Thailand in the rules-based International Order
“Rules-based International Order” is a term that we have heard constantly in interviews with the US secretary of state Anthony Blinken over the past year. The reason the US is raising this more often now, Blinken said, is because the US sees it as being challenged, whether it’s by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine or China’s increasing aggression in this region and repression at home.
The “order” to which the US refers, Blinken explains, is a set of basic rules about how countries relate to one another, with respect for sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, human rights, with the universal declaration of human rights as its foundation.
Not too long ago, Blinken said that China is the only country in the world to have the means, economically, militarily and in terms of influence, to challenge this order. He told Thai PBS World that it is still the case.
“I think China actually wants an international order, but with a difference. Whereas the order that we’ve been trying to defend and uphold is basically liberal in its values, China may seek a more illiberal order that reflects, maybe, a different set of values and the question is, in what kind of world do people want to live?”
Blinken admits that, for the US and many other countries around the world, the relationship with China is one of the most consequential and complex. Though there are things over which two countries disagree, the US still hopes that they can still find ways to cooperate.
“As two leading countries in the world, we have a responsibility, where we can, where our interests overlap, where they coincide, to find ways to cooperate on things like climate change, on global health, on counter-narcotics, on dealing with the food crisis that the world faces,” Blinken elaborated.
Thailand has seen high-profile visits from both the US and China in recent weeks. It goes without saying that each is trying to forge closer ties with countries in this region. Thailand has long been known for not choosing sides in geopolitics. As a friend, however, there might be situations that will force Thailand to lean toward one or the other.
Blinken said that the US just wants to make sure that countries know that they have a choice, as the US has a “very affirmative, positive vision for what the future can be”.
“We want to make sure that, as we’re moving forward, we’re all engaged in a race to the top, not a race to the bottom. We want to make sure that, as we go forward, the rights of workers are protected, the environment is protected, that the rights of people to speak their minds is protected, that we think about what we can do together, because not a single one of the challenges that we face – all of our countries, whether it’s Thailand, whether it’s the United States – the really big challenges, like climate change, like global health, like the impact that all these new technologies are having on our lives, no one country can effectively address them alone,” said Blinken.
Thailand seems to be beginning to lean a bit more toward one of the two powerhouses lately. Political analysts warn such actions could land the country in a very difficult situation, given how US politics might change after the mid-term elections, and China’s political landscape seems to be more stable. To whichever direction Thailand turns, the country has to do it with extreme caution, as they have both been “good friends” so far.
By Tulip Naksompop Blauw