Contact Me By Email

Contact Me By Email

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Kissinger’s Legacy Still Ripples Through Vietnam and Cambodia

Kissinger’s Legacy Still Ripples Through Vietnam and Cambodia

“His decision to authorize the bombing of Cambodia, efforts to extricate the U.S. from the Vietnam War and role in the rapprochement with China continue to be felt in Southeast Asia.

A black-and-white photograph of two people near a heavily damaged area.
The aftermath of a bombing in Snuol, Cambodia, during the Vietnam War, in May 1970.William Lovelace/Daily Express, via Getty Images

Henry A. Kissinger’s decision to authorize the secret carpet bombing of Cambodia, his efforts to negotiate the American exit from the Vietnam War and his role in the U.S. rapprochement with China have rippled through Southeast Asia in the decades since.

Mr. Kissinger, who died on Wednesday, shared the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the peace accords that ended American involvement in the Vietnam War. But some critics accused him of needlessly prolonging the war when a framework for peace had been available years earlier.

The fighting between North Vietnam and U.S.-backed South Vietnam did not end until the North’s victory in 1975. Some observers have said that was the inevitable result of a cynical American policy intended to create space — “a decent interval,” as Mr. Kissinger put it — between the American withdrawal from the country in 1973 and the fall of Saigon two years later.

The bombing of Cambodia in 1969 and 1970, which Mr. Kissinger authorized in the hope that it would root out pro-Communist Vietcong forces operating from bases across Vietnam’s western border, also fueled years of debate about whether the United States had violated international law by expanding the conflict into an ostensibly neutral nation.

Mr. Kissinger defended his wartime decisions for years afterward.

“America should not torture itself on the view that it could have had a settlement earlier if their presidents had been more willing,” Mr. Kissinger said during a 2016event at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas. “They could not have had a settlement, except for selling out and withdrawing unconditionally, which nobody would have supported.”

As for the bombing campaign, he wrote in his memoirs that it was a decision North Vietnam’s actions had forced upon President Richard M. Nixon’s administration.

Within Vietnam, Mr. Kissinger’s role in the war was contentious well before the fighting ended. In 1973, Le Duc Tho, the North Vietnamese negotiator who was jointly awarded the Nobel with Mr. Kissinger, rejected the award, saying that the U.S.-backed South had continued “acts of war” even after the agreement, and that he would be able to accept the prize only after peace had been established there. (He died in 1990, never having accepted the prize.)

Many Vietnamese also resent the role that Mr. Kissinger played in establishing diplomatic relations between the United States and China, Vietnam’s powerful northern neighbor and former imperial occupier.

The normalization of U.S.-China ties in 1979 elevated China’s international standing and paved the way for its rise, said Duong Quoc Chinh, 46, a Vietnamese architect and political commentator in Hanoi, the capital. “Now people dislike him primarily because they see him as the person responsible for China’s prosperity.”

In postwar Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who spent nearly four decades in power before transferring the premiership to his son this year, long argued that Mr. Kissinger and other former American officials should be charged with war crimes for their role in the bombing campaign.

Senior officials in Cambodia, a country still littered with unexploded ordnance, have long seen Mr. Kissinger as a “bête noire,” said Sophal Ear, an expert on Cambodia’s political economy and a professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. Even in recent years, he said, when diplomatic tensions flared with the United States, Cambodian officials would sometimes bring up the wartime bombing campaign in an effort to corner their American interlocutors.

Many analysts have said that the U.S. bombing of Cambodia led in part to the rise of the Khmer Rouge, which oversaw horrors that killed nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population in the late 1970s.

But Mr. Sophal Ear, who escaped the Khmer Rouge as a child, added that Mr. Kissinger was slowly fading from memory in a country where the median age is now only about 27. “I surmise that they cannot blame someone whose name they do not know,” he said.

The Vietnamese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Mr. Kissinger’s legacy. Pen Bona, a spokesman for the Cambodian government, declined to comment.

“He was a U.S. secretary of state, so he did everything for the U.S.’s interest and liberal ideology,” Sok Eysan, a spokesman for the governing Cambodian People’s Party, said of Mr. Kissinger. “We couldn’t completely blame him since he followed the U.S. foreign policy.”

During his long premiership, Mr. Hun Sen’s backsliding on democracy caused friction with the United States, which frequently called on his government to respect human rights and restore fair elections. At the same time, Mr. Hun Sen brought Cambodia closer to China, calling it his country’s “most trustworthy friend.”

Vietnam, by contrast, has sought to offset a historically close but complicated relationship with China by pursuing warmer ties with the United States, its former enemy. Though a one-party state, Vietnam has found common ground with Washington in concerns over China’s mounting ambitions in Southeast Asia.

When President Barack Obama visited in Hanoi in 2016, he said the United States would rescind a decades-old ban on sales of lethal military equipment to Vietnam. And during President Biden’s visit to Hanoi in September, Vietnam’s Communist Party leadership raised relations with the United States to the highest in Vietnam’s diplomatic hierarchy, putting them on par to those it has with Russia and China.

Chau Doan, Sun Narin and Sui-Lee Wee contributed reporting.“

No comments:

Post a Comment