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Cambodia-Vietnam Relations: Trust Deficit

If you rely on official statements, Cambodia and Vietnam have a long tradition of friendship owing to the strong ties between their leaders and ruling parties. But an undercurrent of irritants such as constant border incidents, though minimal, suggests deep discontent or distrust on both sides.

It is worth remembering that before being labeled as China’s puppet, Cambodia used to be called Vietnam’s puppet.

It is normal for small states to be seen as puppets of stronger states that they have good relations with. “Puppet theory” is being used to humiliate small states and allege their weaknesses, lack of independence and sovereignty when their national interest does not fit with geopolitical agenda and interest of the theory’s proponents. It can be shaped through repetition of accusations.

For instance, when the Pentagon asserted that Beijing had likely considered locations for military logistics facilities in five Southeast Asian countries, Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, drew a simple conclusion that “such willingness [to host a Chinese base] appears to be in short supply, except in the case of Cambodia.”

For a small state like Cambodia, none of its arguments seems to make sense or be convincing enough for regional pundits. To those observers, explanations and rejections by Cambodia’s prime minister, foreign minister and defence minister combined don’t seem to carry the same weight as a single explanation by the Indonesian foreign minister.

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