By Atapoom Ongkulna
The Nation o
It is not in the Kingdom's best interest to get cosy with either the United States or China, Associate Professor Prapat Thepchatree, a lecturer in international relations at Thammasat University's Asean Studies Centre, has said.
Prapat said Thailand needed to find a “soft balance” between the two superpowers amid clear signs both are courting the Kingdom, with US President Barack Obama’s visit today and tomorrow to be quickly followed by a visit from China’s outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
Prapat said Thailand should not declare itself in opposition to either of the two big powers, but learn from countries like Japan, which can shake hands with the US without declaring itself an enemy of China. The situation today was different from the Cold War era, he said, and Thailand was a trading partner of both nations, and the US was re-engaging with the region.
Thailand must remain neutral; this was how the Kingdom escaped direct colonialism in the past, even if the Philippines and Singapore appear tilted toward the US, while Burma and Cambodia were close to China, he said.
“It’s best not to choose sides,” Prapat concluded, adding that China and the US were also interdependent on trade with one another. “We can still play a Janus-faced [role],” he said, referring to the two-faced Roman god.
Opposition Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said Thailand must be wary of the competition between the US and China and must try to balance ties with the two powers, especially when it comes to signing bilateral treaties. He urged Thailand to push Asean to take a unified stance toward China and the US.
Meanwhile, the provincial chamber of commerce in Ranong welcomed Obama’s visit to Myanmar, where he will travel after leaving Thailand tomorrow, as well as his later visit to Cambodia, saying the president’s presence amounted to an endorsement of Myanmar’s reforms. This was likely to boost border trade in this southern province bordering Myanmar.