A Win-Win-Win Proposition for Thaksin
covering burma and southeast asia
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
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A Win-Win-Win Proposition for Thaksin


By Thitinan Pongsudhirak AUGUST, 2005 - VOLUME 13 NO.8


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More recently, when the dumbfounded SPDC implicitly blamed Thailand as a sanctuary for the unknown perpetrators of the bomb blasts that convulsed Rangoon last May, Thaksin’s wimpish reply was that Thailand “does not harbor terrorism.” His government failed to launch an official protest against the SPDC’s blatant accusation.

 

In effect, Thaksin’s Burma policy is a manifest failure. The overstretched constructive engagement with Rangoon has cost Thailand considerable political capital in its international standing. It has also hindered Thailand’s role in Asean, whose principal members have recently called for political dialogue in Burma between the military government and the civilian-led opposition, the National League for Democracy. Indeed, despite being the regional organization’s frontline state, Thailand missed the boat on Asean’s strengthened position vis-a-vis Rangoon. The SPDC’s recent decision to forgo the rotating chairmanship of Asean was much more a result of the collective pressure from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore than from Thailand.

 

In an era when Thailand’s national interest is entwined with the vested interests of its prime minister’s family-owned businesses, Thaksin’s spongy Burma policy is not surprising. The Shin telecommunications conglomerate currently has a stake in Burma’s sole internet service provider, with wide-ranging satellite interests in the pipeline. Thus when Thaksin deals with the SPDC, it is difficult to demarcate where his family’s telecom interests end and where Thailand’s national interest begins.

 

The SPDC’s recent diplomatic retreat on the Asean chairmanship is likely to affect the fluctuating geopolitical dynamics of South and Southeast Asia. Although Burma may now be nudged closer to China’s embrace, with India as a rival suitor, Asean has staked its position. For Thailand to play a leading role befitting its frontline status, akin to its efforts vis-a-vis Cambodia throughout the 1980s, it needs to firm up its Burma policy. If Thailand’s firmer posture elicits constructive changes in Rangoon, Bangkok will earn international credibility. If nothing changes in Rangoon, the international community will still respect Thailand. A more principled stance on Burma would also allow Thaksin to keep the domestic criticisms of his conflicts of interest at bay. This is a win-win-win proposition that would enhance Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai’s bid to be the next UN secretary general.



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