Thailand, Relations with


Thailand, Relations with
   Sharing both a common IndoBuddhist civilization and many centuries of antagonism, the governments of Burma and Thailand followed fundamentally different courses after World War II. Under both U Nu and Ne Win, Burmese policies emphasized socialism and nonalignment (as well as isolationism after Ne Win's Revolutionary Council was established in 1962), while Thailand's leaders promoted friendly relations with the United States, close economic connections with Western countries and Japan, and an anticommunist agenda, as reflected in Bangkok's charter membership in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization in 1954 and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1967 and its active support for the American war in Indochina, including sending troops to South Vietnam. Thai leaders, most of whom had conservative military backgrounds, were suspicious of socialism in any form and also feared the power of the Communist Party of Burma. They used border-area insurgent movements, especially the Karen National Union (KNU) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP), as "buffers" against the Burmese. These insurgent groups carried out trade across the border, especially at Three Pagodas Pass, exporting Burmese raw materials, including teak, in exchange for consumer goods from Thailand that supplied Burma's black market. Ethnic minority armies in Shan State, such as the Mong Tai Army exported opium and heroin to international markets through Thailand, but although the trade earned corrupt Thai officials large payoffs, it had relatively little impact on Thailand's own society.
   Guided by Washington's Cold War strategies, Thailand's behavior earned the distrust of the Burmese in other ways, especially when it became apparent that Bangkok and Washington backed the Kuomintang (Guomindang) incursions into Shan State in the early 1950s. Relations reached an all-time low when Thailand offered sanctuary to former Prime Minister U Nu's Parliamentary Democracy Party (PDP) in 1969; in 1970, the PDP became part of a united front, the National United Liberation Front, which sought unsuccessfully to overthrow the Ne Win regime.
   In the late 1980s, Thailand's prime minister, Chatichai Choonhavan, talked about "replacing battlefields with marketplaces" in post-Cold War Mainland Southeast Asia. Burma-Thailand relations underwent a fundamental transformation in 1988, following the establishment of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and the end of Burmese-style socialism. In December of that year, the Thai Army commander, Chaovalit Yongchaiyuth, led a delegation to Rangoon (Yangon) to talk with SLORC chairman General Saw Maung. The new Burmese military regime was desperate for cash, and the Chaovalit-Saw Maung summit led to the SLORC's awarding concessions to Thai companies to exploit forest resources along the border; these earned the regime over US$110 million annually between 1989 and 1993. The SLORC also granted Thai companies offshore fishing contracts. The Yadana Pipeline Project, the largest single foreign investment project in Burma, was built in the 1990s to supply Thailand with natural gas extracted from the Gulf of Martaban (Mottama).
   Closer cooperation between the Thai military and the Tatmadaw after 1988 put an end to the ethnic minority insurgents' buffer status. They lost the freedom to operate on Thai soil, while Tatmadaw units were sometimes allowed to attack KNU units from the Thai side of the border. In 1990, Burmese troops occupied Three Pagodas Pass, formerly controlled by the KNU and the NMSP; in 1995, they captured the major KNU base at Manerplaw.
   Although economic engagement and closer relations brought monetary rewards to Thai elites, the country has suffered from the consequences of Burmese social and political instability. Hundreds of thousands of Karen (Kayin), Mon, Karenni, and Shan (Tai) refugees, as well as Burman (Bamar) student exiles, fled to Thailand in the wake of the SLORC power seizure and Tatmadaw "Four Cuts" campaigns. Most of these refugees lacked documentation, and many became illegal workers inside Thailand. Powerful new drugdealing armies in Shan State, especially the United Wa State Army (UWSA), flooded the country with cheap amphetamines, creating a major drug epidemic nationwide that especially targeted young people. Growth of Chinese influence has also worried Thai leaders, and the flow of cheap Chinese consumer goods into Burma has disappointed businesspeople who had hoped the country would become part of a Thailand-centered economic zone.
   Along the long, poorly demarcated Thai-Burma border, an unpredictable mix of the Thai Army and Border Police, Tatmadaw troops, cease-fire armed groups (such as the UWSA), and non-cease-fire groups (such as the KNU and the Shan State Army-South) has led to periodic outbursts of armed conflict. One of the worst incidents occurred in February 2001, when Thai and Tatmadaw artillery units exchanged fire across the border at Mae Sai-Tachilek, an event that stimulated a paroxysm of anti-Thai propaganda in Burma's state-run mass media, including glorification of the 16th-century conquerorking Bayinnaung, who subjugated Siam in the 1560s.
   On the Thai side, old images of the Burmese as the "enemy nation" have revived in popular films such as Ban Rajaan (about a band of villagers who, Alamo-like, fought to the death against an 18th-century Burmese onslaught) and Suryothai (about a legendary queen who died fighting the Burmese invader from the back of an elephant). But Thai attitudes toward Burma since 1988 have been complex. As Thailand moved from military domination of politics to government by elected civilian politicians, many "civil society" activists expressed strong sympathy for their prodemocracy counterparts in Burma and also helped Burmese refugees. The Thai media, including the English-language Nation and Bangkok Post, have provided detailed reports on violations of human rights inside Burma and along the border. The Democrat Party government of Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai was one of the few within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to express reservations about admitting Burma as an ASEAN member in 1997. Under Chuan's successor, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, business interests have had a dominant voice in the making of Burma policy, meaning that other factors have not been allowed to interfere with smooth bilateral relations.
   See also Thailand and Burma.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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