European Union to re-engage with Thai military government

Originally aired on Channel NewsAsia on December 12, 2017

The European Union's Foreign Affair's Council has decided to re-engage with the Thai military government "on all levels" for the first time since the military coup of 2014. Here's my quick take and analysis by Dr. Titipol Phakdeewanich from Ubon Ratchathani University.

TRANSCRIPT

The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, consisting of the foreign ministers from all its member states, have decided to re-engage "on all levels" with the Thailand, marking a pivotal change. The EU has suspended high-ranking contacts with the Thai military government since they launched the coup of 2014.

The Council has noted a number of recent steps taken by the Thai military, including the announcement to hold democratic elections in November 2018, despite the fact that the military government has repeatedly postponed and delayed it in the past.

Other countries have gradually relaxed their stance towards Thailand in the past, most recently the United States when President Trump welcomed Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha to the White House in Washington DC last October. And there’s one reason that many countries are trying to re-engage with Thailand.

DR. TITIPOL PHAKDEEWANICH; Dean Faculty of Political Science, Ubon Ratchathani University:
"But I think that is not only one reason. But it is also about the balance of power between Thailand and China as well and how the European Union want to be part of the region in Southeast Asia. If you can see after the coup, the military government have been trying to open more space for China to move in. This also raised concern for the US and the European Union and - it has been three years."

The move does signal that the EU has realized that the military is staying in power much longer than they have anticipated and will remain an influence in Thai politics even after the elections and thus the complete diplomatic downgrade has proven to be ineffective.

That’s why the EU now wants directly engage with them in order to keep the military government honest on issues such as human rights, personal freedom and the eventual return to democracy.

The Council has also signaled that it is possible to resume talks about a Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Thailand. It is said that the negotiations were already at an advanced state, but then suspended in the aftermath of the military coup.

The European Union is one of the largest trading partners to Thailand, with bilateral trading worth almost 34 million Euros or 40 million US Dollars.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok