Thailand and Cambodia to resume talks over disputed Gulf region

Picture courtesy of Thairath Plus

February will see the reignition of talks between Thailand and Cambodia regarding a disputed region in the Gulf of Thailand, spanning 26,000 square kilometres. This area, rich in energy resources, is a matter of contention as both nations lay claim to it.

Experts suggest that the discussions should primarily concentrate on the mutual development of energy resources in the Overlapping Claims Area (OCA) rather than on territorial disputes. This cooperative approach is believed to be a potential solution to reducing Thailand’s reliance on costly liquefied natural gas imports.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin announced that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet will be visiting Thailand in February. The energy resources in the OCA will be high on the agenda.

Thailand’s Energy Minister, Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, stated that the two countries must revisit the unresolved issues surrounding the OCA. Despite previous governments’ attempts to tackle it, the matter remains contentious.

“Thailand needs to tap into energy resources in the area as a solution to energy shortages, as the country’s natural gas reserves are being depleted by the day. Without new sources of energy, the country will be in trouble in the future. Therefore, this issue is crucial in the negotiations,” Pirapan expressed.

He further emphasised the need for discussions to focus on potential joint operations for utilising the OCA’s energy resources rather than escalating the maritime border dispute.

Pirapan also pointed out that both countries’ parliaments would need to endorse any agreement reached in these discussions. He questioned whether such approval would be forthcoming, reported Bangkok Post.

The previous administration saw then-deputy prime minister Prawit Wongsuwon leading the negotiations. It is yet to be determined who will spearhead the talks under the current government.

Prasert Sinsukprasert, Permanent Secretary for the Energy Ministry, proposed designating a joint development area. This would allow both nations to co-invest in petroleum production in the area, sidestepping the maritime territorial dispute.

“The dispute over the maritime boundary is not going to end any time soon. [Talks on the issue] should be suspended. Any negotiations that can benefit both sides should be held first,” he suggested.

Noppadon Pattama, a Pheu Thai list-MP who chairs the House committee on foreign affairs, echoed these sentiments. He highlighted the failure of previous discussions to successfully demarcate the maritime border between Thailand and Cambodia.

However, he remained hopeful, suggesting that the newly appointed prime ministers could leverage their cordial bilateral relations to focus discussions on joint development in the OCA. This would ensure energy security for both nations.

The nations had previously signed a memorandum of understanding in 2001, during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. This agreement aimed to jointly develop parts of the OCA and demarcate a maritime border. Despite numerous rounds of discussions since then, progress has been hampered due to disagreements over the maritime border demarcation.

Foreign Affairs Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara stated that before resuming talks, the government would need to appoint representatives to a new joint technical committee.

Thailand News

Mitch Connor

Mitch is a Bangkok resident, having relocated from Southern California, via Florida in 2022. He studied journalism before dropping out of college to teach English in South America. After returning to the US, he spent 4 years working for various online publishers before moving to Thailand.

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