The Khmer Times, 20 December 2015
The Cambodian-Thai relationship has been fluctuating since 2008, when Thai nationalists stirred up border tensions between the two countries over the territory surrounding the Preah Vihear temple.
The tension led to a series of armed confrontations. On October 3, 2008, troops from both sides exchanged fire near the temple. The armed clashes took place constantly through that month and again in April 2009, January 2010, April 2010, February 2011, and from April to May in 2011.
On February 9, 2011, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for urgent intervention from a third party to prevent an escalation of armed conflict.
“There will be no more bilateral talks, and all negotiations will be overseen by the third party,” he said.
On April 28, 2011, Cambodia filed a request for interpretation of a 1962 judgment, as well as a request for an indication of provisional measures, with the International Court of Justice.
On November 11, 2013, the International Court of Justice unanimously declared that the Judgment of 15 June 1962 decided that Cambodia had sovereignty over the whole territory of the surrounds of Preah Vihear. Thailand was obliged to withdraw from that territory, including all its military or police forces and other guards or keepers who were stationed there.
Weeks after the military coup in Thailand in May 2014, about a quarter million Cambodian workers were either deported or fled Thailand back to Cambodia. It was a serious human disaster given there were no humanitarian measures and assistance in place to support the returning migrants at the time.
Relations were stabilized after intensive shuttle diplomacy between the two countries. In late October last year, Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha visited Cambodia. It was an ice-breaking visit to build bilateral trust and cooperation.
The two-day state visit by Mr. Hun Sen to Bangkok from last Friday marked another significant turning point in cementing bilateral relations between the two neighbors, although there are still thorny issues –especially relating to Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand.
Promoting cooperation on cross border trade, investment, tourism, labor migration, and energy were the main agenda of Mr. Hun Sen’s visit. Both sides agreed to triple bilateral trade from $5 billion now to $15 billion in the next five years. To realize this goal, both countries need to invest more in infrastructure development and connections along the border.
Both countries will organize a friendship football match soon to celebrate their 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties. In September 2011, Cambodia hosted a similar football game for the leaders and supporters of the Thai Red Shirts, a movement supporting former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who is a close friend of PM Hun Sen.
Cambodia pursues a pragmatic and realistic foreign policy approach towards Thailand. As Thailand is going through an uncertain power transition, it really needs understanding and support from neighboring countries to have peaceful power transition and a smooth return to democracy.
Since the 2006 coup, Thailand has faced political instability and uncertainty, which has adversely impacted on the Thai economy and its international image and role.
A nation proud of its past as the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonized by any Western powers, a role model of democracy in the Mekong region, and a successful economic development country, Thailand is struggling to maintain its identity. Yet the next phase of Thai future is highly uncertain.
Thai national unity is being threatened by deep political polarization. Finding a stable equilibrium of power among the political parties, the military, and the monarchy is essential for Thai future.
Understanding the complex domestic politics of Thailand, Cambodia is willing to maintain and strengthen its friendship between the two governments and their peoples. Both countries share the view that through the deepening of economic and cultural ties, political and strategic trust will be enhanced.