Thai-Burmese Relations: Mutual Necessity Trumps Historical Animosity
covering burma and southeast asia
Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Thai-Burmese Relations: Mutual Necessity Trumps Historical Animosity

By AUNG ZAW Wednesday, December 28, 2011

(Page 2 of 2)

But despite the economic incentives for Thailand and the Shinawatras to improve relations with Burma, the second major area of mutual interest between the two countries, their shared border, has been a source of tension for generations and remains so today.

There is a long history of Burmese incursions into Thailand—first by Burmese kings looking to expand their empire (Burma’s invasion of Thailand’s former capital Ayutthaya is still taught in Thai classrooms), but more recently by Burmese ethnic minority insurgents operating in the border jungles, Burmese migrant workers looking for jobs and higher pay and Burmese refugees and exiles in search of a safe haven.

Over two million Burmese live and work in Thailand, which proves to be both a benefit and a detriment for both countries. Most believe the migrant workers are a necessary ingredient to the Thai economy because they are willing to perform menial tasks for low pay that many Thais are unwilling to take on. This has also helped reduce the number of people living in poverty inside Burma during the long period of extreme economic mismanagement by the previous Burmese regime. But many of the workers leave struggling families behind in Burma and are undocumented, exploited and still impoverished in Thailand.

In addition, tens of thousands of refugees from Burmese conflict zones have fled to the Thai side of the border and now live in refugee camps. This has led to both a strain on the Thai government and tension between the two countries. In the past, the Burmese regime accused Thailand of harboring dissidents and rebels to stage attacks on Burma, and in return the Thais accused Burma of flooding its kingdom with speed pills and heroine.

When Burma and Thai relations reached its low ebb in the early 2000s, serious border skirmishes broke out and the two countries engaged in a war of both words and rockets.

While both countries fired mortars into the other’s border towns and military encampments, the Burmese junta published several articles openly attacking prominent figures in Thailand. It added further fuel to the fire by introducing a new history textbook for fourth graders that portrays Burma’s neighbors to the east as servile and lazy, and the Thais returned the favor by routinely discriminating against and looking down on Burmese migrant workers inside Thailand.

History is history—no one can go back in time and heal all the wounds. But with a transition taking place in Burma, this may be the best time in recent memory for the two countries to improve political as well as economic relations.

One positive gesture was the reopening of the Thai-Burmese Friendship Bridge between Mae Sot, Thailand and Myawaddy, Burma during the Thai King’s birthday. The Thais are also preparing to build a hospital for migrant workers in Mae Sot, and Burmese banks can now be opened in Thailand so that Burmese migrants who are legally in the country can send money back home instead of going through illegal channels.

In addition, Yingluck’s meeting with Suu Kyi may have been short on substance, but it was still a symbolically important acknowledgement of the Burmese people’s desire for democracy. The Thai prime minister said that she backed both Burma’s democracy movement and Suu Kyi’s decision to compete in the coming by-elections.

However, Yingluck’s own government official admitted that the energy deals were her first priority on the trip, and this was evidenced by the fact that she did not take the opportunity to make any public calls for the release of political prisoners or the cessation of human rights abuses in Burma.

One final area of mutual interest between Thailand and Burma is the desire of both countries to benefit from China’s investment resources, purchasing power and billion-strong market while at the same time remaining as independent as possible from Chinese influence. Thailand has done a much better job of achieving this balance, and if the current Burmese administration wants to emerge from China’s shadow it will most likely seek to deepen cooperation with neighbors such as Thailand, as well as with the West.

In any event, it appears that self-interest will drive Thailand and Burma towards better relations for the foreseeable future, even though the leaders of both countries may remain suspicious and disrespectful of their counterparts. They say that politics makes strange bedfellows. In the case of Burma and Thailand, the quest for power and profits does the same.

