Diplomatic corps not a branch of the military

opinion June 24, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

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The Foreign Ministry is making a mistake in seeking international cooperation to suppress critics of the junta

By agreeing to ask for foreign countries’ cooperation in hunting down exiled anti-junta activists and academics, the Foreign Ministry has lost its way. 
The National Council for Peace and Order had already handed the ministry the tough task of explaining the reasons behind the coup to the international community and beseeching their understanding.
The ministry has done that job well so far. The most prominent foreign nations will never agree that a military coup against an elected government is justified, but the ministry has managed to get many of them to voice understanding, while others have declared support for reforms to restore democracy in Thailand.
Of course, there remain some countries – mostly in the West – that maintain a rigid stance, and some have imposed sanctions against Thailand. Though the Foreign Ministry is under no obligation to try and change that stance, it must employ the necessary resources to discourage further sanctions that would damage the country.
The ministry’s task in normal times is to implement foreign policy and seek international recognition and build a good image and reputation for the country. The coup has done much to tarnish that reputation, damaging Thailand’s image as a nation that respects democracy and rights. It is now the ministry’s tough duty to reassure the world, without resorting to lies or obfuscation, that Thailand has not disavowed the democratic path but is working towards a stronger democracy.
However, taking on the additional job of hunting down the junta’s enemies is a different story. The ministry was not set up to deal with such a task. Manhunts require the gathering of intelligence and other police work. No official at the ministry or at out diplomatic missions has been trained for such work. Some might support the coup and feel antagonistic toward the junta’s enemies, but that is a personal matter, not a national one. The ministry should not be mobilising resources to track down activists who are abroad or attempting to go abroad.
Following the last coup in 2006, the junta and succeeding interim governments ordered the ministry to hunt for ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his associates. The ministry, as the international “face” of Thailand, used a variety of means to pressure foreign governments in a bid to get Thaksin back. The result was unnecessary conflict with those that refused to cooperate. Thai ambassadors, consuls general and other diplomats gave higher priority to the search for Thaksin than seeking foreign cooperation in other national interests. In the end their effort failed anyway: no country agreed to extradition. The Kingdom lavished time and resources for nothing. Worse, it aggravated conflict both at home and overseas.
Overtly, the current military government is ignoring Thaksin and his political connections, but covertly it is repeating the mistake of the previous junta by pressuring the ministry into hunting down people opposed to the coup – including those linked to Thaksin.
Thaksin, his allies, activists and academics voice opposition to the military take-over, but the coup is now doing real damage for all to see. If the junta took power to restore peace and democracy, as it claims, its actions should silence the critics. It should not be pushing the Foreign Ministry to attempt an impossible task.

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