I work for the government in the field of security and military diplomacy. I have several years experience in bilateral and multilateral activities in the ASEAN and in China. As a result of this work, I have many contacts in both the ASEAN and in China. Furthermore, I have a good grasp of the Thai, English and Chinese languages. This will help in communicating directly with people who are involved in all areas of the subject.
Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), China's role as mediator in the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia has been noticeable worldwide. I wish to identify the key factors of this mediation and whether, overall, the Chinese involvement has been a success in enhancing the Thailand-Cambodia relationship.
Border disputes between Cambodia and Thailand have spanned many years. Cambodia’s historical concern about Thailand encroaching on its western provinces is the only case in which one ASEAN state has suspended diplomatic relations with another (Weatherbee, 2008).
Cambodia dominated major parts of Thailand from the ninth to the twelfth centuries, and the remnants of Khmer rule can still be seen on the Cambodia-Thailand border area. This is especially true in Esarn which is in Northeast Thailand.
In 1953, Thailand’s government put a police post in the Dangrek Mountains and sailed their flag over the sanctuary. This was an attempt to strengthen the country’s border. When negotiations between 1954 and 1958 failed to produce any positive results, the Cambodian government instituted legal proceedings in October of 1959 against Thailand before the International Court of Justice. In October of 1961, the conflict led to a suspension of diplomatic relations and the closing of the Thai-Cambodian border (St John,1994, p.64). PreahVihear remained under Thai occupation until the early 1960s. In 1962, however, the World Court heard both Cambodia and Thailand’s arguments concerning the 11th century temple and upheld Cambodian control over the temple.
In 2003, territorial dispute about the border region began again, and then again in 2008 and in 2011. The Cambodia-Thai conflict has had a negative impact on the relationship between the peoples of both countries. Furthermore, Cambodia and Thailand are both members of ASEAN, and this ongoing dispute has had a negative impact on the development of the ASEAN.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has played a major role in Cambodia’s foreign relations since the country attained independence in 1953. Since then, the PRC has tried to limit the influence of United States, Thailand and Vietnam in Cambodia. It has done this by acting as patron to a succession of Cambodian leaders.
Today, Cambodia and the PRC maintain strong relations – especially when it comes to economy, politics, and military backing for Cambodia’s leader Hun Sen. China is Cambodia’s biggest donor and has offered funds for road construction and an irrigation project in Cambodia. China, of course, has also offered military aid. China maintains that it would like to see peaceful relations between Cambodia and Thailand as members of ASEAN and its neighboring countries. On February 7th, 2011, after new attacks at the border region, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “Both Cambodia and Thailand are China’s friendly neighbors. China hopes that the two nations exercise calmness and restraint, resolve disputes through consultation, and prevent the situation from escalation” (Xinhuanet, 2011).
Completing the research process will hopefully reveal the truth concerning the three countries, and the relationships that currently exist between them. In communicating with the target participants, I will be able to assess how successful the involvement of the PCD has been in improving peaceful relations between Cambodia and Thailand, and how successful it is likely to be in the near future. Furthermore, the results will act as an indicator for how another war over the Thailand-Cambodia border may be prevented.
(Kasetsiri,2003) examines the relationship between Thailand and Cambodia in the article “Thailand-Cambodia: A Love-Hate Relationship.”
Kasetsiri discusses the violence in Phnom Penh on January 29, 2003, and how this was damaging to already strained Thai-Cambodian relations. He claims that this warrants further study into the history of Thai-Cambodian relations in order to understand the causes of what took place. His reason for this is so that similar incidents can be avoided in the future. Kasetsiri also claims that support could come from national organizations as well as regional ones such as ASEAN.
He states that among the adjoining countries of Southeast Asia, none appears more similar to Thailand than Cambodia. Both nations, he claims, “share similar customs, traditions, beliefs, and ways of life” (Kasetsiri,2003). This is particularly true of royal customs, writing systems, vocabulary, language, literature, and the dramatic arts.
He then goes on to explain how, in light of these similarities, he is surprised that relations between Thailand and Cambodia should be considered as “ignorance, misunderstanding, and prejudice.” This is his grounds for terming the two countries as having “a love-hate relationship” (Kasetsiri, 2003).
Kasetsiri’s position that further historical study is required to gain the necessary level of understanding about the situation seems a sensible one. I agree that further research needs to be done, and this is one focus of my proposed study.
Biedermann’s, (2010) study “Cambodia today or is China eating America’s lunch in Southeast Asia?” examines Chinese, American, Thai and Vietnamese influences over Cambodia. Biedermann claims that Cambodia is an interesting country because, although it has been the subject of fairly little conversation regarding geopolitics, it has, however, “long been a geopolitical playground for its strong neighbors and superpowers, and it paid a heavy price for it” (Biedermann,2010). He also states that “A key to understanding Cambodian foreign policy lies in Cambodia’s modern political history” (Biedermann, 2010).
As discussed, Kasetsiri believes that in order to understand the situation, research needs to be conducted into the history between Thailand and Cambodia. Biedermann, however, focuses more on the importance of studying Cambodia’s modern political history. On reflection, both are relatively important. Still, studying Cambodia’s political history, in isolation, will not bring us closer to an answer. Studying the political history of both Thailand and Cambodia, along with studying past interventions by China, may prove more fruitful.
In his article, “PreahVihear and the Cambodia-Thailand Borderland,” ( St. John, 1994) describes and discusses the problem involving Preah Vihear. He notes that between the ninth and twelfth centuries, Cambodia dominated large areas of Thailand, and that there are some remnants of Khmer rule still, on the border of Cambodia and Thailand. St John explains how Preah Vihear has been a major issue of dispute between Cambodia and Thailand for centuries, despite the official declaration by the International Court of Justice that it had been given to Cambodia in 1961. St John’s article provides an interesting and useful insight into a specific element of the ongoing conflict; it does little to suggest how similar problems might be avoided in the future.
1. Walt, Stephen, “Defensive Realism”.
2. Snyder,RichardC, Buck, H.W., and Sapin, Burton, “The foreign policy decision making approach.”
3. Rosenau, James N., “The internal-external political linkage approach.”
4. Nye, Joseph, “Soft Power concept.”
Aims and Objectives of Study
1. To study the influence of internal and external factors in the dispute between Cambodia and Thailand.
2. To study the various mediation methods used by PRC towards the two countries.
3. To study the factors influencing these methods.
4. To ascertain whether the involvement of PRC in the Cambodia-Thailand dispute has improved relations between the two countries.
The border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand dates back many years. In order to understand what is happening in the present, a thorough historical knowledge of the situation needs to be obtained. Learning about the political histories of the two countries, as well as the details of the enduring dispute, will provide valuable context for the rest of the consecutive research elements. Following this research into both nations, employing a holistic view of the two countries and their problems will be possible.
Since the formation of the PRC, China has become involved in the conflict between Cambodia and Thailand, and has adopted the role of mediator. China appears to be attempting ‘Soft Power’ in that it is insisting on only using peaceful means of resolution. Research needs to be done into exactly what strategies and tactics the PRC has been adopting regarding its involvement with the two countries. It will also be interesting and valuable to learn about any past disputes within which China has acted as mediator. Discovering at which point China decided to work with peaceful means in such matters would be helpful in ascertaining their current methods and reasons for such methods with reference to the Cambodia-Thailand relationship. It is worth noting that in the past, China has been known to adopt more threatening behaviors than those that are evident in this case. Furthermore, discovering the means China is applying to its involvement in this particular dispute will help in understanding whether or not the country’s intervention is improving the situation.
Once the methods used by China have been learned and reported, this will give way to learning about what factors are influencing the selection of such tactics. Again, studying China’s historical relationships with foreign countries will prove helpful here. In turn, this will mean that an assessment can be carried out concerning whether or not China’s involvement is actually improving the relationship between Cambodia and Thailand. If the involvement is improving relations, it will be easier to understand why, and to assess which of the strategies are proving most beneficial. If, however, the mediation does not appear to be succeeding in improving relations, it may be possible to see why not, especially when cross referenced with China’s history of mediations and strategies in other situations.
The PRC is becoming more involved as time goes on, and this is a situation that is likely to continue and develop constantly. By studying these elements, it may be possible to predict what is likely to happen in the future, providing China remains involved. Furthermore, it is likely that additional information regarding other ways of improving the relationship between the two countries will be revealed.
In using peaceful and friendly means, China appears to be acting in the interest of the Asian continent by encouraging the restoration of peace and good relations. However, unless all of the discussed elements are researched thoroughly, this cannot be proven.
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