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Cambodia, Thailand: ilovethailand website sparks controversy

Categories: East Asia, Cambodia, Thailand, History, International Relations, Politics, Technology

The recently launched website ilovethailand.org [1] is causing a stir online. Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva announced that the website is intended to restore the country's image and unify the nation in light of recent unrest [2]. The controversy stems from the website's claims about Thailand's “lost territory” — territory that is present day Cambodia.

KI Media [3] reports:

The major English daily Phnom Penh Post reported that Cambodian officials are scurrying to investigate the claims. It quoted Mr. Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, as saying that “they (the Thai) are twisting the facts of history. It is completely exaggerated.”

According to Phnom Penh Post, in 1794, Thailand – then known as Siam – annexed Siem Reap and Battambang provinces from the declining Khmer kingdom, but the territories were returned following a March 1907 treaty between Thailand and France.

Khmerization [4], posting at KI Media [5], informs us that ilovethailand.org has resulted in

the birth of ilovekhmer.org [6], a Khmer website created with the sole intention of countering the “provably false accusations” made by the Thai PM's website, ilovethailand.org. The site proved an instant popularity with internet users, with its site metre hotly counting the numbers of visitors.

Thailand's “lost territory” is illustrated in a video on the website [7]. The Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok has requested the video's removal [8] from the website. Details are Sketchy [9], with comments from ThaRum [10], reports that ilovethailand.org is blocked in Cambodia, but it is unclear which side is censoring the site.

At Thai Intelligent News Weblog [11], there is news that the “site was also reported to have been hacked and down around the globe at many countries-as angry pro-democracy internet savvy Thais attacked the site.”

Thai Intelligent News Weblog [12]
goes on and balances nationalism against other concerns, stating:

For many reasons, Thailand has a very bad global image problem. The [Abhisit] solution is the global “I Love Thailand” Campaign. Thailand has gotten itself into trouble with neighbors before over this type of cultural and historical Nationalism-like with Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia. Nationalism is good, as a way to build love and unity for the country, but when it means conflict with neighbors-that is taking Nationalism too far.

Another Thai blogger, Thai 101 [13], points out that ilovethailand.org's terms and conditions require self-censorship:

Looks like this site is a national “stimulus” program of a non-economic variety. A government-sponsored website on which only those who admit that they love the country more than their own lives are allowed to come and express nothing but adulation and praise for the country. I'm sure this will do wonders for encouraging open and thoughtful dialogue. Especially that veiled threat at the end. Just lovely.

The video is shown here and on Bangkok Crimes [14], which notes that the “fourteenth slice of lost territory is Preah Vihear [15].”