Cablegate: Vietnam and Cambodia: Looking Forward

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. Hanoi 527 B. 02 Hanoi 2980 C. 02 Hanoi 701

1. (U) SUMMARY. Vietnam and Cambodia have a complex
relationship with a volatile history, but both sides now
appear to focus on the future. Cross border smuggling of
drugs and other goods as well as human trafficking have
emerged as significant problems. Vietnam reportedly does
not view the 2001 Montagnard exodus as having much impact on
the bilateral relationship. Border demarcation remains an
unresolved issue. Two-way trade is quite low but there is
mild optimism. Bilateral cooperation on Vietnamese missing
in action (MIA) is good. END SUMMARY.


2. (SBU) Vietnam and Cambodia share an approximately 1,000
kilometer border, including the Vietnamese provinces (from
north to south) of Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Binh Phuoc,
Tay Ninh, Long An, An Giang, and Kien Giang. Due to a
common French colonial past and, later, the "American" War,
Vietnam and Cambodia have much in common. Vietnam's late
1978 invasion, according to Cambodia Embassy Counselor Tauch
Kemary, while viewed "by many, even most" as "liberating"
the country from the Khmer Rouge, also "reminded us of our
vulnerability." There are many who continue to "fear the
Vietnamese" because "they have demonstrated the power to
dominate Cambodia at different times in our history."
Notwithstanding that episode, in recent years, the two
countries have been "trying to find more common ground" and
advance the bilateral relationship, Kemary noted.

3. (U) Since the 1990s, bilateral ties have seen a slow
but steady improvement, with the signing of various
agreements. Among the more important ones relate to:
--Trade and economic cooperation (1995);
--establishment of the Joint Committee on Economic,
Cultural, Scientific, and Technical Affairs (1995);
--cooperation between Vietnam's Ministry of Agricultural and
Rural Development and Cambodia's Ministry of Agriculture,
Forestry, and Fishery (1997);
--Anti-criminal cooperation between the two Ministries of
Interior (1997);
--Land transport cooperation (1998);
--Counternarcotics cooperation (1998);
--Education and training cooperation 2000 - 2005 (1999);
--Labor cooperation 2000 - 2002 (2000);
--Investment protection and incentives (2001); and,
--Trading, exchange of goods and trade services in border
areas (2001).

4. (SBU) According to information provided by Vietnam's
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), senior-level visits from
Vietnam to Cambodia predominate official exchanges. Nguyen
Phuong Binh, MFA Institute of International Relations (IIR)
Deputy Director, suggested that this could be because
Cambodian government leaders are "reluctant" to appear too
close to the GVN leadership. Visits to Vietnam "could leave
them open" to criticism from opposition politicians, she
added. Binh predicted that this imbalance "may change as
bilateral relations continue to improve." However, upcoming
Cambodian elections in July will "influence to what extend
and how fast relations improve," she predicted.

5. (U) Since 2000, GVN leaders who have visited Cambodia
have included then-National Assembly Chairman (and now
Communist Party General Secretary) Nong Duc Manh (2000);
Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (2000); then-Minister
of Public Security Le Minh Huong (2001); President Tran Duc
Luong (2001); Minister of Defense Pham Van Tra (2002); and
National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Van An (2002). On the
Cambodian side, high level visits included Prime Minister
Hun Sen in 1998 (on a bilateral visit) and again in 2002 (as
head of the Cambodian delegation to a tripartite meeting
with Vietnam and Laos held in Ho Chi Minh City); Foreign
Minister Hor Nam Hong in 2001; and most recently, Princess
Norodom Vachara, chairman of the National Assembly's Foreign
Affairs Commission, in January 2003 to discuss border issues
with Vietnam's National Assembly Chairman An.

