Drawing on untapped Chinese primary sources, including archival documents, the biographies and memoirs of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials involved in managing policy toward the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and, in particular, the memoirs of members of Huayun (an ethnic Chinese revolutionary movement) in Cambodia, this article shows that under Mao Zedong the CCP's policies toward the Khmer Rouge were subordinated to Mao's political needs and indistinguishable from his domestic policies. The Khmer Rouge's victory in Cambodia was significant to Mao in light of the bankrupt Cultural Revolution at home and isolation by the other Communist parties abroad. In 1973 and 1974, Chinese leaders rejected U.S. proposals to restore Prince Sihanouk to power in Cambodia and later refrained from any criticism of the mass slaughter perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge, including the systematic killing of ethnic Chinese in Cambodia. As a result, the post-Mao leaders were unable to disengage from Cambodia or to restrain the Khmer Rouge. Mao's “ideological victory” eventually translated into a strategic debacle for the PRC.

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