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Cambodia fires new old missiles

Last week Cambodia held military exercises, testing if their old soviet made rockets were still operational. Apparently they were:

Cambodian rocket launchers

Abhisit said he wasn’t concerned, it wasn’t a provocation or a show of force, there was nothing to worry about.

Then Surin Pitsuwan, Asean secretary general pitched in. He didn’t actually say anything, just that it might be a cause for concern but he doesn’t have any details.

“We are very concerned with such development,” Surin was quoted as saying while in Bangkok last week. Asked to elaborate on his concerns, Surin said: “I have no details. I have to look into the details first.

Bad move – Cambodian government didn’t waste time and sent him an official letter, teaching him not to create wrong impressions and not to meddle in Cambodian internal affairs.

“I strongly believe that in your capacity as secretary general of ASEAN, you should not make any wrong statement which may bring about a bad image to an ASEAN member country,” Hor Namhong wrote. “Moreover, you should not make any statement which can be considered as an interference in the internal affairs of Cambodia.”

“Normally and in principle, an ASEAN secretary general should exercise some self-restraint while making any comment or statement concerning an ASEAN member country..”

Two points of note – situation in Cambodia is so sensitive that any hint of criticism provokes a strong response, and, in fact, it’s this response, officially sent by their Foreign Ministry, that affects their image the most. Prior to that they had it all covered, starting with holding tests in the central part of the country, away from Thai borders. They should have just stuck to that line and ignore Surin’s concerns as groundless, they even had Thai government backing their stance, it was all going so well, then they ruined it.

Telling off Asean Secretary General is just not done, at least not in public. Surin, on his part, might have underestimated the sensitivity there, too, but what he said is nothing unusual or provocative or out of line. Now it looks like Cambodian response sets new standards in dealing with that country.

Second point of note is this comment:

Carlyle Thayer, a professor of politics at Australia’s University of New South Wales, said last week that Thursday’s launch was in line with Hun Sen’s aggressive posture towards Thailand over the past few months, which he called “out of step” with diplomatic norms.

“Everyone in ASEAN holds their nose and says, ‘This is a bad odour,’” Thayer said. “I can’t imagine any ASEAN country being sympathetic to him.”

That is the first description of how Asean members view Hun Sen, I don’t know how true it is, it came from an Australian academic, not from diplomatic sources, and Australians have slightly different standards of what is acceptable and what is not than many Asean countries, and “I can’t imagine” phrase makes it a personal opinion, but still, if there’s any truth in that, it indicates that Cambodia is going on a collision course with the rest of the grouping and is about to lose a lot of good will and make itself into a Burma like pariah.

Asean is, of course, not equipped to deal with these challenges and would make an extra effort to placate raging Hun Sen who, in turn, might be very happy to exploit his newly found power to piss people off on the international level.

We might very well see Thai-Cambodian spat escalating into a regional problem, one step away from attracting attention of big boys, China and the US. How far is Hun Sen prepared to go? I wonder if this letter to Surin is really the first step, hopefully not, but who knows.


One Response

  1. […] Cambodia fires new old missiles « Thai politics tags: among-the-world, merlin-crossley, morning, past, past-few, politics-at-australia, […]

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