--------------------------------------------- -----
--------------------------------------------- -----

6. (SBU) The Cambodian Embassy's Kemary admitted that
cross-border smuggling is a "major problem" and one that "we
must continue to work on." Drug smuggling from Cambodia,
according to DEA's Hanoi Country Office, includes heroin and
amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), mainly into Ho Chi Minh
City. Some of the heroin is for domestic use and some is
transshipped to Australia. Cambodia is Ho Chi Minh City's
major ATS source. Large quantities of marijuana also enter
southern Vietnam from Cambodia, mainly for transshipment to
the PRC (Ref b). Kemary claimed that Cambodian police meet
"regularly" with their Vietnamese counterparts; however, he
lamented that the Cambodian police have "very few"
resources" for patrolling the border areas. Kemary also
noted that the smuggling of manufactured goods is "very
common and works against real economic growth between
Cambodia and Vietnam." He added that most of the goods
smuggled into Vietnam come from Thailand. He claimed that
most of this smuggling was due to "Thai criminal gangs" who
"encourage corruption" among Cambodian border officials.

7. (SBU) Human trafficking is also a major issue. While
few reliable statistics exist, the UN Office of Drugs and
Crime's (UNODC) Hanoi staff have reported that, of the
estimated 20,000 Vietnamese prostitutes in Cambodia, a
significant number are the victims of human traffickers.
Several dozen Vietnamese trafficking victims were officially
repatriated from Cambodia in 2002, but because victims tend
to avoid notoriety, experts suspect many more return through
unofficial channels. In 2002, the International Office for
Migration (IOM) again confirmed that human trafficking from
Vietnam to Cambodia had become more serious in recent years.

8. (U) As the Embassy's Trafficking in Persons Reports
(ref a is for 2002) noted, women and girls trafficked abroad
from Vietnam go primarily to Cambodia and the PRC. There is
also evidence that some Vietnamese citizens are trafficked
through Cambodia to third countries. Nguyen Sy Tuan, Deputy
Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies,
commented that, while the human trafficking problem is a
major issue, it has received "less bilateral attention" than
drugs. He opined that, as international pressure increases
on the human trafficking issue, Vietnam and Cambodia's
leaders "will have to focus more on the human trafficking


9. (SBU) The IIR's Binh discounted the impact on the 2001
exodus of about 1,000 Montagnards into Cambodia following
February/March 2001 demonstrations in the Central Highlands
and the 2002 collapse of the Cambodia/Vietnam/UNHCR
Tripartite Agreement as ongoing issues in bilateral ties.
People from the Central Highlands who crossed "illegally"
into Cambodia did so with the intent of reaching a third
country, he claimed. Once the United Nations became
involved, the problem took on a "multilateral context," he
added. He declined to comment on fresh reports of active
Cambodian police cooperation in returning additional 2002
cases of would-be Montagnard escapees, which, according to
Vietnamese media accounts, led to multi-year prison
sentences for at least five Gia Lai residents on March 12.


10. (SBU) Notwithstanding periodic MFA announcements over
the past few years that the border issue will be settled
"this year," border demarcation remains unresolved.
According to the Southeast Asia Institute's Tuan, the
current border essentially represents the old French
colonial demarcation. However, he noted that the border
"does not always agree with the current maps." He added
that people who live and try to make a living near the
border "tend to move back and forth; border lines do not
mean much to them." Even though "both governments warn
their people" against farming close to the border, such
activities continue to take place because of "the demand for
rice fields and access to water," he added.

11. (SBU) Nguyen Du Hanh, Director of the Western Border
Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' (MFA) Border
Commission, admitted separately that the border issue is
"complicated," but stated that both sides would like to
settle it. He pointed out that, in the early 1980s, Vietnam
and Cambodia had signed "a number" of international
conventions concerning border demarcation. In addition,
there was a bilateral agreement in 1985 that led to "some
demarcation activity" from 1986-1990. Hanh noted that this
activity ceased with a change of governments in Cambodia
after the UN-sponsored elections. However, Hanh claimed
that the two sides "are not far apart" - of the nearly 1,000-
kilometer border, "under 200 kilometers are in dispute." At
the June 2002 joint border commission, both sides agreed to
"join hands" to solve the border issue, he noted. Hanh
suggested that "in the end, the border will be based on the
French demarcation, with minor adjustments." Commenting on
recent developments, Hanh stated that there have been talks
at the "expert" working level "once or twice a year."
However, progress has been "slow" because more senior
officials have been "busy" and because there is a lack of
"legal documents on which to base final negotiations."

