Myanmar ties remain flawed
Relations have been worse than they are at present between Myanmar and Thailand, or to be more accurate between Siam and Burma. Wars were certainly worse than the current state of diplomacy, and exchanging tourists is certainly better than sacking cities. But the claim last week by Myanmar’s military chief that Thai-Myanmar relations are their most cordial in history is misleading at best.
Min Aung Hlaing was in Thailand on a strictly military mission, which is significant as an isolated fact. From 1962 until last year, the visit of a top Myanmar general was a political event.
Men in green took over the country and ran it as a labour camp for the pleasure of the military. That has ended. It will take time for the Myanmar people to ease or remove the military from influential positions, but a democratic form of government is slowly taking shape. Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing was in Thailand strictly to discuss military relations, with senior Thai officers.
Previous visits by President Thein Sein and the hugely admired democratic voice, Aung San Suu Kyi, are strong evidence of the enormous changes inside Myanmar. They speak little, however, of the bilateral relations with Thailand. Since the reform movement took hold two years ago, little has been done to alleviate or solve the serious defects in foreign relations introduced by the military dictators.
First and foremost is the continuing flood of drugs from Myanmar into Thailand, as well as into Myanmar’s other neighbours and far beyond. While the high-ranking visitor from Myanmar was here last week, police seized 400,000 methamphetamine, or ya ba tablets, in a Suvarnabhumi airport parking lot. That raid led to information that led to the seizure of another 168,000 ya ba pills and the arrest of four suspects in Ayutthaya.
The Myanmar government may not be directly involved in drug cartels any longer, as some military figures were. But that has had no effect on the gangs who make, smuggle and peddle drugs, first of all in Thailand. And while the reformed government has promised, then revised, a programme to end big-time opium and heroin production, it has taken no steps against the billionaire traffickers who run the ya ba trade, to the detriment of this country.
Then there is human trafficking. The Rohingya continue to be brutalised, to such an extent as to make these viciously victimised people flee the country where top government figures have said they are unwanted. No one knows how many Myanmar civilians have been driven out of the country to become stateless workers or homeless wanderers in Thailand. They could number a million or more, forced to leave Myanmar and now affecting Thailand.
Even the military relations under Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing are hardly acceptable, let alone praiseworthy. Last Saturday, the Myanmar military actually fired on a Thai fishing trawler which had — allegedly, one notes — intruded into its territory. There are many ways to deal with illegal entry or border violations. None of them involves shooting at unarmed offenders. If Thais followed Myanmar standards, the border would be littered with bodies, as more than a million Myanmar citizens have ‘‘violated’’ the Thai border.
There is little doubt that both Thailand and Myanmar are now run by men and women who are working for improved relations. That seems to include the Myanmar military, as Snr Gen Min Aung Hlaing says. But it is still a work in progress and must get much better before the high-fives of self-congratulation begin.