If one doesn’t read between the lines in what Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said in an interview by Mustaqim Adamrah (Thai-Cambodian border clash an ‘embarrassment for ASEAN’, The Jakarta Post, May 2), many readers may have been led to believe that Thailand has no reason to gain from the prolonged border clashes with Cambodia and to be unfriendly to its neighbor.
He even tried to be as diplomatic as he could by assuring that ASEAN under the chairmanship of Indonesia continues to play an historic role in finding the solution, at least a cease-fire between the two ASEAN neighbors.
He was correct to mention that the clash may be an embarrassment for ASEAN. He clearly tried to claim that the clash was nothing but a provocation by Cambodia. These claims need a reality check though.
First, Kasit Piromya seems to easily forget that he himself is the main source of unfriendliness to Cambodia. Once he publicly said before becoming Thai foreign minister that Prime Minister Hun Sen was a “gangster”.
Second, many observers in the region have already pointed out that the “Thai-Cambodian border issue” is prolonged by the complicated internal politics in Thailand.
The unseemly dispute has been exploited by the current Thai government as a door to its very existence and Kasit is one of the beneficiaries.
Even though the delimitation of the border between Thailand and Cambodia has been settled by existing agreements and maps for more than 100 years, Thailand has never abandoned its unjust ambition to unnecessarily claim “historical sovereignty and territory” over land surrounding current disputed areas with Cambodia.
If Cambodia shared the same sentiment, the country would claim the lost parts of the former Khmer empire’s sovereignty and territory over more than half the area that Thailand is today.
Then, the war will never end. Lucky enough, Cambodia seems to have rested her pride and to only protect what is legitimate sovereignty and the territory of Cambodia today under international law.
Finally, Cambodia has been exhaustively using the so-called “bilateral mechanism” to settle the problem.
The countries have made progress by signing an MoU in 2001 to settle the border problem.
Many rounds of negotiations have occurred but the mechanism stalled as many of the agreements made more than three years ago never got approval from the Thai legislative body, in a large part due to unwillingness and internal wrangling between rival political factions, ultranationalists a.k.a yellow shirts and the mighty Thai military.
Cambodia has no option but to explore all alternative mechanisms to settle the dispute once and for all so that Cambodia can stay focused on rebuilding Cambodia after a decade of war and political turmoil.
In that sense, it is not an embarrassment that ASEAN has been unable to settle the problem when the dispute has gone through other international mechanisms such as the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice. The price of “embarrassment” is lower than the “eternal peace and prosperity of ASEAN”.