Originally aired on Channel NewsAsia on June 20, 2018
Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha is on his way for his first state visits to Europe, where he's scheduled to meet British Prime Minister Theresa May and later this week French President Emmanuel Macron. While economic issues will be high on the agenda, the trip also has political implications.
These are the first high-level bilateral talks for the Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha and his counterparts in Europe, beginning with British Prime Minister Theresa May in London and later this week in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron.
This comes after the change in approach by the European Union, relaxing its stance against the military government late last year, compared to the cold shoulder the EU has given to Thailand in the aftermath of the 2014 military coup.
The main objective for the Thai government on this Eurotrip is of economical nature: they are trying to lure in as many big foreign investors to Thailand as they can, especially to its industrial pet project: the Eastern Economic Corridor.
Furthermore, Thailand hopes that it can resume talks about a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, which has suspended these talks after the coup.
Of course, the European countries also have some vested interest to re-engage with Thailand and the region as a whole.
The European Union as a whole is the third largest trading partner to Thailand, with bilateral trade worth almost 40 million US Dollars - and the UK itself is looking for new trading partners for the time after they have left the European Union.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun; Associate Professor, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University:
"So if you look at regional interests, of course the EU would always want to come back to this part of the world anyways. The EU has always been seen as a distant region and this time the competition [from other regions] is so high. There’s a lot of uncertainties within the European Union itself. So, in coming back to Southeast Asia, this is a part of them trying to reassure their position and also once again maintain their interest."
But this trip also has a political dimension.
Over the course of the past four years since the military coup, we have seen the slow transformation of General Prayuth, the coup leader, to Mister Prayuth, the politician, who is seemingly being recognized internationally by world leaders. And that is fueling speculations that he might be looking for ways to stay on as prime minister even in a post-election scenario.
Nevertheless, it is expected that both Prime Minister May and President Macron will remind Gen. Prayuth about the democratic elections his military government has repeatedly delayed.
They are now scheduled for February 2019. However, shortly before he left for Europe, Prayuth said that these elections will take place "after the royal coronation of King Rama X" - which doesn’t have a date yet and has raised questions if elections will still actually take place in February 2019?
Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok