Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent state visit to Myanmar has triggered an avalanche of criticism from observers both in Myanmar and abroad. The move was widely interpreted as a major step towards legitimizing Myanmar’s military junta, formally called the State Administration Council (SAC), despite its failure to adhere to ASEAN’s Five-Point Consensus peace plan. Interestingly, 33 years ago, Hun Sen himself was welcomed by then Thai Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan in an effort to break the stalemate in the Cambodian conflict. Many parallels can be drawn between the two cases.
Back in the 1980s, Southeast Asia was confronted with a dangerous strategic environment. One of the key concerns was the clash over Cambodia’s legitimate representation – much like the current issue of Myanmar’s representation at the United Nations. The two key rivals involved were the Vietnamese and Soviet-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), the de facto government of Cambodia following Vietnam’s toppling of the murderous Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, and the ousted remnants of the Khmer Rouge, who now called themselves the Party of Democratic Kampuchea (PDK).