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A Past to Overcome

August 1979 : Boat people - 213,000 Vietnamese are in countries of first asylum. December 1979 : Vietnam claims she is protecting Kampuchea from Chinese.

Thailand, Kampuchea, Laos, Vietnam.


Thailand has always been peopled by Thai' tribes but until 1939 the nation was called Siam.

Early centuries : Thai tribes are under Chinese suzerainty (i.e. China has nominal sovereignty).

9th Century : Thais raid China and attack the Red River Valley in north Vietnam.

11th Century : Thai-Syam state appears with raiders ranging far and wide.

13th Century : Thai-Syam chiefs defeat the Khmers, take a lot of their territory and form the kingdom of Sukothai.

14th Century : Ayuthia  - a new Thai-Siam kingdom, the forerunner of modern Thailand - emerges.

1178: Occupation of Laos by Siamese forces.

1813: Siam seizes more Kampuchean territory

1829: Rebellion in Laos against Siam crushed and part of the country depopulated as a defen sive measure to establish a buffer area against Vietnam.

1855 : Bowring Treaty of friendship with Britain gives Britain important trade benefits in Siam.

1867 : Siam relinquishes suzerainty over Kampuchea to French in exchange for Kampuchean provinces of Battambang and Angkor.

1896 : Franco-British treaty guarantees the independence of Siam.

1932 : End of Absolute Monarchy. A coup produces a constitutional monarchy which moves steadily to military dictatorship. 1938 : Field Marshall Phibun Songgram becomes prime minister and dominates politics for 20 years.

1939 : 'Siam' changes its name to Thailand' in the hope that the arrival of the Japanese will help them extend Thailand's borders to include all Thai peoples in Laos and Kampuchea.

1941 : Japan occupies and helps Thailand seize parts of Laos, Kampuchea and Burma. 1942: Thailand declares war on Britain and us.

1946: US re-establishes relations but Britain. demands compensation and blocks Thailand's entry into the United Nations.

1948 : Songgram returned to office after brief period of civilian rule.

1950 : Military and aid agreements signed with the US     and Thai troops sent to fight in Korean War. Alter Chinese revolution the US is looking to Thailand to be a bulwark against communism.

1954 : SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation) formed as mutual defence pact. Members are France, Australia, USA, UK, the Philippines, Pakistan and Thailand. Headquarters in Bangkok. Organised after defeat of French at Dien Bien Phu to give security against 'communist threat'.

1957 : Coup. Phibun replaced by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat.

1958: Kampuchea-Thailand border dispute. 1962: US Marines land in Thailand as insurance against possible attack by communist Pathet Lao from Laos.

1963 : Sarit dies. Replaced by Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn.

1964 : US bases set up in Thailand for Vietnam War.

1965 : US bombs North Vietnam from bases in Thailand.

1966 : ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) formed with Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singaporeand Thailand as members. Originally only for economic co-operation, but later military.

1966 : Thailand supports Khmer Serei guerilla group against Prince Sihanouk and has border clashes with Kampuchea.

1967 : Thai troops sent to South Vietnam to fight against communists.

1969 : 'Nixon Doctrine' says Southeast Asian nations should be more self-reliant. This disturbs Thais who think America might now desert them.

1970 : Relations re-established with Kampuchea after right-wing coup against Sihanouk.

1971 : Right wing coup within military government against those of its members who want to open relations with China. The coup aims to clamp down on communist insurgency.

1973 : Collapse of military government after massive student demonstrations. Brief period of democracy.

1976 : Military coup. Massacre of students. Thailand feels vulnerable after US withdrawal and now having communist neighbour.

1977 : General Kriangsak Chammanand takes over. Prepared to be friendly with Peking but still repressing communism within Thailand.

1978 : Vietnam promises not to support communist insurgents in Thailand. Joint statements from both countries say they want to normalise relations.

