In an exclusive interview with Khmer Times journalist Taing Rinith, prominent Cambodian historian Sambo Manara speaks on how young people in Cambodia and Thailand can improve the relationship between the two nations by learning from the lessons of what happened in the past.
How do you describe the history of the relationship between Cambodia and Thailand?
Manara: Like any two countries that share borders in the world, Cambodia and Thailand have what we call a “love-hate” relationship, characterised by both alliance and invasion throughout their ancient history. However, what we cannot argue is that the two countries are closely connected politically, socially, culturally and economically.
What are your findings about the recent development of the two nations’ relationship, especially in the past few years?
Manara: In recent years, Cambodia and Thailand have seen a huge improvement in their relationship – never seen before in history. In addition to being Member States of ASEAN, the two countries have formed partnerships in almost all sectors, especially in economic development.
However, there is still some level of antagonism among their people which has been sparked by over-nationalism, which has already caused many problems in the past.
The youth makes up a majority of Cambodia’s and Thailand’s population alike. What do you think these young people can do in order to improve this relationship?
Manara: In my own view, genuine and mutual respect and understanding between the people of both nations should be cultivated and nurtured. In addition to efforts at the institutional and governmental levels to salvage the troubled relationship between the two countries, individuals, especially young people, will be the ones shouldering the countries’ future.
Youths have crucial roles to play to promote respect and understanding. In order for them to be able to do that, they should stop dwelling on the historical antagonism; instead, they should use lessons from history to help them make informed and impartial judgments when dealing with issues concerning each other.
They also have to learn to embrace the similarities in their culture and traditions and respect the differences between their nations. They should, moreover, focus on developing themselves by engaging in different forms of personal and professional development involving the two nations such as exchange programmes and relationship-building activities.
Meanwhile, studying each other’s language can also help the two peoples enhance mutual respect and understanding, as when you study a language, you are not only learning words and grammar but also the context and culture in which the language originated.
How can the governments and politicians contribute to this process?
Manara: The governments must educate their young people for them to understand the value of peace and harmony between two countries, especially ones that share a border. Part of doing that is to promote studying history among young people while at the same time ensuring that the aims of the curriculum is to make them understand one another rather than feel the anger.
At the same time, politicians must not do anything to spark over-nationalism among young people, who still lack real-life experience. Adults and elders must bear in mind that young people are the ones who will carry the countries’ destiny; therefore, they must do everything to prepare them for a shared peaceful and harmonised future.