11 July 2024

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin’s first overseas mission, to the United Nations General Assembly, was regarded at home as a success only in business aspects, but a failure in terms of the environment and human rights, notably the role of his government in solving the crisis in Myanmar.

Srettha led a Thai delegation to New York for the UN annual conference from September 18-24 with the major objective of reviving global confidence in Thailand and to reaffirm the country’s commitment to the international community.

Former finance minister Korn Chatikavanij posted on his Facebook that Srettha’s presence at the UN was a boost for Thailand. notably in terms of the economy, business and investment.

The premier also took the initiative to make a phone call from New York and greet delegates attending the ASEAN Business Forum held in Bangkok, a gesture appreciated by the attendees, according to Korn who was at the Bangkok forum.

Srettha met with several chief executive officers of major US-based corporations, including Tesla, Google, Microsoft, JP Morgan and BlackRock, expressing his hope to receive at least US$5 billion in investment from them.

PM Srettha Thavisin chairs a meeting with Tesla CEO Elon Musk

He tweeted after an online meeting with Tesla CEO Elon Musk: “Met with @elonmusk and team during my trip to #UNGA in New York. We had a good conversation on @Tesla, @spaceX, and @starlink technology. I am impressed with the advance the group has made for humanity, and we share a common view of the future for a cleaner world. We look forward to further discussions. Look forward to more inspirational successes of the #EV and #SpaceExploration breakthrough, not only for Thais but also the global community.”

Srettha told JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon that Thailand was open for investment and revealed that BlackRock Inc CEO Larry Fink had expressed interest in investments in sustainability-linked bonds to be issued by his government in the near future.

The premier also visited the New York Stock Exchange, marking his presence by ringing the bell “proud and loud” to open stock trading. “Thailand is open and ready to welcome foreign investors. We will make it worth your while,” he tweeted.

Srettha attended a gala dinner hosted by the US-ASEAN Business Council and the US Chamber of Commerce. He delivered messages to them that his government’s top priority was to ignite Thailand’s competitiveness and reclaim its position as a leading investment destination and an engine of growth for the region.

“We have prepared a myriad number of policies to rev up our efforts, including advancing a comprehensive regulatory guillotine, digitization of government services, and a more streamlined process and attractive package for foreign investors,” he said in his X (formerly Twitter).

Big picture is blurred

Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, only US President Joe Biden attended the General Assembly this year. The other leaders including China’s President Xi Jinping, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron skipped the world’s biggest international forum — the UN General Assembly.

With nearly all big names missing, the UN became a meaningless forum for leaders of small countries to take the stage for their 10-minute speeches which nobody paid much attention to, according to Korn.

“This trend is not good for the world order as we are approaching disorder — every man for himself era — and it would be disadvantageous for a small country like ours,” he said. Thailand should actively participate in a proposal for UN reforms, bidding to strengthen all members to engage equally with the super powers, the former minister suggested.

In his speech at the UN general debate forum, Srettha mentioned many issues such as climate change, sustainable development, human rights, and democracy, which he deemed necessary to touch upon but made no specific proposal, except bidding for a seat at the human rights body, for Thailand to actively take part.

Thailand is the ASEAN candidate for the Human Rights Council for the term 2025-2027, he said, and added: “This reaffirms our sincere commitment to the advancement of human rights at home and abroad. We will ensure that the Human Rights Council is well-equipped to address new and emerging human rights challenges and contributes positively to the international community.”

Do more for Myanmar

The Thai prime minister dwelt on the crisis in neighboring Myanmar in a humanitarian context, telling reporters in New York that Thailand was obligated to take care of refugees from Myanmar and affected people along the border but would never interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

He also told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during a bilateral meeting that his government would deal with the Myanmar issue in line with the ASEAN Five-Point Consensus, encouraging all parties to talk to end their conflicts peacefully without interference from Thailand.

Opposition politician Julapong Youket from the Move Forward Party urged the government to provide more cooperation to international organizations to facilitate humanitarian assistance through the Thai border to help people in the violence-hit areas of Myanmar, as the country’s military has intensified its air strike operations.

Thailand currently hosts 91,337 refugees from Myanmar in nine temporary shelters along the border, while 4,799 refugees and asylum seekers live in other areas, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Conflicts and violence since the 2021 military coup have forced more displacement and many of them have chosen Thailand as their safe haven. Amnesty International estimated that 22,400 people fled violence at home to Thailand since the coup. The Thai authority has allowed them to stay temporarily in border areas before pushing them back to their places of origin where sometimes they were still under fire.

Old wine in new bottle

Environmental conservationists expressed their disappointment with Srettha’s statement at the Climate Ambition Summit 2023. They complained that he said nothing significantly different from what the previous government under Prayut Chan-o-cha had already announced.

Thailand’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and raise the Nationally Determined Contribution goals from 20% to 40% by 2030 were exactly the targets Prayut had announced at the 26th UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties, or COP26, in November 2021, according to Tara Buakamsri, director of Greenpeace Thailand.

“If the government wanted to maintain such a goal, why didn’t the premier tell the world how close we are to the destination,” he said in his Facebook post. “It’s ridiculous to hear the prime minister say that the government had been working tirelessly to transform this pledge into concrete action as evident in the Long-term Low Greenhouse Emission Development Strategy. That’s just a plan. We have seen no concrete outcome at all.”

Greenpeace Tara Buakamsri

Tara said that many of the programs Srettha had mentioned in his speech at the UN, such as the implementation of Utility Green Tariff, were not even a part of the government’s policy statement delivered to Parliament recently.

Prime Minister Srettha said at the UN that his government had wasted no time in implementing a plan to increase the share of renewable energy, Utility Green Tariff program, support the usage of solar rooftop and net-metering to incentivize the production of clean energy. Thailand is determined to increase green area to cover 55% of the total land area by 2037, he said.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk