32. Indochina: Getting so much Better


Southeast Asia: “Whoa! What a journey! Let’s summarize where we are. In 1940, all of my countries with the exception of Thailand were under Western colonial rule. During World War II, Japan conquered and established themselves as Eastern colonial rulers of my entire region. After the Japanese were defeated and withdrew, the Western powers reestablished control of their colonies.

However, the Japanese had broken the trance of European invincibility and given my people a taste of self-rule. Driven by this taste for liberty, each of my countries established independence from their European colonial masters in the subsequent decades. Indonesia broke free of the Netherlands; Burma, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei became independent of England; and Indochina fought for their liberation from France.

Unfortunately the US, the military branch of the International Business Cartel, moved in to take up the slack. However, the Cartel’s American division ruled these countries in a different way than the former European colonial powers. Instead of assuming direct control, they established military dictators who were subservient to them. Funded by the American taxpayer, the Cartel bribed these ruthless rulers to restrict freedoms and suppress dissent. In this way, the international corporations could more easily exploit the resources of my land, which included the indigenous population.  Neo-colonialism is the name for this form of modern exploitation.

The initial phase of the neo-colonial pattern is to undermine the political movement towards democracy. Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines all began as democracies in the decade following World War II. Vietnam was never allowed to have the election that the international community had mandated.

By the 1960s and early 70s, Cartel-funded military dictatorships had taken over each of these countries. The official reason for establishing martial law was to secure social order. The unofficial reason was the same as always, exploitation.

In Indochina, a well-organized agrarian-based communist organization fought for decades to expel the Cartel’s Indochinese tyrants from their midst. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos finally succeeded in 1975. However, it took decades for these countries to recover from the brutal 2nd Indochina War. There were multiple reasons.

The desperate aftermath of the relentless bombings combined with misguided, albeit well-intended, communist economic policies contributed to the difficulties. Compounding their enormous problems, communist infighting between the countries led to Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia. To weaken their collective communist enemy, the Cartel-led international community encouraged the conflict and refused to assist in the recovery of these war-torn countries.  Due to international isolation, Vietnam finally began withdrawing troops in 1988. What happened to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in the subsequent decades?

Vietnam’s Nguyen Van Linh: A Man with Integrity

What about Vietnam? We left her story just as she was withdrawing her troops from Cambodia. Following regular attacks from Pol Pot’s savage Khmer Rouge, Vietnam invaded and occupied the country. During the decade-long and relatively benign Vietnamese occupation, Cambodia was allowed to begin the return to normalcy after the decade from hell. However, China and the brutal Pol Pot regime had become close allies against both the imperialist Western Nations and also the Vietnam/Russia communist alliance. Cambodia even followed in China’s footsteps with their own version of the devastating Cultural Revolution. Because of their alliance with the Khmer Rouge, China began attacking Vietnam from the north for the full term of the occupation. Delighted by all this communist infighting, the Cartel-led West stepped in on the side of the Pol Pot alliance to encourage this self-destructive tendency.

With both China and the West opposing Vietnam, Soviet Russia was her only remaining ally. But Russia was going through a major redefinition of goals and identity. In the 1980s during the Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia, Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) were transforming Russia’s traditional Soviet society. He ‘opened’ the country in terms of lightening social repression and censorship, and by tolerating foreign influences, including investment. He ‘restructured’ the society by introducing bottom-up ‘free market’ economic freedoms to replace the prior top-down strategy, where the government micro-managed all aspects of the economy.

Ultimately, Gorbachev’s Western-oriented reforms contributed or led to the disintegration of the Soviet Union into smaller nations. With all this social turbulence at home and the direction of social attention turned inwards, Russia withdrew support from Vietnam. Isolated from the entire international community, Vietnam withdrew troops from Cambodia.

To understand what came next for Vietnam, let us follow the life of one man – Nguyen Van Linh.

Born in Hanoi in 1915, Nguyen Van Linh joined Ho Chi Minh’s communist youth group at the age of 14. This underground movement was committed to local independence from French colonial rule. At the age of 16, he was imprisoned for 5 years for revolutionary activity – distributing leaflets against the French. After release, he traveled to the south of Vietnam. Under the direction of Vietnam’s communist party, he established communist ‘cells’ of resistance to colonial rule. After 5 years of active organizing, the Japanese jailed him for the duration of World War II.

