Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Cambodia-Vietnam Border Row Turns into Complicated Issue in the Future

Vietnamese border guards stand to protect their people, image Facebook
By Khmer Wathanakam

Recent violent confrontation on border where Vietnamese villagers beat up Cambodian border activists  and CNRP MPs who peacefully visited border demarcations have raised a serious question about how Vietnamese and Cambodian governments have handled and solved a border issue between the two countries though publicly the two governments always have shown their commitment to solve this issue peacefully and fairly, but unofficially Cambodian people who have seen their government had done nothing to protect Cambodian territorial integrity and sovereignty, allowing Vietnam to encroach Cambodian land without consequences by ignoring the Paris Peace Accord that fully guaranteed Cambodian sovereignty and territorial integrity, sometimes took this matter on their own hands.  Furthermore, Vietnam quietly had forced Cambodian government to sign an extra border treaty in 2005 which  helped to legalize all previous treaties signed during the Vietnamese occupation from 1979-89.  The Violation of Paris Peace Accord and an extra border treaty in 2005 have created more border spats between the two countries, for the extra border treaty with Hanoi in 2005 had cost Cambodia a big chunk of land and created numerous unmarked areas known as white zones.  And those white zones are systematically encroached by Vietnam; evidently Cambodia has found at least 8 man-made ponds excavated by Vietnam into those white zones.  Cambodian people who live along the border frequently complained about border encroachment by Vietnam, but  all those complaints usually ignored by the Cambodian government.  Until recently, The Cambodian foreign ministry publicly announced that it had filed diplomatic complaints with Hanoi at least 11 times about border encroachment, including three more in the past month, but no serious response from Hanoi beside telling Cambodia to wait for further investigation and report from its local authorities.  However, Vietnam encroachment activities have still continued such as they continue to build military outposts inside the white zones and refuse to fill up all illegal man-made ponds demanding by Cambodia.
Should Cambodian government allow Vietnam to encroach more land or should it find more effective and legal means against Hanoi's aggression?

Vietnamese villagers armed with sticks and shoes ready to attack Cambodian border activists
Cambodia and Vietnam which have shared border over 1,200 km, frequently have had border disputes for generations.   Between 1933 and 1953, the French helped to draw a map for Cambodia and Vietnam by using  some natural boundaries and their expertise and that map was preserved in National Geographic Institute in Paris.  And during Cambodian independence era, King Father favored with that map, and he sent a copy to preserve at the UN in New York in 1964.  And the current government has always claimed that it followed the same 1964 map to redraw border line with Vietnam, but the opposition has challenged the government for years, accused Hun Sen's government of using a fake map that caused Cambodia losing large land to Vietnam.  By protesting new border demarcation with Vietnam, in 2009 Sam Rainsy faced 12 years in prison term, forcing him to flee the country in self-exile for nearly four years before he could return to contest an election just two weeks ahead of 2013 election.  Now he continues his incomplete mission again by bringing a real map made by the French between 1933-53 to rebut with the current demarcation with Vietnam.

Nonetheless, if the opposition find that the current demarcation is inaccurate compared to the original map, what would the current government response? since nearly 80 per cent of border posts have been constructed since 2005.  Now the only Cambodian government can do is to correct all areas left over in the white zones if the Hun Sen's government has a political will to do so.  Or Cambodia can wait until next election; if the CNRP win, it may scrap all border treaties with Vietnam signed by the previous government and renegotiate for the new treaty by using the Paris Peace Accord as a principle to convince Vietnam-- one of the signatory country of the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 --to respect Cambodian territorial integrity.  Does Hanoi willing to redraw a map with Cambodia based on the colonial map? Does Vietnam willing to respect the Paris Agreement?  If Vietnam refuses to renegotiate, Cambodia may pursue its final venue to bring Hanoi to ICJ as King Father and Hun Sen had done with Thailand.  Although a chance to win a case with Vietnam is more promising, who is going to enforce a verdict? As currently, Thailand did not withdraw its troops from Preah Vihear vicinity ordered by the ICJ.  At the same time,Vietnam is considering to bring China to ICJ as  Philippines has done, has faced the same dilemma.

