pailin – Suong Sikoeun, a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs official during the Democratic Kampuchea regime, said the people who blame China for the death and destruction caused by the Khmer Rouge are wrong.
And the students planning to ask Chinese President Jiang Zemin during his visit next week to apologize for China’s support of the Khmer Rouge misunderstand history, he said.
In reality, China tried to teach Cambodia the right way to develop the country—methods that did not include killing the more than 1 million who died during the Khmer Rouge regime, said Suong Sikoeun, spokesman for the Ieng Sary-led Democratic National Union Movement.
“We should not blame China,” he said. “We should blame ourselves. China has no responsibility for the Khmer Rouge. Chinese leaders taught Cambodian leaders about modernization, not extermination.”
Suong Sikoeun and other former Khmer Rouge officials and soldiers say instead of blaming China, people should be thanking the country that has always helped Cambodia in good times and bad.
Those living in the former Khmer Rouge strongholds of Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district and the autonomous region of Pailin say they are happy about Jiang’s visit and if they could, they would thank him for his country’s support.
China was the main ally of the Khmer Rouge and went as far as instigating border battles with Vietnam to punish it for invading Cambodia in 1979 and toppling the Democratic Kampuchea government.
Pol Pot, who died in 1998, saw China as a role model for Cambodia and is seen as a protege of Beijing. He had a close relationship with Mao Tse-tung, the leader of the Chinese communist revolution, and often went to him for advice.
More recently, China threatened to veto a UN proposal for a Khmer Rouge tribunal. China is also one of the largest bilateral donors and foreign investors in Cambodia.
Student democracy groups are mobilizing thousands of members to protest against Jiang’s visit Monday and ask him to drop China’s opposition to a Khmer Rouge trial.
Suong Sikoeun lived in China during three periods to do work for the Khmer Rouge—from 1970 to 1974, from 1979 to 1980 and from 1990 to 1992—and said he learned much from his fellow revolutionaries.
“If Khmer Rouge leader listened to Chinese advice at that time, Cambodia would not have had the same situation it did from 1975 to 1979,” said Suong Sikoeun, who now lives in Malai. “The Chinese way of development is a great model for all poor countries.”
In Sopheap, another Khmer Rouge Foreign Ministry official who lives in Pailin, agrees with Suong Sikoeun and said he doesn’t understand why people are angry at China.
“I don’t know why people are making an issue about this,” he said. “I cannot find any evidence of interference in Cambodian affairs from China. At that time, China advised us to broaden our relationship with other countries and not be too harsh on the US. It is a mistake of Democratic Kampuchea that we didn’t listen to them.”
If the international community and others feel they can judge China, then other nations should also be analyzed, said In Sopheap, who lived in China in 1973 and from 1979 to 1984 working for the Khmer Rouge.
“I don’t know if China violated any international laws, but if people want to judge China, then you should also judge the US, France and other countries,” In Sopheap said.
Kong Rith, who was in charge of Pochentong Airport in Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge regime, often saw Pol Pot and other Democratic Kampuchea leaders when they left Cambodia for their frequent trips to China.
Kong Rith said he and fellow Pailin residents are happy about Jiang’s visit because China has always been there for Cambodia, especially in the tough times.
“People here are not angry at China,” Kong Rith said. “People here want to see [Jiang] because he helped the Cambodian people [during the Khmer Rouge regime].”
Seng Thoeun, a former Khmer Rouge soldier, said he doesn’t know if China is to blame for the policies of Democratic Kampuchea. But he said Cambodia should still not forget China’s friendship when other countries would not have relations with the Khmer Rouge regime.
“I would like to say thanks to him for helping Cambodia during that period,” he said.
In Sopheap said no matter what is decided on China’s role in the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia has to be pragmatic in its dealings with China. He said a small country like Cambodia cannot afford to refute help from any nation, especially one as powerful as China.
“If [US President Bill] Clinton came to Cambodia, we should welcome him, too,” In Sopheap said. “And if Cambodia had a bigger welcome for him than for China, I would not criticize that.”