21 June 2024

On Sunday, Thailand’s Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai defended his country’s hosting of peace talks, which the foreign minister of Myanmar’s ruling junta is attending, which will be shunned by key ASEAN counterparts and which is attracting criticism of the incumbent Thai government.

Speaking to Thai PBS, Don said the forum is part of Thailand’s continuing efforts to find ways to resolve the crisis in neighbouring Myanmar.

Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Than Swe is attending the two-day meeting, which started on Sunday, along with representatives from Laos, Cambodia, Brunei, Vietnam, India and China, according to a statement from the Thai Foreign Ministry.

Don, however, played down the absence of Indonesia, the current chair of ASEAN, Singapore and Malaysia. “We informed them of the meeting and would welcome their participation, but it’s up to them whether they want to join,” he said in a phone interview.

Insisting that the meeting is not being held within the ASEAN framework, Don said two similar rounds of informal talks have been held before. The talks have been referred to as “Track 1.5”, which is designed to support the on-going efforts of ASEAN to end the violence in Myanmar.

Dismissing criticisms that hosting the talks is a “political off-side”, Don said as the country most affected by the continuing violence in Myanmar, Thailand needs to take the lead in finding ways to resolve the crisis.

“We share a common border of more than 2,000 kilometres with Myanmar. If we allow the crisis to escalate, Thailand will be most affected,” he said. “No other countries in ASEAN care about finding ways to end the crisis as much as Thailand” he claimed.

Critics fear that, with the attendance of Myanmar’s foreign minister, the talks will legitimise the military junta, which seized power in 2021.

In a statement issued on Sunday, the Thai Foreign Ministry said the meeting is not being held within the ASEAN framework “but will help support ASEAN’s efforts to resolve the Myanmar problem.”

It said that Thailand officially informed participants of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Phnom Penh last year that it would arrange for a dialogue to find ways to resolve the crisis in Myanmar peacefully, which includes the “Track 1.5”.

“The ASEAN member countries acknowledged it and nobody raised any objection,” said the statement.

It said Thailand has hosted several rounds of unofficial talks on Myanmar, two of which were at the ministerial level.

The last round of talks was hosted by India in April this year, following a similar meeting in Bangkok in March.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan described attempts to re-engage the Myanmar military government as premature, citing the junta’s lack of progress towards fulfilling the five-point consensus adopted by ASEAN in 2021.

The move has also come under attack by politicians who are critical of the Prayut government’s handling of the Myanmar crisis.

Former foreign minister Noppadon Patama questioned the motive behind the forum and criticised the Prayut government for its failure to help resolve the crisis in Myanmar.

“Being a caretaker government, it doesn’t have any bargaining power to deal with the crisis in Myanmar,” he said and called on the Prayut government to leave the issue to the new administration.

Kannavee Suebsang, secretary general of Pen Tham (Fair) Party, accused the Prayut government of turning a blind eye to the atrocities being committed against civilians by the Myanmar military junta.

He said the meeting takes place as Myanmar military aircraft continue to bomb areas in Karen state and persecute civilians.

Noppadon and Kannavee both belong to political parties that are forming a coalition government, the foreign policy direction of which, especially towards the crisis in Myanmar, is expected to differ significantly from that of the current administration.