Will a Thai-Malaysia wall materialise?

Border wall

The prime ministers of Malaysia and Thailand have discussed building a wall along their land border to control rebels in southern Thailand.

Whether the wall, if it is eventually built, will actually stop rebels from crossing over to Malaysia or prevent smuggling activities remains to be seen.

A well-guarded wall would make it easier to quell the violent Muslim-backed insurgency in southern Thailand, according to a report in Forbes.

The report quotes figures from the Bangkok Post that separatists in four southern provinces had killed 6,500 people and injured 12,000 over the decade to 2015.

According to the Terrorism Monitor, militants in one elusive group called Runda Kumpulan Kecil flee to Malaysia after bombings, arson and murders in Thailand.

These types would find it harder to sneak over the notoriously porous land border as they do now, writes Ralph Jennings in the Forbes report.

The Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, is quoted as saying that Thailand may be asked to pay for most of the wall as it benefits it more.

“Such a wall would allow authorities on both sides to better manage and control migration flows. Thailand would have more interest in having such a wall to manage its southern insurgency and therefore may be expected to foot much of the bill,” Pongsudhirak says.

The report says a wall would also stop a certain amount of border trade in oils and rubber.

Pongsudhirak cautions, however, that “Migrants would still find alternative outlets by sea and through corruption, loopholes and border trade along the wall. The ultimate efficacy of such a wall is doubtful.”

But are Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha serious about constructing a wall?

The report quotes Michael Montesano, visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore as saying: “One needs to note that the porousness of the Thai border is on the mind of the Thai dictator largely because renewed talks on Thailand’s southern insurgency have just begun, and the dictatorship is prone to see illicit border crossings from Malaysia as a major factor in the insurgency.

“This is a way to distract the public from the long-term failure of its own counter-insurgency tactics and from the social and political issues that feed the insurgency.”