Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 June 2017
The current conflict between Cambodia and Thailand, both members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), provides a test case for ASEAN to act as a key player in resolving disputes among its members. A failure by ASEAN to do so would reduce its credibility and impede the realization of an ASEAN community by 2015. Since its establishment in 1967, ASEAN has made substantial achievements in preventing armed conflict among its members. In the view of many ASEAN supporters, such achievements are attributed to the development of a regional identity among ASEAN members through strict adherence to the “ASEAN Way,” a concept that includes non-interference in member countries’ domestic affairs, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and reliance on the principle of consultation and consensus for decision-making. While the non-interference component of the ASEAN Way may help prevent problems from occurring, it has been less successful at solving conflicts after they erupt. Such a test case now exists in the conflict between Cambodia and Thailand.
Cambodia and Thailand's diplomatic relations deteriorated severely following the Cambodian government's November 2009 appointment of Former Thai Prime Minister (PM) Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic advisor. Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 military coup, remains in exile and is wanted by the current Thai government on corruption charges. This situation is not a disconnected event, but part of a chain of events that occurred after the enlistment of the Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage Site by the Cambodian government in July 2008.
Preah Vihear, a 900-year-old Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva, is situated near the Cambodian-Thai border. Despite the International Court of Justice (ICJ)'s 1962 ruling that the Preah Vihear temple is located within Cambodian territory, some Thai nationalists have never accepted that the temple belongs to Cambodia. Others suggest that the ICJ's ruling only covers the temple and not the surrounding 4.6 square kilometers of land. This situation made Preah Vihear a point of contention between Cambodia and Thailand.
Cambodia's enlistment of the temple as a World Heritage Site actually covered only the temple, not the surrounding land, and was supported by the government of former Thai PM Samak Sundaravej. A joint communique demonstrating Thailand's support was signed between former Thai foreign minister, Noppadon Pattama, and Cambodia.