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Prayut Governments Meeting With Myanmar’s Generals Tarnishes Thailand’s Reputation

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According to experts, Thailand’s caretaker government’s informal discussion on the Myanmar situation not only provided a safe haven for the junta across the border, but also harmed Thailand’s international reputation and worsened divides within ASEAN.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai invited ministers and senior officials from ASEAN and its dialogue partners to Pattaya on June 19 for discussions on Myanmar’s ongoing crisis, deafening domestic and international condemnation for a caretaker government’s reckless initiative.

General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand, defended the initiative, claiming that his administration needed to protect Thailand’s national interests in Myanmar as well as border trade and security.

Thailand has suffered the most from the neighbouring country’s plight, as the two countries share more than 3,000 km of land and ocean border. Border trade with Myanmar is worth billions of baht per year, he claims, and Myanmar is a major source of gas supply for Thailand.

“We don’t take sides, but we do need to talk to find solutions to problems.” The rest are Myanmar’s internal problems, in which we do not intervene,” Prayut added.

When asked if it was appropriate for a caretaker government to organise such an international summit, Prayut stated that his administration had made no obligations during the meeting and that the next government will be able to tackle the problems in its own way.

According to the Foreign Ministry’s statement, Thailand has previously held a number of informal talks on Myanmar in a range of formats and levels, including twice at the ministerial level. Prayut’s government convened a non-ASEAN summit in December of last year, as well as a track 1.5 dialogue in March of this year. Another ministerial meeting mentioned by the ministry went unnoticed by the public. None of them produced tangible results.

Personal interests of Thailand’s elite

Professor Ukrist Pathmanand of Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Asian Studies questioned whether such a rushed gathering would serve the national interest rather than the personal interests of Thailand’s elite in the caretaker government. Gas concessions in Myanmar may benefit the country’s energy security, but they also benefit large corporations in the field, he told Thai PBS World. “Don’t forget, we have a lobbyist working on Myanmar issues for this caretaker government.”

The concession is held by Thai company PTTEP, which supplies around 15% of Thailand’s total gas consumption. According to diplomatic sources, officials in Prayut’s government have been negotiating with the Myanmar regime to get greater concessions.

According to a senior Foreign Ministry official, a series of meetings in various forms organised by the government in recent months, including the most recent one, were largely geared at giving the Myanmar regime some room in the Thai domestic arena as well as the regional and international communities.

The Thai aristocracy and military, including Prayut, have close ties to Myanmar’s top leader, Min Aung Hliang, and his cronies. The top commander of the Myanmar military reportedly requested assistance from his Thai counterparts in clearing troublesome assets pertaining to his adult children. The assets were seized in Thailand after a weapons dealer and Min Aung Hlaing ally, Tun Min Latt, was detained last year on suspicion of narcotics trafficking and money laundering.

According to Ukrist, the conference was also intended to define the line and tone for the anticipated incoming government led by the Move Forward Party, which has a different stance towards Myanmar than Prayut’s government.

Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the Move Forward Party and a potential prime minister, tweeted on June 20 that “we firmly reiterate our support for the actions taken within the ASEAN framework, including those by the previous and current ASEAN chairs, with a view to achieving the goals and objectives established in the Five-Point Consensus.”

Help ASEAN address the Myanmar problem

While the Pattaya conference did not take place under the ASEAN framework, the Foreign Ministry stated in a statement that it was convened to help ASEAN efforts to address the Myanmar problem.

Don stated in his invitation letter that the conference would be the first step in Myanmar’s peace process, citing the recent summit where no member objected to ASEAN completely re-engaging with Myanmar at the leadership level. “The meeting marks the first attempt to talk about engagement and re-engagement in all aspects,” he told reporters at the Pattaya summit.

A few ministers attended the conference, including Don, Myanmar junta foreign minister Than Swe, and Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith. Deng Xijun, China’s special envoy to Myanmar, attended the event, as did India’s ambassador and a foreign ministry director, and the other countries also sent senior officials or ambassadors.

The Pattaya meeting appears to have caused a breach in the regional organisation, with Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia opting not to attend. ASEAN members in mainland Southeast Asia demonstrated sympathy with Thailand by sending ministers or high-level officials to the summit. Phan Chi Thanh, Vietnam’s ambassador to Thailand, was invited to participate.

Retno Marsudi, Indonesia’s foreign minister, reminded her Thai counterpart that “ASEAN leaders had held an in-depth discussion on the situation in Myanmar as recently as last month at the 42nd Summit.” They had reached no agreement on re-engaging in or developing fresh approaches to the Myanmar issue.”

In a letter to Don, she stated that the office of special envoy is interacting with all parties in the conflict-torn country in order to eventually achieve an inclusive conversation to resolve the political issue. “I, too, am doing my part at the foreign ministers’ level,” Marsudi stated in the letter obtained by Thai PBS World, noting that there was no need for another meeting because ASEAN foreign ministers will meet in the next round to discuss the issue in less than four weeks.

Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Minister Zambly Abd Kadir would be unable to attend the meeting, but reminded his Thai counterpart that the Five-point Consensus reached in April 2021 with Min Aung Hlaing’s consent remained a valid reference and mandate in addressing the Myanmar issue. Malaysia maintained its support for the ASEAN chair’s initiatives, including the role of special envoy, it said.

During a visit to Washington, Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan stated that re-engaging with the Myanmar junta at the leader or even the foreign minister level was premature.

The CTNNews editorial team comprises seasoned journalists and writers dedicated to delivering accurate, timely news coverage. They possess a deep understanding of current events, ensuring insightful analysis. With their expertise, the team crafts compelling stories that resonate with readers, keeping them informed on global happenings.

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