Saturday, 19 February 2011

Resolving border conflicts takes wisdom

via CAAI

Published: 19/02/2011 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

The clashes between Thai and Cambodian troops were inevitable. The deaths and injuries shared by the two sides is sad news as they occurred at the wish of the rulers of the two sides while ordinary people did not want them to happen, noted Virabongsa Ramangkura writing for Matichon.

The use of force to settle conflicts is out of fashion these days for most countries except the US, which has appointed itself the world's policeman under the United Nations banner to use force to settle conflicts around the world in order to protect its interests. The US can do this as it is the only superpower left in the world.

Mr Virabongsa, a well-known economist and former deputy prime minister, noted that to conduct international politics for whatever reason, the rulers should think in the long term about how to end conflicts and about how the international community will view any incidents.

Mr Virabongsa advised both sides of the border conflict to look at the long-term interests of their countries and peoples. They must take into account historical facts, international law, being members of United Nations and Asean. In the eyes of the global community, Thailand and Cambodia are very small in terms of economic and military power.

Mr Virabongsa then outlined three main problems concerning the present conflict.

1. Thailand demarcated the area around Preah Vihear temple after the World Court decided in 1962 that the temple belonged to Cambodia. Thanat Khoman, who was foreign minister at the time, reserved the right to raise the issue again if there was any new data. However, a long time has passed since then and Thailand has not brought up the issue in the World Court again.

It is Cambodia that would like to revive the case. The Thai side does not want the UN Security Council to intervene in the dispute.

Even if the UNSC decides to revive the case, the issue must be sent to the World Court to rule again in more detail what it means when it says Preah Vihear belongs to Cambodia according to the map drawn up by the French colonial ruler. Thailand must consider whether to allow the case to be reopened as it is not certain it will gain any advantage.

What we should consider is not winning against Cambodia in a war as the Cambodian army is not as strong as the Thai army. What we should consider is how the international community will view the conflict and whether Thailand is the protagonist or the bad guy.

Mr Virabongsa noted that our ancestors taught us how the Thai people could win against the ancient Khmer empire and keep power in the Chao Phraya basin. This was because the ruling Thai elite knew how to accommodate various competing interests. Eventually the Khmer natives who tilled the land along the Chao Phraya basin were assimilated as Thai and many Chinese who migrated to Thailand also were eventually assimilated.

What is most important as a nation is that Thailand could survive outside powers' hegemony by bending with the wind in dealing with China, Britain, France, Japan and the US, and may in the future have to deal with China again.

Thai and Cambodian rulers come and go but the people on both sides have to deal with each other, especially on the Cambodian side where the people are poor and want to work and earn a living along the border and in Thailand.

2. Mr Virabongsa noted that Thailand and the French colonial rulers erected 73 border posts in 1909, from Chong Mae Sa-ngao in Si Sa Ket province to Baan Lek, Khlong Yai, in Trat. Sometimes the Khmer Rouge moved the border posts inside Cambodian territory, sometimes Thai capitalists moved the border posts inside Thai territory so they could fell trees. The facts have yet to be ascertained.

The border demarcation can be implemented if neither side is greedy and specialists can easily do their job as long as politicians on both sides do not use this issue to stir up political fervour for their own gain.

Mr Virabongsa advised the Thai media not to whip up nationalistic fever so that the issue could be resolved amicably.

He cited an example of Thailand and Malaysia exchanging land along their border. A Chinese temple site was transferred to Thailand and a mosque site was given to Malaysia. The exchange was possible because the media did not cover the event and the people on both sides were satisfied.

In the modern world, border demarcation is not a big issue if we do not make it so. Trade and economics are more important issues. Peace and stability are more important. Mr Virabongsa pointed to the history of Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, who wanted to stay within the Federation of Malaysia, but Malaysian statesman Tunku Abdul Rahman was far-sighted and expelled Singapore to establish its own state. For the late Tunku Abdul Rahman, the peace of the newly established Malaysian federation was more important than gaining more territory. He had Thai blood as his mother was Thai. Then and now, nobody has blamed him for being responsible for Malaysia losing the territory of Singapore island.

