Background of the Study
Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the role of China in the relation between Thailand and Cambodia has been quite evident. China has been involved in a number of ways, including the border disputes between Cambodia and Thailand, which started several years ago. Cambodia’s historical concern about Thailand’s inversion on its western provinces depicts a case where an ASEAN state has suspended diplomatic relations with another (Weatherbee 2008). The border dispute started in 1954, and in 2003, it took a new course. This conflict has impacted negatively on the development of ASEAN and on the relationship between the people of both the countries in spite of both Thailand and Cambodia being members of ASEAN. This is the main reason why China finds it important to act, though indirectly.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has played a major role in Cambodia’s foreign relations since the country attained independence in 1953. Since then, the PRC has tried to limit the influence of the United States, Thailand and Vietnam, in Cambodia. It has done this by acting as patron to a succession of Cambodian leaders. Today, Cambodia and the PRC maintain strong relations — especially when it comes to economic, political, and military backing for Cambodia’s leader Hun Sen. China is Cambodia’s biggest donor and has offered funds for road construction and other project in Cambodia, and at the same time offer military aid. The Thai-Chinese relations had a brief melt after the 1955 Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung, Indonesia where Thai Foreign Minister Prince Wan Waithayakorn met his counterpart Chinese Foreign Minister and Premier Zhou Enlai (Wan 1975). Zhou Enlai, assuring Prince Wan about China’s peaceful intentions, tried to clear away many suspicions, including explaining that the creation of the Dai Autonomous Region was a result of an internal administrative restructuring. Thai started probing and sending signals to China in 1971. Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) reportedly interviewed Thanad Khoman, the astute Thai Foreign Minister, on January 13, 1971. This interview revealed that “Thailand wanted to live peacefully with China.” (Samudvanidja and Morell 1981). In several meetings, Chinese leaders asserted that China wanted friendly relations with Thailand (Prasit 1980). They also confirmed that China would not interfere in the internal affairs of Thailand. Concerning the Chinese support of the insurgencies, China replied that the insurgency was a Thai internal affair, to be resolved by the Thais themselves and that China respected sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference.
China maintains that it would like to see a peaceful relation between Cambodia and Thailand, both as members of ASEAN and as neighbor countries of China. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that, “Both Cambodia and Thailand are China’s friendly neighbors. China hopes that the two nations exercise calmness and restraint, resolve disputes through consultation, and prevent the situation from escalation” (Xinhuanet 2011), on 7th February, 2011after the new attacks at the border region.
This work aims at identifying the role of China in the relation between Thailand and Cambodia and establishing whether Chinese involvement has been a success in enhancing Thailand-Cambodia relations. The research reveals the truth about the three countries, and the relationships that currently exist among them. It also investigates the success of the PRC’s involvement in improving peaceful relations between Cambodia and Thailand, and how successful it is likely to be in the near future. The results here-in act as an indicator for prevention of the possibility for another war over the Thai-Cambodian border.
In summary, the aims of this research are:
To study the influence of internal and external factors in China’s role in Thailand-Cambodia Relation in each period
To identify the security impacts to both Thailand and Cambodia, resulting from China’s involvement.
To investigate the applications of Chinese Soft Power
To ascertain whether the involvement of PRC in the Cambodia-Thailand dispute has improved relations between the two countries
In my position as a government official in Thai security field, I have several years of experience in bilateral and multilateral activities in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China. I have many contacts in both ASEAN and in China, and a good grasp of the Thai, English and Chinese languages. With my first position in the region covering the Thai – Cambodia disputed area, I not only know the real situation in the disputed area, but also have a network of local government officials, businessmen and people in the area. This has helped in direct communications with the people who are involved in the areas of my study.
Thai-Chinese relations changed from enmity to friendship after the normalization of diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in July 1975. The turning point in the Sino-Thai-Cambodia relations came after December 1978 when Vietnamese troops invaded and occupied Cambodia. The Vietnamese troops came closer to the Thai border for the first time. Thailand faced a hostile and aggressive enemy across its border. The Vietnamese incursion was an attempt to warn and pressure Thailand to accept the Cambodian occupation as a fait accompli. However, Thailand viewed this action as unacceptable, since the Vietnamese occupation not only affected Thai security but also destabilized the regional security of Southeast Asia. Subsequently, Thailand mobilized ASEAN support by jointly calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Cambodia. Thailand, together with ASEAN, pursued a strategy of pressuring and isolating Vietnam.
Thailand realized that international political pressure was not sufficient. Thailand saw the importance of China after the Chinese attacked Vietnam along the border in order to “teach the Vietnamese a lesson” in February 1979. Although Vietnam suffered greatly, China also paid a heavy price (Xiaoming 2005). The use force and the military pressure from China rendered the political pressure effective. China viewed the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia as an expansionist move to dominate all of Indo-China. Furthermore, Chinese suspected that the intention was to encircle China. Both Beijing and Bangkok recognized their mutual interest in resisting the expansion of Vietnamese influence in Indo-China. In fact, Deng Xiaoping warned Thailand about the impending Vietnamese attack when he visited Thailand in early November 1978. He told the Thai leaders: “The hegemonists have stepped up their expansionist activities in Asia. It is only natural that some Asian statesmen and men of vision should have perceived…the attempts of the hegemonists to reach out toward Southeast Asia and taken positive measures to counter them.” Peking Review (1978). Deng also proposed that Thailand cooperate closely with China over the Cambodian conflict with Vietnam. The Thai Prime Minister, Kriangsak Chomanand, did not want to get involved directly in intra-Communist conflict or provoke Vietnamese hostility. He only agreed to allow fly-over rights to the Chinese. This enabling China to supply the Cambodians without flying over Vietnamese-dominated Laos (Nayan 1988). The result of the 1978 Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Cambodia brought about a convergence of security interests between Thailand and China. It created a strategic cooperation as China wished to contain Vietnamese power and control in the region, which would also limit Soviet influence. Therefore, China would need Thailand’s cooperation in providing military support to Cambodian resistance forces, especially the Khmer Rouge. China wanted to supply the Khmer Rouge with arms in its struggle against Vietnamese occupation and there was no better place for a logistic network than through Thailand (Geng 1981). There was an agreement that resulted in the use of Thai territory to supply the Khmer Rouge, to provide transport and transit facilities for Cambodian personnel and materials, and to help Khmer Rouge leaders make foreign trips via Thailand (Michael 2005).
Kriangsak requested the Chinese to stop their support to the Communist Party. This resulted in the closing down of the Voice of Thai People Radio in July 1979 and reduction of material support for the CPT (Saiyud 1987).
China continued to maintain a large number of troops along the borders with Vietnam to tie down Vietnamese troops so that they could not be used inside Cambodia or along the Thai- Cambodian border. The Far Eastern Economic Review reported that a radiotelephone link had been established between the Thai Supreme Command in Bangkok and the Yunnan Military Region Headquarters in Kunming for Thailand to report Vietnamese attacks and Chinese expect troops along the borders to activate military pressure. Far Eastern Economic Review (1982).
Thailand played an important strategic role in convincing the Chinese to broaden the Cambodian resistance by creating the CGDK and also in convincing other ASEAN members to continue supporting the Khmer Rouge. Thailand and China realized the importance of the Khmer Rouge in fighting the guerrilla resistance against the Vietnamese occupation and wanted to maintain their ability to continue their struggle. Many ASEAN countries got concerned that the Thai dependence on Chinese arms would make Thailand a strategic client of China, which would increase the Chinese influence in the region. However, Thailand solved the situation by persuading ASEAN members to realize that what China really wanted was friendly state-to-state relations with Southeast Asian nations and that it had given up using communist insurgencies to threaten these governments (Michael 2005).
