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Thai/Burma relations

Reply-To: "Douglas E. Steele - Student at Georgetown Univers" <temp7@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Thai/Burma relations

Burma Issues


BURMA ISSUES, July, 1993


We cannot deny the fact that presently we live in the age of
information.  All of the information and data appearing in the
newspapers or on TV screens are, either directly or indirectly,
related to our daily lives.  Well aware of such the importance of
this information, government agencies have tried their best to
seize and control the dissemination of information.  Info-tactics
have been one major tool introduced in order to have an upper hand
over rivals in terms of information and data that are to serve ones
own purposes through alteration and distortion.  One example is
that of the Burma TV stations which are totally under the control
of Burma's military regime.  Its news presentation is designed only
to build up a good picture of the military government and its
activities.  In the same way, the countries only newspaper called
the New Light of Myanmar only present news and the movements of
Burma's military junta.  No mention is ever made of the problems
currently facing the Burmese people.   Therefore it can be said
that the Burmese people have access only to one facet of

After the age of the cold war ended, the characteristics of
information recipients changed.  Quite a good number now do not
care for international news.  To them it not related to national
interests.  It is imperative that the general public should clearly
understand that the line dividing international affairs from
national ones is quite narrow, so much so that we can say that it
does not exist.  Therefore we should pay more attention to
information and news that is closely connected with international
and national affairs.

This report will try to highlight information and data concerning
the relationship between Thailand and Burma, which have always
tried to acquire maximum benefits from each another, taking into no
consideration any consequence which this relationship might bring
to either the people or the country's own national resources.

Past Relationships

Burma has long been Thailand's neighbor, sharing a very long
frontier of about 1,609 kilometers starting from Chiangrai in the
north down to Ranong in the south.  The length of the border itself
tells the length of the history shared by the two countries which
began in the twenty-second Buddha Era, or in the middle age of
Ayudhya.  The Burma-Thai relationship is even much longer if we go
back to the times of Sukhothai and Lanna Kingdoms during which
several wars were waged between the two until Burma became a colony
of Britain during the reign of Rama IV of Rattanakosin Dynasty.

Apart from the ancient relationship in terms of wars and
competitions between Thailand and Burma, political influences
imposed by the 200-year occupation of Burma over the Lanna Kingdom
of northern Thailand has to also be reckoned with as it has had a
major influence over northern Thailand' s culture and religious

When Burma became a British colony, Thailand was under western
threats and had to adapt itself to the modernization process.
During part of that period, Thai-Burma relations were cut.  It was
only after 25-years of Burma's self-imposed isolation and the
failure of Ne Win's military oligarchy that the relationship, both
political and economic, between the two has greatly improved. Now
that Thailand is badly in need of natural resources for its
industrial production, and while Burma also badly needs Thailand's
consumer products, the two former competitors have moved to a
stance of interdependence.

The introduction to "Burma : Students' Movement and Sensational
History " by Dr. Charnvit Kesetsiri, emphasizes that Thai-Burma
relations in former times was based on several factors which
created their interdependence.  One was the long frontier which
made trade and investment plans easy and encouraged the strategies
used by both to acquire benefits from the another.   In spite of
the fact that the Burmese government under the military junta does
not come from any election process and is not accepted by the
Burmese people, Thailand does want to re-establish a close relation
with Burma. This is because Burma abounds in natural resources for
Thai exploitation and Burma is expecting from Thailand investments
by which Burma can expect financial gains and also a means to get
rid of ethnic minority groups.  Now the situation of international
relationships has changes and Burma has been targeted as investment
paradise for many countries, in spite of the fact that many of
these countries do not accept the Burmese military as a legitimate
government status. These countries want to invest in Burma.  This
enables Burma to exercise its power to look at alternatives and is
thus in a position to alter their relationship with Thailand in the
field of investment.  Burma is in the position to first take into
consideration the returns they can get from investment plans to be
carried out by each country, and compare these returns with those
they can get from Thailand.

Thai-Burma relations can be described as follows.

1.   Thailand's Attitude Towards Burma : Exploitation At Its Best

After the coup d'etat of General Saw Maung in September of 1988,
Burma was regarded by the international community as "Soldiers who
have killed the people".  Yet now Burma has become the delicious
prey of international traders who want to exploit Burma's plentiful
resources, overlooking the terrible pain felt by Burma's people who
can only keep their eyes closed in sadness.  Thai traders keep
flowing into Burma on board every flight to Rangoon.  Every week
there are new Thai traders who would try their best to acquire new
concessions from the military.  All these people only look for the
financial gains they can get, as well as any new opportunities to
snatch new benefits while Burma is still very weak in terms of
economy and politics.