Early 1979 : Thailand supports Pol Pot after his overthrow by Vietnamese and supplies guerilla forces of Khmer Serei and Khmer Rouge against Vietnamese.

November 1979 : US again sends military personnel to Thailand because of the threat of the Vietnamese at the Kampuchea-Thai border.


For simplicity the nation is referred to as Kampuchea throughout, although it has had several names including Kambuja, Cambodge (Fr.), Cambodia and the Khmer Republic.

AD 100 : Kingdom of Funan emerges in the Mekong Delta, strongly influenced by Indian culture.

6th Century : Funan over-run by Chen La kingdom to the north and together they form the Khmer Kingdom of Kambuja.

9th--12th Century : Khmer Empire grows across Southeast Asia and the elaborate complex of temples is built at Angkor, with sophisticated irrigation systems for food production.

13th Century : Khmer Empire declines, attacked by Siam.

1432 : Siamese sack Angkor. The capital is moved to Phnom Penh.

15th Century : Vietnamese attack and take the Mekong delta.

1700 : Vietnam is now suzerain ruler of Kampuchea.

1714: Siam replaces Vietnam as suzerain. 1812: King flees under pressure from Siam but returns with Vietnamese help.

1831 : Siam invades but is repelled with Vietnamese help.

1834 : Kampuchea integrated into Vietnam but after a rebellion the country returns to being subject to both Siam and Vietnam.

1863 : French rescue Kampuchea by establishing it as a protectorate with agreement of King Norodom.

1904 : Norodom dies. French shift succession to Sisowath branch of family.

1941 : Succession changed back to Norodoms. King Sihanouk crowned.

1941 : Japanese occupy leaving Sihanouk on the throne but giving Battambang and Angkor back to Thailand where Thais encourage an anti-French guerilla movement - the Khmer Issarak (Free Khmer).

1945 : Independence declared at insistance of Japanese. Sihanouk appoints Son Ngoc Than as foreign minister.

1945 : Japanese surrender. Thanh tries to declare a republic but fails and is exiled. He joins the Khmer Issarak and later forms the Khmer Serei (also meaning Free Khmer).

1946 : French return Battambang. Angkor is given back by Thailand.

1953 : Sihanouk declares independence from French.

1954 : Geneva   Conference    recognises Kampuchea's neutrality, says Vietminh should withdraw from the country and that Kampuchean communists should unite with the national community. The latter (the Khmer Rouge) regard this as a betrayal by Hanoi to secure Vietnamese gains at the conference.

1955 : Sihanouk abdicates in favour of his father so he can run for political office. Subsequently he dominates political and social life and tries for neutrality by playing West against communists.

1959 : Relations with US deteriorate after Sihanouk claims that CIA were involved in a plot to depose him.

1963 : Left-wing opposition, including Khieu Samphan, leaves Phnom Penh for the jungle. 1967 : Left-wing peasant revolt crushed.

1969 : US starts to bomb Viet Cong sanctuaries in Kampuchea, pushing them deeper into the country.

1970 : Sihanouk deposed by a right-wing coup led by Prime Minister Lon Nol. Sihanouk joins forces with the Khmer Rouge and forms government in exile.

1970 : Invasion by US and South Vietnamese troops with massive bombing support.

1972 : Khmer Rouge become a force in their own right and a split develops with Vietnamese.

1973 : Paris Peace Talks. North Vietnamese agree terms but Khmer Rouge accuse them of betrayal and refuse to negotiate with Lon Nol.

1973 : US Bombing continues until August by which time the equivalent of five Hiroshimas have fallen on Kampuchea.

1975 : Victorious Khmer Rouge enter Phnom Penh on April 17 and start to clear the city.

1977 : Refugees report cruelty of new regime and Vietnam describes it as 'a land of blood and tears, hell on earth'.

1978 : Border conflict with Vietnam continues January

1979 : Vietnam overthrows Pol Pot regime in support of Heng Samrin.

