Next month, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will deliver its verdict in the case of Cambodia and Thailand’sterritorial dispute over the Preah Vihear temple. For several months, the court has been poring over a judgment it made on the same issue fifty years earlier. That judgment was partly based oninterpretations of old treaties, old maps and other fragments pertaining to the temple’s 900-year history. The whole exercise, in other words, has been as much an historical investigation as it has been a legal process.
Since neither the Thais nor the Cambodians seem inclined to accept an unfavorable verdict, the ICJ’s decision will probably go down as just another moment in the temple’s long and contested history, rather than as the end of the story so far as the dispute goes. Even so, the matter may be nearer closure than some of Asia’s other most tortuous territorial arguments.
Here, The Diplomat reviews the history of five of them. Among the contradictory narratives and fluctuating fortunes, one thing, at least, is clear. When Asian leaders insist that their country’s claim to a contested territory is historically indisputable, they are never right.