This week, more indications surfaced that Cambodia and Thailand were moving towards opening a new international border checkpoint. Though the development was largely overlooked, it bears watching within the broader context of a longstanding effort by both sides to jointly manage their shared border despite the significant problems that remain unaddressed.
Border cooperation between Cambodia and Thailand has long been an important part of bilateral ties, with both sides already having several border crossing points and checkpoints in places like Poipet and Battambang. As part of ongoing efforts to manage their border, the two countries have tied to forge better collaboration in furthering new opportunities across the border to boost trade and tourism while also addressing longstanding challenges such as illegal logging and drug trafficking.
In recent years, as part of efforts to improve bilateral economic ties under Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen in the face of domestic challenges, both have eyed opening up more crossing points and checkpoints as well as upgrading current ones to further this effort. The stated goal as of last year was to increase trade, which was at $5.6 billion in 2015, to $15 billion by 2020, using a variety of means including border trade. Both sides were also working out understandings on cross-border management late last year in the wake of new customs regulations in Thailand.
But though some new inroads have been made in this respect, in reality, old challenges remain, from transnational crimes that are still rife to labor issues left unaddressed that can complicate ties. Though the focus is often on sudden developments such as the closure of certain checkpoints, both sides have continued their more quiet management of issues within existing mechanisms that have continued on into 2018, such as the Thailand-Cambodia General Border Committee held last month (See: “What’s in the Thailand-Cambodia Foreign Fugitive Deal?”).
This week, more indications surfaced that Cambodia and Thailand were moving towards opening a new international border checkpoint later this year. The Phnom Penh Post quoted Keo Bunthoeun, the deputy police chief at Unit 817, as saying that officials had agreed to inaugurate the Phnom Dev International Border Checkpoint, which connects Battambang province and Thailand’s Sa Kaeo province, on May 18.
Though we have seen delays with respect to some previous developments on this front, with new initiatives announced with little follow through, in this case, officials have said that the border checkpoint building has already been completed and just needs equipment to be installed to monitor cross-border movements. The extent to which it lives up to the hype in terms of boosting economic and people-to-people ties between the two sides, however, is another question altogether. Reality is often much more sobering on that front than some of the sunny rhetoric.