Thursday, 24 February 2011

Asia's border wounds won't close easily

via CAAI

By Dinggang

The long steps extend up to Prasat Preah Vihear, over 500 meters high. The ancient Hindu temple stands at the cliff edge and each stone carving there records the history of the ancient Khmer kings.

Unfortunately, now people can only appreciate the temple's beauty through photos. Due to the continuous exchange of fire between the Thai and Cambodian armies, this world-class landscape has become a danger zone.

The thunder of guns at Thai-Cambodian border forces us to once again feel the heavy burden of national development in Asia.

When we look through the boundaries of Asia, certain place names, locations, or sea regions will suddenly see familiarity - not from geography books, but from news of border conflicts.

Almost all of Asian neighbors have border disputes. Conflicting sovereignty claims still divide the region.

Russia and Japan are competing over the South Kuril Islands. Malaysia and Singapore are quarreling in the international court over the sovereignty of another island. Myanmar and Bangladesh almost went to war at sea over marine disputes, and Japan and South Korea are continuing to dispute the sovereignity of the Liancourt Rocks.

The injuries of the past still leave bruises today.

The historical reasons for the sovereignty dispute are mostly related to the colonial invasion and partition. The colonial powers came and grabbed the land, and after they left, sovereignty? problems remained.

The Thai-Cambodian border conflict can be traced back to the French colonial expansion of the late 19th century, while the Kashmir issue resulted from the British colonial policy of "divide and rule." The long confrontation of the Cold War meant these wounds weren't healed. ?

In recent years, Asian has been booming economically. The cooperation between Asian countries, especially Southeast Asia and East Asia countries, has deepened, forming a new source of global economic power.

However, economic development is not enough to heal past wounds.

It could ease the pain to a degree, but due to mutual suspicions and hidden injuries, even slight frictions can develop into conflicts.

The more troublesome news is that with economic development, many countries have entered a new period where public opinion has a stronger influence over diplomacy.

Territorial and water disputes can easily lead to a violent reaction from the public, which tends to squeeze the government's scope for strategic choices and forces them to follow public opinion.

Historically, Europe experienced a period of intense conflicts over sovereignty which were often resolved through war.

Asian countries cannot afford to pay the price of war, and the current international environment does not allow it.

It is also impossible to let foreign powers return to Asia and guide the redrawing. This will only bring endless troubles.

Moreover, there is no power in the world that now has that kind of strength.

Balance achieved with the help of outside powers can only lead to a more serious imbalance. Resolving sovereignty disputes with external strength is not a rational choice and will eventually pull the opposite knot even tighter.

The cure also requires a comprehensive set of measures and implementable mechanisms that Asia doesn't have.

The injuries to Asia's development can only be cured by increasing mutual understanding, reducing the pressure of sovereignty dispute, gradually establishing an effective security mechanism and finally curing the injury through continuous cooperation.

The places where disputes often take place are still the focus of global media attention. This is not only the fate of Asia, but also the key to deciding whether Asian countries can embark on a new road of peaceful development.

The author is a senior editor with the People's Daily.


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