11 July 2024

Thailand’s abstention on a UN vote last week to condemn Russia for its annexation of eastern regions of Ukraine week is still a puzzle and has prompted criticisms from leading foreign policy experts who question the reason behind the decision.

But the move was also praised by many social media users who believe Thailand has taken a right stand “in not choosing sides”, echoing a split in opinions toward the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the Thai society.

This is not the first time that Thailand abstains in a vote related to the war in Ukraine. In April this year, Thailand also abstained from a vote to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council. It was among 58 nations that did so.

Thailand back then said it abstained because of the overriding importance it attaches to a “transparent, impartial and inclusive approach in the multilateral regime.”

In explaining Thailand’s stand on the latest vote, Suriya Chindawongse, Thailand’s Permanent Representative to UN, said in a statement that Thailand chose to abstain because the vote “takes place during an extremely volatile and emotionally charged atmosphere and situation, and thus marginalizes the chance for crisis diplomacy to bring about a peaceful and practical negotiated resolution to the conflict that may push the world towards the brink of nuclear war and global economic collapse.

The statement also said “condemnation provokes intransigence and therefore greatly reduces the chance for constructive engagement.

Dr Surachart Bamrungsuk, a prominent political scientist of Chulalongkorn University, did not dismiss the possibility that Thailand is trying to curry favour with Russia whose leader President Vladimir Putin has reportedly confirmed his attendance at the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to be held in Bangkok next month.

Surachart pointed out that Thailand did join the majority of UN members in a vote to demand a withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine in March but since then has abstained on subsequent resolutions.

“Thailand is apparently acting out of deference for Russia and China,” Surachart told Thai PBS, noting that both Moscow and Beijing raised no voices over the military coup in Thailand in 2014 and have openly been supportive of the powersthatbe in Bangkok since. China is also one of the 35 countries that abstained in the vote to condemn Russia for the annexation.

“It’s understandable why Laos and Vietnam abstained. There is a historical reason for that as the two countries were dependent on Russia during their revolution wars. But for Thailand that has no such history baggage, it’s difficult to explain why we chose to abstain,” he said.  

Former Thai ambassador to the US Pisan Manawapat questioned the Thai Government’s argument that condemnation would be counter-productive, recalling the role played by Thailand in response to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in the late 1978.

He said Thailand spearheaded the efforts to mobilize global support for resolutions to condemn the invasion. “We were successful in getting more and more votes every year for resolutions to condemn the invasion,” he said.

“Condemnation brings shame and leads to efforts for solution.  It works in international relations,” he told Thai PBS.

He also dismissed claims by the Thai Government that condemnationreduces the chance of crisis diplomacy and constructive engagement.

“Look at Thailand’s approach toward the crisis in Myanmar,” he said. “My question is what has Thailand achieved with its diplomacy and by not condemning the junta there.”

Surachart of Chulalongkorn University said Thailand’s abstention and its subsequent reasoning has raised questions about the direction of Thai diplomacy.

“We are not asking Thailand to put itself in the spotlight by going out on its own to condemn Russia. We are talking about a resolution adopted by the United Nations,” he said

The political scientist said Thailand’s standing in the international stage has been diminished as a result.

Thailand might want to believe that by abstaining, it would be spared the geo-political tempest. But on the contrary, it has allowed itself to be consumed by it.”

The Thai Foreign Ministry so far has not made any comments besides the statement issued by Thai permanent representative to UN. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has also not commented on it.

By Thepchai Yong