Nation Roundtable: Thailand’s role in Asean, citizenship for Myanmar’s ethnic groups, and the environment

Representatives from seven political parties also said that Thailand should restore its position as a leader in the Asean region, if it is to benefit from geopolitics and geoeconomics.

Jarupong Krisanaraj

Jarupong Krisanaraj

The Nation


May 2, 2023

BANGKOK – Atavit Suwanpakdee, Chart Pattana Kla Party’s deputy leader said it was unfortunate that Thailand does not play a major role in the Asean region, adding that he wants to see the country do more to promote the employment of Thai workers.

Addressing the unrest on the Thai-Myanmar border, he expressed the view that countries should be more accepting of diversity and allow freedom of movement for ethnic groups.

“The ethnic groups should be categorised as ‘Asean people’,” he said, adding that they should also have passports of their own.

Atavit Suwanpakdee

He also pointed out that ethnic groups were not able to access treatment during the Covid-19 pandemic, which was in direct violation of human rights.

With Thailand, like Singapore, facing a shortage of workers due to an ageing population, he recommended that the Interior Ministry allow ethnic people to register as Thai citizens.

Thepparith Senamngern

Thepparith Senamngern, Thai Sang Thai Party’s deputy secretary-general, made mention of Thailand’s talents in negotiating with other countries, but noted that these days the country was being blamed by non-governmental organisations for failing to take action on geopolitical issues.

He was also critical of the government’s slow progress in enhancing public awareness of environmental conservation and digital transformation, citing as an example how the high fares set by BTS and MRT were preventing many from using this environment-friendly form of public transportation. He also claimed that Thailand’s environmental impact assessments (EIA) were not very reliable.

“Thailand took three years to encourage people to use mobile banking,” he said.

Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala

Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala, advisor to Palang Pracharath Party’s policy committee, said it was important that the Asean region facilitates negotiations with both the US and China.

“Asean can cooperate smoothly with both the major powers to gain maximum benefit.” He added that Thai people should know more of the languages used in Asean countries too.

Finally, he urged the government to tackle PM2.5 pollution in upper Thailand as soon as possible. PM2.5 is fine dust less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter. Long-term exposure damages respiratory systems and blood vessels.

“Caretaker Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said Thailand has been facing air pollution for 20 years, so it is time to deal with this issue,” he said, adding that the government must work closely with related agencies on cultivation planning in order to tackle crop burning.

Fires from agricultural burning are the world’s largest source of black carbon, which threatens both humans and the environment. Most farmers burn sugarcane prior to harvest to remove the leaves.

Sirikanya Tansakun

Sirikanya Tansakun, Move Forward Party’s deputy leader, said Thailand should stop launching greenwashing schemes as these often have negative effects. An example is the Xayaburi dam in Laos, which is having severe environmental impacts on the Mekong River.

The dam, which was constructed by Thai contractor CH-Karnchang under the electricity procurement contract between the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) and Lao government, started commercial operations in 2019.

She also claimed that Thailand’s humanitarian assistance to Myanmar refugees fleeing the conflict between the Myanmar regime’s army and ethnic groups does not meet international standards.

She added that Thailand should facilitate registration as Thai citizens for these members of ethnic groups to allow them to access basic human rights.

“If Thailand wants to be the leader of Asean, we must take action on this issue,” she said.

She said the next prime minister must be brave enough to take action on many issues including the conflict between Thailand and Cambodia on their overlapping claims in the Gulf of Thailand and air pollution in upper Thailand.

Napat Chuanrumluek

Napat Chuanrumluek, a member of Chart Thai Pattana Party’s economic team, said Asean could be more robust if the member countries worked more closely together.

He agreed that Thailand has an advantage in geopolitics and geoeconomics, but stressed that the environment, politics, and the economy must be developed to allow it to meet its full potential. Environmental issues were particularly important, he noted, particularly the effects of pollution caused by crop burning on communities unable to move away from the most badly affected areas.

“Asean is waiting for the time to rise exponentially,” he said.

He also vowed to join with other political parties to bring maximum benefits to the people.

Kiat Sittheeamorn

Kiat Sittheeamorn, a member of the Democrat Party’s economic policy committee, said the Asean region is playing an important role in the global society. “But Asean needs to be stronger to reap the benefits,” he said.

He said Thailand should join hands with other countries in dealing with international issues, such as the conflict in Myanmar and problems related to Rohingya and Uyghur refugees.

The situation in Myanmar could be resolved if many countries agreed to cooperate, he said, adding that he expects the issue to be resolved once China takes action.

He also expressed the view that providing ethnic groups access to human rights was urgent.

“Many countries are offering ID cards to ethnic groups and allowing them to stay for around five years before permitting them to register for citizenship,” he said.

He also confirmed that Thailand has the potential to lead Asean, though that would depend on who was elected as prime minister.

He added that media outlets have a role to play in encouraging people to vote for good people for the House of Representatives.

“All people have a role in driving the country forwards,” he said.

Kiat went on to say that Thailand should tackle PM2.5 pollution by offering incentives and imposing punishments.

“But before that, we must negotiate to get the approval from many parties,” he said.

He said Thailand should not accept any EIA that affects the people, pointing out that project owners were far more interested in saving on costs than mitigating the impacts on people.

Noppadon Pattama

Noppadon Pattama, deputy chairman of Pheu Thai Party’s strategy committee, said Thailand must play a role in dealing with various issues in Asean region.

He said Thailand was not interfering with the unrest in Myanmar so as to maintain a strong relationship and prevent difficulties in dealing with other issues, such as narcotics and PM2.5.

“Asean is still important and Thailand must have a role in the region,” he said.

He added that Asean must be stronger if it is to solve many issues in the region, such as human rights and environmental problems.

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