In Philippines vs. China case over South China Sea dispute, China ignored and refused to participate in court process.  By foreseeing unsuccessful challenge in court with China, Vietnam may consider to drop the case against China in ICJ and turns to diplomatic channel and deterrence, seeking military alliance with Philippines, Japan, and the US in order to bring China to bargain table.  But so far there is no progress in dealing with China diplomatically; instead China makes more threats by returning its oil rig closer to Vietnam coast, warning all foreign ships to stay away from its oil rig 2,000 meters away or face consequences. Simultaneously, the Vietnamese Communist Party chief is visiting the White House, and Vietnam is receiving advanced submarines from Russia to deter China's aggression.  As for Cambodia, the border dispute with Vietnam may turn into a similar situation as Vietnam and China case in South China Sea if Hun Sen's regime changed or it forges closer relationship with China.  In case Cambodia-Vietnam dispute fall into the same way as in South China Sea, Cambodia may look to China to deter Vietnam in order to bring Hanoi to bargain table in the future, for Cambodia and China may find a common interest and face a common enemy.  Cambodia no matter which party rule the country, it should strengthen friendship with China in order to thwart the two powerful neighbor's aggression especially Vietnam.

Vietnam-Cambodia border row has developed into a complicated scenario as the opposition leader Sam Rainsy's nascent incomplete mission brought in more original old colonial map mandated by the country constitution to rebut with what has been done by Hun Sen's government.  Despite Sam Rainsy stated that he would not be able to verify all points along the 1200 km frontier, he would pinpoint to where irregularities and encroachment activities have been reported by local Cambodians along the border.  Now the government agrees to unveil its own map that used to demarcate border with Vietnam in response to the opposition demand and to show transparency on border issue.  Although the government seems take conciliatory tone on border issue with the border activists and the opposition at this time, its' premature to assume that Hun Sen has mollified with them on such a controversial issue since Cambodian foreign ministry doesn't issue any statement regarding to violent incident between Vietnamese villagers and Cambodian activists that caused some severe injuries on both sides though the violence exacerbated by the Vietnamese who armed themselves with knives, sticks and well protected by their border guards while their Cambodian counterparts seemed in disarray by walking around without taking any concrete action to prevent brawling.  Fallowing such incident, Vietnam foreign ministry condemned Cambodian opposition as extremists inciting violence along the border and destroying a good friendship between the two nations while Gen. Keu Sopheak, an interior ministry spokesman, gave an unclear statement on the incident, praising Cambodian patriotic actions and condemning violence but fell short to clarify what Cambodian government would respond. Then Foreign Minister Hor Nam Hong has sent another diplomatic note demanding Vietnam ceasing all activities in all white zones, but he failed to condemn recent violent confrontation on the border instigated by Vietnamese villagers while his Vietnamese counterpart called Cambodian border activists the extremists.

Vietnamese armed with sticks confront Cambodian activists, Facebook image
As a sovereign nation, Cambodia should issue a strong statement not only to condemn violent brawling instigated by Vietnamese side but to demand the Vietnamese to stay away from Cambodian soil and the white zones, allowing Cambodians to visit the border posts without more violent confrontation since Cambodian people have never walked into Vietnamese territories and used violent mean but only peaceful visit.  If Cambodia and Vietnam fail to compromise on border issue based on the French colonial map and a principle of Paris Peace Agreement, the two nations may turn to more deterrent means in the future, pursuing more friends and joining any alliance which shares a common interest and confront with a common enemy.  For a future perspective, Cambodia should adopt a diplomatic mean along with deterrence to solve all border issues with its neighbors avoiding armed confrontation since Cambodia is much smaller and weaker, but it possesses the Paris Peace Accord, the only legal and political mean to defend itself.  Vietnam and Thailand are the most aggressive neighbors, Cambodia should deal with them in careful and responsible manners: it has to be smarter and flexible, for it can't afford more mistakes as Marshal Lon Nol and Pol Pot had done.  Despite Cambodia needs supper powers to deter its powerful neighbors, keep in mind that Cambodian people have to live with these powerful neighbors for centuries to come, and outside helpers may not reliable and on time.  Marshal Lon Nol and Prince Sarimatak believed that Americans would protect the Khmer Republic from Vietcong onslaught, and Pol Pot irresponsibly provoked border armed conflicts with Hanoi, expecting China would intervene on his behalf if Vietnam invaded Cambodia, but all their hope and belief turned into a historic nightmare.

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