Approaches to Cambodia-Vietnam Border Disputes

 22 July 2015
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Border disputes between Cambodia and Vietnam have been complicated and will worsen unless there are appropriate and effective resolution mechanisms. It is a security flashpoint that deserves regional attention. 
Cambodia-Vietnam border disputes have been long politicized by different political groups in Cambodia. Opposition leaders have accused the government under the leadership of the Cambodian People’s Party of failing to protect Cambodia’s territorial integrity and acting in favor of Vietnam in border negotiation and demarcation. 
From the government’s point of view, the accusations are largely politically motivated and baseless. In August 2012, Prime Minister Hun Sen spent five hours at the National Assembly explaining the border issues and the process of border demarcation between the two countries. Yet, it failed to convince members and supporters of the opposition party.
Border tensions have increased after several incidents with violence taking place last month in contested border areas. The Cambodian government has taken firm position vis-à-vis Vietnam.  Cambodia’s foreign ministry has sent diplomatic notes to protest against territorial violations by Vietnam. Cambodia has demanded Vietnam halt constructions of ponds, roads, and military outposts until the border demarcation is completed. 
“Pending the demarcation of the border, the areas which have not been demarcated should not be changed,” Prime Minister Hun Sen told Mr. Le Hong Anh, Politburo Member of the Communist Party of Vietnam, on June 9.
Move From Politics To Technics
Over-politicization of border disputes is counterproductive and complicates the bilateral negation process for a solution.  More importantly, it does not serve the best interests of both sides. Different political groups should move beyond political condemnations and accusations to legal-based discussions and resolutions.
The Joint Border Committee formed by the two countries is tasked to find mutually acceptable resolutions to border disputes. More than 80 percent of the border has been demarcated. After the meeting two weeks ago, the bilateral Committee agreed to halt all construction projects in yet-to-be demarcated areas.
Cambodia has sought support from the United Nations, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, asking for Cambodian maps prepared by the French Protectorate to verify maps used by the government in its border negotiation with Vietnam.  These maps serve as the legal bases for Cambodia to negotiate with its neighbours, paving the way for complete resolutions to Cambodia’s border disputes.  Once the maps are verified, the gap of political differences concerning border issues will be significantly reduced. Maps are the key to resolving the disputes. 
Arbitration is the Last Resort 
Bilateral mechanisms at both working group and top leadership levels prove to be the most effective way in resolving sovereignty disputes between states. At this stage, bilateral negotiation between the two countries is the most appropriate.  Should bilateral negotiation fail and tensions continue to escalate, they can bring the case to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, but only as a last resort and if agreeable by both parties.
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