|Mao Zedong and Pol Pot|
But the French egalitarians are not the only ones to be blamed for showing Pol Pot the path for becoming the brutal tyrant of Cambodia. He could not have risen to power in Cambodia without the political and military assistance from China’s dictator Mao Zedong.
In the early 1950s there were the first signs of a turf war between Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. Mao wanted the control of entire Southeast Asia. In the 1952 meeting with Mao’s deputy, Chou En-lai, Stalin agreed to let China play the “principal role” in Southeast Asia. The pact with Stalin gave Mao a freehand in organizing communist insurgency operations in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, and Korea.
Mao’s chance to exercise major political influence in Cambodia came when the Cambodian government led by Prince Sihanouk was deposed on 18 March 1970 in a coup that was then believed to be backed by the CIA. For years, Mao had been trying to overthrow the Sihanouk regime, but now he decided to back Sihanouk provided he joined the fight against America.
A day after the coup, Sihanouk arrived in China and he pledged to fight America. He was allowed to stay in China as a royal guest under the protection of Mao’s regime. It so happened that Pol Pot, Mao’s creature in Cambodia, was also in China at this time. Pol Pot was persuaded by Mao to give formal support to Sihanouk.
In the bloody civil war that soon broke out in Cambodia, Pol Pot's political outfit the Khmer Rouge emerged victorious in 1975 and it formed the government. The rise of the Khmer Rouge only worsened the Cambodian nightmare.
Inspired by the egalitarian idea of building a classless society, Pol Pot declared 1975 as the year zero. He unleashed his Khmer Rouge on the cities, towns, and industrial areas. All the industries, hospitals and schools, and every speck of modernity was destroyed. People with education were treated as a threat to the regime and were often executed. One-quarter of Cambodia’s population was slaughtered in just four-years.
Mao was happy with the mayhem in Cambodia, and he regarded Pol Pot as his soulmate. They were certainly two of a kind—they would spare no thought to the mammoth human and material losses that their destructive quest for power was leading to.
But the bonhomie between the two dictators did not last. Within few months of his government being formed, Pol Pot began to tire of Mao’s constant meddling in his affairs. Thereafter the Khmer Rogue regime stopped acknowledging China’s authority.
In their bestselling work Mao: The Unknown Story, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday have described the ups-and-downs in the relationship of Mao and Pol Pot. Here’s an excerpt:
“Immediately after Pol Pot took power, Mao congratulated him face to face on his slave-labor-camp state: ‘You have scored a splendid victory. Just a single blow and no more classes.’ What Mao meant was that everyone had become a slave. And Mao sent Prince Sihanouk, who had been living in luxurious exile in China, back to Cambodia, where the prince was put under house arrest and his name was exploited by Pol Pot. But though Mao was Pol Pot’s sponsor and mentor, he got no gratitude. A colleague of Pol Pot’s called Keo Meas, who had referred to Mao in eulogistic terms, was tortured to death. Written on the dead man’s dossier were the words: ‘This contemptible Mao who got the horrible death he deserved was worthless. You shouldn't think, you antique bastard, that the Kampuchean Party has been influenced by Mao.’”In the end, Mao Zedong achieved nothing from his Cambodian adventure. Even the creature that he created, Pol Pot, refused to stay loyal to him.