1997 News of the World: Asia

Updated July 10, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

1997 News of the World

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge stronghold in the western jungles splintered in 1997, with factions warring against each other or defecting. The Khmer Rouge provoked the already fierce rivalry between co-prime ministers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun Sen, both of whom courted Khmer Rouge factions in an effort to shore up their power. In early July, Hun Sen took advantage of the charged political atmosphere to depose Ranariddh, officially the First Prime Minister and the country's only popularly elected leader. Hun Sen later brutally cleaned house by executing more than 40 political opponents. Skirmishes between Ranariddh's forces and Hun Sen's troops continued through the fall. Meanwhile, King Norodom Sihanouk, a beloved but ineffectual figurehead, was unable to broker peace between Hun Sen and his son, Prince Ranariddh.

Shortly after the July coup, the Khmer Rouge tried their notorious leader, Pol Pot, who had not been seen by the West in more than two decades, and sentenced him to lifetime house arrest in a trial broadcast from a Khmer Rouge camp in the jungle. Why the Khmer Rouge chose that time to stage the trial is unclear, beyond the apparent wish to distance themselves from Pol Pot and garner the good graces of the international community. But much of the world felt this home-style justice to be inadequate; as one of history's most monstrous despots, Pol Pot warranted an international tribunal for his crimes against humanity.

Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997, when Britain's lease on the New Territories expired. The chief executive under the new government, Tung Chee Hwa, formulated a policy based upon the concept of “one country, two systems,” thus preserving Hong Kong as a vibrant capitalist enclave. Its status as a free port and its social, economic, and judicial systems were to remain unchanged for 50 years. The international community anxiously eyed the Chinese takeover for signs of its commitment to uphold the region's free-market economy.

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