August 1979 : Oxfam reports on apalling conditions in Kampuchea.

September 1979 : UN votes to retain Pol Pot seat.

October 1979 : UNICEF and Red Cross agree terms with Heng Samrin for distribution of aid. December 1979 : Khieu Samphan takes over leadership of Khmer Rouge from Pol Pot.

January 1980 : Khmer Serei factions fight each other for control of refugee camps.


11th Century : Lao people migrate from north Vietnam into modern Laos.

11th Century : The Lao State becomes part of the Khmer Empire.

13th Century : Lao allegiance changes to the Sukothai empire to the west.

1353 : Confederation of Lao States first unified by a Lao prince.

1478 : Temporary invasion by Vietnam.

16th Century : Lao power diminishes. Some states lost to Vietnam.

17th Century : Golden Age of Laos under King Souligna Vongsa who manages to redefine the frontiers with Siam and Vietnam.

1778 : Siam occupies but the king they install also pays homage to Vietnam.

1829 : Rebellion against Siam defeated and Vientiane devastated by Siamese.

1907 : French take over Laos but the country they take from Siam is smaller than before and many Lao people are left in Siam. The French rule with 'benign indifference'.

1940 : Japanese arrive and hand back to Thailand provinces taken by the French in 1907.

1941 : French struggle to develop Laos and produce national unity as a defence against Siamese. But they continue to neglect hill people.

1945 : Japan declares end of colonial period but this only produces chaotic struggle between royalists, neutralists and Vietminh from Vietnam.

1946 : French return. Thailand forced to give back what she took in 1940.

1947 : Laos becomes constitutional monarchy within the French Union. But there are independence activists exiled in Thailand, including the Vietminh supported Prince Souphanouvong.

1949 : Laos becomes independent sovereign state. This satisfies some of the exiles who return but not Souphanouvong.

1953 : Prince Souphanouvong who has formed the Pathet Lao (Lao State), a largely communist group, takes territory in the north with the support of the Vietminh.

1954 : Dien Bien Phu. France occupies this valley in Vietnam partly to cut theVietminh off from Laos. But they are heavily defeated. 1954 : Geneva Conference. Under pressure from the Chinese the Vietminh agree to withdraw and Laos is to become a neutral buffer state. The Pathet Lao are to be integrated in the country.

1958 : Pathet Lao wins partial elections at the expense of the corrupt government.

1960: Elections rigged by right-wing government. Pathet Lao returns to insurgency. 1961: Civil War. King makes international appeal for help. Britain proposes another Geneva conference specifically on Laos.

1962 : Geneva Conference produces ceasefire and neutral government.

1963 : Geneva agreement collapses and fighting breaks out again between right and Pathet Lao.


BC : Chinese people move south into what is now northern Vietnam.

939 : Kingdom of Nam-Viet breaks free of Chinese domination.

13th & 14th Centuries : China invades and is fought off but as part of the settlement China must be acknowledged as 'suzerain' (having nominal sovereignty) over Vietnam.

15th Century : Vietnam acquires Cochin-China (Mekong Delta area) from Kampuchea.

16th Century : Civil war. Country divided into north and south. French missionaries arrive.

1802 : Nguyen Dynasty gains control with French help over a united country. China accepts the new emperor, whose court is at Hue, but insists that the new country be called Hue Nan (south of Hue) which local pronunciation turns to 'Viet Nam'.

19th Century : China weakens and comes under British influence while French soldiers follow their missionaries into Indochina.

1862 : French take Cochin-China and move north but are attacked by the Chinese.

1885 : China loses suzerainty over north Vietnam in a treaty with France.

1893 : Indochinese Union declared by France comprising Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

1919 : Ho Chi Minh, Vietnamese nationalist leader, appeals for greater autonomy for Vietnam from France - but to no effect.

1930 : Indochinese Communist Party formed by Ho Chi Minh.

