Prayuth to attend US-ASEAN summit; won’t take sides in Ukraine war

Nontarat Phaicharoen
2022.05.06
Bangkok
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Prayuth to attend US-ASEAN summit; won’t take sides in Ukraine war Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha attends an ASEAN leaders’ virtual summit meeting in Bangkok, Oct. 26, 2021.
Government Spokesman’s Office via AP

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha confirmed Friday that he would travel to Washington for next week’s U.S.-ASEAN summit, but said Bangkok would not choose sides in the war between Ukraine and Russia.

Meanwhile, Thai political commentators said Washington was pressing the Southeast Asian bloc to side with the West over the Russian invasion of Ukraine and with the U.S. over relations with China. 

President Joe Biden will be hosting leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations at a special summit on May 12 and 13. It comes as Southeast Asia is coping with fallout from the war in Ukraine, the post-coup Myanmar crisis and simmering tensions in the South China Sea.

“Re my traveling abroad, there is nothing as [people are] concerned. ... It is a typical meeting like ASEAN-Japan, ASEAN-China. The ASEAN-U.S. meeting is just another one but it coincided with the war [in Ukraine],” Prayuth told reporters.”

“[We] do not choose one side over another. We are going as ASEAN members [to discuss] the economy, trade, investment and the regional situation, like in the past meetings.”

Prayuth said the meeting “will discuss dozens of topics, and will not focus on just one dominant issue.”

On Thursday, an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “the prime minister’s U.S. trip will include supporting the U.S. role in the Southeast Asian region,” among other issues.

Biden is expected to seek to strengthen relationships with ASEAN members as pushback against China’s rising power in the contested South China Sea and to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, according to analysts.

ASEAN members hope the U.S. will play “a constructive role” in backing efforts for peace and regional stability along with cooperation among all parties in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, another official at the Thai foreign ministry said Thursday.

“We are trying to use every summit, including this one, to reaffirm our stance that we respect territorial integrity and sovereignty and support a ceasefire and peaceful negotiation,” said Chettaphan Maksamphan, head of the ministry’s office for American and South Pacific affairs.

“Furthermore, we emphasize humanitarian assistance, which we are working on with both the Ukrainian and Polish Red Cross.”

Pressure on Prayuth

According to Thai political analysts, the Biden administration is pressing the 10-member regional bloc to side with the West.

“Thailand is one of the countries that the U.S. is trying to make choose the U.S. side, not only on the current Ukraine crisis but also on China,” said Naing Lin, a political science lecturer at Chiang Mai University.

“I don’t think Thai people would care which side Prayuth may support. But it’s all about what Thailand would get or lose from siding with the U.S. or remaining neutral,” Naing told BenarNews on Friday.

However, he said, Prayuth and Thai officials must address domestic and international human rights issues.

Another political analyst said the summit could put pressure on Prayuth.

“The prime minister expressed concerns that going to this special summit would expose or pressure Thailand to choose a side over the Ukraine War,” Sutin Wannabovorn, a political commentator, wrote in his column in the Thai-language newspaper Naewna on Wednesday.

“As an observer of Russo-Ukraine War … I want to remind the prime minister not to make a hasty decision because the war is way more complicated than ASEAN and Thailand could handle or help solve,” he wrote.

ASEAN has come under pressure lately as members remain divided over critical issues including the forced takeover of the Myanmar government by the military in a February 2021 coup. Since then, government troops have used bombs and other force to quell resistance.

Burmese Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup, will not attend the summit even though his country is a member of ASEAN.

Similarly, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has tested ASEAN unity. In early March, ASEAN issued a statement calling for a ceasefire but without naming Russia or using the word “invasion.”

Last month, the Philippines joined Myanmar in voting to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council. Two members, Laos and Vietnam, voted against the resolution while six others abstained.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is pushing ASEAN to suspend dialogue relations with Russia, a Ukrainian diplomat said in the Philippines.

“We believe it’s important to isolate Russia internationally. Russia should not be part of ASEAN strategic partnership,” Ukrainian Ambassador to the Philippines Olexander Nechytaylo said in an interview on Thursday, according to the Philippine News Agency.

Kunnawut Boonreak in Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributed to this report.

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