After the war, he became one of Vietnam’s guerilla fighters and leaders against the French in the First Indochina War. During the Second Indochina War against the US, he rose in the communist organization to become a member of the Central Committee in 1960. He became the party general of the Viet Cong in South Vietnam. He led some military expeditions, but primarily specialized in organization, propaganda and infiltration.

In 1968, Linh organized and led the Tet Offensive. This surprise attack against numerous towns and cities in South Vietnam shocked the American public into the understanding that the Vietnam War was not almost over, as the politicians claimed. From this point, massive social and largely peaceful protests in America ultimately forced the US government to shut down the Vietnam War. In other words, Linh’s master plan was a turning point in the war.

In 1975 after the war’s end, Linh became part of unified Vietnam’s ruling Communist Politburo. Due to his experience in the south, he became party chief of Saigon, South Vietnam’s former capitol. He favored the slow transformation of the primarily capitalist south with its strong Chinese business community. This stance brought him into increasing conflicts with the rulers from the primarily agrarian north. Due to increasing impatience with the pace of recovery, Vietnam’s rulers decided to disregard Linh’s moderate course towards economic recovery.

Inspired the Chinese model, the Vietnamese government nationalized all industry and began the infamous relocation program. This rigid economic strategy alienated the Chinese business community in particular. Resistance and repression inevitably followed. The Chinese responded by fleeing en masse from Vietnam, many in boats. This aggression against their race aggravated China, who withdrew aid. Vietnam responded with more repression. China attacked. Shelling continued for 10 years. Need we say more?

Because Linh actively resisted these radical policies, his career was sidelined. He was eventually even removed from the Politburo in 1982 after arguing for the return of capitalism to South Vietnam. Due to the continuing Vietnamese economic crisis in the early 80s, Linh was reinstated to the Party’s leadership in 1985. He immediately began instituting market reforms.

Shortly after in 1986, he was elected Party General. During his term in office, he was committed to transforming Vietnam into a socialist-oriented market economy. As such, he is frequently called Vietnam’s Gorbachev. Linh renounced the well-intended ideological decisions that he claimed had caused the problems. To this end, his administration abolished agricultural and industrial collectives and permitted a limited free market economy. They even passed legislation that encouraged the establishment of private businesses. Further they began phasing out the repressive reeducation program. The policy was called Doi Moi (innovation).

In the political sphere, he began cultivating relationships with both China and the US, rather than continuing to treat them as enemies. To this end, he ordered the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia in 1989 and visited China in 1990. In 1991 at the age of 76, he retired from leadership, partly from health problems and partly from party politics. However, he still had an abundance of revolutionary fervor remaining.

In a surprise speech at the Party Congress in 1991 shortly after his retirement, Linh renounced the economic freedoms that he had introduced into Vietnam. He said that instead of helping the populace that these freedoms had opened the door to abuse. He accused foreign investors of exploiting Vietnam and undermining socialist ideals. He claimed that US companies, instead of helping with the advancement of technology, were attempting to make a quick profit by dumping goods into the market place. Further the free market economy was widening the income disparity between the rich and poor. In subsequent years, he wrote a newspaper column targeting corruption and incompetence amongst Vietnam’s party leaders. In other words, corruption accompanied freedom, a seemingly inseparable couple. Linh died in 1999.

How refreshing in this cynical age, to see a man of integrity. Despite the groupthink of the entire Asian communist party, both Chinese and Vietnamese, Nguyen Van Linh continued to think for himself. Instead of bowing before the current mindset, he was sensitive to the propensities of the situation. He seems to have consistently advised responding to, rather than ignoring, the social context. What a different future Vietnam might have had, if the government had followed Linh’s advice instead of blindly following the party line.

Despite Linh’s complaints about corruption, his reforms allowed Vietnam to become reintegrated into the world economy. Since 2000, Vietnam’s economic growth has been among the highest in the world, the top in 2011. However, the income disparity continues to grow; all citizens don’t have equal access to health care; gender equality is lacking; and Internet access continues to be limited by government censorship.

These limitations on the personal freedoms of the citizenry are nothing compared with the oppressive climate of the Vietnam War and its aftermath, France’s exploitative colonial rule, or even the prior excesses of Vietnamese monarchy. While circumstances are far from perfect, it seems safe to say that Vietnam’s overall population is far better off in the new millennium than it had been for centuries, if not millennium.

