'Everything starts at home' if we want foreign policy to regain dynamism

national August 03, 2015 01:00

By Wiraj Sripong

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Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya expresses his concerns over Thailand's posture in the international arena in this exclusive interview with The Nation's Wiraj Sripong a week before he was appointed by the People's Democratic Reform Foundation to e



‘Everything starts at home’ if we want foreign policy to regain dynamism
  Former foreign minister Kasit Piromya expresses his concerns over Thailand’s posture in the international arena in this exclusive interview with The Nation’s Wiraj Sripong a week before he was appointed by the People’s Democratic Reform Foundation to explain to international organisations matters related to Thailand and the world. 
 
Q : HOW DO YOU ASSESS THE CURRENT SITUATION OF THAI FOREIGN POLICY?
We are not in a normal situation to talk about the normal posture of the Kingdom in the international arena. Foreign countries, in particular democratic countries and many Asean countries, perceive the current situation as a setback. When foreign countries see that it is a military-backed government, they tend to scale down cooperation to express their dissatisfaction [with the current political situation].
This can be seen through the temporary suspension of visits between political cadres in Thailand and the European Union. Political leaders can only meet at the sidelines of each international forum, but have almost no opportunity to pay official visits or to meet bilaterally. 
Currently, the EU has suspended the negotiation of a free-trade area with Thailand. This is not to forget the United States, which has also put pressure on Thailand for a rapid return to democracy.
All of the above create conditions that constrain Thailand’s relations with other countries. 
 
Q : THERE HAVE BEEN MORE PEOPLE WHO PERCEIVE THAT THAILAND IS MOVING CLOSER TO CHINA AND RUSSIA, TRYING TO CREATE DEEPER TIES. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON THE MATTER?
Our foreign policy really is swinging to China and Russia, given the fact that Western countries are putting pressure on us for the return to a fully democratic regime. This is a matter of choice that is reflected through [our foreign policy]. 
Thailand is currently behaving like a child, which is a graceless act. It is crucial to think about our illustrious diplomatic record. In the meantime, we should not forget to think about our Asean partners such as Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia [who have tense relationships with China]. 
Aligning the Kingdom with China and Russia is really a choice [made by the government]. The government should bear in mind that this is an issue that concerns all 65 million Thais. 
As for the repatriation of the 109 Uighur migrants to China, the government should not forget that we are party to international conventions related to human rights. Every practice exercised by the government should have a legal basis. In this case, the political cadre should explain their decision to the public.
As for the submarines issue, there are around 10 countries that want to sell their submarines [to us]. 
 
Q : DOES THE CURRENT DIRECTION OF THAI FOREIGN POLICY AFFECT THE KINGDOM’S POSITION IN ASEAN? 
It has some impact. Our role in Asean becomes less proactive, in particular on matters related to the South China Sea. This happens when the Kingdom bends to the Chinese side.
We should put the emphasis on completion of the code of conduct and respect of the law of the sea. This would ensure the freedom of navigation in the region. 
WHAT SHOULD THE COUNTRY DO IN THIS CASE? 
If we want our foreign policy to regain its dynamism, everything starts at home. There is no reason for the government to reproach our Western friends when they want the Kingdom to get back on the democratic track.
The government came in last year to restore order and to bring back democracy. 
They have declared that they are laying the ground rules for it. It is just a matter of informing our partners that we need time and space and to provide them with a clear timeline for the reform process. 
If the government wants to undergo the reform process before holding an election, then the government should be able to inform the international community about what is going to happen in the next two years. 
The government should not forget that the underlying problem of this society is to address the problem of corruption and the abuse of power, to allow the decentralisation process in public administration, and to reform the Army as well as police institutions. 
In the meantime, the government should clarify cases related to the insurgency in the South, whether it is the incident at Tak Bai, the Krue Se incident, or other cases. This is a matter for the credibility of the country. 
As for reconciliation, this has to do with speaking the truth [about what happened]. We should make a distinction between victims and wrongdoers. We could invite [former UK prime minister] Tony Blair to deliver his experience on the Northern Ireland issue. 
We could also invite the ambassador of South Africa to share the experience about the reconciliation process in post-apartheid South Africa. 
At the regional level, Thailand should play a central role in Asean connectivity by creating infrastructure and a legal basis that would facilitate the process. 

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