1940 : Japanese occupy Indochina but agree to leave Vichy French administering if they can use Indochina as a base. This saves the French from prison camps but probably delays -Japanese defeat.

1941 : Vietminh formed. This 'League for the Independence of Vietnam' (Vietnam Doc Lap Dong Ming Hoi -usually called Vietminh) was ostensibly an alliance of nationalist groups but in fact controlled by communists.

1945 : French interned by Japanese who declare Vietnam's independence, putting Vietminh in charge.

1946 : French return after the war and fighting with the Vietminh starts.

1950 : Mao Tse-tung's China recognises Vietminh as government of Vietnam.

1951: American aid for French is stepped up.

1954: Dien Bien Phu site of a final crushing defeat for the French Army by Vietminh.

1954 : Geneva Conference on Indochina, chaired by Britain and USSR, 'temporarily' partitions Vietnam into north and south pending elections to be held in

1956. But in the south the government of President Ngo Dinh Diem, backed by the US, refuses to work towards elections which the communists probably would have won.

1959 : Rebellion in the South initiated by Ho Chi Minh's government in the North.

1961 : President John F. Kennedy says the US will 'pay any price' in the cause of freedom and deploys 400 US Special Forces troops in Vietnam.

1963 : Buddhist monks are shot in demonstrations against Diem regime. Public suicide by burning.

1963 : Military coup backed by US. Diem murdered.

1964 : US intensifies bombing of Pathet Lao territory.

1969 : Vietnam accuses Thailand of being a lackey of the US and of helping promote a 'kill-all, burn-all' policy in Laos.

1970 : Thailand denies her troops are fighting the Pathet Lao. The Thais are 'irregular volunteers'.

1972 : The US has now spent $100 million in supporting Thai volunteers in Laos.

1973 : Paris Peace Agreement produces a ceasefire and a new coalition government.

1974 : Pathet Lao return to Vientiane and Souphanouvong joins government coalition. US and Thai troops withdraw but Vietnamese stay.

1975 : Pathet Lao take over without bloodshed and the rightists flee. Prince Souphanouvong becomes president and Kaysone Vihane prime minister.

1977 : Peoples Democratic Republic of Laos tries to stay neutral in the struggle between China and Vietnam.

1978 : Laos accuses China of trying to destabilise Laos by supporting dissident tribesmen and sides more openly with Vietnam.

1979 : Vietnamese troops in large numbers in Laos.


1965 : President Nguyen Van Thieu takes over. US forces now up to 200,000 with 'limited air strikes' against North Vietnam.

1968 : February Tet Offensive in which communists make massive inroads into South Vietnam.

1970 : President Nixon announces troop withdrawals from half million strong US force. 1973 : Paris Peace Agreement. The US withdraws but fighting continues between Thieu and communists.

1975 : South Vietnam falls and a Provisional Revolutionary Government is formed.

1976 : Nationwide elections create the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

1977 : President Carter says he has no objections to Vietnamese membership of the UN.

February 1978 : Peace proposals made by Vietnam for border dispute with Kampuchea.

June 1978 : Vietnam joins Comecon (Eastern bloc economic grouping).

July 1978 : China accuses Vietnam of persecuting Chinese in Vietnam. Exodus of Chinese refugees.

July 1978 : US Congress blocks normalisation of relations with Vietnam.

November 1978 : Friendship treaty signed with USSR - the price of Soviet aid.

December 1978 : Vietnamese enter Kampuchea to overthrow government of Pol Pot and install Heng Samrin government.

January 1979 : China invades Vietnam to 'teach her a lesson'.

August 1979 : Boat people - 213,000 Vietnamese are in countries of first asylum. December 1979 : Vietnam claims she is protecting Kampuchea from Chinese.

January 1980 : ASEAN countries now seem more willing to talk to Vietnam.

New Internationalist issue 084 magazine cover This article is from the February 1980 issue of New Internationalist.
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