Such a trend has been propelled by the trade policy of General
Chatchai, former prime minister, who so badly wanted to trade with
Burma that almost all ministers in his cabinet declared they would
enter Burma by any means.  This view was also shared by politicians
of the opposition parties who also declared that now it was the
time to do trading and to make money.  They did not believe that
they would lose face by getting involved.   Everybody went to Burma
and nobody has ever mentioned anything about human rights in Burma. 
The only things they can talk about are concession rights in
logging, fishing, hotels and trading which would produce a huge
volume of cash profits for them.

We have to accept the fact that the trade policy of General
Chatchai was well planned and could bring about benefits to all
concerned.  Fishing was then under the Social Action Party.  One of
its members was president of the Fishing Association.  Most
importantly, the minister of Foreign Affairs was also from the
Social Action Party at that time.  Because of this, if Thai
fishermen who illegally went to catch fish in neighboring
countries' were arrested, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through
the ambassador of that country, would take care of them and bring
them home to Thailand.  All fees would be provided by the Fishing

In the case of logging, when the Thai forests were closed to
logging, a minister from the Democrat Party in the cabinet of
General Chatchai went directly to Burma to negotiate logging deals. 
That was the first time that a figure of ministerial level had ever
to visited Burma.  It was during this same period of time that
representatives and ministers of other parties often went to Burma
with purposes no different from average Thai traders (Burma PHA
MUANG : Kiatchai Pongphanit)

The present Thai cabinet's policy on foreign affairs and economy as
declared in the parliament on wednesday, October 21, 1992, are as

2.   Policies on Foreign Affairs

The government would abide by all the obligations with all
countries as stated in treaties and agreements signed by Thailand
as members, as well as in all UN resolutions and the Universal
Declarations on Human Rights and would by all means act so as to
obtain the national interest in terms of national security,
politics, economy and society, taking into account the fluctuations
of the situations in the world and the region that can have a
strong impact on international cooperation. This is to strengthen
Thailand's status that it would become the economic, financial and
communication hub for this region. This is what Thailand would try
to bring about:

1.   Promote friendship and solidarity and cooperation among
neighboring countries in South-east Asia.
2.   Increase and develop relationship and cooperation,
politico-socio-cultural, with member states in ASEAN so as to
fortify its economic stand as ASEAN trade zone.
3.   Promote economic relationship and cooperation with main trade
partners and all other countries in various regions under the free
trade system, fair competition, and take part in reducing the
tension of international conflicts resulting from trade,
investment, technological transfer and protection of intellectual
assets, based on own national readiness.
4.   Encourage economic, academic, cultural and human resource
development cooperation with all countries, bilaterally or
multi-laterally, thus increasing Thailand's role in assisting and 
supporting the economic development of the developing countries,
especially the neighboring countries, thus strengthening the
existing good relationship and understanding between Thai people
and the people of those countries.
5.   Substantiate Thailand's role in the international arena with
respect to sustainable and balanced ecological system.
6. Monitor, protect and encourage the rights and interests of Thai
people, Thai labor and Thai businesses overseas.

As to how to implement the policies on foreign affairs, the
minister of Foreign Affairs mentioned in an interview on October
2-8, 1992 that Thailand would:
     -Follow the course of the United Nations and build up peace.
The fundamental policies should be based on the principles and the
support of the United Nations. Promote good relationship with all
countries and help every country in building world peace. Help
reduce disputes with peaceful means.
     -With regard to Burma, the Thai attitude should be revised, in
spite of the fact that Thailand is on good terms with Burma.  But
such friendship should be free from any prejudices as Burma has
been ruled by a military power, the power under which the people
have been deprived of voting rights.  Thus far the power has not
yet been transferred to the civilian government even though the
election has long been concluded. The revised stand of Thailand
should be acceptable to the world community, or in another words,
corresponding to the current trend of the world. Thailand is not
going to interfere in Burma's internal affairs.  What we have done
we have done for the Burmese people who do not have the right to
govern themselves. Thailand is not going to do away with them like
in the May incidence which has been a lesson for Thailand. Thailand
does understand well the Burmese people's mind.  Whatever is
regarded as harmful and useless in approaching the Rangoon
government or incapable of improving the politics under the
democratic system shall be revised, be they trade or any kind of

The Attitude of the Prime Minister towards Burma

"Thailand should act in such a way that Burma can see how the world
community reacts towards the military government of Burma. The
National Security Council of Burma should provide economic and
social assistance for Burma, as well as all other neighboring
countries, so that disputes or conflicts on international politics
can be appropriately resolved and that Burma can be trusted and
bestowed with  gains from forest resources from all countries."

