends in order to seek new ones further east, that it practises a "pro-Red neutralism," is "rotten" with Communist propaganda and constitutes a "breach" in the front of the "free nations." I have received a number of touchingly naïve letters from American citizens imploring me to end this state of affairs and warning me of the dangers that would face my country if it put its trust in a certain "bloc."
I would like our American friends to know how mistaken they are in such appraisals. I can think of no better way of convincing them than by giving a frank account of Cambodia's present situation, its difficulties and the way in which it is trying to overcome them.
Cambodia is a country of six million inhabitants, including 400,000 Vietnamese and 350,000 Chinese. Our army--and this is important to remember--numbers only 25,000 men. After Laos, which has a population of two million, we are the smallest state in the Indochinese Peninsula. But at least we are united. With our long-standing tradition of monarchy, we are drawn together by the Throne. As sincere democrats, we hate disorder, and as exponents of a purely national form of socialism, we can only be indifferent to foreign ideologies. We go our own national way, unswervingly.
First and foremost we are Cambodians, and lackeys of foreign Powers have no hope of success here. Since we achieved independence, our policy has always been suited to our national needs. In our foreign relations we have favored neutrality, which in the United States is all too often confused with "neutralism," although it is fundamentally different. We are neutral in the same way Switzerland and Sweden are neutral--not neutralist like Egypt or Indonesia. Let anyone examine our votes in the United Nations; they are not often "aligned" with those of the bloc of "neutralist" nations.
Our neutrality has been imposed on us by necessity. A glance at a map of our part of the world will show that we are wedged in between two medium-sized nations of the Western bloc and only thinly screened by Laos from the scrutiny of two countries of the Eastern bloc, North Viet Nam and the vast People's Republic of China. What choice have we but to try to maintain an equal balance between the "blocs"?
Furthermore, how could our neutrality be taken seriously if we had persisted in maintaining diplomatic, commercial and other relations exclusively with the Western bloc? As it is, we have refrained from recognizing the non-unified countries. The United Kingdom has an embassy at Peking; we have not. France has a general delegation at Hanoi; we have not. Our connections with these countries are limited to economic, commercial and cultural relations.
We are receiving some $25,000,000 in economic aid from China over a period of two years, with no conditions attached. But we do not forget that American economic and military aid amounted to almost $40,000,000 for the 1957-58 budgetary year and that it was also offered unconditionally, as is the aid afforded by France for equipment.
Assuredly all these aid programs are of great help to us. We feel particularly indebted to the United States for underwriting a great part of the maintenance of our army; for constructing the highway which will directly connect the seaport of Kompong-Som with our capital of Phnom Penh; for the teacher training school of Kompong Kantout; and for the projected Police Academy and important irrigation schemes.
It is true that we wish this aid might be less "rigid" in its conception; more flexibility is desirable so that we can face unforeseen needs and situations. Finally--why not say it?--we would like to be reassured about the continuity of aid, especially for the army, which is of such vital importance to the security of our country.
Chinese aid has been granted us for only two years. But it is very flexible. On a grant basis, we receive from China consumer goods which are used both to meet the requirements of the population and at the same time to provide our Government with much needed revenue. Thus, from the sale of aid goods received from China, we have been able to dig wells, build dams, furnish schools, construct administration buildings and help victims of national disasters. In addition, the Chinese are building three factories in Cambodia which they will equip and donate to us. Furthermore, the Soviet Union has promised to build a 500-bed hospital in Phnom Penh entirely equipped and provided with consultation services.
As to France, she maintains a military mission which provides advisers and instructors for our army. A French economic mission puts experts at our disposal and offers numerous scholarships to our students and military personnel. France has undertaken to provide us with a seaport at Kompong-Som and a modern airport at Phnom Penh with longer and more adequate runways. Several other important projects are under study, but whether they can be undertaken depends on the French financial situation.
By far the most important aid is that from the United States, since its purpose is to provide us with the framework of a modern state. For this reason American aid is conceived in anticipation of the future. Our élite understands this. The poor, however, are less sympathetic to it because what they think about above all is the quick and easy satisfaction of their most pressing needs. This is the reason why other aid programs, more tangible because they are in response to present demands, perhaps bring higher returns to their authors.
We have nothing to reproach ourselves with in so far as our old friends are concerned. Most of our students and soldiers receive their basic or advanced training in the West. Our élite has retained its French culture and many of the younger generation are learning English as well. Our foreign experts and military instructors are from the West. No Westerner has ever met with the slightest hostility here and all our visitors speak favorably of our hospitality, even "Eastern" diplomats and travellers, who seem to appreciate the atmosphere of freedom they find here.
Are we "pro-Red"? Our neutrality is neither complaisance nor surrender to anyone. When a great Power tries to submerge us beneath a flood of propaganda or to tempt our youth away from its duty to King and Country, we take a firm stand. I have twice had occasion to put my compatriots on their guard against such attempts, regardless of the consequences. And our people have approved and supported me wholeheartedly on both occasions. In these circumstances it will be difficult, if not impossible, to "corrupt" us.
We are taking all the necessary precautions--and we will go to considerable lengths if necessary--to prevent anything of the kind. Besides, the loyalty of our people would doom any such dividing tactics to failure from the start. As for the foreign minorities living in Cambodia, we shall, without ever repressing them, see that they respect our neutrality and security. In that regard we are far more vigilant than is generally believed.
I have sometimes been represented to the American public as trying to "flirt with the Reds." The fact is, I abdicated in 1955 to save the monarchy--not to abandon it. However strongly democratic, I am sure that the citizens of the United States can appreciate that, short of being mentally deranged, a Prince and former King must be well aware that the first concern of the Communists is to get rid of the King and natural élite of any country they succeed in laying hands on. By that I do not mean to imply that the Communists wish to take possession of Cambodia; that may not enter into their plans at all and, for the moment at least, they have far weightier matters to occupy them. But I am not overlooking any possibilities, and that one is quite enough to deter me from any "flirtation."
If I have no particular liking for Communism, neither have I any cause or means to join a crusade--even a moral one--against the nations that have adopted that ideology and which since 1954 have not given my country sufficient grounds for complaint. It would be absurd to suppose that a tiny country like mine, geographically situated as it is, would risk provoking the Chinese and Soviet colossi now that planes fly so fast and rockets so far.
We are not a "breach" in the Western bloc merely because we cannot be a "rampart." In the event of a world conflict, we might very well become one of the first victims of a harsh occupation. In that case, the "free world" would have other things to do besides undertaking our liberation--or rather the liberation of what little remained of us.
Are we selfish or "wrong-minded" in thinking as we do? I maintain that we are merely being realistic. By practising a genuine neutrality which eliminates any pretext for aggression we have a chance of not bringing down a storm on our heads; and a storm can be dangerous where there is no lightning-conductor.
Our precautions may be to no avail and we may one day be invaded notwithstanding them (I am not afraid of internal subversion which stands no chance here). If, in spite of our manifest good intentions and our utter propriety in respect to the blocs, one of these should attack us, then I would be the first to advocate reconsidering our policy and invoking aid from the opponents of our aggressors. I profoundly hope that our country will never have to take such a step.