6 June 2024

The secret meeting last week between Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai and the jailed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw came about thanks to long, tedious and quiet diplomatic efforts that enabled the first high-level meeting with one of the key stakeholders in the current conflict in Myanmar.

Don became the first high-ranking official to meet in person with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate on July 9th, ahead of the ASEAN ministerial meeting in Jakarta. He briefed his ASEAN colleagues on the outcome of the historic meeting, describing it as a “happy meeting”. During the 80-minute face-to-face encounter, Suu Kyi reiterated that she supportsdialogue without preconditions. She also expressed the hope that she would meet Don again.

The Joint Communique, which was released on Friday, welcomed Bangkok’s role and efforts to end the conflict in Myanmar as “a positive development”. The release of the communique was delayed for two days because of some earlier disagreement among ASEAN members over the inclusion of Thailand’s role in the segment on the situation in Myanmar. As in the previous year, ASEAN reaffirmed the Five Point Consensus (5PC) as the key framework for solvingthe Myanmar crisis. They strongly condemned the military junta for the continuing acts of violence, including air strikes, artillery shelling and destruction of public facilities.

The secret meeting with Suu Kyi and Thailand’s efforts to reengage the military regime in Naypyidaw have been subjects of intense scrutiny and criticism. Detractors view the Thai efforts, which have focused on bringing all stakeholders into the peace process, as outside the ASEAN 5PC. Supporters of Thailand’s reengagement with Myanmar felt, however, that it was necessary to maintain channels of communication and to tackle common transnational issues,which are also impact neighbouring countries including India, China and Bangladesh. After the coup in February 2021, the junta leaders were banned from the ASEAN annual conference and ASEAN-related summits.

At the retreat, Don reiterated that ASEAN could be an honest broker between the parties in conflict if trust and confidence could be inculcated. The military coup in February 2021 was a conflict between the Tatmadaw (military) and a civilian government, which needed to be addressed and decoupled from other existing conflicts inside Myanmar after it gained independence in 1948. Thailand went ahead with the informal meeting with Naypyidaw amid criticism from human rights activists and Thai opposition parties, which are about to form the incoming government.

Thailand’s efforts to move ahead with quiet diplomacy, especially during the transition, have provided further impetus to the peace process in Myanmar. Otherwise, it would have been difficult for Thailand to catch up with the shifting situation inside Myanmar, as it will be some time before the new government is in operation. In addition, Bangkok also followed the decision reached in Phnom Penh last November to consider other approaches that could support the implementation of the 5PC. Don and his team have done exactly that, to support the ASEAN chair.

At the retreat, Don also said that Myanmar has agreed to have the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Management (AHA) as the focal point for humanitarian aid, which will include all the specialised UN agencies. Since Cyclone Mocha hit Rakhine State in May, Naypyidaw has been reluctant to allow outside humanitarian assistance to come in, except from ASEAN.

ASEAN foreign ministers have agreed to review the 5PC and will submit recommendations to the ASEAN leaders when they meet in early September.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn