Monday, 2 May 2011

Thailand going rogue? A different perspective

via CAAI

By Pornpimol Kanchanalak
Special to The Nation
Published on May 2, 2011

The Wall Street Journal's editorial on "Thailand Going Rogue" published on April 26 needs a response. It is filled with "rigorous" hypothetical speculation and those conjectures were never verified. It also based on a loaded conspiracy theory whose foundation is at best unsound.

The article put the condemnation squarely on Thailand for being recalcitrant in hearing out peace initiatives. Without the normally required journalistic consideration for fair and equitable treatment of the subjects and subject matter, the article starts positing one huge hypothesis after another, and leaped to a conclusion about Thailand's motives and factual circumstances.

The first point of the article cites Thailand's refusal to accept the initiative to allow the Indonesian Observer Team (IOT) in the affected areas along the Thai-Cambodian border as evidence of Thailand's unwillingness to work towards peace.

Fact 1. It was the Thai foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, not the Cambodian, who proposed to the Asean meeting in Jakarta in February the deployment of an Asean observer team to the area of conflict. Unwittingly, his proposal was not attached with any conditions for implementation. Indonesia, which holds the rotating chair of Asean, in good faith, then drafted the terms of reference (TOR) for this IOT using the same guidelines as those governing the Aceh peace-monitoring activities by the European Union after the peace agreement was reached between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement - GAM.

Unfortunately, Aceh and the disputed 4.6 square kilometres on the Thai-Cambodian border are of a very different nature. Aceh is part of Indonesia and GAM was called the rebels, and all the monitoring bodies were under the jurisdiction of one government - that of Indonesia.

The Thai-Cambodian border row involves the conflicting claims of two sovereign nations. For this reason, the ToR that was applicable to Aceh is not germane to the Thai-Cambodian situation.

The key issue that makes the proposed TOR unacceptable to Thailand is the question of sovereign authority over the two observer teams. One will be deployed in undisputed Thai territory and, according to the TOR, will be under the supervision of Thai authorities.

The other observer team will be dispatched to the disputed area that the ToR considers to be under the jurisdiction of the Cambodian government. That would tip the scale of the delicate balance necessary for a negotiated peace. This issue, if left unaddressed, will become knottier, particularly when the Asean chair next year changes from Indonesia to Cambodia. The sweeping claim of the article that Thailand is unwilling to seek peace is erroneous because it ignores these important facts.

The second point of the article hypothesises that the Thai military has a hidden agenda to perpetuate the conflict. Worse, it makes the unsubstantiated claim that the military, the palace and business elite intentionally instigate and exacerbate the border clashes for their own self-serving interest, and that is to foil the general election that would make possible the return of former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

If one does not have enough respect for the long-standing integrity and journalistic standard of this US newspaper, one may have thought that it was probably the hand of some directly interested party in Thai politics that penned this piece.

Fact 2. As much as Thais would like it to be, the Thai military does not have a unified stance and cannot be treated as a cohesive body. The Thai military may have pledged its loyalty to the monarchy as one of the three national pillars to defend, but the reality is quite different for some pledgers.

Fact 3. The article makes a cavernous connection between the yellow shirts and the palace. This is a continuing and blatant misconception. It is not only the yellow-shirt leaders who have been trying to legitimise the movement by dragging the monarchy into the fray for its own interest - many parties shamelessly have. The connection made between the yellow shirts, or the shirts of any colour, and the palace is as factually invalid as the argument that a man does not get pregnant because he is taking birth control pills.

Fact 4. Everybody seems to be fond of talking about the Thai "elite", who are the ultimate, omnipresent, omniscient conspirators/culprits who are equipped with a grand design for Thailand's political future. The truth is they are sheer theoretical phantoms or even a figment of the imagination. It was a catchphrase started by the supporters of Thaksin that has assumed a life of its own. No one, when pressed for an answer of who these "elite" are, can give a clear answer. It's always easier to deal with a complicated and senseless world if we believe in a creator who knows what he/she is doing. It is also quite romantic to have some "privileged" ones to blame with full vagaries of bias.

The third point of the article only talks about Thailand and its domestic politics as driving the Thai-Cambodian conflict. Never once does it ask the question if the same assertion can be applied to the Cambodian leadership.

Fact 5. Before the border clashes, the Cambodian people, who historically are more apprehensive about Vietnam, as many can still recall the five-skull torture, were beginning to vociferously question their leadership about the tens of thousands of square kilometres that it gave away to Vietnam under the long border demarcation bilateral dialogue. Sam Rainsy, the opposition leader who is very outspoken on this issue, got whipped out of the country and sentenced several times in absentia to multiyear jail terms.

Cracks began to become more visible in the tight grip of the leadership, which has been in office since 1998. After the border confrontation, it's the Cambodian people who became unified by the umbrage towards Thailand, not the other way around. There is also a real question of leadership succession. The designated heir apparent of the leadership was assigned to the heroic duty of commanding the Cambodian troops and strategy in the border disputes.

As things stand now, Thailand may be rightfully described as a divided nation that has lost her aspirations and sense of direction. But going rogue? That existential quantifier merits a different destination.

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