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In wake of recent fracas over PM Lee’s recent remarks, Singapore and Cambodia ‘reaffirm longstanding ties’ with visit from commander of Cambodia’s army

The Independent logo The Independent 12/6/2019 Anna Maria Romero
Vivian Balakrishnan, Hun Manet are posing for a picture © Screengrab/ Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SG)

Singapore — After remarks by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong concerning Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1978 did not go over well with those countries, a visit from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ Deputy Commander-in-Chief and Commander of Army (COA), Lieutenant-General Hun Manet, is a reaffirmation of “the longstanding ties between Singapore and Cambodia” according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

On Tuesday, June 11, Lt Gen Manet was welcomed by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean and Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan.

The commander of the Cambodian army is on an introductory visit to Singapore in his capacity as COA from June 11, Tuesday, to June 13, Thursday.

The statement from the MFA, issued on June 11, reads,

“LTG Manet called on Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean and Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan this afternoon. LTG Hun Manet and the Singapore leaders reaffirmed the longstanding ties between Singapore and Cambodia, and our wide-ranging and substantive cooperation which has benefited both countries and the region.

SM Teo and LTG Hun Manet welcomed the strengthening of our defence and economic relations. They discussed ways to enhance military exchanges and public service transformation. SM Teo and LTG Hun Manet reaffirmed that Singapore and Cambodia are committed to strengthening mutual understanding and pursuing cooperation, dialogue, and friendship.

Minister Balakrishnan and LTG Hun Manet welcomed the inaugural Singapore-Cambodia MFA-to-MFA bilateral consultations, which will take place on 19 June 2019. This initiative will promote mutual understanding and exchange of views between our two MFAs at the working level.”

Dr Balakrishnan wrote about the visit from Lt Gen Manet on his Facebook page as well. “We had a good discussion on the emerging security challenges in the region and agreed that it was important to cooperate both bilaterally and within ASEAN to tackle these issues. Singapore and Cambodia are old friends and our wide-ranging cooperation has benefitted both sides.”

LG Manet and I made a little stop in MFA’s exhibition hall, where the many gifts that our leaders have received from our friends around the world over the years are displayed.

Posted by Vivian Balakrishnan on Tuesday, 11 June 2019

On Wednesday, Lt Gen Manet will meet with Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, as well as with Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who is Acting Prime Minister from June 10 through 16, while PM Lee is on leave.

PM Lee had said at the Shangri-La Dialogue that when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979, this posed a serious threat to its non-communist neighbours, as he recounted the formation of ASEAN. The Prime Minister also wrote on his Facebook page that he had expressed his condolences to Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha upon hearing of the demise of former Thai prime minister Prem Tinsulanonda on May 26.

He praised General Prem, writing, “His leadership also benefited the region. His time as PM coincided with the ASEAN members (then five of us) coming together to oppose Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia and the Cambodian government that replaced the Khmer Rouge. Thailand was on the frontline, facing Vietnamese forces across its border with Cambodia. General Prem was resolute in not accepting this fait accompli and worked with ASEAN partners to oppose the Vietnamese occupation in international forums. This prevented the military invasion and regime change from being legitimised. It protected the security of other Southeast Asia countries, and decisively shaped the course of the region.”

The Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, was not happy with PM Lee’s remarks, writing on his Facebook page “His statement reflects Singapore’s position then in support of the genocidal regime and the wish for its return to Cambodia. His statement is also an insult to the sacrifice of the Vietnamese military volunteers who helped to liberate Cambodia from the genocidal regime. His statement reveals to the Singaporean people and the world that the leader of Singapore had indeed contributed to the massacre of Cambodian people.”

The foreign ministry of Vietnam said it would raise the issue with Singapore through diplomatic channels, since its contribution and sacrifice in helping the Cambodians end the Khmer Rouge genocide is widely acknowledged.

In response to the statements from Cambodia and Vietnam after PM Lee made his remarks, the MFA said “Notwithstanding our differences in the past, we have always treated each other with respect and friendship.

Bilateral relations have grown in many areas, and we worked together with other Southeast Asian countries to build a cohesive and united ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations),” according to a report from Channel NewsAsia (CNA). / TISG

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