Week 546 – 2008-02-10: National and International Land Disputes

Posted on 12 February 2008. Filed under: *Editorial*, Week 546 |

The Mirror, Vol. 12, No. 546

Mirroring events in Cambodia, we have regularly reports about land disputes when the right of ownership of land is contested. Some cases find a peaceful solution by mutual agreement, others have lead to violence. The losing party – not always the smaller party! – may try to get justice by appealing to the court. Some do not appeal, assuming that they could not find justice in this way, while others try.

When a land dispute goes across a national boundary, as happens sometimes in border areas, things are not only more complicated – they may lead to international confrontation or even to larger conflicts. When such conflicting claims concern not only some small stretches of land along a national borderline, but relate to contradicting claims between states about large regions of land and the people living there, even the international community may get involved in different ways.

During recent weeks, a Cambodian politician had raised the question of re-opening a Taiwanese trade-relations office in Phnom Penh, as it had existed until 1997, to facilitate the handling of the substantial volume of investment from Taiwan, as well as trade and travel – a Taiwanese airline connects Taipei regularly with Phnom Penh, and a Cambodian airline brings Taiwanese tourists directly to Siem Reap. The Cambodian government rejected the idea to have again such a liaison office as contrary to the One-China-Policy of Cambodia – considering Taiwan as part of the People’s Republic of China, and therefore also claiming that the people of Taiwan do not have the right to ask for membership in the United Nations.- The difficulties of hundreds of Cambodian women married to Taiwanese men can also not get easy attention because of the absence of diplomatic contacts.

As I participated, shortly after this discussion in the media, in an international conference in Taiwan, I became aware of interesting aspects of this complex problem. When I asked a Vietnamese participant in the same conference how he had arranged his travel documents to come to Taiwan, he told me that this was very easy, he just went to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Hanoi [Van phong Kinh te va Van hoa Dai Bac tai Hanoi] where he quickly got his travel documents without any difficulty. Both countries – in spite of the One-China-Policy of Vietnam – benefit obviously from their smooth mutual relations: on the morning of my return from Taiwan there were three direct flights from Taiwan to Vietnam announced on the schedule of the airport.

I write about this experience while I am in India. There were reports in the press about another case of a land conflict – this time between China and India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had visited a region in the far north-east on 31 January 2008, the Indian federal state of Arunachal Pradesh. And it was reported that he had said that Arunachal Pradesh is “our land of the rising sun,” a clear message to China – which also claims the same region as belonging to China. This region had – back in history – also been related to Tibet, and Tibet was made part of the People’s Republic of China. The Indian prime minister’s visit and his statement led to a diplomatic protest by China, and a rejection of the Chinese protest by India. The India Times wrote on 9 February 2008: “Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India and India’s Prime Minister has every right to visit the state. The Chinese, however, aren’t too happy about it, just as they aren’t happy about our control over Sikkim. The reaction from China to Dr. Manmohan Singh’s visit, even though in poor taste, was along expected lines. And so was India’s, which immediately reasserted that the state is ours.”

These mutual claims had led to a sharp military conflict, the Sino-Indian War of 1962. The present statements of mutual claims and mutual protests are a reminder of the fact that such and similar claims can lead to war. And that war with all the destruction and sufferings it brings has to be avoided.

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