«Forthcoming, Security Studies 25:4 (2016) While the existing literature emphasizes that elites often have incentives to pander to nationalist ...»
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, “Embedding Embittered History: Unending Conflicts in Thai-Cambodian Relations,” Asian Affairs 43, no. 1 (March 2012): 89-90. Noppadon soon resigned.
David Batty, “Police and anti-government protesters clash in Bangkok,” The Guardian, 20 June 2008.
over another coup. 56 Fearing that possibility, Samak quickly backed off his initial threat to disperse the protests by force. 57 Samak publicly called the demonstrators “insane” and accused the PAD of risking war, 58 but his government was deeply vulnerable to the yellow-shirts and their political and military allies. Samak sent the police to confront protesters briefly in mid-June, resulting in clashes and some injuries to demonstrators, 59 but used force sparingly and allowed the protests to continue.
Thai officials later explained that Samak was reluctant to use violence against protesters or invoke the country’s 2005 Emergency Decree, fearing that either move would prompt the military to come out of the barracks and seize power. 60 Unable to subdue the protests, Samak sought to appease them by withdrawing Thai support for the UNESCO inscription. 61 Cambodia pressed ahead, and on July 7 the World Heritage Committee unanimously agreed to inscribe the temple. 62 The Cambodian government hailed a national victory that helped See “Thousands of Thai protesters push past police to PM’s office,” Agence France Presse, 20 June
2008. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed the same concern. Andrew Gray, “US tells Thailand it wants democracy, not coup,” Reuters, 1 June 2008.
“Thailand backs off threat of using force to disperse protesters,” Associated Press, 1 June 2008.
Nopporn, “Cambodia PM.” Batty, “Police.” “Pad Protests Challenge Pm Samak’s Authority, Patience,” U.S. Embassy Bangkok, Cable 08BANGKOK2405 (26 August 2008), 6, http://www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id=08BANGKOK2546.
“Thailand withdraws support for Khmer’s Preah Vihear temple,” The Nation (Thailand), 1 July 2008.
The Democrat Party later launched impeachment proceedings against Samak, partly to capitalize on the groundswell in nationalism created by the protests.
UNESCO World Heritage Committee, Decisions adopted at the 32nd Session of the World Heritage Committee (Québec, Canada), 7 July 2008, 32 COM 8B.102.
Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party win a landslide electoral victory a few weeks later. 63 In Thailand, more than 2,000 PAD protesters descended on Preah Vihear, clashing with local Thai villagers who feared the dispute would jeopardize their livelihoods. 64 Hundreds of Thai troops deployed in the area, ostensibly to provide security. Cambodia also sent hundreds, and on July 15 they arrested three Thai civilians trying to plant their flag at the temple site. Several dozen Thai troops occupied a pagoda in an area claimed by Cambodia, and tensions rose steeply over the next several days as both sides deployed additional troops and military equipment to the area. 65 Samak condemned the Thai protesters for “trying to ignite a conflict” and lamented that “now the troops on both sides are confronting each other,” 66 but military leaders weakly controlled by the civilian leadership were receptive to protest demands. In a July 18 conversation with U.S. officials, Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said the Cambodian government had “sympathy for the difficult position of the Samak government and recogni[zed] that Preah Vihear had become excessively politicized in Thailand.” 67 He added his concern “that the Thai government’s hands may be tied in dealing with its strong and relatively independent military,” 68 which bore close links to the yellow-shirt movement and gave the nationalist protests much of Ker Munthit, “Border stand lifts Cambodia vote,” Associated Press, 28 July 2008; Daniel Ten Kate, “Hun Sen Wins Cambodian Election and Probably Expands Majority,” Bloomberg, 28 July 2008.
Nopporn Wong-Anan, “Cambodia PM says Thai border row getting worse, Reuters, 17 July 2008.
“Troop build-up at hill-top temple,” BBC News, 17 July 2008.
“Temple Dispute Escalates at Cambodia-Thailand Border,” Associated Press, 17 July 2008.
“Preah Vihear: Tension Unlikely to Dissipate Without Change in Bilateral Dynamic,” U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh, Cable 08PHNOMPENH581, 18 July 2008, http://www.cablegatesearch.net/cable.php?id=08PHNOMPENH581.
their political clout. A Constitutional Court ruling that any bilateral border pact would require parliamentary approval added importance to the yellow-shirt protests, which made such approval highly unlikely. 69 The Thai government, vulnerable to the opposition and reliant on democratic legitimacy to govern, thereafter sought to appease the protesters by taking a hawkish policy line on Preah Vihear.
Seeing that the Thai government could not easily back down, Cambodia compromised diplomatically. At Thailand’s request, Hun Sen agreed to postpone a complaint to the UN Security Council and request for an emergency Council meeting. 70 Cambodia also refrained from taking the issue back to the ICJ—an option Thailand opposed—and assented to Bangkok’s demands for further bilateral negotiations.
Cambodian concessions helped dampen escalation but did not avert conflict entirely.
During clashes in October, three Cambodian soldiers and one Thai soldier died, several on each side were wounded, ten Thai troops were reportedly captured, and the Thai Royal Air Force put its entire fleet of fighter jets on standby for possible evacuation of Thai nationals from Cambodia. Hard-line policies also did not save Samak. Yellow-shirt demonstrators continued to challenge his government until late 2008, when Samak was ousted and replaced by Abhisit Vejjajiva, a leader most yellow-shirt leaders supported. Abhisit appointed as foreign minister Kasit Piromya, a prominent nationalist, defender of the PAD protests, and advocate of an “Preah Vihear: Thai MFA Briefs on Talks with Cambodia,” U.S. Embassy Bangkok, Cable 08BANGKOK2303, 30 July 2008, http://thaicables.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/08bangkok2303-preah-vihear-thaimfa-briefs-on-talks-with-cambodia/ (in which a U.S. official agreed that “the Thai side appears to be significantly constrained”).
