Thailand’s Red Cross organisation is calling on the government to formalise humanitarian aid to Myanmar refugees. The request was made at the 3rd Thai foreign policy webinar series on “ASEAN’s Future and Crisis in Myanmar.” The Surin Pitsuwan Foundation, Chiang Mai University’s School of Public Policy, Thai PBS and Asia News Network, all jointly hosted the webinar.
Former editor of Myanmar Times, Kavi Chongkittavorn, has also echoed the need for a formalised process in providing assitance to Myanmar nationals. He says it is imperative to increase assistance to Myanmar due to the country’s economic collapse and internal fighting, which was made significantly worse when the country’s government was disbanded by a coup on February 1.
He says that the 2 countries share problems as they go hand in hand. The urge to provide more aid comes as numbers are continuing to grow at the Thai-Myanmar border, with some 100,000 Myanmar refugees crowding the border in need of help. And, as the upcoming dry season historically brings a military offensive against armed, ethnic minority groups, the situation could get worse. And, some of those ethnic minority groups are providing training to the so-called People’s Defence Force to fight the currently ruling junta.
The country has seen an estimated 1 million of its citizens internally displaced since the coup, in which 30% or more are reported as having food insecurity. Thailand’s former PM, Kasit Piromya, says the current government, headed by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha cannot just stand still and that borders must be reopened to support the international community. He pointed to China remaining active across its borders with Myanmar through the Kachin State, with the help of the Chinese Red Cross.
He says although the Thai Red Cross has been in contact with the Myanmar Red Cross, it has yet to receive official backing from the Thai government. Now, everything is at a standstill as thousands wait for aid. He further points towards funding from the US, in the amount of US$50 million, funding from ICRC, Japan and UNICEF that has yet to be used.
As Thailand is a frontline state, its participation in assistance is seen as vital to ASEAN as it is stuck with a 5-point consensus in which the Myanmar junta has failed to comply. But, as Thailand is also under control of a junta government, it has been criticised over its lack of engagement with Myanmar. Although the government’s stance on its current relationship with Myanmar is that of one who is trying to build trust with the ruling military, it has still failed to act in any significant way to aid the refugees.
Independent researcher, Supalak Ganjanakhundee says Thailand has benefitted for a decade from a stable and secure Myanmar. He goes on to say that the hope that Myanmar’s armed forces, or Tatmadaw, would become “considerate” has not materialised. And, with the shelling of Thai soil during an attack on an armed ethnic group last May, it appears that such “considerate” acts may never come.
He says the Foreign Ministry of Thailand has had little say in the engagement process between the 2 countries, as Thailand’s foreign policy is dictated largely by the National Security Agency, military, and its subsets of army regional commands. Supalak says a new diplomatic phase should be enacted, in which he termed as “complex engagement” with Myanmar. He says non-coercion, exercise of liberal values, and an open exchange in dialogue with all stakeholders would be part of such an exchange.
Myanmar people have relations with Thai society at all levels, and Supalak says this must be used as an entry point for dialogue with the 2 countries. He also suggested that Thailand should be active in implementing the 5-point consensus with Cambodia, as a “Friend of the Chair” on Myanmar. And, as Cambodia will be the Chair of ASEAN next year, he says its PM Hun Sen will have “something to prove.” By that, he means as it is his 3rd and last time as the ASEAN Chair, he will want to prove he is not a nominee of China.
SOURCE: Thai PBS World