June 24, 2015
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Today marks the 48th anniversary of diplomatic ties between Cambodia and Vietnam. Both countries were victims of great power politics during the Cold War. Their bilateral relations were undermined by different political rivals and nationalist groups.
After the Khmer Rouge regime was toppled in 1979, the bilateral relationship has been strengthened, especially between the Communist Party of Vietnam and the Cambodian People’s Party. The future generations of leadership of these parties are expected to continue to nurture this traditional friendship.
Cambodia and Vietnam have frequently exchanged views on international issues of common concern. Sharing similar experiences of their fight against colonialism and imperialism, these two countries strictly adhere to the principles of non-interference, sovereignty, independence, and equal partnership in international relations.
Both countries have been firm in their stand of preventing hostile forces to use their territory to threaten the security or interfere in the internal affairs of each other. The guiding principles of the bilateral relationship are good neighborliness, shared development, mutual respect, and peaceful settlement of disputes.
Trade and Investment Increasing
For the last decade, Vietnam has become Cambodia’s main economic partner. In 2014, Vietnam invested $350 million in 23 projects, bringing the total capital investment in Cambodia to almost $3.36 billion. Bilateral trade volume reached $3.29 billion in 2014 and is to reach $5 billion this year.
But the relationship does not commensurate with the magnitude of the comprehensive strategic partnership. Hence, there is still much potential for cooperation between the two countries especially in the field of people-to-people ties and cross-cultural dialogue.
There are a number of barriers to this bilateral relationship. The most thorny issues are unresolved border disputes and unfinished border demarcation, illegal immigration, and the legalization of undocumented Vietnamese who either were born or have lived in Cambodia for a long time. Unless these issues are appropriately resolved, bilateral ties are vulnerable to crisis, which stems mainly from rising nationalism.
China’s Tug of War
Cambodia-Vietnam ties are also being influenced by fast-changing and complex regional geopolitics, particularly the rivalry between China and the US. There is a clear trend that Cambodia is moving closer to China, while Vietnmam is approaching the US in counterbalancing China in the South China Sea dispute. Such strategic divergence between Cambodia and Vietnam may lead to an unnecessary diplomatic split.
For instance, Cambodia maintains a different position from Vietnam in addressing the South China Sea dispute. Cambodia has called for claimants to manage and resolve the dispute. Over-internationalization of the dispute further complicates regional security.
Domestic politics also have significant impact on bilateral ties. Some political parties have used the nationalist card to gain popularity. But rising nationalism is a two-edged sword. It would be dangerous if nationalism cannot be controlled and results in ultra-nationalism.
The Way Forward
Both countries need to effectively deal with border demarcation issues, prevent illegal immigration, and speed up the legalization process of undocumented Vietnamese immigrants in Cambodia. Otherwise, it risks being politicized and escalating into tension and conflict.
People-to-people ties and cross-cultural dialogue are fundamental to achieving long-term friendship, good neighborhood, peace and stability. Both governments need to invest more in promoting educational and cultural exchanges between the two peoples.
Deepening economic integration within the framework of the Asean community provides more opportunities for the peoples of both countries. Through enhanced economic interdependence, risks of conflict are significantly reduced.
Different political actors in both countries should determine ways and means to promote dialogue, to build mutual trust, and to settle disputes through diplomatic means, based on international laws.