Thai Cambodia relations is heating up again, with the Thai Parliament debating how Thailand will engage foreign relations inciting Cambodia as an example and the World Court, set to rule on disputed Thai Cambodia territory. Some analysts, like Bangkok Post’s national security journalist has twittered problems ahead for Thailand’s Yingluck government. Politics aside, what are the facts about the Thai Cambodia relationship?
Fact 1) Over 50 years ago the World Court ruled that the Phravihear relics, that sits on the Thai Cambodia border belonged to Cambodia. While clearly, ancient Cambodians of the Khmer Empire built the relics, the relics is significant to Thailand on many level, being that Thailand for centuries was under the Bangkok elite establishment rule that sees Thailand as the main power in mainland Southeast Asia, and drawing from Cambodia, the God King concept of the Monarchy, to which Thailand had long devoted to. For the nationalist, maintaining supremacy over Cambodia, helps rationalize Thailand’s greatness and self-inception.
Fact 2) Cambodia for ages, has seen Thailand as the aggressor and the people of Cambodia resent Thailand’s looking down on them as a lost empire and Thailand as the new empire, and thus the Cambodian people often trashed Thailand’s interest in Cambodia. One such occurrence occurred when Thaksin was the prime Minister, with Cambodians attacking Thai investments in Cambodia. Thaksin initial reaction was to send in Thailand’s special force to secure Thai people in Cambodia, but after negotiating with Cambodians leaders, settled for the Cambodians authority to safe-guard Thais there and compensate for the damaged Thai investments. Thaksin and the Cambodian leaders became close since then, for Thailand, having not sent in its military, unilaterally.
Fact 3) After several years, Cambodia decided to develop the Phravihear relics into a tourism center, and as part of that, tabled the relics for the World Heritage body to grant the relics the status. The problem, is that in that 50 years ago ruling by the World Court, left a small track of land at the base of the relics, the main entrance, in dispute between the two countries. Noppadon Pattama, Thaksin lawyer, went to negotiate with the Cambodian on the World Heritage status, and the result is that Cambodia only tabled the part of the relics that was clearly Cambodian to the World heritage site, where Thailand and Cambodia signed an MOU recognizing that status application and granting.
Fact 4) Then entered Abhisit Dems, then in the opposition, inside Parliament open debate even as many requested the debate to be closed door, went trashing the Thai government and Cambodia, charging that the World Heritage MOU, put in danger Thailand’s claim on the Phravihear relics, where the Thai nationalist, that supports Abhisit, does not even recognize the 50 years old ruling by the World Court, and cling to the belief that the entire Phravihear relics belonged to Thailand. Abhisit’s Dems, also levied un-substantiated assertions, that the MOU with Cambodia, was in exchange for fast settlement of the disputed continental shelf with Cambodia, in the Gulf of Thailand, where rich oil and gas track may exists and that Thaksin has private interest in those oil and gas track development. These assertions has never been proved.
Fact 5) Abhisit’s Dems and their Nationalist backers, petitioned the courts. Noppadon was charged by the Thai courts for hurting Thailand’s interest with the MOU, where in Thailand, long known and rtecognize is a justice system hell bent against Thaksin.
Fact 6) Abhisit came to power in Thailand and appointed as Foreign Minister, Kasit, who called Cambodia’s prime Minister, in public, a cheap thug, where Hun Sen, the Cambodian prime minister was greatly angered with those utterances and other anti Cambodian words by Kasit.
Fact 7) Thaksin, exiled from Thailand, on a global hunt by Abhisit, since Abhisit became the prime minister, visited Cambodia as guest of the cambodian government and was appointed Cambodia’s special economic adviser. Abhisit reacted negatively, re-calling Thailand ambassador to Cambodia, and a team of assassins, origin and order un-knowned from Thailand tried to assassinate Thaksin in Cambodia.
Fact 8) Nationalist took their protest to the Phravihear relics border area several times and clashed with local people who wanted peace, but eventually, Thailand, being under a highly nationalist government, sees the Thai military infected by blind Nationalism fever of the time, and security relations soured as both sides made aggressive moves on other, and war broke out eventually between the two countries, with the even reaching the World Court and UN security council. ASEAN, was also alarmed as the war had greatly tarnished the ASEAN reputation.
Fact 9) A group of Thais, known only to Abhisit, went on a spy mission for Abhisit on the Thai Cambodia border and were caught. Abhisit was able to get people close to the party released but left several others of the Yellow Shirts in jail. This spying incident follows many other spying incident in Cambodia, such as spying of Thaksin’s flight itinerary, as a way to intercept Thaksin’s jet and force it to land in Thailand or shoot it out of Thai sky.
Fact 10) Cambodia then tabled the Phravihear relics to the World Court for a fresh ruling, on the entire Phravihear relics matter, where subsequently Yingluck came to power in Thailand and kept the team set up by Abhisit to defend Thailand’s interest at the court. The court is set to rule in about a month, where Yingluck said Thailand and Cambodia will maintain peace, no matter the out-come of the ruling.
Fact 11) On the question of how the Thai people overall feel about the Phravihear relics dispute with Cambodia, there are several polls, but perhaps most pointing, is not the Thai press, which mostly are anti Thaksin and Yingluck, but that Abhisit’s government, a coalition, had a coalition party with a minister, that went along the Nationalist fever of the time, and took Thailand on a very hawkish stance on the whole issue. In the subsequent election, that Abhisit’s coalition party, while banking on politicizing the Phravihear relics to help it at the polls, the result is, the party failed to win even a single seat at parliament and that Abhisit minister, also failed to get elected. It should also be noted, that Bangkok elite aside, the Issan Region Thais are close to Cambodian in culture and heritage.
Fact 12) Cambodia economy is attracting a great deal of foreign investments, particularly from S Korea, Japan and China and is considered to be close with China on foreign relations, even protecting China’s interest at an ASEAN meet that was hot on South China Sea statement. Cambodia latest election sees Hun Sen’s popularity greatly challenged.
Fact 13) As a result of the all of the above, Abhisit and the military wrote “Extreme Nationalism Governance” over Thailand’s foreign relations efforts, and that application is in effect today, as Thailand enters a period of uncertainly with Cambodia. Parliament is trying to amend the constitution, to make Thailand’s relation with the globe more positive and open.
Fact 14) Inside Thailand extreme nationalism has been beaten back by Globalization, but the nationalist perhaps will be awaken by the future World Court ruling if the ruling is negative for Thailand, and perhaps pose problems for the Yingluck’s government. Inside Cambodia, the increasingly popular opposition, like Hun sen, has shown a nationalist trait, and the ruling impact in Cambodia is un-known at this point.