          The Approach of Thai Government : Burma

The Thai government may have to maintain a state-level relationship
with Burma, while also keeping a good relationship with the Burmese
people.  Such a relationship should be based on human rights,
freedom and peace, in order to reduce the picture of Thailand's
greed and hunger towards the people in the neighboring countries.

          Burma's Foreign Affairs Policies

Since the last decade Burma has been governed by  the Burma
Socialist Program Party of the Union of Burma or in practice by the
totalitarian government.  Even though in its foreign  affairs
policies Burma has maintained regular relationships with all
countries, in practice Burma discourages the relationship between
its people and those of other countries, so much so that it is like
closing the country from the outside world and acts like the hermit
of Asia and maintains the internal administration matter in that

During the past two decades it is as if Burma were dragged down
into the pit of military dictatorship and civil war between the
central government and the minority groups.  Every party is looking
for every means of support, both in terms of arms and of funds to
attain its own goal. On one hand, one is striving for a democratic
rule in which people are owners of autonomy and on the other hand
the other is trying to maintain its military totalitarian power.

          Thai-Burma Relationship

When mentioning about Thailand's foreign affairs policies towards
Burma, the minister of Foreign Affairs said the present government
would follow the approach set by the previous government, that is,
to uphold the relationship with all neighboring countries,
especially with the Indochinese countries. As for Burma, the
minister stressed that Thailand would continue the foreign affairs
policies of the former government, that is, constructive contacts
with Burma, or more concretely, with Burma's military totalitarian
power. Thailand has already shown that it is not that easy to exert
any pressure on Burma as Thailand and Burma share the same
borderline along which there have always been lots of  mutual
interest.  The policy of changing battlefields into trade areas of
General Chatchai shall be continued. "Everything that has been
carried out is smoothly practiced." It is not wrong to say that
Thailand has never had a clear policy on Burma. General Chatchai's
policy of battle fields for trade areas indicates that Thailand's
foreign affairs policies never care which country it is or how the
world community would regard that country and would by all possible
means secure any benefit without delay even though the trade
partner country is at stake and destitute in the political and
economic doldrums.

          Thai-Burma Relationship after  SLORC's Advent

On December 14, 1988, only three months after General Saw Maung and
his colleagues succeeded in grasping the power from the Burmese
people, a Thai former commander-in-chief and head of an important
political party travelled by a chartered flight of the royal army
to Rangoon. The following morning Burma newspapers showed a picture
of two hugging generals and said the Thai general called the
Burmese general "Big Brother".   After that day the Thai-Burma
relationship was better than ever, in spite of the fact that
Thailand has not officially recognized the totalitarian government
of General Saw Maung and his colleagues.  But the fact that
Thailand has an embassy in Rangoon and maintains regular relations
means its acceptance of the dictatorship of General Saw Maung and
his colleagues.  As for the then foreign affairs policies,
everything was based on types of benefits that could be acquired.
Because of this, there came the influx of Thai traders  to contact
General Saw Maung and his colleagues, procuring advantages from
natural resources of Burma in such a way that the Burmese people
could not open their mouths to protest and to protect themselves.

          The Present Thai-Burma Relationship

In his special interview in Than Settakit 25-28 July, 1993, the
Thai ambassador to Burma said that "during the past 5-6 months some
border disputes had taken place along the Thai/Burma border.  These
were unavoidable for countries which share a borderline of 1,609
kilometers with almost 70 entry points. We have been like tongues
and teeth. And what we have been trying to do is how to deal with
or control the disputes that the existing relationship  would not
be affected, and how to reduce the mistrust among the two. We have
tried to make Burma realize that we wish that Burma and its people
have  better livelihood. Last year we started an academic program
of about 20 million Baht between the two countries. This program
was initiated last July and during the past 3 months we can have
about 200 Burmese people sent to attend study tours in Thailand,
focusing on public health, education and management. Another fund
of about 10 million Baht is set for medicine that Burma needs most;
some medical equipments like ambulances and surgery beds are also
going there. I frequently tell the Burmese leader, 'Geography makes
us permanent neighbors, but the Thai government wishes to be a
neighbor,in fact,a permanent neighbor.'"

          Thai Economic Policies

As a major part of the population are under the poverty line, this
government would focus on the up grading of the living standard of
the people of all walks of life, along with the distribution of
modernization into the regions and the rural areas.  And at the
same time the government would apply  the free economic system,
making use of a marketing mechanism to cut off monopoly and unfair
competition that the overall economy can grow at a suitable and
stable rate, thus strengthening Thailand's economic potential in
competing with other countries and developing the country's
economic components that Thailand can attain its objectives.

          International Commerce

The entrepreneurs can efficiently compete in the international
commerce and investment in spite of the strong trade protection,
the government would do as follows.

