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Chea Sim’s Passing a Reminder of Waning Influence of Vietnam

Cambodia's Senate President Chea Sim, right, looks on as his attends a water festival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, file photo.

The passing of Chea Sim, once a leading political figure in Cambodia, is a reminder of changing times and politics, an analyst says.

Chea Sim, who died Monday at age 82, was installed as a leader by the Vietnamese who ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979, and he remained an important figure thereafter.

He eventually remained the head of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and the president of the Senate—one of two legislative houses in the country.

But his death is a reminder that Cambodia is decreasingly under the influence of Vietnam, Sok Touch, a political analyst and dean of Khemarak University, told “Hello VOA” Tuesday.

Chea Sim’s passing may also open the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen to improve ties even further with China.

“We’ve seen that the government looks to donors,” Sok Touch said. “Who is the best donor?” Vietnam remains one of the poorer countries in Asean, and “Cambodia cannot feed its 13 million people by relying on Vietnam’s economy,” he said. That creates an opportunity for China to “catch” Cambodia.

Vietnam has typically held much sway in Cambodian affairs, having pushed out the Khmer Rouge and occupied the country between 1979 and 1989. That relationship angers many everyday Cambodians and is a point of political attack from the opposition.

But Sok Touch said that political relationships with Vietnam and Thailand are inevitable, because both countries border Cambodia. “We cannot move the border,” he said. Good politics provides some stability on both frontiers, he said.

Still, he said, Cambodia does have a way to move forward and to think about its own national interest. “What should we think about? The question is whether Cambodia should be released from Vietnam and China. Cambodia now has a policy of standing on its own integrity, sovereignty and neutrality.”