By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Published on May 11, 2011
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa showed his talents as an Asean diplomat when he employed Asean-style diplomacy to facilitate a peace process between Thailand and Cambodia. Asean-style diplomacy means if a problem cannot be solved right away, then let it continue.
Asean believes that letting quarrels take place on the table is better than having them fire guns at each other, even though countries in this region prefer the fight-talk tactic to achieve their goal in foreign relations.
The new package, which the Thai side refers to as a "road map", is nothing more than a platform for prolonged negotiation. The package was adopted at a meeting between Natalegawa, Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and his Cambodian counterpart Hor Namhong in Jakarta on Monday.
The ultimate goal for Thailand is to get Cambodia to withdraw its troops from the Preah Vihear area and its vicinity. Cambodia and Indonesia's ultimate goal is to have a team of Indonesian observers parked at the border area.
Jakarta also has its own stake in the matter - if it can facilitate a settlement to the border row, Indonesia would be able to prove itself as a true regional leader.
Natalegawa put all conditions and demands from both sides into the package, which he explained at a press conference in Jakarta on Monday night. "We talk about who must do what in advance before taking the next step … it is a process".
In reality, this means that Thailand will not see the withdrawal of Cambodian troops before the Indonesian team of observers is deployed to the border. The troop withdrawal would have to be discussed by the General Border Committee (GBC), which is chaired by the defence ministers of both sides, provided Thailand formally submits a letter to Jakarta accepting the terms of reference in relation to the team of observers.
It is a smart solution because Natalegawa knows that both sides want to claim a technical victory to maintain their scores on the domestic political front. That's probably why he told reporters: "This is a process approach, not an event. This is accepted by both parties, because no one is winning or losing."
The package, however, would not bring immediate peace to the border because more rounds of negotiations are needed before implementation. The package is simply a continuation of the momentum for peace talks.
Actually, the ball is now in Thailand's court. The government has to decide if it wants to formally accept the terms of reference. Though Bangkok has accepted the text of the TOR, it has yet to send a formal letter of acceptance to Indonesia. According to Natalegawa, the TOR would be accepted at about the time the GBC meets.
However, this is not going to happen in a hurry. Thailand has far too many reasons to delay the process. Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, whose government does not have a full mandate now that the House has been dissolved, said yesterday that he had maintained his position - Cambodia must withdraw before Indonesian observers can be deployed.
It would be politically incorrect for Abhisit to comply with the new package without any conditions, because the conservative nationalists, who are the main supporters of his government, do not want to see a third party get involved in the conflict with Cambodia.
Abhisit said his Cabinet needed to discuss the new package next week before making a decision.
The premier hinted that Thailand might call on Indonesia to dispatch an advance team to survey the border area before it fully accepts the observers. This would give his government some air to breathe as it campaigns for votes.