6 June 2024

Thailand’s Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara is expected to impart a new momentum to the country’s foreign policy with a strong emphasis on exploring economic dimensions of bilateral and multilateral relationships.

Parnpree is widely expected to utilize his long years of experience in the economic sector with many different governments after the Cold War to drive Thailand’s foreign affairs in a new direction.

Diplomacy in the household

Parnpree was born into a diplomatic family in 1957. His grandfather, Phra Bahiddhanukara, and his father, Preecha Bahiddhanukara, are both former senior officials at the Foreign Ministry who are also deeply connected with the royal family.

Parnpree’s academic track may not have been aimed at a career in foreign affairs and diplomacy. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in law from Chulalongkorn University and followed it up with a Master’s and Ph.D in public administration from Southern California University and Claremont Graduate University in the United States respectively.

Parnpree began his career in the Thai bureaucracy as a junior official in the policy and strategy coordinating division of the Office of Prime Minister’s Secretary in the 1980s when General Prem Tinsulanonda was the premier. He worked closely with and learned a lot from Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan for two years before a military coup in 1991.

Chatichai, whose innovative foreign policy initiatives turned a war zone in neighboring Indochina countries into a marketplace in the late 1980s, also had close relations with Parnpree as the grandfather of his wife Paweena Bahiddha-Nukara. Parnpree was proud to have served Chatichai loyally during troubled times. Parnpree quit his job as a civil servant at the Prime Minister’s Office to live in exile with Chatichai in the United Kingdom after the 1991 coup.

Tied to Thaksin’s party

Parnpree returned to Thailand in the mid-1990s and opted to work in the private sector. He remained connected with politics as an executive committee member of the Chart Pattana Party and climbed the political ladder within the party to become its deputy leader in 2003 until the party’s merger with Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party in 2005.

Parnpree got involved in foreign affairs when he was picked up as an advisor to Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh on economic and foreign policies in 1996, before the collapse of the Thai economy in the Asian financial crisis a year later.

He got a chance to practice foreign economic relations when was a vice minister for commerce from 2003-2005, headed the Thai negotiation team for the free trade agreement with India, as well as the Thailand-BIMSTEC economic grouping involving India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka in 2004-2005.

Established in 1997, BIMSTEC stands for the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. Both the Thailand-India and BIMSTEC Free Trade Agreements took effect in 2004 but negotiation continued for years to have their full implementation.

Range of experiences

Parnpree served in several positions during Thaksin Shinawatra’s administration, including as vice minister for industry in 2005, advisor to the industry minister 2005-06, and Thailand Trade Representative in 2005-06.

He took a short break from politics after Thaksin’s government was toppled in a military coup in 2006, before taking a position as a deputy leader of Pheu Thai Party. He became the chief of the party’s economic team and strategist of Pheu Thai from 2008-2010.

Parnpree focused on the energy sector during Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration when he was an advisor to the energy minister from 2012-2014. He also was the independent director and chairman of the board of directors of PTT Public Company Ltd in 2013-2014.

After a military coup in 2014 toppled Yingluck’s government, Parnpree confined himself mostly to the private sector. He was an advisor to Central Group since 2014, the director of Global Utilities Service Company since 2015, and the chairman of the Board of Directors Robowealth Mutual Fund Brokerage Securities Company from 2019 until recently.

Back in active politics

Parnpree returned to the political spotlight again before the May election when he was named as a key member of the Pheu Thai Party’s economic team. He is reportedly the brain behind the party’s controversial 10,000 baht digital wallet scheme, viewed as a populist package used by Pheu Thai to lure voters in the May 14 general election.

The newly appointed minister had made his views on foreign policy clear when he took exception to Thailand’s role in the Myanmar crisis. The caretaker government under Prayut Chan-o-cha had no necessity or urgency to host an informal meeting with participation of a minister from Myanmar’s military junta, going against ASEAN’s policy, he told media in June when the meeting took place in Bangkok.

Thailand should support the role of ASEAN, acting in concert with the international community, he said. ASEAN is important for Thailand as it is an area of growth with trade and investment pouring in, he said.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk