Ministry of Foreign Affairs softens APEC statements, no mention of Ukraine, critics say

Free Thai Civil Servant, a group of dissident government officials and public servants says the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has consistently watered down Thailand’s APEC statements and erased mentions of the war in Ukraine even in live meetings.

A file photo of the APEC 2022 event launch.(Source: Thaigov.go.th)

Thailand is the 2022 chair of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), an intergovernmental forum of 21 Pacific rim economies. Under the theme Open. Connect. Balance, Thailand has chaired APEC meetings throughout the year on a variety of economic issues ranging from public health and food security to tourism, trade, and forestry management.

According to a Facebook post from Free Thai Civil Servant (FTCS), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has downplayed Thailand’s language about not only the ongoing war in Ukraine, but also its stance on “peace and stability” at large. Prachatai spoke with a member of the FTCS writing team, who said working in a certain government office and asked to be called Yong for security reasons.

“In one APEC ministerial meeting, a team of civil servants drafted a statement trying to communicate that the conflict in Ukraine has worsened the global economic situation. The drafting team used a word as soft as ‘conflict’, but the MFA ordered the team to use the word ‘prevailing situation’ instead (without even the word Ukraine)”

Yong further notes the original draft statement containing the phrase “conflict in Ukraine” had already been approved by the a certain ministry, but officials were instructed at the last minute to correct the statement.

In another instance, the drafting team attempted to include the sentence “APEC economies recognize that peace, stability, cooperation, and the upholding of international law are preconditions for inclusive and sustainable economic growth”.

“The drafting team thought this sentence should not be contradicted by anyone”, wrote Yong. Indeed, when the initial statement was circulated, even “Russia didn’t correct it”. However, the team was later notified to “not use the words peace and stability because the MFA has an (unwritten) agreement with China to prohibit the use of these words.”

In the end, the words ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ were cut from the document.

“Despite the fact that the war in Ukraine affects APEC in almost every aspect, the MFA refuses to talk about peace”

What about Myanmar?

Like Ukraine, Myanmar is experiencing a deadly conflict that cannot be described as peaceful or stable, it borders a major APEC economy while not a member itself, and its name appears to be similarly stricken from the Thai APEC record.

Yong commented on this point. He observed that wars in Europe, such as in Ukraine, deeply interconnected with the European Union and the global economy, simply “catch more attention than those in 3rd world countries”. International forums such as APEC are thus more likely to focus on Ukraine than Myanmar.

Myanmar has been embroiled in civil war and ethnic conflict since its military, also known as the Tatmadaw, staged a coup against the democratically elected National Unity Government (NUG) on 1 February 2021 under Senior General and now State Administration Council (SAC) Chairman Min Aung Hlaing.

According to a UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights report released on 3 October 2022, junta forces have killed over 2,000 people, imprisoned and in many cases tortured more than 12,000 political prisoners, and displaced more than 1 million people.

The FTCS writer points out that Myanmar is not a member of APEC, making it difficult to add anything about it to the APEC agenda, and that the MFA chooses to side with the SAC, rather than support the NUG.

"If talking about the case of Myanmar, I think the MFA did not try to downplay it, but made it clear that they are on the side of the dictatorial government."

The close relationship between the Thai and Myanmar militaries can be seen in yet another instance of toning down news when on 30 June 2022, a Myanmar fighter jet entered Thai airspace on a bombing run against ethnic Karen rebels near the border. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha referred to the incursion as a ‘minor incident’.

 

Myanmar MiG-29 incursion: a threat that requires more than an apology

UN Secretary General António Guterres, in a response to reporters on 12 November 2022, called the war in Myanmar an “unending nightmare” and said that the international community as a whole, including the UN, has failed Myanmar.

In summit(ary)

The conclusion of Thailand’s term as chair of APEC 2022 is the Economic Leaders’ Week (AELW), comprising a series of high-level meetings on 14-19 November 2022 in Bangkok. The capstone of this event is the 29th annual APEC leaders’ meeting, which takes place on 18-19 November at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre (QSNCC).

If MFA efforts to remove mentions of ‘war’ and ‘Ukraine’ in its APEC statements were part of an attempt to cajole Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the APEC summit, they have been unsuccessful. Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov will attend in his stead.

The leaders of 15 of the 21 APEC members, including China’s President Xi Jinping, will attend in person. The remaining six: the United States, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Russia and Taiwan will send a representative, according to government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri. In the case of China, the decision to remove ‘peace and stability’ may have been successful.

As APEC is the gathering of "member economies", controversial entities like Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan are able to have their delegates, but not to the point of being able to send in their leaders.

US President Joe Biden will not travel to Bangkok after joining the Group of Twenty (G20) summit in Bali, Indonesia, on 16-17 November so that he can host his granddaughter’s wedding on 19 November at the White House. Vice President Kamala Harris will attend in his place.

Security has been ramped up around the QNSCC in anticipation of the summit. Thai police have rounded up over 60,000 suspects on illegal firearms and narcotics charges. Roads around the QSNCC and hotels hosting APEC dignitaries have been blocked off and protests disallowed. About 35,000 security personnel have been deployed to guard the event.

At 11.30 of 18 November, two clauses have been removed due to the source's safety concern.

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