Vietnam yesterday joined the chorus of criticism against comments made by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who recently accused Vietnamese troops of invading Cambodia to topple the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.
Tensions between Singapore, Cambodia and Vietnam flared earlier this week after Mr Lee on Friday posted a condolence message on Facebook regarding the passing of former Thai Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda.
In the message, Mr Lee said Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia to topple the Khmer Rouge government in 1979. Mr Lee repeated the comments again on Friday during his speech at a security summit in Singapore.
“After the Cold War ended, the US became the sole superpower. Southeast Asia entered a new phase. The Indochinese wars finally ended, and the communist countries opened up,” Mr Lee said. “Earlier, Vietnam had invaded Cambodia, thus posing a serious threat to its non-communist neighbours.”
The use of the word invasion in Mr Lee’s comments prompted Defence Minister General Tea Banh, who was present in Singapore when Mr Lee made the comments, to lash out against Mr Lee upon arrival at Phnom Penh International airport on Monday.
Gen Banh said he raised the issue with Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
“It is not true because he said Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia,” Gen Banh added. “We wish for him to make corrections. It is not true.”
Yesterday, the state-run Vietnam News Agency reported that Le Thi Thu Hang, spokesman for Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, said the ministry had to discuss the comments with its Singaporean counterpart.
In a tweet yesterday, Vietnam’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said that its government “regretted” some of the contents of Mr Lee’s remarks.
“Vietnam regretted that some contents in the remarks of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the 18th Shangri La Dialogue and his Facebook page did not objectively reflect the historical truth, causing negative impacts on public opinions,” it said. “As an active and responsible member of Asean, Vietnam has and will continue working with other members to build a strong Asean community, [based on] unity and solidarity, and playing a central role in the region.”
As of yesterday, Mr Lee nor Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Ministry had reacted to the backlash from the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments.
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Ket Sophann yesterday said the ministry is aware of Mr Lee’s comment and that it will soon speak with Singaporean embassy officials.
“We know about this issue,” Mr Sophann said. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will have a talk with the Singaporean embassy in Cambodia.”
Government spokesman Phay Siphan yesterday said Mr Lee’s statements were a “geography issue”, noting that heroes fought to liberate the country from the Khmer Rouge massacres.
“The Khmer Rouge Tribunal and the Win-Win movement reflect the efforts of Prime Minister Hun Sen and other heroes who liberated people from the massacres carried out by the Khmer Rouge,” Mr Siphan said. “These two things are a reflection of truth in Cambodia.”
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay yesterday said Mr Lee’s comments could affect bilateral relations.
“I believe Singapore would respond when it receives an official complaint from the aggrieved country,” Mr Mong Hay said. “Whether – and to what extent – the bilateral relations between the two countries will be affected will depend on the way both sides handle the incident.”