Monday, July 21, 2008

Thongchai Winichakul on Preah Vihear crisis

On June 30, The Nation* published a commentary by U Wisconsin historian Thongchai Winichakul concerning Preah Vihear temple at the center of the Thai-Cambodian border dispute. Since the publication of this piece, the situation has deteriorated.

The nature of modern boundaries between Thailand and its neighbours is like a time bomb.

All boundaries today bear the legacies of old world politics that did not much care if a demarcation by a sharp line, or the unambiguous territorial sovereignty, carried repercussions.

With little exception, claims to exclusive "ownership" rights of borderlands longer than the past 100 to 130 years are probably false and historically impossible to support.

Given the explosive foundation of the modern boundary, maps, treaties and courts have provided settlements of such areas. They are the ground rules used by modern nations to co-exist.

For the boundary around Preah Vihear, the International Court of Justice in 1962 provided a settlement without which military might and heavy loss of lives would have been the only other option.

We should respect the settlement provided by the court since Thailand has no better justifiable claim than Cambodia.

Despite that, the talks about "losing territory" have been common among thoughtless nationalists in the region.

Lao nationalists talk about losing the Isaan region to Thailand. Cambodian ones talk about losing territories to Thailand and Vietnam. They produce maps of lost territories like Thai nationalists did for generations.

Thais have been taught their territories were lost as well. Every country lost territories. The idea of loss is a powerful tool used to whip up nationalism, especially in domestic politics.

The dark side of nationalism is dangerous as ever. It has now become a weapon in today's Thai politics.

h/t Bangkok Pundit.

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