Domestic Political Change and Ethnic Minorities

A Case Study of the Ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia

by Ramses Amer, PhD, Institute for Security & Development Policy, Sweden

Published in Asia-Pacific Social Science Review 13 (2013), 87-101.

Abstract

The paper analyses the impact of domestic political change on ethnic minorities through a  case study of the ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia. The paper examines the major political developments and changes in Cambodia since the 1950s and their impact on the situation of the ethnic Vietnamese in the country. Anti-Vietnamese sentiments have not only been regularly displayed by the Cambodian elite but also been reflected in the policies of the Cambodian authorities. The roots of these attitudes and their effects on policies are explored in the paper. The anti-Vietnamese discourse in Cambodia shows that the Cambodia elite’s perceptions of Vietnam as a state influence their attitudes towards the ethnic Vietnamese minority and these attitudes influence the policy-making relating to the minority. Discriminatory policies implemented by the Cambodian authorities and attacks instigated by such policies led to the virtual elimination of the Vietnamese minority in the 1970s, when some 420,000 Vietnamese were either expelled or had to flee to Vietnam. In the 1980s there was a trend that ethnic Vietnamese returned to Cambodia. Politically motivated attacks on ethnic Vietnamese were carried out on a number of occasions in the 1990s and they posed a real threat to the Vietnamese community. The domestic political discourse in Cambodia has displayed anti-Vietnamese rhetoric directed not only at Vietnam but also at the ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia. This is in particular the case regarding some opposition parties. The continuity and/or change in such discourse and its implications are explored in the paper.

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