Continuing Indochina Conflict
Growing Concern Over Recent Developments
Some problems simply refuse to go away. After the communist takeovers of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in April 1975, most Americans were willing to forget about Indochina and repress their concern about the non-communist “dominoes” throughout Asia. The flood of refugees from the region and the simmering feud between Vietnam, allied with the Soviet Union, and Cambodia, backed by China, made total oblivion impossible. But it was the capture of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh on Jan. 7 by Vietnamese troops and the Vietnamese-created and supported Cambodian United Front for National Salvation that intensified U.S. interest in the area.
State Department spokesman John F. Cannon emphasized American concern immediately after the fall of Phnom Penh and much of the rest of Cambodia. Calling for a withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from the country, Cannon stated that “our priority is to bring a local conflict to a speedy resolution and to prevent it from becoming a wider conflict.” The Carter administration subsequently warned the Soviet Union and China not to intervene in the dispute. But the administration tried to maintain an even-handed policy, coupling its criticism of the Vietnamese invasion with denunciations of the ousted Cambodian government's human rights record.
The Soviet and Chinese reactions reflected both their own enmity and the point of view of their Indochinese allies. A commentary in the official Soviet news agency Tass on Jan. 7 called the regime of Cambodian Prime Minister Pol Pot “a reactionary dictatorial clique” and said that its fall “will undoubtedly be received with profound satisfaction and joy by millions of people in different parts of the world.” The same day, China, in a statement to the U.N. Security Council, warned that Vietnam's drive to annex Cambodia “by force and set up an ‘Indochina Federation’ under its control is a major step in pushing its own regional hegemony and an important part of the Soviet drive for hegemony in Asia and the Far East.”