Laos: much better, but still recovering

Since the French established control of Indochina in the late 1800s, the fate of Laos has been intimately linked with Vietnam. The respective communist parties of the two countries, the Viet Minh and the Pathet Lao, trained and fought together for liberation from first the French and then the Americans. After the end of this nearly 30 years of armed conflict, both nations became communist in 1975 and have remained so ever since. In fact, they are among the world's few remaining communist states. Nearly 40 years later, the communist party continues to both maintain a tight monopoly on political power and deal harshly with public dissent.

Due to their treatment of the Hmong minority, the human rights record of the Laotian government has even been challenged. There is some justification for this repression. During the Indochina War, the US recruited the Hmong, one the many Hill Tribes that inhabit the mountainous regions to the north, to fight as allies against the communists. The Hmong continue to wage a low level rebellion nearly a half century later. Further, the CIA, the US government’s spy agency, also encouraged the Hmong to cultivate the opium poppy for heroin to finance their war. Although the Laotian government attempts to eradicate this trade, opium continues to be a major cash crop for the Hmong, as well as other Hill Tribes in the area.

Although government control is largely unchallenged, as in Vietnam, political freedom and participation are vastly expanded, especially as compared with the 2 prior decades. For instance, citizens are now permitted to move relatively freely about their country and even to cross the Mekong River to Thailand. Further, the constitution, promulgated in 1991, provides for democratic elections every 5 years in which representatives are elected to a national assembly. These representatives then elect a president. Although there are multiple candidates for office, they all belong to the same ruling communist party – the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party.

Before getting too judgmental, many consider the US to also be a one party system, the Republo-crats. Because of America’s winner-take-all democratic system, alternative parties such as the Green Party are virtually non-existent. Because there are no viable alternative parties, both major parties tend to tailor their appeal to a centrist, even conservative, sentiment to obtain a simple winning majority. In contrast because of Europe’s proportional democratic system, minority parties thrive and even wield influence as part of a coalition.

In the decades following the Indochina war, both countries struggled to recover from the aftermath of the US bombings. These difficulties were compounded by well-intended, but misguided, communist policies. As an ally, Laos backed Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia during the 80s. The country also experienced the same international repercussions, isolation and alienation from China. In the late 1980s, Vietnam began both withdrawing from Cambodia and reducing its presence in Laos. This de-Vietnamization of the Indochina peninsula vastly improved Laos’ relations with both China and Thailand.

Along with Vietnam and the rest of the communist countries in the late 1980s and continuing into 90s, Laos has moved towards a free market economy by liberalizing its domestic markets and opening up the country to foreign investment. For instance to decentralize the economy, agricultural collectives were abandoned in favor of family-operated farms. The Laotian peasants met this move with the great joy. Over 20 years of oppression were finally at an end, first the US bombings which began in 1964 and then collectivization by the communist government, which ended in the late 80s. Whew! Glad that quarter century of insanity is over. In 2011, in a cautious move towards capitalism, the Laotian government even opened a stock market in Vientiane, its capitol. Despite these tentative reforms, Laos continues to be dependent upon international assistance, especially from Vietnam, China and Japan.

Despite this assistance, Laos remains one of the poorest countries on the planet. For instance with the exception of the capital city, many of the citizens live without electricity or access to basic facilities. Life expectancy is low and health care inadequate. Malaria and malnutrition are widespread. To increase the population, the government has placed a ban on birth control.

Part of the reason for the economic poverty is certainly geographical in nature. The eastern border with Vietnam consists of the rugged Annamese Cordillera, a north-south mountain range that rises to 8000 feet.  The mighty and virtually impassable Mekong River defines the western border with Thailand. These natural boundaries inhibit trade with even their immediate neighbors.

As a landlocked, mountainous country covered by tropical forest, less than 5% of the land is suitable for subsistence agriculture. Most of this soil is on the fertile floodplain of the Mekong River, where rice is the primary crop. A primarily agrarian society, 80% of the employment derives from this sliver of earth surrounding this mighty Himalayan river. Largely unspoiled tropical forests lies beyond this agricultural area. As such, manufacturing and industry are virtually non-existent. Consisting largely of subsistence non-export farming communities, Laos has one of lowest per capita incomes in world.

Because of the concentration of economic activity around the Mekong River, it also provides the main source of transportation. Due in part to the rugged forested geography, there are no railroads and the roads that do exist are impassable in rainy season. This lack of adequate transportation certainly inhibits domestic trade.

However, the communist government of Laos has taken recent steps to alleviate these problems. In 2010 with international assistance, the country embarked on the $1.3 billion dollar Nam Theun 2 dam project. The hope is that the dams will generate enough electricity to both modernize the country’s infrastructure and boost its economy by exporting this renewable energy resource to Thailand.

