Edited by Anis Chowdhury and Iyanatul Islam
Chapter 13: Cambodia
Melanie Beresford Political history Cambodia’s political history in the past half-century is intimately bound up with the wars and political instability resulting from decolonization. The country was under French rule from 1863 as part of the larger French colony of Indochina, including Viet Nam and Laos. While in 1946, following the end of Japanese occupation, the Vietnamese nationalists waged an independence war against the returning French nationalists were more ambivalent. In pre-colonial days, the very existence of the Cambodian state had been under pressure from territorial encroachments by both the Thai and Vietnamese monarchies. French colonization created secure boundaries for the country, but these were once again disrupted during World War II, as Thailand, a Japanese ally, claimed a large slice of the western part of Cambodia, including the most productive rice-growing region around Battambang. The defeat of Japan enabled the restoration of this territory to the Cambodian monarchy under French protection. Nationalists in Cambodia were therefore less hostile to the French than their Vietnamese counterparts who had suﬀered no such territorial dismemberment during the war. Although communism had gained many Khmer (indigenous Cambodian) adherents, it was much weaker in Cambodia during the 1940s and early 1950s than in neighbouring Viet Nam. By 1953, the French faced defeat in Viet Nam. In order to preserve their inﬂuence in Cambodia, they granted independence to the young, French-educated, Cambodian monarch Norodom Sihanouk.1 Already Indochina was becoming embroiled in the Cold War – the United States would soon take charge of the...
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