Ek Madra, “Cambodia, Thailand agree more temple talks,” Reuters, 24 July 2008.
uncompromising position on Preah Vihear. 71 Yellow-shirt protests subsided, and the border dispute entered a stalemate.
RESURGENT THAI PROTESTS, 2010-11 Nationalist protests again erupted in Thailand in 2010, when yellow-shirts began to turn on Abhisit and demand tougher action on border negotiations. 72 In January 2011, after Cambodian forces arrested two Thai nationalists near the temple grounds, approximately 2,000 yellow-shirt protesters returned to the streets in Bangkok, calling Abhisit “a big disappointment” and demanding his resignation and a tougher stance on Preah Vihear. 73 Abhisit sought to subdue the protests by enacting a new security law, 74 but he was unable to stem the momentum toward armed conflict.
During the first week of February, military clashes erupted, involving gunfights, Thai shelling, and alleged Thai military incursions across the border. Both sides accused the other of firing first, and several soldiers and civilians were killed in several days of sporadic fighting.
The risk of war was serious enough to prompt UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to appeal to Nirmal Ghosh, “Grumbles over cabinet picks,” Straits Times (Singapore), 20 December 2008.
Puangthong R. Pawakapan, State and Uncivil Society in Thailand at the Temple of Preah Vihear (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2013), 80-81.
“Thailand ‘yellow shirts’ stage new street protests,” BBC News, 25 January 2011; “PAD Protest,” The Nation (Thailand), 2 February 2011. Large red-shirt protests occurred during Abhisit’s tenure but focused on restoring democracy rather than nationalist demands.
See, e.g., “Thailand imposes tough security law ahead of protests,” Reuters, 7 February 2011.
both sides for a “cessation of hostilities and to exercise maximum restraint.” 75 Many observers held the yellow-shirt protests largely responsible, 76 and one of Thailand’s most noted political analysts accused the PAD of “political brinkmanship” by raising the “drumbeat of war.” 77 Although the Abhisit government insisted that it would not attack Cambodia to appease yellowshirt protesters, 78 Cambodian leaders and international observers regarded the situation as veering dangerously close to war. 79 Cambodian officials were somewhat less sympathetic to Abhisit’s predicament than they had been toward the red-shirt Samak government, perhaps partly because yellow-shirt support had helped him assume power. They believed the protests constrained Abhisit but that he and his subordinates tended to “take advantage of the complexity of their politics” to avoid serious negotiations. 80 The 2011 Thai military incursions led Cambodia to lessen their investment in “Statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Cambodia-Thailand,” United Nations (6 February 2011), available at http://www.un.org/sg/statements/?nid=5080.
Sok An interview; “Thailand’s yellow shirts: eat talk, pray, revolt,” Economist, 24 February 2011;
International Crisis Group, “Waging Peace: ASEAN and the Thai-Cambodian Border Conflict,” Asia Report no. 215 (December 2011), 27; Voranai Varijaka, “The plague of fanaticism,” Bangkok Post, 6 February 2011.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, “Where is the PAD going this time with its protests?” Bangkok Post, 8 February 2011.
“Thailand, Cambodia to meet UN over ‘real war,’” ABC News, 10 February 2011.
See, e.g., “Thailand-Cambodia border dispute: UN calls for truce,” BBC News, 14 February 2011 (noting the Security Council president’s “great concern” over the fighting); “Hun Sen calls clashes with Thailand ‘war’” CCTV (China), 10 February 2011.
Author’s interview with Phay Siphan, Senior Advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 25 July 2011.
bilateral talks and request international assistance over Thai objections. 81 When Thailand resisted an Indonesian offer to dispatch observers to the area, frustrated Cambodian officials returned to the ICJ, which soon agreed to Cambodia’s request for a reinterpretation of its 1962 verdict and ordered both states to withdraw troops in the temple area. 82 Cambodia’s change of diplomatic tack reflected convictions that prior compromises had failed to moderate Thai policies. 83 Cambodia’s behavior is also consistent with expectations that a foreign rival is only likely to make concessions it expects to help defuse nationalist pressure.
Importantly, the 2011 episode showed that Cambodia was willing to take more assertive foreign policy measures toward its stronger Thai neighbor under certain conditions. Although the power differential was clearly a factor in Cambodian decision-making, it does not explain the shift in Cambodia’s behavior from 2008 to 2011.
RESUMED PROTESTS IN 2013 In 2011, Abhisit lost an election to red-shirt leader Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister, who promised a more conciliatory policy toward the border dispute. However, that policy came under challenge in 2013, when the ICJ issued its interpretation of the 1962 judgment. The court awarded part of the disputed 4.6 square kilometers to Cambodia but leaving part subject to further negotiation. In the days surrounding the verdict, thousands of yellow-shirt demonstrators rallied amid a series of broader protests calling for Yingluck’s ouster. Some accused her of conspiring with Thaksin to “sell our country and our territory” to Cambodia and implored her not Author’s interview with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 28 July 2011.
Puangthong, State and Uncivil Society, 84-86.
Interview with Sok An; interview with Phay Siphan.
to comply with the judgment. 84 Although the protests soon turned back to domestic grievances, they made any compromise over the remaining territorial issues dangerous for the Yingluck administration. 85 Cambodian leaders again compromised diplomatically. They enjoyed positive relations with Yingluck and her exiled brother Thaksin (whom Hun Sen had appointed an economic advisor in 2009) and agreed not to insist on prompt renewal of border talks, because: “we don’t want the Thai extremists to use this issue to [further] pressure the government of Ms.