A baby step towards reducing international isolation occurred in 1994 with the construction of the 1st bridge across the mighty Mekong to link Laos and Thailand. More significantly in 2011, construction was begun on the first high-speed rail line between China and Laos. As railroads have done elsewhere in the world for nearly 2 centuries, the improved transportation will dramatically reduce isolation, vastly improve the potential for trade, and improve the country’s infrastructure. The sudden influx of international visitors will also modernize Laos, for better and worse.

Review of Cambodia’s difficult decades

We left Cambodia’s story at the time that Vietnam began withdrawing their army after a decade of occupation. Recall that the occupation was relatively benign, especially as compared with the prior decade. Relentless US bombings obliterated Cambodia’s agricultural infrastructure in the first half of the 1970s. In the 2nd half of this decade, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge destroyed the urban infrastructure . His repressive policies included relocation programs that forcibly depopulated the cities. In pursuit of an agrarian utopia, his regime also abolished money and private property.

Defending their country from the Khmer Rouge’s ultra-nationalist military aggression, Vietnam invaded in 1979. After occupying the war-torn country, they installed Cambodians as leaders. These new rulers consisted primarily of ex-Khmer Rouge cadres, who opposed Pol Pot’s extreme policies.

Their primary strategy was to allow Cambodians to reestablish normalcy. To this end, the government permitted the populace to return to their homes, whether in the city or countryside, and renew traditional cultural practices, such as Buddhism. In general, the citizenry was given more freedom, as the government relaxed the most extreme communist economic policies and ceased carrying out genocide on Cambodia’s ethnic minorities.

Despite this political relief, the populace still suffered tremendously during the 1980s. Due to the bleak conditions, Cambodians in the hundreds of thousands became refugees in Thailand. Those that remained still had the work of rebuilding their country virtually from scratch – both their urban and agrarian environments. Further, the depopulated citizenry was in no position to undertake this daunting task, as they were weak due to malnourishment and disease. Despite these desperate conditions, the International Business Cartel, whose political and military branch was the US government, blocked the United Nations from providing humanitarian assistance.

Instead due to US pressure, the United Nations continued to recognize the fanatical Khmer Rouge as the legitimate political rulers of Cambodia even though they lived in exile on the border between Thailand and Cambodia. Compounding difficulties even more, the international community joined by China supported a coalition, including Pol Pot’s army, in its military attempt to overthrow the Vietnamese occupation forces. Rather than compassion for the people, Cartel-dominated politicians only saw Vietnam as an enemy that had to be undermined in any way possible. Shame!

In response to this perpetual aggressive activity, the Vietnamese cleared and mined nearly the entire border between Thailand and Cambodia. This strategy led to short-term animosity from the population and long-term destructive problems, i.e. unexploded mines. Eventually due to international pressure, the Vietnamese gradually withdrew their army at the end of the 1980s.

In 1991, the international community along with all the Cambodian political factions met in Paris to decide the political fate of the country. Among other things, the congress initiated the de-mining of the countryside to expedite the repatriation of the some 370,000 Cambodian refugees that were living in Thailand. The 1991 Paris Peace Accords also provided for an election in 1993 to decide who would be the new rulers. In the meantime, a United Nations peacekeeping force governed the country.

Four parties dominated the election. Three of the parties had been aligned as the resistance movement on the Thai border. Collectively they had attempted to undermine the Vietnamese supported government. This former alliance consisted of a royalist party, the Khmer Rouge, and an anti-communist party.

The fourth political party was the Cambodian People's Party. This was the new name for the government party that had run the country during the Vietnamese occupation. During the 1980s like the rest of the communist world, the government had increasingly relaxed their strict economic policies. The policies included decentralization, a freer marketplace, the ability to own private property, and opening up the country to foreign investment. By the early 1990s, the Cambodian People’s Party had entirely renounced its communist background.

The 1993 elections were fairly legitimate, even though the Khmer Rouge blocked the electoral process in the 10% of the country they still controlled. However, no party won an outright victory. Although the royalist party won the most votes, they were forced to form a coalition with the other parties including its former enemy, the Cambodian People’s Party. The coalition produced a Constitution that provided for multi-party elections and a wide range of human rights. The coalition also reinstated Prince Sihanouk as the king of Cambodia, a purely symbolic position. At this point Cambodia became a democratic monarchy.

