Big sister in town : A timely showdown of the faded US to the newly-baked government
Whenever Mrs Hilary Clinton visits any country, a meeting with those leaders is always a must in her programme. Normal practice for others too, courtesy call by foreign minister to a leader in the visited nation is a good protocol reflecting close and good relations between the two sides.
But today (16 at 8. PM BKK time), the seasoned American politician will be flanked by Thailand’s first female Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra at a joint press conference to “underscore US strong alliance with Thailand and its support for Thailand’s recovery efforts following severe flooding.”
Quite an honour for Mrs Clinton or for Thailand???
The 64-year-old secretary of state, in her records since January 2009, normally had a joint statement/conference with her counterparts, not by leaders of those countries. For example, in July 2009, she and the external relations minister S.M. Krishna heralded India-US strategic partnership and held a joint statement again after the strategic dialogue was held in July this year.
Mrs Clinton also had a joint statement with her Brazilian counterparts Celso Amorim in March last year.
For the debut premier Yingluck, Clinton will be her first significant foreign guest in town when she was embattled by the Great Flood.
Yingluck’s brother, the coup-ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, stood side by side with the then U.S. President George Bush in 19 September 2005, not in Thailand, but in the U.S., delivering a joint statement revigorating deepened partnership with the old ally.
A bit sooner, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva had a joint statement with the UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon in Bangkok in November 2010, a joint statement in New Delhi with the Indian counterparts during the official visit in April 2011, and with the Philippine president when he visited Thailand in May this year.
On one hand, Thai people should be consoled and grateful (to Yingluck or to the U.S. remains inconclusive?!) that in inconvenient time like flooding, BIG SISTER is still visiting us. The ruling government who was only installed after 7 July 2011 election should shun domestic dissent voices by the opposition party and the elite groups that they are no chicken—but with some international connections.
Also, the presence and strong words of solidarity from the prowess Clinton should hopefully spell some charms to the international audience that Thailand is resilient and soon bouncing back to where it (should) belong.
But superficially, we could say that Thailand has usually bent on the external rubber stamps of things happening in our own territory.
The past five years Thailand has even shown its desperate needs for major powers’ recognition, economically and politically, as the country is treading into the unknown waters of socio-political landscape.
Now is no exception, but for different reasons----we want to lend the foreign dignitaries’ voice to tell the world that “Thailand shall stand back after the flood—and the key players are behind us.”
Today, the UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon would lend his solidarity to Thailand during his one-day visit here on his way to the 19th Asean summit in Bali. Mr Ban would stand-by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in delivering the strong chord of support in flood relief and post-disaster reconstructions.
The same day will also see Prime Minister Yingluck listen to “big sister” Clinton at the Government House joint press conference that “it is in the U.S. national security and political interest to have this government succeed, and we will do what we can to support that going forward.”
Like her previous predecessors, the Yingluck administration has shunned the principle of protocol treatment as long as it serves the purpose of shoring up domestic popularity in time of crisis or downhill rating.
When Abhisit was the leader, he treated red-carpeted a lot of senior Chinese officials from foreign ministry and the Communist Party…the Democrat-led government also desperately needed Chinese endorsement to pursue normal relations as they were fully aware of closer ties between the dissent Thaksin and China.
It was Abhisit who had to pay visits to China three times—first right after the failed Pattaya Summit, then official visit and again to attend the grandeur Asian Games in Guangzhou.
It’s the psyche of the Thai leadership, they will act sort of “kow tow” to those they feel deficit with.
Some diplomats said, “In this critical transition, any powerful dignitaries will be well-received. We badly need to regain the international community’s confidence. A strong message or more is needed to reaffirm our inner and fundamental strength. A minor protocol compromise of the joint-standing and joint statement is therefore not an issue.”
But this raises some eyebrows as the U.S. has provided, by cash or kind measurement, for the flood reliefs, less than some other countries such as Japan and the European Union.
But their voice seems louder or repeated too often.
Just a decade ago, the U.S. was doing little to nothing when the financial crisis hit Thailand and dominoed other Asian nations. Now they hope that their goodwill gesture would produce some positive results in the country that has usually been their close ally.
“Won't it be an equal status, had we consider that protocol matters here. The U.S. secretary of state is equivalent to foreign minister and prime minister is lowering her status to stand in the same podium. If they want to deliver a message to the Thai people, let Mrs Clinton do on her own (if not with her no-charming counterparts),” others argue.
By and large, the Pheu Thai party, a lousy transformation of Thai Rak Thai party, founded by Thaksin, unsurprisingly copied the Thaksin-styled strategy of megaphone psychological approach to numb the dissent views.
After all, both Thailand and the U.S. wanted to be seen that we never stand apart. Yet, the long-standing project to get President Barack Obama’s official visit since the Abhisit administration, more specifically in light of the September 2006 coup, has never been realized.
But Thailand’s First Lady will still use the opportunity at the Asean Summit in Bali to hold a bilateral meeting with all key partners including Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (18 Nov), Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiniko Noda, and President Obama (19 Nov).
There remains a long list of things for the Thai government to undertake before we could be shining back in the global radar. Among key issues included settling the term of recognition whether we would like to allow political bickering to continue or interfere even in time of disaster management.