Bangkok Post – Cambodian PM to visit, disputed border oil reserves on agenda

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet, front right, accompanies Srettha Thavisin from Phnom Penh International Airport after the Thai prime minister arrived there on Sept 28 last year. (Photo: Government House)
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet, front right, accompanies Srettha Thavisin from Phnom Penh International Airport after the Thai prime minister arrived there on Sept 28 last year. (Photo: Government House)

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet will visit Thailand on Wednesday for official talks expected to include the long-stalled joint development of natural resources within the two countries’ disputed maritime boundary.

He will meet with Prime MInister Srettha Thavisin at Government House.

The Foreign Ministry and Government House on Monday announced the one-day visit by the Cambodian prime minister, with expansion of a wide range of cooperation on the agenda – from border issues to transport, trade and investment.

Expectations are that the two leaders will renew attempts to explore the joint development of the overlapping area in the Gulf of Thailand claimed by both countries. Mr Srettha said in parliament on Jan 3 that he would raise this issue with his Cambodian counterpart when they next met. 

The previous government of prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha also tried to end the impasse on the issue, but there was no progress.

Thailand and Cambodia share a 26,600 square kilometre area that overlaps their maritime boundary claims. (continues below)

Thailand and Malaysia agreed in 1979 to jointly exploit oil and gas reserves in the gulf by setting aside their differences in their disputed area. Thailand is looking to its success in negotiations with Malaysia as a model to develop the unsettled marine boundary with Cambodia. So far, the dispute over the sea borderline has prevented any progress.

Two officials who took part in the negotiations between Thailand and Malaysia on joint development more than four decades ago have mixed opinions on the Cambodian issue.

One official believed joint development would be impossible as long as the two countries were adamant the marine border must be settled first.

The other official was hopeful for some progress this time. “A decreasing outlook for global oil demand in the long run could be an impetus for them to accelerate their cooperation efforts,” the official said.

Neither was authorised to talk on the issue and they asked not to be named.

On the land border, Thai ambassador to Cambodia Chertkiat Atthakor said after a meeting in January with Lam Chea, the Cambodian minister in charge of the state secretariat of border affairs, that the two countries hoped for progress on the surveying and demarcation of unpegged areas along the frontier, in line with the policy of their leaders.

“Both sides agreed that a meeting in the near future presented a great opportunity to resolve their border issues together, to transform the border into an area of peace and development in accordance with the visions expresssed by both prime ministers,” the Thai embassy said on a Facebook post on Jan 25.

The Pheu Thai Party-led government is keen on increasing trade between the two neighbours. Two-way trade between Thailand and Cambodia was valued at 340 billion baht in 2023, and the two prime ministers agreed during their first meeting in Phnom Penh in September to see it reach 535 billion baht next year.

Two Cambodian activists and a former political prisoner were arrested in Thailand on Friday ahead of the visit by Hun Manet. They had planned to hold a protest against the Cambodian leader in Bangkok.

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