January 1979. The Vietnamese are closing in on Phnom Penh. A messenger from the Khmer Rouge leadership arrives at the Chinese embassy: the KR army has collapsed, there’s nothing between the Vietnamese and the capital. Prepare to evacuate within four hours. Papers are burnt, food prepared, and at midnight a convoy of diplomats, not only Chinese but the Yugoslavs, Burmese and others (in truth not that many) leaves the city headed for Battambang. Once there a new message from the KR government: the threat has been overstated, please return to Phnom Penh. Most of the embassies decline the invitation, but recognising that his duty is to represent Beijing to his hosts, the ambassador and his staff return to PP immediately. The date is January 4.
The situation in Phnom Penh continues to worsen. Artillery can be heard in the distance and Vietnamese reconnaissance aircraft are overhead. On January 6 a Chinese Boeing 707 arrives. There are 180 people at the airport pleading for seats, among them Prince Sihanouk, Princess Monique, and some two dozen members of the royal household. The aircraft can safely carry only 150.
That’s just the first five pages of this document, The Collapse of the Pol Pot Regime, January-April 1979. It’s the story of the Chinese embassy as they retreated with the KR into the Cardamom Mountains in the face of PARVN (Peoples Army of the Republic of Vietnam), and was written, I gather, as part of an internal history of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The Chinese tried to stay with Pol Pot and keep on being an embassy, but in April they crossed the border into Thailand. It’s an extraordinary story – you’ve heard of barefoot doctors, but here’s barefoot diplomats.
Nice blogspot here with photos of Phnom Penh when it fell to the PARVN – this is what the Chinese would have seen as they left the city. The photos used here are from another blog, Travis J Thompson’s Ten Pics a Day – unfortunately I don’t know who took the actual pics, especially that one at the top.