Thailand’s outgoing government is under fire after its attempt to reengage Myanmar’s junta by holding informal talks was shunned by key regional countries, and condemned by Myanmar’s parallel government as well as more than 300 civil society organizations and regional lawmakers.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai invited foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including the foreign minister of Myanmar’s junta, to prepare the way to “fully reengage Myanmar at the leaders’ level” last week. The meeting was scheduled for Monday, the birthday of Myanmar’s imprisoned civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myanmar regime leaders and its foreign minister have been excluded from high-level meetings of ASEAN since late 2021, following the junta’s failure to honor the bloc’s plan to restore peace in the country, which has been in turmoil since the military staged a coup in early 2021.
The junta has unleashed unrelenting violence on those who challenge its rule since it seized power from a democratically elected government.
The meeting in the Thai resort town Pattaya on Monday was shunned by the current ASEAN chair Indonesia, as well as members Singapore and Malaysia.
In her letter replying to her Thai counterpart, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said ASEAN had “arrived at no consensus to reengage or develop new approaches to the Myanmar issue” during its summit in May.
In his invitation, Don Pramudwina said the meeting was a follow-up to “the unequivocal statement by a member nation of ASEAN” during the summit in Indonesia in May that it was time for the bloc to fully reengage Myanmar at the leaders’ level, adding “A number of members supported the call and some were willing [to] consider [and] there was no explicit dissenting voice.”
Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said Friday that conditions were not yet right for ASEAN to open high-level talks with Myanmar, explaining: “We believe it would be premature to reengage with the junta at a summit level or even at a foreign minister level.”
In its press release, Malaysia’s foreign ministry said it is important that ASEAN is united in support of the ASEAN chair and ASEAN process, which are aligned with decisions made by ASEAN leaders.
Myanmar’s parallel government condemned Thailand’s meeting and its invitation to the regime’s foreign minister. The National Unity Government (NUG) also said the meeting was unrealistic and premature. It could have the effect of “further complicating” Myanmar’s crisis, it said. The NUG commands the loyalty of the vast majority of Myanmar’s people.
It urged Thailand to call off the meeting and asked all invited countries not to participate.
“Please, do not make matters in our country worse than they already are. Do not encourage and endorse [the] illegitimate military junta to increase [the] level of violence and to continue their war against the people,” it said.
On Sunday, 316 civil society organizations (CSOs) in Myanmar said they “strongly condemn” the secretive meeting and called for its immediate cancellation.
“This is a complete affront to the people of Myanmar who have sacrificed their lives to resist the Myanmar military’s attempts to seize power through [a] years-long terror campaign against the whole nation,” they said in a statement, referring to Myanmar’s ongoing nationwide armed resistance against the junta.
Both the NUG and CSOs said the initiative of the outgoing Thai foreign minister blatantly contradicted the consensus of ASEAN leaders not to invite junta representatives to high level meetings.
In response, Thai Deputy Prime Minster Don Pramudwinai told the Bangkok Post on Sunday that the talks would go ahead as Thailand has been affected by the crisis in neighboring Myanmar and needed to take urgent action to help with peace efforts.
“Even though the government holds a caretaker role, we have to go ahead with the meeting. The meeting is not unprecedented. It’s already our third time,” he told the Post in an exclusive interview published on its website on Monday morning. The interview was later removed.
Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said high representatives from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, India, China, Brunei and Vietnam confirmed they intended to attend the Monday meeting, according to the Post.
The current Thai government has been accused of being too close to the regime in its neighboring country, and offering only a muted response to its atrocities.
Bangkok has said it is adhering to ASEAN’s so-called non-interference policy, which prevents members of the association from interfering in the internal politics of other member states.
In December last year, Thailand arranged an informal meeting with some other ASEAN members to discuss Myanmar. Then-Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin was invited.
In March of this year, it also organized the Track 1.5 roundtable on Myanmar in Bangkok as a way of opening additional channels for dialogue among those affected by the Myanmar crisis. It was attended by members of the Myanmar junta, representatives of ASEAN members Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, and representatives from China, India, Bangladesh and Japan. A second roundtable was hosted by India in April.
On Monday, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said Thailand’s “reengagement” of the Myanmar junta is not only a betrayal of the Myanmar people but a demonstration of its arrogant disregard for the unity of ASEAN.
“Indonesia as ASEAN chair, as well as the other ASEAN member states, must not let this meeting go unanswered: there must be an inquiry into Thailand’s blatant disregard and disrespect of the current chair,” said APHR Co-chair Charles Santiago.