Submitted on Wed, 25 Jun 2014 - 08:04 PM
The Thai malaise has garnered varied responses from the international community. Arguably, this heterogeneity stems from deep rooted ideological differences amongst different regional blocs. This analysis classifies the disparate views into three categories: Western liberal democracy, Non-interventionist, Self-interest.
Western Bloc: Liberal Democracy
The US has often regarded Europe as its partner of choice in addressing important global challenges. Given the extent of the transatlantic relationship, US foreign policy activities frequently involved Europe. This is particularly evident in both the US and EU’s stance towards Thailand at this point in time. Being notable proponents of western liberal democracy, both the US and the EU have strongly condemned the military coup in Thailand. In showing their displeasure, military sanctions have been imposed and trade partnerships halted. While Thailand has expressed disappointment and called on the western bloc to understand the purpose for military intervention, the defenders of democracy have ardently stuck by their philosophy of governance.
Top American diplomat for South East Asia, Scot Marciel has expressed concern for the regression of human rights issues and a clamp down on the freedom of the Thai media and citizens. He testified at a congress hearing on 24th June that the current situation is a threat to democracy and that “we do not believe that true reconciliation can come about through fear of repression." According to democratic principles, reconciliation is best achieved through a deliberative process, which can be facilitated by freedom of speech and media.
At the core of EU’s external policies lies the promotion of democracy and human rights. The EU believes that these two core values are central to effective work on conflict resolutions and should be upheld universally. Just recently, the EU has released a statement, putting a political pact on hold and suspending official visits until a democratically elected government is in place. According to the EU, ”fully functioning democratic institutions must be brought back to ensure the protection and welfare of all citizens”
ASEAN collaboration is fundamentally based on a mutual understanding of non-interference. The nature of the collaboration has been strongly reflected in the foreign policies of South East Asian countries. ASEAN’s statement towards the Thai crisis only consisted of a demand to abide by the ASEAN Charter, to pursue “dialogue and consultation in a peaceful and democratic manner”. In December, ASEAN foreign ministers have also expressed confidence in Thailand’s ability to overcome present difficulties and offered support based on principles within the charter. After the coup, ASEAN foreign ministers have urged Thailand to adopt reconciliatory measures based on democratic principles. However that being said, ASEAN as a bloc has remained relatively quiet.
China: Self Interests
There has been talk that the Sino-American rivalry has deepened amidst recent political developments in Thailand. The ambassadors of China and Vietnam in Bangkok met Thailand's armed forces chief last week in what the junta said was a show of support in the thick of declining western support. According to Reuters, Thai military paid a visit to Beijing for talks on “regional support and joint training”. On 6 June 2014, at a meeting with Chinese businesses and investors, General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced that Thailand was now a “partner of China at every level.” In the first major corporate deal since the coup, state-owned China Mobile Ltd agreed to buy a 19 percent stake in Thai telecoms group True Corp for $881 million. China has advocated avoiding the ‘trap’ of western democracy and as the People’s Daily claims; “western-style democracy” has led Thailand astray.
The junta's partnership with China comes at a critical time for the US, who is reinforcing relations with Asian allies and intensifying American presence in Asia to counter China’s assertiveness. US’ decade old ties with the kingdom are currently being threatened by condemnation of the coup and an opportunist China has jumped to exploit the falling out between Washington and Bangkok. The rise of Thai-Beijing partnership is indicative of a shift in international relations landscape in South East Asia. However, it is key to note that Thailand has a history of swinging allegiances. During the late 19th century, Thailand ended its centuries-old tributary relationship with imperial China and accepted the hegemony of the rising British Empire. Also during World War 2, Thailand switched allegiance to Japan.