Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra led a high level delegation to Myanmar’s new capital, Nay Thi Taw, formerly known as Pyinmana on Wednesday, 2 August.
The other members of the delegation included Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon, Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan, Natural Resources and Environment Minister Yongyuth Tiyapairat, and Army Commander-in-Chief Sonthi Boonyaratkalin.
The visit comes just after days when the ASEAN members, including Thailand, made several statements urging for greater progress in Myanmar’s political reforms. The trip was unscheduled and seemed to have been hastily planned on Tuesday itself.
The Director-General of the Information Department and Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kitti Wasinondh was equally as baffled as to the purpose of the trip, saying, “I have no information.” Thaksin later said, “Both sides wanted to meet.” The Thai Prime Minister’s office issued a statement highlighting that Thaksin spoke with the Philippines President Arroyo before leaving for Myanmar (The Philippines is currently the chair of ASEAN).
One of the apparent items on discussion was the release of Aung San Suu Kyi who has been under house arrest for more than a decade. Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon quoted Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win saying, “… I understand how Thailand feels, we are looking for a way to release her but I cannot tell when she can be released.” Kantathi also said that Nyan Win had reported that Myanmar’s leaders were “thinking about how to go ahead with this matter.” Over the weekend, Myanmar’s National Convention Convening Committee Chairman, Lt General Thein Sein assured that, “the convention will resume before the year’s end.” (This constitution-drafting convention has been in recess since the end of January this year).
It is also possible that Thailand is concerned about its energy and economic interests in Myanmar though there does not seem to have been any particular pressing issue needed for discussion. Thailand and Myanmar has enjoyed a close economic relationship. Thailand’s PTTEP International Limited (a 100% owned subsidiary of PTT Exploration and Production Public Company Limited) is an operator and sole shareholder of exploration M9 Block in Myanmar. Thailand is Myanmar’s largest trading partner, accounting for 38% of the latter’s US$4.9 billion foreign trade in 2004-2005. Thai investment in Myanmar amounted to US$1.3 billion as of January 2006 since 1988.
Another possibility is that Thaksin is hoping for a foreign policy breakthrough as part of the preparations for the Thai general elections on October. Surin Pitsuwan, a former Thai Foreign Minister who is now the deputy leader of the main opposition Democrat Party suggested that, “This [trip] might be an effort at brinkmanship. I think it is part of his domestic-driven agenda because of concerns over Thailand’s image for the lack of respect for democratic values and human rights.”
Other speculation revolved around the need for Thailand to resolve the Myanmar issue so that Thai Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart Sathirathai’s bid to be the next UN Secretary-General could be boosted.
After the delegation’s return to Thailand later on Wednesday evening, General Sonthi also said that he would visit again in the near future to meet Vice Senior General Maung Aye as well as Than Shwe. Thaksin said that he had discussions with Myanmar’s leader Senior General Than Shwe and that their discussions “covered areas of politics, economy and society, both bilateral and multilateral but I can’t tell you right now.”
Myanmar Tells Thailand It’s Thinking about Freeing Suu Kyi (The Associated Press, 3 August 2006)
Thailand Caretaker PM of Thailand Thaksin Reveals Purpose of His Trip to Myanmar (Thai Press Reports, 3 August 2006)
Thailand Mr Kitii Refuses to Reveal Details About PM’s Visiting in Myanmar (Thai Press Reports, 3 August 2006)
PTTEP Reports on Drilling Progress of Exploration Well (Zatila-1) Myanmar M9 (Thai Press Reports, 3 August 2006)
2nd Roundup: Thai Caretaker Premier Makes Surprise Trip to Myanmar (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 2 August 2006)
2nd Lead: Thai Caretaker Premier Off to Myanmar on Mystery Mission (Deutsch Presse-Agentur, 2 August 2006)
Thai PM Mum on His Surprise Visit to Myanmar (Japan Economic Newswire, 2 August 2006)
Thai Premier Makes Sudden Visit to Myanmar (Japan Economic Newswire, 2 August 2006)
Thaksin To Visit Myanmar? (Malaysia General News, 2 August 2006)
Myanmar Top Leader Meets Thai PM (Xinhua News, 2 August 2006)
Myanmar Constitution-Drafting Convention to Resume Before the Year’s End (Japan Economic Newswire, 30 July 2006)