12. (SBU) Separately, the Southeast Asia Institute's Tuan
noted that the border had become a "hot" issue in Cambodia's
politics. (Note: it has not become a hot issue in Vietnam,
unlike the more controversial land border agreement with the
PRC in 1999. End note) Tuan added that the opposition
parties have "severely" criticized the present government
for appearing "too willing" to make concessions to Vietnam.
He predicted that there would be no further progress until
after the Cambodian elections in July. Further progress
will depend "to some extent on who is in power," he
predicted. He claimed that an expected senior level meeting
to discuss seven outstanding border issues -- scheduled for
March 2003 -- had been postponed due to "domestic political
considerations" in Cambodia.


13. (SBU) Without citing a specific figure, Hanh admitted
that two-way trade was "very low." MFA press releases
concerning Vietnam-Cambodia relations between 2001 and 2003
include numerous proclamations and pledges of "continued
support and cooperation" but almost none related
specifically to two-way trade. The Cambodian Embassy's
Kemary suggested that there is some potential for improving
legal two-way trade, especially once the border issue is
settled and authorities on both sides take further steps to
reduce smuggling. Kemary said that the Cambodian government
is "hopeful" about the potential for Cambodia "modestly" to
improve especially its exports of clothing and shoes to
Vietnam. (Comment: Since clothing and shoes are well-
developed domestic and export industries in Vietnam, this
would seem unlikely. End Comment.) Separately, the
Southeast Asia Institute's Tuan opined that improved two-way
trade is "unlikely until border and smuggling issues are
addressed and the Cambodian economy produces more."

14. (U) In addition to trade, Kemary noted that Cambodia
"appreciates" Vietnam's rice assistance. (Note: According
to an October 2002 MFA announcement, the GVN donated 500
tons of rice to Cambodia's Kandal province. End note.)


15. (SBU) Tuan pointed to the MIA issue as one that
demonstrates a "good" level of bilateral cooperation. He
said that Cambodia has been helpful in providing information
on Vietnamese remains. According to the Detachment Two
Joint Task Force - Full Accounting office in Hanoi,
Vietnam's military has conducted dry-season recovery
operations in Cambodia over the past three years. Each
year, the two sides meet, work out an operations plan,
deploy Vietnamese troops into agreed-upon areas, conduct
operations, and repatriate the remains to Vietnam. An
August 2002 visit by GVN Defense Minister Senior Lieutenant
General Pham Van Tra also focused on this issue. During
Prime Minister Hun Sen's trip to Ho Chi Minh City for the
2002 tripartite meeting, he visited the commander of
Vietnam's Military Zone 7 in Dong Nai (southern Vietnam).
Tuan opined that Hun Sen "may have" raised MIA cooperation
during that visit as well. According to a January 2003 MFA
announcement, 2,344 sets of remains have been repatriated to


16. (U) A mix of historical animosities, cultural
rivalries, and complex leadership relations stemming from
Vietnam's decade-long occupation and efforts to install its
own favorites in power in Phnom Penh complicate the
bilateral relationship. Vietnamese now appear to put aside
the recent past and deal with Cambodia as just another
fellow ASEAN member and good neighbor, while still seeking
to dominate a mini-Indochina lobby within ASEAN seeking
extra help from richer members. While Vietnam prefers to
look forward in its 21st century relations with Cambodia,
the likelihood is that Cambodia will be less and less
important to Vietnam, as it focuses on more important
economic and political relationships with the U.S., Japan,
and the EU and seeks WTO accession.

© Scoop Media

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