New Thai PM Surayud has been proactive in trying to restore Thailand’s good name in accordance with the King’s directives made during the swearing in of the new cabinet.
The King had wished the government “courage… so that [it could] overcome obstacles” in restoring the kingdom’s international standing.
So far, Surayud has gone to reassure Thailand’s direct neighbours –Laos and Cambodia –of what his government intends to do within its year-long tenure. This includes the continued discussions of sensitive matters like demarcating the Thai-Cambodia border and the status of Lao-Hmong refugees in Thailand. The Bangkok Post reported that Cambodia being pleased with the continuation of projects initiated by the Thaksin administration. Surayud said, “Cambodia needs to develop its maritime resources for the country's development and prosperity. Thailand will try to accommodate and accelerate its cooperation on any issue of mutual benefit.”
In the trip to Malaysia on Wednesday this week, the resolution of the Southern violence is also a priority to be discussed with Malaysia PM Abdullah Badawi, after the flurry of reports on whether Malaysia would be a direct partner in peace discussions following Mahathir’s Langkawi talks. However, peace hopes is fast fading as more violence continued to rock the South despite Thaksin’s removal by General Sonthi and his army.
Surayud has also looked to stabilize domestic support by meeting with “former communist insurgents in their strongholds in Sakon Nakhon and Buri Ram provinces in the Northeast… to divert their [allegiance] from the Thai Rak Thai Party”. The Nation expressed confidence that with “his authority as the junta-backed prime minister and his understanding about the nature of the former insurgents, Surayud should have no difficulty in winning hearts and minds again as he did in the 1980s”.
In stark contrast to the positive tones of the above visits, observers have commented that Singapore and Burma have been deliberately snubbed by “because of the critical comments made by the leaders of the two countries on the Sept 19 coup”. Thailand was outraged that Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong had called the coup a “setback” and this slight has not been assuaged by his later congratulations to Surayud on being installed as prime minister. There is also simmering bilateral tensions over the Temasek Holdings buy-out of Shin Corp.
Indeed, Surayud has instructed his ministers to scrutinize the viability of projects initiated by the Thaksin administration. Deals with Burma look to be disrupted, especially the EGAT venture to build a hydroelectric dam at Hutgyi, Burma. The interim government is mindful of the King’s instructions to improve Thailand’s image and so may incorporate human rights and environmental conditionalities in any cooperation with Burma.
Regarding the Temasek-Shin debacle, the Thai courts will soon review the sale. In question is the “alleged dereliction of duty by officials regarding the state concessions and licences granted to these companies”, the Nation reported. The ruling is meant to “clear doubts once and for all as to whether national interests were really threatened by the transaction and, if so, what remedies should be enforced”.
Understandably, Temasek Holdings is anxious about safeguarding the deal and cutting its losses. It has “reportedly offered to reduce its direct and indirect stakes to within the legal limit of 49 per cent”. The ramifications of this ruling are great –other Asian businesses are wary of how business will be conducted in future.
In commercial trade, Thailand will be affected by the UN sanctions against North Korea as cargo has been found to contain smuggled “equipment meant for the North Korean nuclear programme”. Thailand now has the onus of preventing such shipments to North Korea. Additionally, Commerce Minister Krirkkrai Jirapaet has indicated that free trade area (FTA) agreements with Australia and New Zealand will be “based on mutual benefit”, saying that future agreements with the US and Japan would also be similar.
Conspicuously absent was any mention of visit to Indonesia, Thailand’s largest neighbour, and the Southeast Asian country that has been most critical of the coup.
Meanwhile, Surayud has told Thaksin to stave off returning until the political situation is stabilized and martial law lifted.
PM reassures Cambodia (Bangkok Post, 16 October 2006)
'3rd nation' seen preferable for talks (Nation, 16 October 2006) Renewing old connections (Nation, 16 October 2006)Impacts of the coup on Thai diplomacy (Nation, 16 October 2006)Thaksin 'requests British visa' (Bangkok Post, 15 October 2006)Minister Krikkrai outlines FTA policy (Bangkok Post, 15 October 2006)Thai trade to be hit by sanctions (Bangkok Post, 15 October 2006)PM to work for closer ties with Laos (Bangkok Post, 15 October 2006)
Insist on impact assessments (Bangkok Post, 15 October 2006)
His Majesty calls for change of perceptions (Bangkok Post, 15 October 2006)
Malaysia to consider hosting peace talks to end insurgency in Thailand (Nation, 15 October 2006)
Surayud starts tour to reassure neighbouring countries (Nation, 15 October 2006)
‘3rd nation' seen preferable for talks (Nation, 15 October 2006)Protesters call on the junta to leave (Nation, 15 October 2006)
National interest the focus of upcoming review of Shin sale (Nation, 15 October 2006)Investors in Asian companies watching probe into Thai deal that set off coup (AP, 13 October 2006)
S'pore urges talks to save Shin buyout (Nation, 12 October 2006)
UPDATE 3-Temasek may have to cut Thai Shin stake – report (Reuters, 11 October 2006)