Thursday, February 03, 2011

COMMENTARY: PAD's selective prattle about territory

Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok Post.
·         Published: 1/02/2011 at 12:00 AM
·         Newspaper section: News

I know what the People's Alliance for Democracy and ultra-nationalist types think: it is better to lose lives or to take some than to lose a single square inch of Thai territory.
What I do not know is if this "not a single square inch" refrain is a sensible thing to subscribe to, considering the present reality. Border demarcation is never an emotional issue to be dabbled in with passion. In the past - in some places currently still - defining one's territory had to do with one's military might. In short, the border could be changed only by means of war.
Look at the map of Thailand during the reign of King Rama I, King Rama IV or King Rama V. They did not look the same during these different periods. And they certainly did not look like the present-day axe-shaped one we are familiar with.
In modern times, border demarcation or territorial disputes are settled at the negotiating table. There, technical details, treaties and agreements are put forward by each side and they thrash out the differences, point by point. It is hardly a speedy process but it is probably the only one that is internationally acceptable at the moment.
So, while the PAD has the right to make public its opinions, which apparently are different from those upheld by the government, I do not think it is healthy for the group to keep belching out the war cry and selectively use the ultra-nationalistic slogan of "not a single square inch" without considering the reality on the ground, or the reality as seen by other parties.
I said "selectively" because I do not see the PAD or its extremist arm, the Thai Patriots Network, raising a voice over the secessionist movement in the deep South. What about that?
A group of people have proclaimed they want to carve out the three southernmost provinces of Thailand and establish a separate Muslim state. That is a much larger piece of Thailand than the 4.6 sqkm so-called overlapping areas between Thailand and Cambodia that the PAD is harping on about. Why do the yellow shirts only care about the northeastern frontier and not the southern one? Is the deep South not our land?
A little disclaimer is due here. I only raise the issue of the deep South to illustrate the PAD's selective use of its "not a single square inch" war cry. Whether or not the far South should be separated is an entirely different issue which must be explored in another context.
Besides the inconsistent use of its rhetoric in the present context, if we look into the past, we will also see that the PAD's stringent stance and "ultimatum" style of politics is a sharp contrast to the "bending with the wind" diplomacy that Thailand, or Siam, has championed for centuries and which has been acknowledged as an astute move that allowed the country to escape being colonised during the height of imperialism in the 19th century. In fact, it was King Rama V who coined and popularised the sentiment of "losing small parts of the land to preserve the whole country" when the country had to give up an area of 143,800 sqkm (in present-day Laos) along the eastern bank of the Mekong River to France in 1893. Also, in 1903, Thailand agreed to give Luang Prabang and Champassak in Laos (62,500 sqkm) to France in exchange for the province of Chanthaburi which France had earlier seized. In a familiar pattern, the kingdom had to surrender Battambang, Siem Reap and Sisophon - a combined area of 51,000 sqkm - to France in exchange for the city of Trat.
Altogether, during the period from 1786 to 1962, the country lost part of its territory 14 times - the last one being the right over the temple of Preah Vihear as decided by the International Court of Justice. The point is, we still stand as a country despite these losses.
It's true that the "bending with the wind" diplomacy was mapped out a century ago in response to the formidable power of colonialism. But who knows if Thailand's position in the present-day globalised world is not so different from the one Siam was caught in a century ago?I know that the PAD would rather go to war than lose a single inch of the 4.6 sqkm area under dispute. I do not believe it is a realistic option for Thailand.

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