Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Bitter sweet stories around the borders

via CAAI

I Made Andi Arsana, Yogyakarta
Mon, 02/28/2011

While we generally agree that border disputes can endanger people’s lives, I doubt that many people know that the popular teddy bear has something to do with a border dispute. The iconic toy is indeed closely related to a border dispute in the US. We may say that the teddy bear represents a not-so-bitter side of a border dispute.

The story goes back to 1902, when American president Theodore Roosevelt went on a trip to settle a border dispute between two US states, Mississippi and Louisiana. While being involved in lengthy negotiations, the president spent his leisure time hunting bears. The host took the president to the woods but no bear could be found. Feeling uneasy about the matter, the host then caught a bear cub, tied it to a tree and asked the president to shoot it so that the hunting exercise was not in vain. Deeming it poor sportsmanship, the president refused to shoot the defenseless cub.

This bear moment soon made headlines around the country. A political cartoonist, Clifford Berryman, published a cartoon depicting the president and the defenseless bear in the Washington Post on Nov. 6, 1902. It inspired a Russian American immigrant to produce bear toys that were subsequently named “teddy bears”. Teddy was the president’s nick name.

That is part of the history of the iconic teddy bear that is loved by millions of kids around the globe. Its origin is not so far from the border dispute. It was invented because of the American president’s willingness to settle a boundary dispute between two states.

Recently, we heard a not-so-sweet story about a border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. The two neighbors exchanged fire in a border clash close to an ancient temple, Preah Vihear. The Hindu temple was awarded to Cambodia in a UN court ruling in 1962 but a piece of land around the temple is still disputed and has been the source of a long-standing conflict between Thailand and Cambodia.

Earlier, a border incident between North and South Korea was also in the headlines for quite some time. An incident in the Yellow Sea that cost human lives once again confirmed that the two neighbors still have unfinished border issues.

A maritime area in the Yellow Sea was, in fact, divided between the two countries in 1953. The line, known as the Northern Limit Line, does not seem to be accepted as a final and binding maritime boundary by North Korea.

In contrast, South Korea apparently accepts it as the line dividing the maritime zones and jurisdiction between the two Koreas. This difference in view seems to be the source, among other things, of the conflict between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea.

Similar to Thailand and Cambodia, the Koreas seem to have a reasonably bitter story concerning border disputes. In addition to maritime boundary disputes, the two Koreas also have land boundary issues to deal with. Their land boundary is considered the most heavily guarded border in the world, where soldiers from each side are on standby 24/7.

Close to Thailand, Cambodia and the Koreas, Indonesia also has boundary issues to address. Being geographically located at the “crossroad”, Indonesia has 10 neighbors to deal with. From the neighbors, Indonesia shares both land and maritime boundaries with three countries: Malaysia (Borneo), Timor Leste (Timor) and Papua New Guinea (Papua). While for seven others (India, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Palau and Australia), only maritime boundaries needed to be settled.

While it is apparent that border issues between Indonesia and its neighbors are not as worrying as those of Thailand-Cambodia and the Koreas, Indonesia undoubtedly needs to remain vigilant. The Ambalat block case, the border crossing in the Malacca Strait and the apprehension of fishermen in the maritime area between Indonesia and Australia are three good examples that portray why some important border issues still need to be addressed in Indonesia.

Indonesia is now the chair of ASEAN and therefore ideally broadens its attention to serve regional interests. What can Indonesia do to address border issues facing ASEAN members? Marty Natalegawa, Indonesia’s foreign minister, has taken good steps to demonstrate ASEAN’s willingness to address the issue. He was also involved in a meeting with the United Nations to pave the way to solution.

Even though the solution seemingly remains distant, this initiative has indicated good intention, showing to the world that ASEAN, as a community and organization, is willing to do something to address its members’ problems. Dewa Mangku (2009) in his thesis at Gadjah Mada University, for instance, is quite optimistic that ASEAN has opportunities to assist the two neighbors in settling their border dispute. However, what ASEAN can really do about border issues remains to be seen.

Some major sovereignty and border disputes among ASEAN members were solved through the International Court of Justice: e.g. the Sipadan-Ligitan case (Indonesia-Malaysia, 2002) and the Pedra Branca case (Malaysia-Singapore, 2008). Some opine that this is an indication that ASEAN members do not prefer ASEAN for dispute settlement.

This is debatable, but there is no doubt that ASEAN members, through its good chairmanship, should maximize its role in dealing with inter-member issues. As written by Rizal Sukma “what is ASEAN good for if it cannot use its own mechanism to address its own problems?” (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 10, 2011).

I am personally hoping that we can have sweet stories out of the current border disputes. We might not invent another toy like the teddy bear, but we may have heroes for their achievement in settling border disputes peacefully. The fences between countries need to be mended with goodwill for, as Robert Frost once said, “good fences make good neighbors”.

The writer is a lecturer at the School of Geodetic Engineering, Gadjah Mada University. His research interest is in technical/geodetic and legal aspects of border establishment. The opinions expressed are those of the author alone.

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