In 1997, there was a military coup by the Cambodian People’s Party. To justify the coup, the army cited the resurgence of the Khmer Rouge and the potential for a military overthrow of the country. The coup placed the Cambodian government in the hands of Hun Sen, the Prime Minister and leader of the Cambodian People’s Party. He and his party have retained control of the government ever since into 2014. To better understand Cambodia’s modern political circumstances, let us focus upon the life of Hun Sen.

Hun Sen, Cambodia’s premier/dictator (1985 ->)

After Lon Nol usurped power from Prince Sihanouk in 1970, Hun Sen joined the Khmer Rouge at the tender age of 18. He became a battalion commander in eastern Cambodia after Pol Pot’s communist party seized control of the country in 1975. Due to his opposition of the Khmer Rouge’s fanaticism, he came into conflict with the party’s leadership. To avoid the purges of 1977, he fled to Vietnam with his battalion.

When Vietnam occupied Cambodia in 1979, they placed Hun Sen’s resistance party in charge of the newly formed government and appointed him to be Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. After the death of his predecessor in 1985, Hun Sen became the Prime Minister of Cambodia at the age of 32. He has retained this position ever since with just a few interruptions. At nearly 30 years, he is one of longest ruling leaders in the world. What is his legacy?

With Vietnam as their role model, his administration began abandoning the strict communist ideology. In this vein, they decentralized the economy and opened the country to foreign investment. However, they continued with political repression. In 1987, Amnesty International accused Hun Sen’s regime of engaging in torture on thousands of political prisoners, i.e. electroshock and near suffocation. As we shall see, these patterns have continued in the ensuing decades.

Representing his party in the Paris Peace Accords of 1991, Hun Sen played a pivotal role. To accommodate the international community, his party renounced communism and one party politics. In a further compromise with the multi-national rulers, he embraced the free market economy. Due to his efforts, he was even able to retain his role as premier when the United Nations assumed control of the country.

Although the royalist party defeated his Cambodian People’s Party in the 1993 elections, Hun Sen boldly refused to step down as premier. As a compromise, he became co-premier of the country alongside the royalist premier. To avoid forming a coalition with Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party, the royalist party began negotiating with members of the Khmer Rouge.

Threatened by this alliance, Hun Sen seized control of the government in 1997. He executed some of the opposition leaders and quickly suppressed any dissent. To establish complete control of the country, the Cambodian military then went to the countryside to quash the remaining power centers of the Khmer Rouge.

Since the coup, Cambodia has held multiparty elections every 5 years, from 1998 through 2013. Hun Sen’s party has won every election and has regularly formed a coalition with the cowed royalist party. Of course, Hun Sen has retained his position as premier. However, international observers claim that the elections have been seriously flawed due to voter fraud, intimidation, lack of media coverage, and outright violence. In other words, Cambodia’s democracy seems to be superficial, at best.

Hun Sen is widely viewed as a relatively authoritarian dictator that has consolidated his power via a 'web of patronage and brute military strength'. As such, Cambodia is viewed as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. In this regard, it is reported that his administration sold upwards of 45% of the total landmass in Cambodia, including wildlife preserves, in the years 2007-08 - primarily to foreign investors. This sale, which has already led to the forced eviction of thousands of Cambodians and threatens 150,000 more, has led to regular clashes between the locals and the military police.

Hun Sen and his close associates have also been accused of selling off the country’s oil and mineral resources to the highest bidder, charges that they, of course, deny. Top officials are also implicated in years of widespread illegal logging that has led to a rapid decline in Cambodia's forest cover.

To suppress dissent, public gatherings are banned and riot police are deployed to beat protestors. The government also maintains a tight control on the media. As such, Freedom House ranks Cambodia as ‘Not Free’.

It is evident that Hun Sen is an opportunist. Initially a member of the Khmer Rouge, he then renounced these ties and aligned himself with the Vietnamese as a moderate communist against his former party. A decade later, he renounced communism and embraced free market capitalism to align his government with the multi-nationals against the populace.

Hun Sen justifies his decades-long rule in typical fashion. He claims that only he can balance the warring factions that threaten Cambodia’s stability. He has certainly seen the devastating effects of civil war and social chaos. As a teenager, he was a direct witness to the American bombing and Lon Nol’s repressive regime. He then was a battalion commander during the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal government. Hun Sen was also a key player in Cambodia’s more moderate ‘puppet’ government during Vietnam’s occupation in the 1980s. Although his regime has been repressive, Cambodia has not been subject to the social breakdown and chaos that characterized prior decades. And although his administration has cooperated with the Cartel, at least their minions aren’t attempting to destabilize the country through bombings and civil war.

