What did ASEAN do in the Cambodian conflict?
Topic of Study [For H2 History Students]:
Paper 2: Regional Conflicts and Co-operation
Source Based Case Study
Theme III Chapter 2: ASEAN (Growth and Development of ASEAN: Building regional peace and security – relations between ASEAN and external powers)
Topic of Study [For H1 History Students]:
Theme II Chapter 2: The Cold War and Southeast Asia (1945-1991): ASEAN and the Cold War (ASEAN’s responses to Cold War bipolarity)
Let’s recap: The trigger to the 13-year war
On 25 December 1978, Vietnamese forces crossed the Cambodian border. In 15 days, the Khmer Rouge regime was replaced by a Vietnam-backed puppet government, which was later known as the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK).
On 9 January 1979, ASEAN issued a statement, deploring the invasion, citing both the principles of the United Nations (UN) Charter and the Bandung Conference. Three days later, the Foreign Minister of Singapore S. Rajaratnam called for a closed-door meeting in Bangkok involving all ASEAN members to discuss the ongoing crisis in Cambodia.
Tan Seng Chye described it as a “very significant meeting” as it was during this meeting that ASEAN decided how it would respond to the Vietnamese occupation. There was uncertainty in Thailand whether or not to come to terms with the Vietnamese. Rajaratnam rallied his ASEAN colleagues. The Thais thus valued the support of Singapore in encouraging international support and rallying all ASEAN members to stay on course to oppose the Vietnamese. The reason for Singapore’s strong stand against the Vietnamese was because it had an “affinity of feelings” for Cambodia as “Cambodia’s problems could become Singapore’s problems in the future”.An excerpt taken from “Singapore, ASEAN and the Cambodian Conflict, 1978-1991” by Ang Cheng Guan.
However, ASEAN was delayed by the Philippines’ indecision on the details of the joint statement. Foreign Minister Carlos P. Romulo was unable to attend the meeting, so his deputy Tolentino stood in. Eventually, Tolentino gained Romulo’s approval by call and the joint statement was issued.
In summary, the statement condemned the invasion and demanded Vietnam to withdraw its forces from the Kampuchean territory immediately. Also, ASEAN called for the UN Security Council (UNSC) to consider the situation. Yet, Cold War politics were in the way, as a UNSC draft resolution tabled by China was vetoed by the Soviet Union.
International lobbying: ASEAN’s response to the June 1980 incident
On 23 June 1980, Vietnamese troops entered the Thai territory to pursue anti-Vietnamese Khmer resistance forces. The attacks of Ban Non Mak Moon village convinced ASEAN that Vietnam posed a serious security threat to Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia.
The Foreign Ministers agreed that any incursion of foreign forces into Thailand directly affects the security of the ASEAN member states and endangers peace and security in the whole region. In this regard, they expressed ASEAN’s firm support and solidarity with the government and people of Thailand in the preservation of Thai independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.An excerpt taken from the “Joint Statement on the Situation of the Thai-Kampuchean Border” issued at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting at Kuala Lumpur, 25 June 1980.
This matter was raised during the 13th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM) in Kuala Lumpur on 25-26 June 1980. ASEAN continued to support the ousted Democratic Kampuchea (DK) as the legitimate government rather than PRK. True enough, ASEAN was successful in garnering international support for DK, as seen by the responses in the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
In November 1979, the UN General Assembly adopted an ASEAN draft resolution by an overwhelming vote of ninety-one to twenty-one. The Vietnam-sponsored PRK government was denied Cambodia’s UN seat still held by Democratic Kampuchea. In 1980, by a vote of ninety-seven to twenty-three, the UNGA called for a special conference on Cambodia. Over the ferocious objections and boycott by the communist bloc, the United Nations International Conference on Kampuchea (ICK) was held in July 1981. The ICK’s final declaration internationally legitimized the ASEAN formula for the settlement of the Cambodian crisis.An excerpt taken from “International Relations in Southeast Asia: The Struggle for Autonomy” by Donald E. Weatherbee.
What can we learn from this article?
Consider the following question:
– Assess the view that ASEAN played a vital role in the resolution of the Cambodian Crisis (1978-1991).
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