In response to media queries on PM Lee Hsien Loong’s condolence letter on the passing of former Thailand Prime Minister and Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda and 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue speech, the MFA Spokesperson said:
“Singapore highly values its relations with Cambodia and Vietnam. 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.
This is the context of Prime Minister Lee’s condolence letter and Shangri-La Dialogue speech. His references to this painful chapter of Indochina’s history are not new. They reflect Singapore’s longstanding viewpoint, which has been stated publicly before. Our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, wrote about this in his memoirs. ASEAN (then comprising five members) also stated its position on Cambodia clearly in a joint statement that was circulated to the UN Security Council in 1979, that ‘affirmed the right of the Kampuchean people to determine their future by themselves, free from interference or influence from outside powers in the exercise of their right of self-determination’.
Singapore had no sympathy for the Khmer Rouge, and did not want to see the Khmer Rouge return to Cambodia. In 1988, ASEAN sponsored UN General Assembly resolutions condemning the Khmer Rouge to ensure it would not be part of any eventual government in Cambodia. Singapore and ASEAN were keen to provide humanitarian assistance to the Cambodian people. ASEAN spearheaded the 1980 International Meeting of Humanitarian Assistance and Relief to the Kampuchean People, which took place under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council.
Prime Minister Lee had made reference to this history to explain how statesmanship and foresight helped to end the tragic wars that caused great suffering to the people of Indochina, and to bring about the peace and cooperation that the region enjoys today. He also wanted to emphasise that regional stability and prosperity, as well as ASEAN unity, cannot be taken for granted. The current geopolitical uncertainties make it all the more important that ASEAN countries maintain our unity and cohesion, and strengthen our cooperation.
While Singapore and Vietnam were on opposing sides in the past and have different views of that history, our Leaders chose to set aside differences to forge a close partnership both bilaterally and in ASEAN. Likewise, Singapore has worked hard to forge a good relationship with Cambodia following internationally supervised elections that elected a new Cambodian government, and to bring it into the ASEAN fold once it was ready. An understanding of the past enables us to fully appreciate and value the good relations that we now enjoy.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan made separate phone calls to Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Prak Sokhonn on 7 June 2019. Minister Balakrishnan explained these points to his counterparts. They agreed that notwithstanding the serious differences in the past, we have taken the path of cooperation, dialogue and friendship.
Singapore is committed to building on our good relations with Vietnam and Cambodia, and hope that they can continue to grow from strength to strength, based on candour and trust.”
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MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
7 JUNE 2019