Can Vietnam and Cambodia build a lasting peace?

Haunted by history, the two nations must go beyond official narratives for true reconciliation.

Cambodia’s new Prime Minister Samdech Hun Manet paid his first visit to Vietnam in December with the goal of promoting “the traditional friendship and comprehensive cooperation between the two countries to new heights”. However, there are many obstacles behind the historical curtain that may prevent the achievement of these goals.

For centuries, the Mekong River Delta has witnessed a tumultuous relationship between Vietnam and Cambodia. From ancient empires clashing for dominance to the scars of recent wars, the delta holds memories of conflict and mistrust. While recent years have seen glimmers of cooperation, achieving a lasting peace remains elusive.

Although former prime minister Hun Sen’s transfer of power to his son Hun Manet in August 2023 appeared smooth, it belied internal challenges. Cambodian nationalism coupled with Hun Sen’s pro-Vietnamese past has led to repeated accusations, especially from opposition leader Sam Rainsy, that he has favoured Vietnam, particularly regarding land concession licences.

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