Despite the violence and war fire breaking out between Cambodia and Thailand, China has managed to maintain a successful and continued international relationship amongst both countries economically, politically, and militarily (Michael 2005).Since 1997, Cambodia’s Hun Sen has been the receiver of China’s patronage, which helped him reinforce political leadership. In the same year, because Cambodia endured a coup, China responded to the country’s cry for financial aid in the form of a $10 million dollar loan. The years 1997 to 2005 were crucial in terms of expansion for Cambodia since China provided $600 million dollars for investments, grants, and assistance. Furthermore, an additional $40 million dollars was financed to build the Cambodian cabinet, known as the Council of Ministers (OECD data). China also provided tax treatment for 418 Cambodian products. Politically, China has been on Cambodia’s side since 1997 and relations continue to be maintained since. As it is evidenced, assistance in political matters aren’t just one-sided since in May 1999, Cambodia criticized NATO’s bombing of the Chinese embassy while in April 2001, offered support to China over plane accident. In military terms, China supported Cambodia’s ventures six months after the coup in 1997 by delivering $2.8 million dollars worth of military equipment. The years from 1979 to 1990, China supplied Cambodia with military weapons along the Thai-Cambodian border (Nayan 2002). Due to the financial investment in Cambodia’s military resources, especially the sea, China’s warships can then be used to influence and coerce Hanoi during Sino-Vietnamese war tensions. In the end, China has the ability to capture and protect energy supplies via the sea. In May 2010, both countries vowed to strengthen and increase their military ties, which means encouraging cooperation and ties of their armed defenses.
Other sources of importance include Kasetsiri article “Thailand-Cambodia: A Love-Hate Relationship” (2003) which examines the relationship between Thailand and Cambodia. Here, Kasetsiri discusses the violence in Phnom Penh on January 29, 2003 and how it damaged the already strained Thai-Cambodia relations. He claims that this warrants further study into the history of Thai-Cambodian relations, in order to understand the causes of what took place. His main reason for this is so that similar incidents can be avoided in the future. He wonders why these two similar countries are in constant disputes. Both nations, he claims, “share similar customs, traditions, beliefs, and ways of life.” Kasetiri’s position that further historical study is required to gain the necessary level of understanding about the situation is sensible. I agree that further research needs to be done, and this is one focus of my proposed study.
Biedermann’s study “Cambodia today or is China eating America’s lunch in Southeast Asia?” (2010) examines Chinese, American, Thai and Vietnamese influences over Cambodia. Biedermann claims that Cambodia is an interesting country because, although it has been the subject of little discussion regarding geopolitics, it has, however, “long been a geopolitical playground for its strong neighbors and superpowers, and it paid a heavy price for it” (Biedermann 2010). He also states that “A key to understanding Cambodian foreign policy lies in Cambodia’s modern political history” (Biedermann 2010).
As discussed, Kasetsiri believes that in order to understand the situation, research needs to be conducted into the history between Thailand and Cambodia. Biedermann, however, focuses more on the importance of studying Cambodia’s modern political history. On reflection, both are relatively important. Still, studying Cambodia’s political history, in isolation, will not bring us closer to an answer. Studying the political histories of both Thailand and Cambodia, along with studying past interventions by China, may prove more fruitful.
In the article “Preah Vihear and the Cambodia-Thailand Borderland,” St John (1994) describes and discusses the problem involving Preah Vihear. It is noted that between the ninth and twelfth centuries, Cambodia dominated large areas of Thailand, and that there are some remnants of Khmer rule still, on the border of Cambodia and Thailand. St John explains how Preah Vihear has been a major issue of dispute between Cambodia and Thailand for centuries, despite the official declaration by the International Court of Justice that it had been given to Cambodia in 1961. St John’s article provides an interesting and useful insight into a specific element of the ongoing conflict, it does little to suggest how similar problems might be avoided in the future.
