Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - Justifying "Liberation": The Making of Vietnam's Cambodian Decade, 1979-1985

Friday, March 23
10:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Location: Wilson C, Mezzanine Level

Much ink has been spilled arguing over the question of why Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978. The more intriguing question is: why did the Vietnamese stay in Cambodia for ten years after having successfully removing the Khmer Rouge from power, despite the heavy diplomatic and economic costs of the international sanctions against Vietnam for this occupation? Historians have offered four common explanations: (1) Vietnam sought territorial aggrandizement; (2) the Soviets were directing the Vietnamese to expand Soviet Bloc influence by force; (3) the Vietnamese were conducting a humanitarian intervention with altruistic motives; and (4) Vietnam wanted to strategically deny Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge for security. In this paper, I demonstrate that the first three explanations are without merit, while the last cannot by itself explain why Vietnam supported the creation of a strong Cambodian government under Hun Sen rather than a weak puppet state. Using never-before-seen sources from the Vietnamese archives, I argue that, besides trying to secure its southwestern flank, Vietnam’s efforts to recreate the Cambodian nation from the ashes of genocide was also to legitimize its narrative of “liberating” Cambodia at home and abroad. I hope to show how material and ideational factors together informed Vietnamese leaders to consciously avoid repeating the historical currents of outside intervention and genocide, recreating in its place an economy that would not be dependent in the long run on Vietnamese aid, under a friendly but independent Cambodian government that could legitimately represent the Cambodian people on the international stage.

Hoang M. Vu

Cornell University, New York


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2 - Justifying "Liberation": The Making of Vietnam's Cambodian Decade, 1979-1985

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