It is said that Thaksin is toying with the world’s most powerful country by tying the FTA negotiations the southern conflict.
When Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visited President George Bush in 2005, they agreed that the Thai-US free-trade agreement (FTA) would be completed by this June yet little progress has been made over the last 18 months. It is unlikely that the deal would be wrapped up by June.
The current struggle within the Thai trade negotiation team has hamstrung the whole process. Former Thai chief negotiator Nitya Pibunsongkram’s departure also came at a time when Thaksin and Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak wanted to wrest control from the Foreign Ministry to expedite the talks.
It has become clear that Thai-US ties have weakened since Thai support for the USinvasion of Iraq. The UShas already pressured the Thais to complete talks by April. Without headway, USinvestment in Thailandcould be jeopardized as the privileges for US businesses contained in the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation expired in December. New investment from the USwould be difficult without this treaty.
In addition, both Republican and Democrat lawmakers in the US, industrial lobbyists and the media are hostile to Thaksin. Congress only passed the proposal to have Thai-US FTA talks by a margin of just one vote. Additionally, Thaksin’s reputation as a “dictator” has grown in the view of US lawmakers and civil-society organizations. The American media continue to portray Thaksin as disregarding human rights and democracy, especially given Thailand’s staunch support of Burma. The diminution of Thaksin domestic mandate also does not help matters.
Now that Thaksin has asked US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for USassistance in southern Thailand, the USdoes not know what to make of the appeal sinceThailandhas always insisted it being an internal issue. The USgovernment has not decided how to help as it is fully aware of the sensitivities involved. It is now consulting intensely with Thailandto draw up a strategy involving non-military programmes focused on civilian-military cooperation, which has proven successful in thePhilippinesand elsewhere.
It is difficult to fathom Thaksin’s motive in calling for USassistance. Apparently, Thaksin wants to use the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), a global anti-terrorism measure, and the FTA to bargain for a greater UScommitment to fighting terrorism in the South if the situation there worsens. If that is the case, it would have serious ramifications on Thai-US strategic relations. Although Thailandand the USare close allies, they do not have a common strategic security blueprint. Most bilateral cooperation has been based on the Thanat-Rusk Defence Agreement of 1962, or has been single-issue oriented and ad hoc.
REGIONAL PERSPECTIVE: ‘Thaksinisation’ strains Thai-US relations, The Nation, 23 January 2006.
Thailand’s chief negotiator for bilateral FTA with US resigns,Vietnam News Agency, 20 January 2006.