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Of jinxes, energy and private deals: Thaksin’s curious last-minute jet-setting habits

Updated On: Aug 08, 2006

A curious phenomenon has occurred. Thaksin has suddenly a penchant for ad hoc visits to his neighbours, visiting Myanmar last week, and planning a trip toCambodia in the coming days.

Thaksin’s recent attempts at last-minute diplomacy have his critics up in arms.

Thaksin’s visit to Myanmar on 2nd August was announced so abruptly that the Cabinet ministers and the Army commander-in-chief who accompanied him had to cancel other engagements. On returning to Thailand, Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva demanded Thaksin to reveal the agenda of the trip.

True to form, Thaksin remained reticent about his meeting with Than Shwe, saying that he had asked for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release among other things. He maintained that disclosure would be disrespectful to Burma, and all people needed to know is that “[Thailand] conveyed our points of concern as their neighbour and said it would benefit regional politics.” He told the media that “[Thailand has] to be careful not to be seen by international community that we side with Burma”. Conversely, “[Thailand has] to be careful not to be viewed by Burma as failing to understand and have sympathy for our neighbouring country which shares the border”.

Thaksin said that bilateral relations were good and that Thailand needed Myanmar’s cooperation on energy issues such as the proposal to construct a hydro-electric power plant in Myanmar, and combating drug trafficking. In addition, Thaksin made a bold request in asking that Thailand's biggest energy company, PTT Plc, be granted “exclusive rights to a natural-gas field in the Bay of Bengal”, the Nation said.

This week, on 10th August, Thaksin will be going to meet the Cambodian leaders. Meanwhile, both countries are discussing “cooperation on conducting surveys and exploration for petroleum in an overlapping offshore area claimed by the two countries”, Cherdpong Siriwit, the Energy Ministry's permanent secretary, told the Thai News Agency. He added that “the project would benefit both countries by reducing their dependence on petroleum from foreign countries while oil prices continue on a risingtrend”.

So it seems that Thaksin is selflessly safeguarding Thai interests despite the elections drawing close, and a real possibility of him being ousted.

Yet many find all this hard to believe. The Nation published a scathing commentary on Thaksin’s self-interested agenda.  The article declared that the visit profited only Thaksin, a chance for him to boost his popularity ratings before the national poll, and also to enrich his family's business and vested interests, like the Temasek-Shin Corp deal. This view is also shared by Suriyasai Katasila, a spokesman for the People's Alliance for Democracy. He told The Nation, “What Thaksin did help his family to secure business deals, and the country’s image has been tarnished as a result.” It is believed that Thaksin was trying to gain business for Shin Satellite Plc.

Besides visiting the Myanmarese junta, Thaksin was apparently also trying to clear the obstruction of his good luck by praying at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangoon. The Nation cast further aspersions on Thaksin’s ambitions, predicting more ad hoc diplomacy trips to come, as well as visiting shrines to ward off his jinx.

Sources:

Thailand needs cooperation from Burma: Thaksin (The Nation, 6 August 2006)

Thailand sought deal on Burma gas-field (The Nation, 4 August 2006)

Thaksin tries to justify Burma trip (Bangkok Post, 6 August 2006)

Secret of Thaksin's Burma trip might be in the skies (The Nation, 6 August 2006)

Thaksin to visit Cambodia on Thursday (The Nation, 6 August 2006)

Thaksin defends Burmese mission (The Nation, 6 August 2006)

Cambodia, Thailand confer on energy development (Thai News Agency, 6 August 2006)