Australia continued to recognize the Khmer Rouge regime as the official government of Cambodia after its defeat to the Vietnamese military in 1979 in order to maintain solid relations with Asean, according to Cabinet documents released Saturday by the National Archives in Canberra.
Australia, along with the UN Credentials Committee, officially recognized Democratic Kampuchea at the 1980 UN General Assembly meeting despite the regime’s diminishing control and horrific human rights record.
Though Australia de-recognized the Khmer Rouge in February 1981, the UN continued to recognize Democratic Kampuchea’s leaders as Cambodia’s legitimate government through the 1980s.
A newly released July 1980 Cabinet submission on de-recognition by then-Australian Foreign Minister Andrew Peacock recommended that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser follow a middle path by recognizing the Khmer Rouge at the meeting then subsequently de-recognizing them to avoid “heightened domestic criticism of yet another instance of ‘our support for Pol Pot.’”
“An immediate effect [of de-recognizing Democratic Kampuchea at the UN] would be the undermining of the Asean campaign to secure the acceptance of DK credentials for another year, since such a move would be seen internationally as part of a general movement away from the DK,” he wrote.
Historian and adviser to the Royal Academy of Cambodia Ros Chantrabot said yesterday the new documents offered further proof that both Asean and Western powers were more eager to contain communism than to alleviate Cambodians’ suffering.
“Australia was an ally of Asean and the United States, which had linked with China to fight Vietnam, which was supported by the Soviet Union,” said Mr Chantrabot. “They cared only about the interests of their countries, not the interests of the Khmer people.”