Personal ties, feuds distort Thai-Cambodian relations

national January 25, 2013 00:00

By Avudh Panananda
The Nation

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Thailand and Cambodia are neighbouring countries with deep mutual suspicions made more complicated by the individual whims of their leaders.


Thai and Cambodian leaders owe it to their peoples to conduct diplomacy to further the respective interests of their countries, instead of harbouring grudges.
This week’s spat between Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva serves as a reminder of the flawed bilateral ties.
Hun Sen has singled out Abhisit as a troublemaker bent on damaging ties, but he could soon discover that he has virtually no true friends in the Thai establishment, including in the Yingluck Shinawatra government, which he adores.
Members of the Shinawatra clan, particularly former prime minister Thaksin, might be showering the Cambodian prime minister with sweet words. But at the end of the day, they will not risk the wrath of the Thai people just to please him.
As much as Abhisit needs to overcome the ghost of Thaksin in his assessment of the ties with Cambodia, Hun Sen equally needs to balance his diplomacy and befriend all sectors of Thai society rather than put all his eggs in Thaksin’s basket.
Thaksin is without doubt very popular and influential in Thailand. It is an unfortunate fact, however, that he is an object of both love and contempt by his fellow citizens.
If Cambodia continues to link its diplomacy to Hun Sen’s personal ties with Thaksin, then the Thai-Cambodian relations will mirror and fluctuate in accordance with individual relationships, rather than state affairs.
The two countries have much to reflect on in the conduct of diplomacy.
On the Thai side, the Democrats, particularly their leader Abhisit, are obsessed with blaming Thaksin for everything wrong.
It is high time the opposition lawmakers stopped playing the blame game and put Thai-Cambodian ties back on track for mutual prosperity.
Though Thaksin might have erred, it is futile to dwell on the past. The two countries should move on instead of allowing suspicion and grudges to cloud their judgement.
In 1962, the International Court of Justice ruled that Preah Vihear Temple belonged to Cambodia. Successive Thai governments have complied with the ruling, which is about the temple ownership and not the border delimitation.
As the ICJ is expected to hand down its clarification of its earlier ruling on the temple ownership later this year, certain Thai advocates, seen as close to the yellow shirts, are trying to fault the Yingluck government.
They have no reason to cast suspicion on the ICJ in an effort to try and address the issue of Thai sovereignty.
They should not put Thai-Cambodian relations in harm’s way simply to spite Thaksin.
On the Cambodian side, Hun Sen should come to his senses and see that Thaksin is not a knight who can dictate the ties between the two countries.
Only diplomacy based on fairness and the mutual aspirations of the two peoples can ensure peace, prosperity and sustainability of bilateral relations.
The Cambodian government grossly misjudges Thailand if it pins its hopes on the notion that Thaksin can and would shape bilateral relations any way he wants.
Things have changed drastically since the signing of the 2001 memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the overlapping maritime boundary.
In order to put the MoU in its present context, Hun Sen should directly ask Thaksin about his assessment of the realistic chances of implementing oil and gas exploration in the joint development area.
Until the revenue-sharing formula is renegotiated, exploration will remain a pipe dream.

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