Australian recognition of Cambodia stirs heated Cabinet debate

The Australian government is having a difficult time threshing out a Cambodian policy. It has been a source of much controversy within the Cabinet. Public opinion is against the Chinese- backed Pol Pot regime, which Australia recognizes as the lawful government. Going along with the popular view, and ending recognition of the ousted Pol Pot, would earn applause at home.

But the situation is not that simple.Australia is a strong supporter of Southeast Asia's anti-communist countries, grouped together in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The ASEAN nations continue to recognize Pol Pot because they oppose Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia (Kampuchea) which installed the HEng Samrin regime, now in power.

ASEAN believes, despite the atrocities which reports attribute to Pol Pot's regime, that what they see as Soviet-backed Vietnamese expansionism must be opposed in order to safeguard the futures of their own nations.

The ASEAN position has the support of Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who regard Afghanistan and Cambodia as similar examples of Soviet aggression.

The Australian government sees withdrawing recognition of the Pol Pot regime as damaging of their relationships with ASEAN member countries, all of whom are Australian political allies as well as trading partners. Canberra is also anxious to maintain its good relations with China.

So when Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Andrew Peacock suggested recently that Australia's Cambodian policy may change, the Australian Cabinet erupted in surprise and anger.

Despite the debate, the government is not likely to take the option of recognizing either the Pol Pot or the Heng Samrin regime.

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