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Reviewed by:
  • China, Cambodia, and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence
  • Xiaorong Han (bio)
Sophie Richardson. China, Cambodia, and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010. x, 332 pp. Hardcover $50.00, ISBN 978-0-231-14386-8.

This book provides an informative and insightful account of Sino-Cambodian relations since the early 1950s. Based on her analysis of rich data accumulated through archival and library research as well as more than eighty interviews with Chinese foreign policy officials, Sophie Richardson persuasively argues that in [End Page 372] dealing with Cambodia, a country many times smaller than China, several generations of Chinese leaders have been faithful to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence throughout the period under her study with only a few interruptions. In other words, at least in the case of Sino-Cambodian relations, the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, which include mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual nonaggression, mutual noninterference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence are not merely propaganda and rhetoric but also an essential guide for China’s diplomacy. The author affirms that the Five Principles set limits on policy choices available to Chinese leaders and represent China’s effort to provide an alternative to a world of bipolarity, military alliances, and dependent development.

The author starts her presentation by tracing the origins of the Five Principles, which she argues were based upon Chinese leaders’ reflections on China’s humiliations in the modern era and their determination to prevent China from becoming either a victim or victimizer in international relations. The Communist leaders first laid out the principles in the 1940s, before coming to power, and began to promote them vigorously in the 1950s as the heart of the foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Most of the book is devoted to analyzing the application of the Five Principles to PRC policies toward Cambodia in four major phases: the reign of Prince Sihanouk (1954–1970), the rule of Lon Nol and the Khmer Rouge (1970–1979), the Vietnamese occupation (1979–1991), and the restoration of Sihanouk and the ascendance of the CPP (Cambodian People’s Party) under Hung Sen (1991–2002). Despite the drastic political changes in both countries during the five decades, the author discovers at least two important consistencies in China’s policies toward Cambodia. First, China would support any Cambodian government it deemed legitimate at a given moment regardless of its political fortunes, affiliations, or ideology. China’s support for Prince Sihanouk, a non-Communist, started in the 1950s and was never withdrawn even after Sihanouk lost his power in 1970. China immediately recognized the Khmer Rouge government after it took power in 1975 because the Chinese leaders believed that by defeating Lon Nol and cooperating with Prince Sihanouk the Khmer Rouge had won legitimacy. China continued to support the Khmer Rouge after it was overthrown by the Vietnamese in 1978. After 1991, prompted by the understanding that the CPP, a former enemy, had become a stabilizing force essential for the reconstruction of Cambodia, China gradually improved its relations with the Party and its leader, Hung Sen. On the other hand, China never recognized Lon Nol’s regime in the 1970s and the CPP government during the Vietnamese occupation.

The second consistency is that China’s support for legitimate Cambodian governments and leaders was unconditional, and China did not interfere with the internal affairs of Cambodia. For instance, in the 1950s and 1960s, China offered substantial aid to Prince Sihanouk but did not require him to cut his ties with the [End Page 373] United States or the Soviet Union, or to endorse China’s position in the Sino-Indian disputes. Even during his exile in China in the 1970s, the prince still enjoyed his freedom to criticize China’s policies. Specifically, he showed his disapproval of China’s new policy toward the United States by making a trip to North Korea during Nixon’s visit to China in early 1972. In the late 1970s, China did not approve of the radical policies adopted by the Khmer Rouge but did not try to stop these policies since...


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pp. 372-376
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