In August 1976, a message was sent presumably from the Australian Embassy in Beijing back to Canberra concerning the Khmer Rouge ambassador to China.
The memo stated that “For a long time after the victory of the Khmer rouge in 1975 the embassy in Beijing was virtually incommunicado except presumably, to a very few fraternal near neighbours.”
This memo, however, point to certain changes that had taken place in the summer of 1976. First, a certain Pich Cheang had been promoted to fill the position of ambassador. And second, Pich Cheang had “gradually become a familiar smiling face at diplomatic functions.”
While this development was welcomed by the Australian representative in Beijing, there was nonetheless still a problem, namely that Pich Cheang was “hampered in communication by an inability to speak any of the lingua francas of Beijing – Chinese, English or French.”
That said, Pich Cheang was apparently working hard to learn English, and the writer of this memo stated that this “may be a sign of a new desire to bridge some of the gaps that separate Kampuchea from normal international intercourse.”
Having read this report, I wondered what ever became of Pich Cheang. Serving in such a sensitive position, I knew that the chances that he might have been purged were high.
In searching on the Internet for his name, however, I found him cited in a BBC article from March 1998. That was when Cambodian government troops overran the remaining Khmer Rouge base, Anlong Veng.
The remnants of the Khmer Rouge had started to seriously fracture by that point, starting a year earlier when Ta Mok put Pol Pot on trial and took over control of the organization.
It is clear from the BBC report that the Cambodian government troops were aided by Khmer Rouge who were disillusioned with Ta Mok’s effort to take control of the Khmer Rouge, and who defected to their side.
One person who did so was Pich Cheang. He was clearly upset at Ta Mok. This is what the BBC reported on 29 March 1998:
“Ta Mok is the man who is responsible for the fall of our ideology,” said defector Pich Cheang, who was the Khmer Rouge ambassador to China from 1975 to 1984.
“Since he arrested Pol Pot and tried Pol Pot [last June and July] he has been in charge of everything. A real dictator. He doesn’t listen to anyone. He didn’t give anybody a chance to do their work.”
“I expect all of our comrades and friends to come to join us because no one has any faith in Ta Mok anymore,” he told a reporter from a French news agency.
“Ta Mok killed the revolution that Democratic Kampuchea had built,” he said.
So it looks like Pich Cheang did end up learning a “lingua franca.” He made these comments to someone from a French news agency, but perhaps they were made in English.
In any case, contrary to what the Australian government official wondered in 1976, the efforts of Pich Cheang to learn English and smile at diplomatic functions clearly did not lead him to “bridge some of the gaps that separate Kampuchea from normal international intercourse.”
Instead, it looks like Pich Cheang remained devoted to the Khmer Rouge’s radical revolutionary vision all the way to the end.