Theoretical Framework and Analysis
Power is seen when one country controls or influences another country in its bid to protect its national interest. Power is not only a goal of the foreign policy; it is also an implementation instrument. (Dougherty 1997). According to Joseph Nye, power is categorized into two: the hard power, which is the military power; and the soft power, which is the economic and cultural power. China has greatly employed soft power in its role in the Thai-Cambodia relation. China has emphasized on mutual benefits as it considers the application of soft power to counter threats of the hard power. Joseph Nye, Jr., the Harvard Professor, originally defined the term, Soft Power as the ability of a country to affect or influence the behaviours of other countries by attracting and persuading the other countries to adopt its policies and goals. In contrast, “Hard Power” is described primarily as the military might. China’s growing influence due to its successful application of soft power in Thailand and Cambodia is mostly economic rather than military, cultural, and or political.
Linkage Politic Theory
James N. Rosenau defined politics as the imposition of Foreign Policy which conduct the analysis based on the two factors as Linkage Politics and Linkage Theory. The two factors which influence the Foreign Policy are the Internal Factors and External Factors. According to this theory, International Politics has a close relation with Domestic politics and there is an overlapping gap between each other. It means International politics can be both a cause and a result of domestic politics. On the contrary, environment or phenomena of domestic politics also impacts on behavior and imposition of foreign policy.
According to Rosenau’s concept, International Political Relation was explained that global societies has been linked with Technological development and telecommunication, therefore, a larger environment including economy, society and technology of each country impact on the domestic political system. While, International political system although interact in the international environment, it creates some influences on domestic politics and was impacted by domestic incident.
Considering Foreign policy in each case, the existing internal and external factors might have an influence on policy-making and behavior of political entity in different levels. On one hand, each internal factor has a different level of relation, and causes the different impact on external factors. On the other hand, some external factors perhaps have more importance and influence on internal factors rather than other external factors. Besides, in the international political system, there is an interaction between internal and external factors in rational way. That interaction will have influence on policy- making process and behavior of political entities, hence, it is necessary to consider both two factors in analyzing political entity.
From the research, the Chinese internal factors included Public Opinion and Role of Media, Role of Interest group and Political party, Internal Political Problem, Economic Environment and Condition, and the ideology. On the other hand, the external factors included the political situation in both Thailand and Cambodia, which involved Foreign Policy Imposition and Implementation.
This study was carried out through the collection and analysis of data from both primary and secondary sources. The primary sources included formal and informal interviews with people from the region including government officials, businessmen, diplomats, military officers, and local individuals. In the interviews, I had a set of questions, which were asked depending on the ages of the respondents. Though indirectly stated, the equations were meant to give a clue on the people’s feelings about the Chinese involvement in the relations between the aforementioned countries. I created three groups all the first groups had individuals with sufficient first handle information about Chinese roles.
The secondary sources included a literature review on the history of the two countries and their relations, their past experience, the present relation, and the future expectations. It also involved the role of China in these relations. The Secondary sources included textbooks, thesis, journals, magazines, and news reports in Thai, English and Chinese from Beijing review, China’ daily, People’s Daily, Bangkok post, Xinhua news agency, etc.
What China should do
In the initiatives aimed at resolving the border conflict, the government of Thailand has been very slow in response. Cambodia is therefore left with more unyielding tasks. China should take advantage of its influence in Thailand and make the Thai government to react faster towards conflict resolution. The pace at which Thailand implements the Indonesia’s proposed “peace plan” is very slow. This frustrates the peace process and at the same time lowers the international credibility of Thailand. If China and Thailand are true brothers, then, China should act. From this conflict, we can conclude that Thailand lacks diplomatic skills; however, with Chinese soft power, the conflict can be resolved.
In my interviews, there was a common opinion that “Thailand and Cambodia need a ‘Jimmy Carter’ mediator”. This same opinion was shared by the Nation on February 18, 2011. China should take the role of ‘Jimmy Carter’ and convince Thailand to respect the treaties and at the same time abide by the very treaties of which Thailand is a party. The situation needs to be resolved peacefully through effective dialogue. Let us not forget that Cambodia has no interest at all in conflict as it still tries to recover from the thirty years of pure civil war.
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