Thailand and World Heritage

[Sent to Phnom Penh Post and Cambodia Daily on June 26, 2011. Not published.]

The decision of the Thai government to withdraw from the World Heritage Convention because the World Heritage Committee disagreed with it casts new light on that government’s persistent demand for “bilateral negotiations” regarding the Cambodian-Thai border. Clearly, in the view of the Abhisit government, “negotiation” means “agree or we’ll quit” — or, in the case of the border, “agree or we’ll start shooting”.

However, the decision raises other questions. Thailand has 10 or 12 sites (reports on the internet are inconsistent) for which it has requested World Heritage listing. Those presumably lapse with Thailand’s withdrawal from the Convention. But what about the five sites in Thailand that are already listed? Will Thailand now ask that they be removed from the World Heritage list, in order to avoid having them associated with the WHC, that “society without rules”, as Thai Minister Suwit Khunkitti calls it?

Curiously, on recent transits through the Bangkok airport, it seemed to me that Thai tourism authorities were vigorously promoting the country’s World Heritage sites. If they go, what is left? Is there such a thing as military tourism?

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