« previous  1  |  2  | 

Please read our policy before you post comments. Click here
E-mail:   (Your e-mail will not be published.)
You have characters left.
Word Verification: captcha Type the characters you see in the picture.

tocharian Wrote:
Burmese like to call Chines "paukphaws" (and Peking likes that!), but in my opinion, the Thai people are more like paukphaws to Burmese. Yes, there were fights and wars etc., but culturally Burmese are much closer to our Thai "cousins" than to the arogant greedy Peking Chinese. Some of our songs and dances in Burma are even called "yodhaya" (Ayuthayya), because of the strong cultural affinities between Thailand and Burma.

shwe moe Wrote:
Myanmar needs Thailand as leverage to counter the overzealous Chinese exploitation into Myanmar's natural resources. China has been having a field day with fire sale prices all by herself. On the flip side -Thailand needs to go beyond its needs of acquiring natural resources for domestic consumption from Myanmar and overcome the indigestion of historical animosity of Ayutthaya. Thailand needs to improve the lives of migrant workers and extended its influence within Myanmar with a true sense of democracy by putting their money where the mouth is or else its all natural gas.

Oo Maung Gyi Wrote:
History is history, Alaungphra destroyed Ayuddaya is bad. Konebaung danasty was established by Alaungphara who is a commoner.
It was just wanted to extend empire, nothing eles.
Hantahwaddy ( Hongsa )period was diffirent story. Due to Pitsanulok era ( now Thailand ) had internal palace conflict in the country, then Bayinnaung ( Thai calls Burannong )wanted to make Naraysuan to be king in Ayyuddaya, that is why Burmese King came to attack Ayuddaya and made Naraysuan to be king. Not expenssioinist theory which peoples say is totally wrong.

Moe Aung Wrote:
Than Lwin,

Amen to that.

In a way one redeeming factor in modern Burmese history is that we have never held annual triumphal marches to commemorate victory over any of our neighbors, the three giant statues at Naypyidaw being a recent example to the contrary. Look at what the Orange march in Northern Ireland does to perpetuate communal strife in that part of the world.

Than Lwin Wrote:
Even though we hear reports of cruelty and abuses by Thai employers on their Burmese migrant workers now and then, Thailand as a whole & over the years have done more good deeds to Burmese people than those in power in Burma, whether Ne Win or Than Shwe. Thai authorities are more or less internationally responsible guys. They act on news reports and international criticism. Thailand allows us to take refuge, live and work in Thai soil whenever we have to run away for our life from fascist army back home, most of the time escaping certain death. They even allow our exile media freely operate in Thailand, expose Thai employers whenever abuses to Burmese workers are reported or criticize Thai government whenever we do not like certain Thai policies over Burma, something we could never ever dream in Burma until now. For that, we should be grateful to Thailand and to Thai people. Also having similar cultures, Thailand is the one neighbour we should forge even closer ties for coming generations and future elected governments in Burma.

chris Jericho Wrote:
make sense. when you are too weak to beat the thai, you'd better join them or shall i say make peace with them.

Moe Aung Wrote:
It wouldn't be unfair to say most of the ASEAN states are birds of a feather and do belong together with their semi-democracy and patron client relationships, some more materialistic than others with China now as their role model.

Count ourselves lucky the govt has not turned the country into a nuclear waste dumping ground to earn some more..yet.

We must however mend the fences with our neighbors and stay on good terms with all of them especially with China and Thailand.

In a way Thailand has suffered a real invasion of the Burmese, this time to stay with all their customs and cultural influence. Only time will tell if the immigrants will get gradually assimilated or prove too strong and too many to absorb even if they are second class citizens for now. Mae Sot is already a Burmese majority town.

kerry Wrote:
What does the much-loved Thai Royal Family think about all this corruption and inhumanity, similar in some ways to the human rights pariah, China?

Zaw Min Wrote:
Yet another good article by Aung Zaw and Irrawaddy. Yes it is time we, Myanmar and Thai, stop the centuries old bashing of another whenever there is opportunity to trading or working together.

more articles in this section