Giles Ji Ungpakorn
General Prayut’s trip to Burma is a pathetic attempt to appear as an “international statesman”. The truth is that if the head of the Thai junta made a request for an official trip to any genuinely functioning democracy it would be turned down. He is a pariah, an embarrassment. So he has to turn to his best friends in the Burmese military.
Thailand and Burma have become much closer and very similar after the recent coup. The Burmese junta has much experience in massaging elections and building a political system where elected representatives have no real power. What is more, only the “right kind of people” can hold any top office in Burma. Elections are just a pretend charade. This is exactly what Prayut and his hand-picked team of anti-democrats are busy designing for Thailand right now. They want to build a political system where elections carry little weight and politicians like Taksin or Yingluk will be banned.
Most international media believe that nothing of substance in terms of economic agreements will come out of Prayut’s trip to Burma. Image building and reinforcing mutual friendship are the prime reasons for the trip.
The Burmese regime may make polite noises about the torturing of two Burmese migrant workers, which resulted in so-called confession to the brutal murders of two British tourists, but it will only be for show. The harsh reality is that the Burmese generals have grabbed the lion’s share of wealth in Burma, while neglecting the economic and social well-being of ordinary people. That is why millions of Burmese seek work across the borders. The Thai junta is also busy exploiting and abusing migrant workers. Its economic policies, including the king’s sufficiency economy ideology, favour the rich and the Thai generals are busy accumulating their own wealth.
Both the Thai junta and the Burmese regime have little respect for ethnic minorities struggling for autonomy and freedom.
Both the Thai junta and the Burmese regime do not hesitate to use brutal violence against people who disagree with them. Prayut was the key military man who ordered the killing of pro-democracy red shirts in 2010.
Friendship between the citizens of Burma and Thailand would be a great thing. A reduction in Thai racism against migrants from Burma would also be huge step forward.
But friendship between the despotic rulers of Thailand and Burma will not benefit citizens in either country. It is a further obstacle to building freedom and democracy either side of the border.
We need solidarity across the borders between people who wish to fight for democracy.