This is the second of a two-part series examining the policies and political challenges facing the new government of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Part I examined domestic issues. Part II examines foreign policy and the implications for regional stability.
With its domestic opponents watching closely for missteps, the government of Thailand's recently elected prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, will have to tread extremely carefully in matters of foreign policy. The mishandling of relations with Cambodia by the administration of Yingluck's predecessor, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, had resulted in border skirmishes that killed 28 people this year alone. Yingluck's Pheu Thai party seized on the issue by including among its campaign pledges a promise to "mend relations with neighboring countries." But while a potential rapprochement with Cambodia appears to present an opportunity for the Yingluck government, it also poses a significant threat at a time when the administration's legitimacy is already being questioned.
It was never very likely that the Abhisit administration would enjoy a good relationship with Cambodia. Abhisit took office following anti-government protests by the nationalist People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), protests he had tacitly backed. The resulting appointment as foreign minister of Kasit Piromya, a PAD leader who had called Cambodian Premier Hun Sen "crazy" and a "slave," set the tone for what was to come -- deadly border conflict centered around the 11th-century Preah Vihear temple, which stands on disputed territory.