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Cambodia and Laos before Pavie


The Khmer state, which had suffered a long decline since the XVth Century, had been coveted by its two neighbours, Siam and Vietnam, since the XVIIth Century. Between 1834 and 1841, the Hué Court, to which Cambodia had already ceded its provinces in the Mekong Delta intensified its policy of annexation, which provoked a popular uprising in 1845 and a new war against Siam, which ended in a treaty placing Cambodia under the joint sovereignty of Vietnam and Siam. To prevent the division of his kingdom, the Khmer ruler appealed to the French. After the failure of an initial negotiation in 1853, France, whose interest in Cambodia lay in safeguarding its position in Cochinchina and ensuring possession of the Lower Mekong valley, signed a treaty of protection on 11th August 1863. King Norodom I retained relative autonomy until 1884, when a further treaty was signed granting control of Cambodia to the French administration and permitting France to undertake radical reforms designed to open up trade with the west.


From the end of the XVIIth Century and following numerous dynastic quarrels, the kingdom of Lan Xang (“the land of a million elephants”) was divided into several principalities which rapidly fell under Siamese influence: Vientiane in the centre and Champassak in the south from 1768, and Luang Prabang in the north after 1795. In the XIXth Century Laos, which was already the subject of a tussle for influence between Vietnam and the Siamese kingdom, became, from the 1890s, a critical issue for the European powers in their race to control the trade routes into southern China. The British, who had been established in Burma since the 1820s, aimed to prevent the French from accessing the route from the Upper Mekong. France, in turn, wished to protect the western borders of its possessions in Indochina. The years between 1893 and 1907 were marked by a series of Anglo-French treaties that were intended to clarify the areas of influence for each of the parties.