The listing of Preah Vihear temple as a World Heritage site has caused extraordinary things to happen to neighbours Cambodia and Thailand.
Strong feelings of nationalism are stirring in Thailand with discourse on “land and sovereignty”, while Cambodia is seizing the opportunity provided by the listing of the 900-year-old temple, says Associate Professor Pipop Udorn of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Commerce and Accountancy.
For Cambodia – where about 35 per cent of the people live below the poverty line on less than Bt6 a day – Preah Vihear is a potential “economic miracle” that could help it achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, Pipop said at a symposium on “Politics and Nationalism – The Preah Vihear Case”.
“It [inscription on the World Heritage List] means a new airport, cable car, hotels, casino, employment for more than 300,000 local people, and US$2 billion [Bt67 billion] from tourism income,” said Pipop, adding that Cambodia’s Tourism Action Plan targeted 3.12 million tourists by 2010.
Preah Vihear’s World Heritage listing reflects the success of the Cambodian government’s Economic Quadrangle policy under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration. Conversely, it reflects failure by the Thai government to inform the public about the benefits Thailand could share from the listing, Pipop said.
Thai governments since 2005 had supported the World Heritage listing by Cambodia and had already provided financial assistance to build Road No 67 linking the attractive tourist site of Siem Reap to the Thai border next to Preah Vihear, he said.
Associate Professor Surachart Bamrungsuk agreed Thai society could do a much better job of turning the conflict into a real benefit.
Promoting the Preah Vihear site as a “Joint Cultural Development Area” or “Joint Tourism Area” would be an option to enable both countries to enjoy economic benefits as well as cultural development, Surachart said. Thailand’s northeastern Isaan region would become a gateway to Indochina through cultural links.
“Today if we do not accept anything [the International Court of Justice’s ruling and the decision of the World heritage Committee], we must answer to the world community on how we are going to coexist with others,” said Surachart, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University and an expert on national security.
The International Court of Justice, in a nine-vote-to-three ruling, judged Preah Vihear to be “situated in territory under the sovereignty of Cambodia” some 46 years ago.
A letter by the then interior minister of July 6, 1962 to the prime minister stated: “Thailand is obligated to withdraw police, guards or other security from the Preah Vihear site by adhering to the principle that Cambodia will keep the remains of the Temple of Preah Vihear and the land beneath it.” But anti-government groups, including senators, the
opposition and some academics claim the temple sits on Thai soil.