What now for Cambodia?

What will Cambodia's future be? This country (now known as Kampuchea) that so recently underwent a genocidal holocaust is presently a nation in limbo. It hosts a Vietnamese occupation army of 150,000 to 170,000 troops and is governed as a protectorate of Vietnam. Vietnamese political cadres are a ubiquitous presence, and according to Westerners who have visited, Hanoi's ideological goals have clear priority over economic and social reconstruction. Mandatory study sessions, surprise educational retreats, and indoctrinational trips are a regular and frustrating fact of life for Cambodian officials and managers, disrupting work on all levels. Experts seem to agree that Hanoi's military dominance is as secure as her political control.

Though the six-year-old occupation seems tighter than ever, Cambodia's eventual fate is still undecided. Only 20 countries have officially recognized the Vietnamese-controlled Heng Samrin regime, and the opposition Cambodian Coalition Government still retains the country's United Nations seat. Nevertheless, Hanoi's leaders are confident that eventually the community of nations will accept Vietnam's Indochina hegemony. As Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach put it, ''If the UN does not unseat Pol Pot this year, then they will over the next several years, or the next 10 years. We have the patience to wait.'' But so far China, ASEAN, and the United States have continued to demand Vietnamese withdrawal.

Complicating the picture is that support for the coalition means support for the Khmer Rouge, still the dominant force in the unlikely tripartnership between Pol Pot, Prince Sihanouk, and nationalist leader Son Sann. China and (to a lesser extent) Singapore are at present aiding the coalition, but the Khmer Rouge has kept other potential donors away in droves. ''Intractable'' is the word used by analysts to describe present-day Indochina, a place where the Soviets threaten the Chinese who threaten the Vietnamese who threaten the Cambodians.

Vietnam's public position has been that it will stay in Cambodia ''as long as there is a Chinese threat.'' But Foreign Minister Thach has also stated that Hanoi will eventually withdraw all its forces. Given that China has been perceived as a threat for most of Vietnam's 2,000-year history, Thach's ''eventually'' has a distant ring to it. More to the point, Vietnam shows no signs of waiting for some kind of future regional accommodation to decide on the kind of permanent relationship it wants to have with Cambodia.

One telling sign of Hanoi's intentions for its devastated neighbor can be seen in an immigration policy decision promulgated by the subservient Phnom Penh government in 1982. Reported only briefly in the Western press, Central Committee Decree No. 240 has been facilitating large-scale Vietnamese settlement in population-depleted Cambodia. Vietnamese who lived in the country before 1969 are being resettled, and Vietnamese who followed the occupation army in after 1978 are now being given official immigration privileges. So too are Vietnamese citizens who live and work in the border region. Significantly, Decree No. 240 stipulates that Vietnamese ''who betray the revolution or who make illegal livings by infringing on state laws'' are to be dealt with by Vietnamese, not Cambodian, authorities. That is, Vietnamese lawbreakers in Cambodia are to be judged by Vietnamese courts, an echo of the neocolonial treaties imposed by the ascendant Western powers on various Asian nations in the 19th century. Finally, the decree urges Cambodian administrators to work with Vietnamese advisers to ''rapidly expand the movement of Vietnamese people (into Cambodia).''

With Cambodia's reduced population there is little question that an influx of even several hundred thousand Vietnamese is creating a major impact on the population makeup of Cambodia. Two hundred and fifty thousand Vietnamese settlers (this is the US State Department's estimate; Cambodian Coalition sources claim 400,000 to 600,000) is the equivalent of some 12 million to 13 million aliens coming into the United States. Vietnamese population movement into Cambodia on this scale is an impressive step toward de facto annexation and the eventual absorption of the Khmer people. This, it seems, may well be Hanoi's long-term solution to the Indochina impasse.

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