Factional politics and foreign policy choices in Cambodia-Thailand diplomatic relations, 1950-2014

Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, 2015 (H.E. Mr. Hor Namhong, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia, and H.E. General Tanasak Patimapragorn, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand at The 9th Meeting of the Thailand - Cambodia Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation)

This dissertation aims to provide a comprehensive analysis of Cambodia-Thailand diplomatic relations over the past six decades, specifically from 1950 to 2014. In addition to empirical discussion, it seeks to explain why Cambodian-Thai relationships have fluctuated and what primary factors caused the shifts during the period discussed. In doing so, it employs the “social conflict” analysis, which views states not as unitary actors, but within which is comprised of different societal forces competing with one another and pursues foreign policies in accordance with their own ideology, interest, and strategy. As such, it is postulated that Cambodia-Thailand diplomatic relations should not be seen simply as relations between two unitary states cooperating with or securitizing against one another, but rather as a matrix of intertwining relationships between various social and political groups in both states harboring competing ideologies and/or interests to advance their power positions at home.

Two inter-related arguments are therefore put forward in this research. Firstly, Cambodian-Thai relations are likely to be cooperative when both governments in power are civilian-democratically elected regimes and share similar ideologies, mutual economic interests, as well as security outlooks. Conversely, relations between them tend to deteriorate when these factors are not reciprocal. This is particularly true when one government has more in common with the dissidents of the government of the other side. Secondly, though antagonistic nationalism does exist between Cambodia and Thailand, it is not a determinant of the two nations’ foreign relations. This research argues that nationalism and historical animosity are invoked only if at least the government on one side needs to bolster its own legitimacy at home, and the government on the other side does not share a similar ideology or strategic interests with its own – the second aspect being the more important factor here.


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