A long-running dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over 26,000 square kilometres of oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Thailand may be moving closer to a resolution after reports that Bangkok is willing to restart talks on the overlapping claims area (OCA).
Thailand’s Isra news agency says Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon held a meeting on Oct 1 to discuss a framework for renewed discussions.
The results were not made public because the Thai government said details were classified.
However, it’s believed the meeting discussed setting up two working panels, one on redrawing the maritime border, the other on joint development of the oil and gas reserves.
The dispute dates back to the 1904 Franco-Siam Treaty whereby Bangkok ceded Koh Kong to Paris but never agreed a demarcation line in the sea.
A generalised border was made by drawing a line from the coast at the Thai-Cambodia frontier to Koh Kut Island. Thailand later redrew the line between Koh Kut and Koh Kong, leading to conflicting claims with Cambodia, starting in the 1960s, when international companies became interested in the oil and gas reserves.
Cambodia granted licences to five companies to drill in four blocks of the OCA in 1997 on condition an agreement could be reached with Thailand.
In 2000, Prime Minister Hun Sen proposed joint development of the reserves. Thailand initially rejected the plan but a year later the two nations signed a memorandum of understanding to start talks on the overlapping claims. The talks foundered when Bangkok proposed dividing the ODA into three, keeping the western strip, thought to contain the most reserves.
Plans to restart negotiations in 2008 were shelved because of political upheaval in Thailand.
With the current relative stability of Thailand’s political system, Bangkok may be willing to revisit the issue. The failure of Cambodia’s first commercial oilfield, the Apsara, or A-Block, because of the collapse of Singapore’s KrisEnergy, has prompted increasing interest from Phnom Penh in finding other fields to tap and other companies to tap them. New sources of oil and gas would prove to be lucrative to Cambodia after prices rose to multi-year highs in recent weeks.
“It is significant as that area is likely to be a very large resource. That is why the large oil and gas companies are very interested,” said Richard Stanger, President of the Cambodian Association for Mining and Exploration Companies.
In a 2010 study of the dispute Paul Chambers and Siegfried Wolf said it had dragged on so long because of “festering frontier frictions” caused by elite groups.
“Of course not all Thai elites oppose resolving Thai-Cambodian border disputes. In fact, there are a growing number of prominent Thais who seek cooperation,” Chambers and Wolf said. “Thus, there has occurred, among Thai actors, a growing confrontation between a moderate and confrontational perception.”
“Times have slightly changed since I co-wrote that paper in 2010,” said Chambers, now Special Adviser for International Affairs at the Center of ASEAN Community Studies at Thailand’s Naresuan University.
“Thai-Cambodian relations are now a bit less tense but the overlapping claims in the gulf remain.”
Cambodia is giving no indication of whether it is ready to accept any overtures from Thailand. Cheap Sour, general director at the General Department of Petroleum of Cambodia’s Ministry of Mines and Energy did not respond to requests for comment on the possibility of restarting talks.
This article was first published in Khmer Times. All contents and images are copyright to their respective owners and sources.