By SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE
Though few political parties have talked about foreign policy as they campaign for votes, experts are saying it’s time for them to break the tradition and address critical matters such as the US-China tariff war, the US Indo-Pacific strategy and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
Future Forward’s Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has said his party, if elected, would not use China, despite its economic success, as a model to shape Thailand’s future, because its success comes at the expense of people’s rights.
“The junta is following the China model because it serves the status quo,” the billionaire politician told The Nation in an interview last year while preparing to assemble his party.
Challenging the nationalists
The former student activist appears to be the only politician daring to challenge nationalists in proposing that Thailand should welcome Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. The view has brought him considerable criticism.
His party’s foreign policy, as set out in its official manifesto, addresses the role of Asean as well as the basic principles of democracy and human rights. It is breaking from the norm by presenting a foreign-affairs platform, unheard of in previous political campaigns.
Former diplomat Kobsak Chutikul said he found it “very disappointing” to see so few parties raising foreign affairs in a year when Thailand is chairing Asean and is at a strategic crossroads with China and the US bolstering their presence in the region.
Authoritarian rule under the military junta has cut off, suppressed and delayed public debate about key foreign issues, he said.
Most parties are sticking to the mantra of promoting good relations with other countries, balancing power, and enhancing trade, investment and tourism, Kobsak said.
“But Thais, especially the younger generation, deserve something concrete and clear as to how our country will position itself in the world,” he said.
The Pheu Thai Party, which led the government under Yingluck Shinwatra, has proffered proactive foreign policies designed to build a role for Thais in the international community.
It would prefer that Thailand utilise the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy, rather than Asean, as a mechanism to connect with other Southeast Asian countries. The strategy was devised in 2003, during Thaksin Shinawatra’s tenure, as a cooperative framework for Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
The Democrat Party is promising sustainable development goals, foreign investment in creative industries and turning Thailand into a regional hub for aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul.
The pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party vows to continue the junta’s foreign policy over the past five years. If it wins this Sunday, said Thammasat University scholar Dulyapak Preecharushh, Thai foreign policy would remain neither attractive nor proactive.
With a 20-year national strategy mapped out by the junta, the foreign platform will not evolve enough to deal with the challenge of balancing China against the the United States, he said.
“If the opponents of Phalang Pracharat win, we will see more elements, such as global peace and democracy, in foreign policy,” said Dulyapak, a keen observer of geo-politics.
However, he said, no matter which party wins, Thailand will not be able to avoid issues related to Asean or the wider region.