It is easy to judge military dictators from an external perspective. Frequently, after a long-term dictator is deposed, the country sinks into social turbulence and chaos. Sometimes a repressive regime is necessary to maintain social order. While Hun Sen’s administration has been plagued by corruption, at least Cambodians have experienced social stability. And social stability is certainly a key factor in one’s ability to attain enlightenment or self-realization.

Indochina & the Global Hunger Index

Most descriptions of 21st century Indochina refer to the extreme poverty of its citizens. They frequently cite low per capita earnings to indicate the supposedly desperate conditions. However, most of the workforce in Indochina is employed in subsistence farming. In all countries, the Mekong River provides fertile, irrigated fields for rice production. Because they grow their own food and trade for goods, the farmers have very little need for income. While ‘per capita income’ is a good way of assessing a ‘market’ economy, it is poor way of judging a ‘subsistence’ economy. An individual can be quite happy with no money, if he has enough to eat and is surrounded by a loving community.

However, malnutrition is another widespread problem in Indochina. Let us see how Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam compare with the rest of the world on the Global Hunger Index. It rates countries on 3 categories: 1) the mortality rate of children under the age of 5, 2) underweight children under 5, and 3) the proportion of undernourished citizens.

On first glance, the statistics for Cambodia and Laos are disturbing. Both of these countries are amongst the hungriest countries in the world: Laos at #25 and Cambodia at #32. However, both countries have come a long way in the last 2 decades.

In 1990, both of these countries and Vietnam were all in the ‘extremely alarming’ category with scores over 30. Since then Vietnam has improved its score by 75% to lower than 10. This rating means that most of the population is properly nourished, although pockets of malnutrition persist. Cambodia and Laos have improved their scores by 50%. Although the situation is still described as ‘serious’, malnutrition has been consistently and significantly reduced for the populations of both countries.

It is easy to judge these countries as inadequately providing for their citizens, if we ignore the larger context. However, the countries of Indochina have come a long way, when we consider their condition in 1990. It had only been 15 long years since the long-lasting devastation of the US bombing, which destroyed the agricultural infrastructure of the 3 countries, including rice fields, bridges, irrigation systems, farm animals, roads and buildings. This devastation led to the depopulation of Indochina, with millions becoming refugees in adjoining countries to escape the denuded, poisoned and dangerous countryside. Those who remained faced the daunting task of rebuilding the agrarian society from scratch without draft animals, without proper nutrition and without any international assistance. (Note that after World War II, Japan, Germany and the Philippines were all provided with an abundance of international assistance to recover from the obliteration of their cities.)

Failed communist economic experiments compounded these innate problems from the bombing. Repressive regimes also augmented the depletion of the desperately needed labor force through execution, relocation programs and magnifying the number of refugees. That was just the 1970s.

In the 1980s due to Khmer Rouge aggression, Vietnam occupied Cambodia. This led to a decade of warfare and international isolation. Attacked by China in the north and attempting to defend Cambodia from the resurgence of the Khmer Rouge in the west, Vietnam was in no position to rebuild its economy. In 1990, the countries of Indochina were in desperate shape.

The 1991 Paris Accords finally established a long-lasting peace for Indochina. With all armies in their proper countries, international aid began to flow. At last, Indochina was able to rebuild. Economic growth has continued to reduce poverty levels. Accordingly, it is no mystery why the nutrition of the population has steadily and consistently improved since 1990. They have come a long way in the 2 decades of peace, but the overall prosperity must continue to improve if the number of hungry citizens is to be reduced.

Although significant problems remain that need to be addressed, Vietnam and Laos are far better off in 2014 and improving in comparison with the prior half-century, if not the prior millennia. As mute testimony to the political and social success of these communist governments, in the 40 years they have been in power, there have been none of the peasant rebellions that dotted the imperial and colonial landscape of these countries for centuries.

Cambodia is certainly better off than in the decades of the 1970s and 80s. Instead of destroying skyscrapers, the government is building them. Further instead of obliterating the infrastructure, the government approved the controversial Sesan 2 dam project to boost hydroelectric power. However the potential displacement of 100,000 peasants is certainly disturbing. It could easily be argued that the relatively benign rule of the French and Prince Sihanouk were considerably better times for the Cambodian peasantry.


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