How the ‘Politics of Gratitude’ Inflames Cambodia-Vietnam Relations

Some Vietnamese nationalists view Phnom Penh’s decision to press ahead with a controversial canal project as a sign of ingratitude.

On May 20, Vietnam’s Ambassador to Cambodia Nguyen Huu Tang was summoned by Cambodian Foreign Minister Sok Chenda Sophea, to discuss a rash of online criticisms of Hun Sen, the former prime minister and president of the Senate. This meeting followed Hun Sen’s earlier complaints about the “shocked” comments of Vietnamese TikTok users, who berated him for his resolve to move forward with the country’s controversial Funan Techo Canal project. At the cringeworthy meeting, Sok Chenda Sophea asked his Vietnamese counterpart to track down and punish the plotters behind the derogatory comments about Hun Sen.

This summons was used by Cambodia to convey a plain message: that compromise on online name-calling is not an option. “If the Vietnamese side decides to cooperate well with us,” Touch Sokhak, spokesperson of Cambodia’s Ministry of Interior, said, “it will demonstrate the Vietnamese side also wants to find out who the perpetrators are, where they come from, and what their intentions and goals really were.” This seems to suggest that Phnom Penh will view any idleness on Hanoi’s part as either malicious or deliberate.

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