The rally cry of a certain mob "not to lose an inch of territory" can be interpreted as bitter feelings of being subjugated by a superior force like the colonial powers of the past. Mr Virabongsa advised that such feelings are of no use in this day and age when the world is now borderless under globalisation. Why not adapt to the tide and derive benefits from it?

For the near- and long-term future, Thailand has Malaysia, Burma, Laos and Cambodia as neighbours. Further afield are Indonesia, India, Vietnam and China. All these countries have fertile land. If we live in peace with our neighbours, the importance attached to national border demarcation imposed by colonial powers will become less and less important.

Europe and the US over 200 years ago have also suffered from nationalistic disputes until there was industrialisation, the League of Nations, the United Nations and flourishing trade. Then both small and large countries began to live in peace and prosper together.

3. The overlapping continental shelf previously posed no problem because the technology to extract natural resources from the sea was not advanced and petroleum, natural gas and seafood were abundant and inexpensive.

In those days, the colonial powers decreed that each country could claim exclusive rights over the sea for a distance of three nautical miles, which was the distance a cannonball could be fired. Further than that, it was international waters. At the time, practically all countries accepted this proposal even though it would benefit the colonial powers the most.

Later, when the continental shelf was extended to 200 nautical miles for exclusive exploited territory, the problem of the overlapping continental shelf occurred. As long as Thailand and Cambodia cannot settle on overlapping seabed areas, they cannot exploit the encompassing natural resources.

Thailand and Malaysia were wise in agreeing not to demarcate the continental shelf between the two countries. They designated this a "joint development area" and cooperated in extracting petroleum and natural gas and dividing the resources.

Why cannot Thailand and Cambodia do the same? Leave continental shelf demarcation alone and jointly develop natural resources in the overlapping area, advised Mr Virabongsa.

Returning to the border clashes, Mr Virabongsa noted that regardless of who ignited them, or whether both sides are guilty, it is inevitable that the media in both countries will be used to rouse nationalistic fervour. Whether that happens depends on the people themselves. They must consume news with wisdom, otherwise we, the people, will force the hand of our political and military leaders and leave them no choice but to go with a tide that does not bode well for the country in the long term.

Mr Virabongsa concluded by reminding readers that life is sacred, whether Thai or Cambodian. We must not be led astray.

Abhisit launches a diplomatic offensive

The United Nations Security Council resolution that Thailand and Cambodia instigate a permanent ceasefire and return to the negotiating table provided an opportunity for Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva to launch a diplomatic offensive, noted a Post Today writer.

First, Mr Abhisit instructed Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya to convince Cambodia's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong to change his attitude and agree to talks during the Asean foreign ministers meeting in Jakarta next Tuesday.

On this issue, Mr Abhisit informed the cabinet that Thailand and Asean would try to persuade Cambodia to negotiate under the existing frameworks, including the memorandum of understanding signed in 2000 on dealing with the border demarcation, the Joint Border Committee and the Thai-Cambodian General Border Committee.

Second, Mr Abhisit instructed Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suvit Khunkitti to travel to Paris to talk with Unesco's World Heritage Committee to convince the members to postpone taking up the issue of the management of Preah Vihear, which is scheduled to be held in June in Bahrain, until both countries reach a demarcation resolution.Mr Abhisit urged parliament to speed up the consideration of three Joint Border Committee resolutions to conform with the constitution's Section 190 to show Thailand's sincerity in carrying out agreements reached by the committee.

Mr Abhisit also approved a trade initiative with Cambodia by having Deputy Prime Minister Trairong Suwannakhiri and Deputy Commerce Minister Alongkorn Ponlaboot preside over a 175-booth trade exhibition in Phnom Penh on Thursday. Mr Abhisit agreed to let Mr Trairong hold talks with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen during the visit.

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