By SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE
THE 5th Thailand-United States Strategic Dialogue
But, it’s hard to say that this government has successfully achieved any?thing in its foreign relations.
Although general relations with the US remain normal, Washington was required by law to freeze military assistance to Thailand and scaled down the annual Cobra Gold military exercise. It is a policy of the Obama administration to comment on Thai democracy.
A joint statement issued after the strategic dialogue in Bangkok last Wednesday indicated that both sides affirmed their enduring treaty alliance and the strategic importance of their relations. It said they wanted to expand areas of cooperation in public health workforce development, medical research, a creative economy, prevention and suppression of trafficking in people and forced labour, law enforcement cooperation, and training through the International Law Enforcement Academy, as well as trade and investment.
On the security front, the two sides reaffirmed the value of Thailand-US defence cooperation and looked forward to continuing implementation of the 2012 Joint Vision Statement - by strengthening cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, global peacekeeping, and military medical research, among other defence engagements.
However, it is also very normal to hear comments on Thai democracy and human rights practice from the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel, who led the US delegation to the meeting.
Russel, who never offered any support to the coup makers and establishment elite in Bangkok over their political difficulties, said full cooperation between the US and Thailand would be resumed only when Thailand returned to democracy.
Senior officials in the military government and Foreign Ministry might be disappointed with Russel’s perception of the Thai political situation and his role in implementing US policy toward Thailand. However all efforts to convince the US senior diplomat about political reform and democracy restoration will totally fail as long as the military regime is still in power and human rights are widely violated.
It is embarrassing to say this government respects human rights and is performing a reform agenda for democracy as long as the lese majeste law is abused and people are prohibited and arrested for exercising their right of expression. Nobody on earth would believe that reform for democracy could happen under such authoritarian circumstances.
The visit of the Cambodian premier over the weekend was more impressive for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha who claimed in exaggerated fashion that relations with Phnom Penh were the best in 65 years of diplomatic contact - although the visit brought no new initiative to the relationship. All pacts of cooperation were initiated by previous governments and all left-over problems have yet to be resolved.
The 2013 judgement of the International Court of Justice on the controversial Preah Vihear has still to be implemented. While news reports say that Cambodia has reduced its number of troops at the areas near the historic Hindu temple on the border, Thai tourists were prohibited from visiting the site from the Thai side. Agreement on the vicinity around Preah Vihear has not been achieved, as per the court’s ruling. Perhaps Prayut’s government, like many others in the past, will fail to resume negotiations also on the overlapping continental shelf in the
Gulf of Thailand with Cambodia.
As long as fundamental issues like Preah Vihear remain, nationalist proponents like Veera Somkwamkid are still active and domestic political differences have not been settled, so relations with Cambodia will remain at risk.