Cambodian and Singaporean government officials on Friday addressed statements made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong deemed offensive by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Mr Lee in a May 31 Facebook post said Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia to topple the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979. Mr Lee repeated the comments again 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,” he said. “Earlier, Vietnam had invaded Cambodia, thus posing a serious threat to its non-communist neighbours.”
The comments prompted days of criticism from Cambodia and Vietnam.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Facebook that Mr Lee’s statements were “deeply regrettable”. Mr Hun Sen said Vietnam played a crucial role in the survival of Cambodians.
“It’s an act against the survival of the Cambodian people,” he said. “His statements are also an insult to the sacrifices of the Vietnamese military volunteers who helped liberate Cambodia from a genocidal regime.”
“His statements revealed to the Singaporean people and the world that Singapore had indeed contributed to the massacre of the Cambodian people,” Mr Hun Sen said. “I shall ask [Mr Lee] whether he considers the trials of Khmer Rouge leaders legitimate.”
On Friday, Singapore’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement clarifying Mr Lee’s comments.
“This is the context of Prime Minister Lee’s condolence letter and Shangri-La Dialogue speech. His references to this painful chapter of Indochina’s history are not new. They reflect Singapore’s longstanding viewpoint, which has been stated publicly before,” it said.
“Singapore highly values its relations with Cambodia and Vietnam. Notwithstanding our differences in the past, we have always treated each other with respect and friendship. Singapore had no sympathy for the Khmer Rouge, and did not want to see the Khmer Rouge return to Cambodia,” the statement added.
The statement came after Singapore Ambassador Michael Tan met with Foreign Affairs Ministry secretary of state Ouch Borith for discussions on Friday afternoon.
Additionally, Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn on Friday got a call from his Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan.
A Cambodian Foreign Ministry statement said: “Minister Vivian has affirmed that there was no ill-intention in the above-said message. That message was just meant to recall the situation and the challenges at that time, as was publicly stated before. Furthermore, he evoked the joint statement that was circulated by the UN Security Council in 1979, which asserts the self-determination rights of the people of Cambodia.”
“Singapore’s foreign minister had further underlined the desire of Singapore to see a peaceful and prosperous Cambodia, and had no wish to support the Khmer Rouge regime and to see their return to power,” it added. “He hopes that there would be no more ambiguity of Singapore’s sincerity.”