According to Asiaweek's issue of July 6, 1994, Cambodia at that time counted a population of 8.9 Millions. This makes Cambodia the second smallest country in Southeast Asia in terms of population. Most other Southeast Asian countries outnumber the population of Cambodia several times: Indonesia with 191.1 Millions, Vietnam with 73 Millions, the Philippines with 65.6 Millions, Thailand with 59.5 Millions, Burma with 45 Millions and Malaysia with 19.4 Millions. Only Laos is less populated, with 4.5 Millions. By comparison, the city state of Singapore counts a population of around 3.1 Millions.
In 1975 Cambodia's population numbered 7.2 Millions. During the fouryears reign of the Khmer Rouge the population dropped to around 6 Millions mostly due to the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge but also owing to starvation and migration of large numbers of people, especially ethnic Vietnamese.
The dominant ethnic group are the Khmer, about 85 % of the population. The remainder are mostly Vietnamese, along with around 100,000 ethnic Chinese, and some 100,000 Muslim Chams. A number of primitive tribes make the remainder.
The Vietnamese presently still count for more than 5 %, maybe even as much as 10 % of the population. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge a large portion of Cambodia's Vietnamese population fled to Vietnam but returned after the Vietnamese military invasion in 1979, along with further Vietnamese imigrants.
After the Khmer Rouge in 1993 attacked Cambodian families of Vietnamese origin and cruelly killed entire families, including women and children, at least 20,000 Cambodians of Vietnamese origin fled to Vietnam.
In Cambodia tensions between Khmer and ethnic Vietnamese have been the norm for centuries, and ethnic Vietnamese are poorly integrated into the Khmer population. Hatred of the Vietnamese and anything Vietnamese is the only emotion the Khmer Rouge can still incite in their countrymen.
Compared to the ethnic Vietnamese the ethnic Chinese are better integrated into the Khmer population.
Before the Khmer Rouge took power in April 1975 the Chinese, or Khmer families with Chinese ancestry, played an important part in the Cambodian economy and in politics. Lon Nol, the dictator who ruled Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge, had a Chinese grandparent.
During the reign of the Khmer Rouge the Chinese population of Cambodia, too, suffered excessively, and many fled. Another wave of Cambodians of Chinese origin left the country after the Vietnamese military invasion in 1979 when relations between Vietnam and China were anything but good.
In the middle of the 90's the Chinese part of the Cambodian population was estimated at about 100,000, equalling slightly less than 1 %.
The number of remaining Chams is also around 100,000 (before Pol Pot's rule there had been twice as many). The Chams had for several centuries settled in the territory north of Phnom Penh but originally they were from the Danang area in presentday Vietnam. Until the 15th century the kingdom of Champa, centered near presentday Danang, ruled the trade route between China and Southeast Asia.
Subsequently, the Chams were pushed farther and farther to the South and West by the more numerous Vietnamese (Annamese). During the time of the decline of the realm of Angkor they settled in the territory of presentday Cambodia.
In the 17th century, after the Khmer king Chan converted to Islam and invited Malay Muslims into Cambodia, most Cham embraced Islam. The influence of Malay Muslims can be recognized today in many Cham customs, including the way they dress.
Only small numbers of ethnic Thais and Laotians live in Cambodia today. Their settlement areas are restricted to the western Cambodian town of Battambang and the respective border areas. One reason for the low penetration of Cambodia from these two neighbouring countries is the topography of the border regions with Thailand and Laos. While there are no natural boundaries between Cambodia and South Vietnam (the region is one geographic entity) the borders with Laos and Thailand clearly follow the mountain ranges.