Saturday, November 14, 2009

A method in Hun Sen’s madness?

Thai Takes

POP quiz: Why did Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen poke Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva in the eye by hosting the latter’s arch-rival Thaksin Shinawatra in Phnom Penh and rejecting Thailand’s request for extraditing his guest who faces a two-year jail term back home?

(a) Hun Sen was already in politics when Abhisit was still a child.

(b) Hun Sen is not worried about the Abhisit government shutting the Thai-Cambodian border as Cambodia would reciprocate by not allowing even one pig to cross the border.

(c) In 2008, Thailand’s exports to Cambodia were worth about US$2bil (RM6.75bil) while Cambodia’s export to Thailand was only US$90mil (RM303.8mil).

(d) Abhisit should not fear if Thaksin resides in Cambodia, as Hun Sen had appointed other foreigners (for example, Lee Myung-bak before he was elected South Korean president) as economic advisers.

(e) The self-exiled Thaksin has been travelling around the world, and Abhisit has not taken any action against countries the billionaire visited.

(f) The Red Shirts (a pro-Thaksin movement) support Thaksin’s appointment as Cambodia’s economic adviser, but the Yellow Shirts (an anti-Thaksin movement) don’t, while the other Thais are indifferent.

(g) Although Abhisit warned Hun Sen not to become a pawn in Thaksin’s game, the Cambodian premier is nobody’s tool.

(h) Thaksin is not Cambodia’s tool. Hun Sen really wants to employ Thaksin’s experience to help in Cambodia’s economic affairs.

(i) Hun Sen wants to tackle the origin of the Thai-Cambodian spat, which started when Thaksin was ousted as Prime Minister in a coup on Sept 19, 2006.

(j) Thailand has obstructed Cambodia’s bid (to declare Preah Vihear, a border temple which both Cambodia and Thailand claim is within their territory) and has the nerve to say that it has nothing to do with Cambodia.

(k) Hun Sen received two-thirds of the vote in the Cambodian parliament, whereas Abhisit “stole somebody’s chair” to seat himself in the prime minister’s chair. And Cambodia cannot respect someone who claims other people’s property as his own.

(l) Abhisit is so buried in problems himself that he may not survive politically. He has problems with all the neighbouring countries (Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar); in southern Thailand; and Yellow Shirts, Red Shirts, Blue Shirts, White Shirts and Pheu Thai (the pro-Thaksin opposition party).

(m) Thaksin is Hun Sen’s friend and a friend “cannot feed friends to the tiger”.

(n) In the past, Khieu Samphan and Noun Chea (of the Khmer Rouge) were allowed to live (given refuge) even though Thailand had signed a pact not to support the Khmer Rouge.

(o) All the above.

The answer is (o), all of the above. That’s what Hun Sen told journalists on Nov 8 at Phnom Penh airport, after returning from the Mekong-Japan summit in Tokyo.

At an official dinner there, Abhisit said he did not speak to his Cambodian counterpart because they were seated at quite a distance and there was a vase between them obstructing his view.

What did the Thai media think of Hun Sen’s explanation of the diplomatic spat which has brought relations between the two countries to an all-time low, since the 2003 burning of the Thai embassy and other Thai properties in Phnom Penh after a Thai actress was falsely reported as saying the Angkor Wat temple complex belonged to Thailand?

According to Ploenpote Atthakor, a Bangkok Post journalist, “Hun Sen, playing the Thaksin card, can take a break from questions he has been facing at home about border issues with Vietnam.”

“The arrival of Thaksin (in Phnom Penh last Tuesday) also deflects the attention of Cambodians from the ongoing trial of former Khmer Rouge cadres. After all, Hun Sen knows fully well that without a strong political opponent, his PM’s seat is more secure compared to the shaky one Abhisit is sitting on,” she opined yesterday.

In an editorial on Thursday, the Bangkok Post said there was method in Hun Sen’s madness (to some Thais, Hun Sen is mad to provoke Thailand by appointing a Thai fugitive as his economic adviser).

“As a shrewd politician and the longest-serving prime minister in this region, Hun Sen must have carefully calculated the positive and negative consequences of this game of brinkmanship he is playing with Thailand,” the newspaper editorialised.

(Published in The Star on November 14, 2009)


pretoria said...

people can say what they please about Hun Sen - (brutal dictator, corrupt, ex-Khmer Rouge, no formal education, born penniless, etc.) - but it would be foolish to ignore his intelligence, his political insight, his survival skills and his present and future longevity as the Cambodia leader.

so far, the Thailand side represented by Abhisit and Kasit has been playing a losing game and seems to be flailing about at a loss as to what to do to gain some leverage over Hun Sen whose allies in this game include, among others, China, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan and Laos.

Steve said...

I would add a p) and a q).....

p) Hun Sen's real intentions are basically to stoke the fires of a Thailand v. Cambodia dispute that can be made to look like the big bully pushing around its weak neighbour. That plays very well in today's UN and other international institutions to produce sympathy for the underdog. Never mind the useful Preah Vihear sideshow (useful in the sense that it keeps the antagonism going in a case where Cambodia looks to most observers as having more right on its side), there are far more important border disputes remaining to be settled - including maritime boundaries of areas containing large and very valuable gas-fields. Cambodia knows that trying to settle these disputes bilaterally with bigger Thailand is less likely to work in its favour than if an international body can be brought in to arbitrate - itself rather more likely now that the dispute has reached its current level and looks set to stay that way if not get worse.

q) See Siam Report's analysis of Hun Sen's personal and historical axes to grind at:

Seems to me that p) and q) are not mutually exclusive - which takes us to an r) "All of the above".