11 July 2024

As it tries to find its way back on the radar screen of international diplomacy, Thailand needs to strike a fine balance in its relationship with the world’s two superpower rivals, according to Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said.

Parnpree said Thailand cannot afford to be seen as siding with one country or the other.

“We are friends with both countries,” the foreign minister said of the US and China which have engaged in geopolitical and trade rivalry over the years.

In an interview with Thai PBS over the weekend, Parnpree said Thailand’s close relations with US and China are based on different issues.

“But our stand is that we must not be seen as siding with one or the other,” said Parnpree.

He admitted that keeping a balance in its dealing with the two superpowers is a major challenge for Thailand which he said is trying to have a more visible role on the international stage.

Analysts believe that under the current Srettha government, Thailand will depart from the previous administration’s style of “quiet diplomacy”, especially in dealing with such regional issues as the crisis in Myanmar.

“We need to be more visible internationally.  But we will start small by first focusing on the region,” said Parnpree.

The foreign minister indicated that Thailand is prepared to play a more active role in finding ways to end violence in Myanmar whose military government has been battling armed ethnic groups over the past several weeks.

While stressing the need to adhere to the so-called “five-point consensus” adopted by ASEAN to deal with the crisis in Myanmar, Parnpree said there are bilateral issues with Myanmar that Thailand need to deal with.

He said they include the influx into Thailand of refugees fleeing the ongoing fighting in Myanmar and drug-trafficking.

“But, of course, we need to inform our ASEAN friends before we take any initiatives,” he said.

Parnpree said Thailand is in the process of pushing for a humanitarian corridor inside Myanmar to facilitate humanitarian aid for people affected by the current fighting.

“We have talked to the Myanmar side. Next, we will consult our ASEAN friends and later major countries that have interest in what is going on in Myanmar,” he said.

 

“We will never forget what you have done for us”

Parnpree last Thursday returned from Israel with a group 17 Thai workers released by the Hamas militants who had held them hostage since their attacks on Israel on October 7.

He confirmed that 32 Thai hostages have been released so far, with another nine remaining.

Parnpree said the release of the Thai hostages was a result of a series of negotiations he had with senior representatives of several Middle-east countries, particularly Qatar, Iran and Egypt.

He said the key message he conveyed to Hamas through these countries was that the Thai hostages were merely farm workers who were in Israel to make a living.  “They were not part of any conflicts,” he said.

Parnpree admitted that the attempts to have the Thais freed were made complicated by the fact that they were being held by different groups of militants and were scattered at various locations.

Parnpree said the Thai workers were in high spirits and were not harmed in any way during their captivity but were running short of foods and water.

“During the latter days of their captivity, a loaf of bread and a bottom of water had to be shared,” he quoted the former hostages as recalling.

Parnpree said the successful diplomacy that led to the release of the Thai workers should pave the way for a new chapter in Thailand’s  relationship with these countries in the Middle-east.

“We have to admit that we didn’t have any bargaining power in negotiating for the release of the Thai workers.  The only thing we have is friendship,” he said.

And the foreign minister believes that the most powerful message he conveyed to the representatives of the countries involved in the negotiations was how grateful Thailand was for their help.

“This is what I said to them:  We will never forget what you have done for us,” said Parnpree.