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Durham University

IBRU: Centre for Borders Research


The Land Boundaries of Indochina: Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam

Author: Ronald Bruce St John


The Land Boundaries of Indochina: Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam - image

This briefing explores the history of the delimitation and demarcation of the land boundaries of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

The indigenous rulers of the pre-modern states which constituted Southeast Asia at the beginning of the nineteenth century were unable to resist either the modern armaments of a determined European power or the hegemonic thrust of European concepts of political space. France began its occupation of the area it designated Indochina with the Treaty of Saigon in 1862 and concluded it with the addition of Laos to the Indochinese Union in 1893. Where the former rulers of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam were generally content with shared sovereignty, leaving their frontier areas fluid, French authorities insisted on the delimitation and demarcation of administrative boundaries through fixed lines drawn on maps and border markers implanted in the soil. As a result, the colonization of French Indochina went beyond mere nineteenth century power politics to redefine and reconstruct spatial realities throughout the region. This resolution of fundamental differences in conceptual approaches to geography and sovereignty, and the spatial reconstruction which resulted, produced an enduring and paradoxical legacy. Colonial rule sparked a heady vintage of Asian nationalism, but the new wine was poured into old wineskins in the form of colonial boundaries. Consequently, the current boundaries of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam amount to only small deviations from colonial boundaries, albeit with the notable difference that they were concluded between equal and independent states. Boundary by boundary, this Briefing examines each of the land boundaries between these three states, in addition to discussing their respective boundaries with China.

Boundary & Territory Briefings (Vol. 2 no. 6)
Cambodia-Laos, Cambodia-Vietnam, Laos-Vietnam
This article is available as a free download.



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