1.  Eradicate obstacles of agricultural and industrial    
production for export as seen most appropriate.
2.  Promote free trade systems, but maintain the protection of the
national rights and interest, capabilities and limitations, paying
special attention to the negotiation on trade and customs tax rates
and on the opening of AFTA.
3.   Develop multi-lateral commercial relationships with all
economic groups like ASEAN, EC, ASPAC and NAFTA that Thailand would
have more opportunities for more trade and investment.
4.   Initiate cooperation in opening new border spots to increase
trade and investment volumes.
5.   Arrange negotiations on the amendment of agreements and
treaties on the international waters and sea resource utilization
for the national interest.
6.   Strengthen the trade relationship with neighboring countries,
providing economic and intellectual cooperation for the development
of their infra-structures.
7.   Encourage the private sector to take part in planning and
determining strategies on trade with other countries to protect
national trade and investment interests.

          Thailand's Future Investment Trend

The Bank of Thailand reported that foreign investment in Thailand
was about 0.5% of the primary capital accumulation or about 0.7% of
GDP. There were 47 multinational corporations. The volume of the
foreign investment was up from 27.9 million Baht in 1986 to 3,485.7
million Baht in 1992. The government agencies involved with
economic planning were confident that Thailand currently enjoyed a
considerably strong economy. In the meeting of the international
economic policy coordinating committee on July 15 the objectives,
scopes and strategies of Thailand's overseas investments were
determined, giving priorities to target areas and investment
capital sources.

Seven investment centers were identified. These were Indochinese
countries, ASEAN countries, the People's Republic of China, Burma,
Eastern European Blocks and the former Union of Soviet Russia.

Three investment areas were identified.
1)   Investment in import substitution industries. This was due to
the fact that the principal goods' markets were affected by trade
pressure, so much so that the exporters had to maintain their
markets by becoming themselves the investors in those markets.
2)   Overseas investment for export and for raw materials for Thai
internal production, which were investment efforts that would need
cheap labor, raw materials and natural resources from overseas for
Thailand's production for exports in the major world markets.
3)   Investment in the restructuring and developing markets in some
countries which were becoming new economic zones that required
overseas investment. (THAI FINANCIAL,29 July 1992)

As there has been a re-organization of the world economy, the
world's economic centers  have been moved from America to Asia. In
the future, Asia will become an investment capital market and also
the center of the major sources of raw materials. There would be
new organized international trade groups like AFTA, NAFTA and
Islamic groups.  As for the adaptation of Thailand to such
environment would normally depend on the national leaders. At the
time of General Chatchai the Indochinese markets were put forward.
At the time of Mr. Anand Panyarachura, AFTA was the main point. At
the time of Mr. Chuan Leakphai there is no new initiatives, even
though some ministers tried to bring forward the economic triangle
between Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia and the economic
quadrangle between Thailand, Southern China, Burma and Laos. 
Before this, there was an interesting movement with respect to the
joint construction of trade routes between Singapore, Burma and
China. It has been accepted that China has succeeded in its
economic development, especially in southern China, so much so that
China has to construct a road towards the Indian Ocean. This is the
reason why China is giving various types of assistance to Burma.
Singapore is a country that has invested in Burma and Yunnan of
southern China. In a survey of March 31, 1992, 130 Singaporean
companies were stationed in Yunnan and another 24 in Burma (Manager
Weekly, June 28 - July 4, 1993). Their investments were in the
industrial production section.

As for Thailand, the relationship was not very favorable, thus 
affecting Thai investors in Burma, especially in the case of
logging concessions.

           Burma-Thai Trade Relationship

1.   Government sector 
- a trade agreement was signed on April 12, 1989         
- an agreement on setting up a joint trade co-ordination committee
was made on February 2, 1990, but so far no meeting has been

2.   Private sector  
-so far there is no trade between Thai and Burma private sectors. 
Trade Statistics

         VALUE   % OF    VALUE    % OF   VALUE   % OF   
1988 74.69  0.21 14.27 0.09 60.42 0.30-46.151989108.88  0.24 25.02 0.12 83.86 0.33-58.841990173.79  0.20 42.12 0.17131.67 0.37-89.551991245.38  0.37 58.18 0.20187.20 0.50-129.021992217.03  0.30 77.32 0.24139.70 0.35-

Burma Issues
PO Box 1076, Silom Post Office
Bangkok 10504 Thailand

phone: 662 234 6674

Burma Issues (formerly Burma Rights Movement for Action,          
B.U.R.M.A.) is a Bangkok-based non-governmental organization that
monitors events in Burma with a focus on human rights, ethnic
minorities and the ongoing civil war.