11 July 2024

A small Bangkok gesture in Switzerland did not go unnoticed although it did not make world headlines, either. It is a peculiar situation that nobody wants to interpret too much and too soon.

To cut a long story short, Thailand did not vote for a “peace” communique that most countries joining the curious pro-Ukraine and anti-Russia international conference in Switzerland came up with.

The statement rebuked Russia, which was not invited, and which happens to be a key BRICS member.

Another Bangkok gesture materialised in Vladivostok, Russia.

A Thai delegation led by Paetongtarn Shinawatra attended a BRICS+ meeting of political parties, during which she “actively advocated for Thailand’s membership” in the bloc.

So, was it a coincidence, or did Thailand in Switzerland want to please the bloc’s key members to emphasise the Thailand that Paetongtarn represented in Vladivostok?

Brazil, India, South Africa and Saudi Arabia did not vote for “peace” communique and they are BRICS members.

It goes without saying that Russia and China are BRICS key powers and were absent from the Swiss “summit.”

The two developments, if they did not occur by coincidence, are a diplomatic version of flirting with someone new.

Thailand, as everyone knows, is in the pro-West economic order and has almost everything in the US dollar basket.

BRICS, meanwhile, is based upon the belief that the economic status quo has been reaping unjust gains from developing countries or emerging economic giants.

Thailand is torn between two lovers. On the one hand, the country is virtually married to America and the entire West, having its economic, financial and monetary structures tied to the US-led system.

On the other hand, BRICS is exciting because it offers “liberation” amid growing doubts about the existing spouse.

Apart from the natural excitement, there are also economic reasons. Thailand’s trades with China and Russia are considerable.

In addition to that, tourists from both countries have become increasingly important to the Thai tourism industry.

But if joining BRICS is a big diplomatic issue, it can also wreak domestic havoc politically.

While the ruling Pheu Party is keen about joining BRICS, the opposition Move Forward Party may be thinking differently.

In other words, which way the local political wind is blowing affects the country’s navigation of the brave new world that is full of economic and political blocs, trade sanctions, and “non-profit” ideologically-driven organisations.

In a recent VOA article, a Thai academic was quoted as saying that BRICS has become more political than economic.

That could be a correct assessment, but politics is influencing the current pro-West economic as well. And for a very long time.

BRICS is an acronym that stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Dozens of countries, including Thailand, have expressed an interest in joining BRICS, hoping for an alternative to global bodies perceived to be dominated by the traditional Western powers.

Membership, it is hoped, would unlock benefits that they think they should have.

Another driving factor is what looks like an uncertain future of the US dollar, a perception caused by suspicion of American spending as well as the country’s real economic and financial status.

BRICS promises the principles of non-interference, genuine equality and strictly-mutual benefit.

On the surface and take away the sanctions, it’s very much like what the US-led world economic order has to offer, yet the fact that the BRICS grouping keeps growing means the status quo is not making everyone happy.

With Iran, Saudi Arabia and UAE as members, BRICS is now a global grouping that produce almost half of the world’s crude oil.

However, the bloc’s apparent thinking that Western nations dominate important global bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which lend money to governments can make it a very sensitive “political” alliance against the West.

To Thailand, not voting for the Ukraine communique can be just the beginning of awkwardness, a small test
if you will. The “Cold War” between the United States on one side and Russia, China and Iran on the other will not get any better, so a lot more can be expected and the issues of trade sanctions or diplomatic condemnations will be all aplenty along the way.

Thailand’s official stand is that it wants to join BRICS for purely-economic reasons, and that the country can help “bridge” the gap between conflicting powers.

Yet, as with all marriages, if your spouse makes you perfectly happy, there is no need for you to flirt that much. That is inconvenient truth.

There were times when influential westerners were accused of covertly helping Thaksin Shinawatra and the Pheu Thai Party.

With Paetongtarn in Russia making the case for joining BRICS, that has begun to sound quite ironic.

By Tulsathit Taptim

Photo : Thai FM Maris Sangiampongsa, attended “BRICS Dialogue with Developing Countries” during “BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs/International Relations Meeting” upon the invitation of Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia on June 11.