Sino-Thai cooperation key to unraveling predicament faced by Prayuth government

By Zhou Fangye Source:Global Times Published: 2014-11-16 17:58:01

With the protests dying away and the streets quieting down, peace and prosperity revisited Bangkok after military leader Prayuth Chan-ocha was elected prime minister of Thailand in August.

However, this country is still reminded by the sight of soldiers on the street enforcing martial law that a military-controlled Thailand is in an "abnormal state." The political conflict, which has lasted for eight years, is still simmering.

On November 4, Borwornsak Uwanno, a law expert at a conservative political think tank, was appointed by the Prayuth government as head of a panel to draft Thailand's new constitution. This serves as a first step for the military junta to return power to the people.

However, the last time a Thai military junta handed power back to the people, it did not end well. In 2007, after a new constitution was enacted, Thailand was soon reduced to chaos once again. Therefore, a new constitution is far from enough to lay the political conflicts to rest for good.

The root cause of Thailand's political turbulence rests in the huge gaps between different social classes in terms of benefit distribution. Thus, unless the gaps are closed, the constitution will only wind up being a dead letter.

This concern has been widely raised in Thai society, so the Prayuth government has clearly stated that political reconciliation and reform will be carried forward until order in the state is back on track. It indicates that the military junta will persist at least in the foreseeable future, which will probably become a "new normal state" in Thai politics.

This new normal state is different from the current abnormal state, as the latter must resort to the use of force, while the former looks to political compromise. For now, while Thailand is being worn down by the bottlenecks of social and economic development, it is crucial that all political groups should shelve their disputes and practice the spirit of deliberative democracy, which adheres to the people's common agreement that development must be the top priority.

Thus, whether Thai politics can be transformed from the abnormal state to a new normal state depends on the Prayuth regime's governance capability instead of the ambitions of the rulers or on military support. Only by promoting economic growth, reversing social imbalances and increasing the livelihoods of the people, can the Prayuth government win a general recognition from all walks of life.

So far, it has been very difficult for the Prayuth government to make breakthroughs during this transitional period. The government faces mounting pressures from Western democracies, and from intensifying conflicts between the middle classes and farmers. More importantly, the old predicament of social and economic reform still makes it difficult for the Prayuth government to explore a commonly agreed plan to advance reform with social wealth being maximized.

The key to resolving Thailand's dilemma is to introduce exterior drivers, giving real impetus to its reform. Only by relying on the benefits produced by economic growth can the deteriorating social imbalances, such as the growing urban-rural and rich-poor gaps, be rectified. In this way, all different political groups can find common ground to seek political reconciliation.

In fact, opportunities have presented themselves to this troubled nation. The 21st century Maritime Silk Road proposed by China could serve as an exterior driver to boost Thailand's reform.

The Prayuth government has apparently sensed the opportunity, and attached importance to China's role in helping move Thailand back on track. The high-speed rail project signed by the two will help Thailand take advantage of the spillover from China's western development and improve the economic growth of its northern and northeastern rural areas. As for the Prayuth government, the key to unraveling its predicament probably rests on close strategic cooperation with China.

The author is an associate research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Posted in: Asian Beat, Viewpoint

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