By Nontarat Phaicharoen
Thailand may lose foreign investment and suffer a blow to its stature because Washington has excluded the Southeast Asian nation, one of the United States’ oldest allies, from an upcoming democracy summit it is hosting, two analysts said Tuesday.
Thailand is among countries shut out from the so-called Summit for Democracy being hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden on Dec. 9-10, because even though its government was elected, it originated in a 2014 military coup, said Isa Gharti, an analyst at Chiang Mai University.
“Thailand’s government is rooted in a coup. This is enough to exclude Thailand,” Isa, an academic from Chiang Mai University, told BenarNews.
“In the long-term as well there will definitely be indirect effects on Thailand. U.S. support to the government and private sector may decrease. And foreign investment could decline in terms of value and confidence.”
The Southeast Asian nation will also lose any leverage it has in the international arena, Isa said.
Thailand, which has maintained bilateral ties with Washington for 203 years, is not the only Southeast Asian nation shut out from Biden’s democracy summit. All but three member states of the Association of Southeast Asian (ASEAN) nations – Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines – find themselves missing from the list of invitees.
That means ASEAN member-states in addition to Thailand that are not invited are: Brunei, an absolutist monarchy; Cambodia, which has banned opposition parties; Laos, a dictatorship; Myanmar, which is reeling after a military coup; Singapore, another firm ally of the U.S., but which is by and large a one-party state; and Vietnam, another one-party state.
The summit’s themes will focus on defending against authoritarianism, addressing and fighting corruption, and promoting respect for human rights, Biden had said in February.
The Biden administration has invited 110 countries to the Summit for Democracy. China and Russia are also not among them, and both nations have criticized the upcoming virtual summit as being “divisive.”
Commentators were quick to point out their surprise over the Philippines’ inclusion vis-à-vis Thailand’s exclusion from the democracy summit.
They noted that thousands of people have died in extrajudicial killings since 2016 under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
Many also alleged that Duterte was attempting to muzzle journalists reporting on the drug war.
Just last week, the country’s solicitor general indicated he was seeking to block Nobel Peace Prize winner and journalist Maria Ressa from physically attending the award ceremony in Oslo on Dec. 10, saying that her “recurring criticisms of the Philippine legal system” allegedly makes her “a flight risk.”
Seven cases are pending in the Philippines against Ressa and Rappler, her publication.
Amy Hawthorne, research director at the Project on Middle East Democracy, an advocacy group, told Reuters news agency she believed geopolitical motives were behind the decision to invite the Philippines to the summit.
“Clearly, strategic considerations about countering China are at play in inviting very troubled, backsliding democracies like India and the Philippines that are in China’s neighborhood, she said.
‘We feel happier not being invited’
Meanwhile, Russ Jalichandra, an outspoken retired senior Thai foreign ministry official, said “it was not surprising that the U.S. did not invite us.”
He was referring to the fact that the then-General Prayuth Chan-o-cha took power after leading a 2014 military coup to overthrow the civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra. Prayuth was then elected prime minister – and still holds that post – by parliament after the 2019 general election, despite allegations it was rigged to keep the junta in power.
Many may not consider Thailand a democracy, Jalichandra said.
“Though Thailand is supposed to be a democracy according to the constitution, in the past seven years there have been violations of human rights, by using laws as a tool,” Jalichandra, a former ambassador to Kazakhstan and deputy director general of the Foreign Ministry’s information department, told BenarNews.
“Many youths have been jailed with severe penalties, which is not the case abroad. Foreign investment in Thailand may reduce in the future,” he said, referring to those detained for participating in pro-democracy protests that began in July 2020.
At least 25 protesters, mostly university students, are currently behind bars.
Meanwhile, the U.S. embassy in Bangkok could not verify why Washington shunned its major non-NATO ally and oldest ally in Asia.
“The United States will continue to work with Thailand’s government and its people to advance values that bring our countries closer together, including democracy, tolerance, and respect for human rights,” Nicole Fox, the U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Bangkok, told BenarNews on Tuesday.
The Thai foreign minister, for his part, shrugged of the country’s omission from the summit, after the invitees’ names were released last Thursday.
“Some countries that hold elections were also not invited, it is not a surprise. Sometimes we feel happier not being invited, because some issues are a double-edged sword,” Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai told parliament without explaining what he meant.
The democracy summit, he added, is “pure politics by some countries against others.”
Kunnawut Boonreak in Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributed to this report.