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Thai Junta Looks to Shore Up Foreign Relations

  • Ron Corben

Thai soldiers entertain passers-by while providing security at Bangkok's Victory Monument in Thailand Thursday, June 5, 2014.

Thai soldiers entertain passers-by while providing security at Bangkok's Victory Monument in Thailand Thursday, June 5, 2014.

Thailand is stepping up regional diplomatic efforts to reassure its neighbors following the May 22 coup. Key meetings will come this weekend in Burma as Thailand looks to talks with its neighbors, as well as the United States.

Since the Thai military intervened in the country’s political deadlock last month, it has ousted the government, dissolved the constitution and summoned political leaders, activists and academics for days-long detentions.

Public gatherings to demonstrate against the coup are banned. Journalists, academics and writers who write critically of the ruling authority are summoned for detention. Some have fled abroad.

The measures have drawn criticism and concern from neighbors and allies, who have generally called for a return to democratic rule as soon as possible.

Thailand’s Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Sihasak Phuangketkeow is planning to use this weekend’s regional meetings of the Association of South East Asia Nations (ASEAN) to hold talks with neighbors and reach out to the U.S., India, China, European Union, and others.

Foreign Ministry spokesman, Sek Wannamethee, says Thailand has turned to the ASEAN group for support after some 10 nations condemned the May 22 military takeover.

"The ASEAN family, they abide by no [internal] intervention - that is clear, in accordance with the ASEAN charter," said Sek. "Secondly our ASEAN partners say they know that any instability in Thailand affects the ASEAN community. The effect on the ASEAN family - they are following developments closely and of course their position is that for Thailand to be stable, politically stable."

The coup came after months of deadly political protests and a deadlock between the government and anti-government groups over how the country would move forward. The military says the coup was aimed at pushing through reforms to curb corruption and improve democratic rule. Coup leaders also say the measure headed off more violence. Since the military took charge, Thai news media has reported the seizure of several large weapons caches.

Sek says of 39 countries issuing statements, 10 condemned the coup including the U.S., Britain, France, Canada and Australia.

Following the coup the U.S. downgraded military ties, Australia reduced its engagement with the Thai military. Canberra also placed the military leaders on a visa ban list to Australia.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek said that although Thailand recognizes the concerns of several countries, the military has set out a "roadmap" for elections within two years.

"Our message to our international community and western partners is that we understand that they have their norms and values - democratic norms and values which they have to uphold," said Sek. "But when considering their position towards Thailand, please bear in mind the current political situation - the context the military takeover took place."

Sek says the new administration is seeking "understanding" and "cooperation" from the West.

The military leaders are yet to fully set out a clear timeline for new elections, although Army chief and junta leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, says elections could take place within 15 months depending on the security situation.

The military administration is now looking to put in place an interim constitution, as well as legislature and reactivate laws suspended following the coup.