The vote came after heightened diplomatic representations by western ambassadors this week to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok and what is reported to be unprecedented diplomatic pressure from Washington throughout the world. It comes after public opinion in western countries has seen a dramatic shift since February 24th as a result of the plight of Ukraine and the country’s plucky opposition to Russian aggression. The move is also being carefully watched in the light of a rising and very real Chinese threat to Taiwan in a world that is increasingly divided between democracy and autocracy.
Thailand took a stand on the right side of history on Wednesday when it supported a resolution at the UN General Assembly in New York deploring Russian aggression in Ukraine and calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian forces. The move came as somewhat of a surprise given earlier indications the kingdom had adopted a neutral stance and diplomatic activity in February where Thailand underlined its ties to Russia and its interest in joining the obscure and, since last Thursday, severely weakened Eurasian Economic Union. For foreign and potential investors in Thailand, the vote is an important signal that the kingdom supports a rules-based international order.
The Thai cabinet, on Tuesday, discussed the Russian invasion of Ukraine at length as Bangkok came under pressure from western diplomats to condemn the action by Russia in Ukraine which has provoked a sea change in western and European foreign policies just in the last few days.
On Wednesday, by comparison, the embattled Thai premier who is facing political instability and the growing prospect of a General Election in 2022, warned that the kingdom was maintaining a neutral stance in relation to events.
General Prayut Chan ocha appeared to echo statements from Beijing, which has repeatedly failed to describe the assault on Ukraine as an invasion while calling for talks when he emphasised to reporters that Thailand must be cautious given its long-standing relationship with Russia.
Prime Minister’s initial response this week was very similar to what he said after the February 1st 2021 coup in Myanmar and echoed China’s position
The response was very similar to Prime Minister Prayut’s comments after the February 1st coup last year in Myanmar.
However, in New York on Wednesday, Thailand cast its vote with 140 other countries from around the world in favour of the motion before the assembly joining Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and even Myanmar in deploring Russia’s actions and calling for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops.
Thailand’s position on Myanmar is sensitive to the danger of instability in its neighbour spilling over into adjacent provinces already welcoming refugees
The Prime Minister had earlier maintained that Thailand would have to tread very carefully in dealing with the unfolding situation as an operation was being coordinated through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to repatriate over 250 Thai nationals from Ukraine.
Thai nationals return home from war in Ukraine
Some of these flew into Suvarnabhumi Airport on Wednesday from Bucharest in Romania while others are expected from Warsaw over the coming days.
However, it is understood that over 100 Thai nationals are still locked down in cities that are under siege and bombardment from Russian forces.
Speaking after Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister suggested that Thailand would be adopting whatever line the ASEAN community chooses to take concerning the crisis.
Compared to the escalating and unprecedented response from the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union in reaction to the invasion, last Saturday’s response from ASEAN community foreign ministers appeared to be rather subdued and neutral. It basically amounted to a call for dialogue.
Lame and predictable response from ASEAN
The statement by the community, already reeling from having to deal with the worsening quagmire in Myanmar, was quite lame and predictable.
‘We call on all relevant parties to exercise maximum restraint and make utmost efforts to pursue dialogue through all channels, including diplomatic means to contain the situation,’ the ministers said. ‘We believe that there is still room for a peaceful dialogue to prevent the situation from getting out of control.’
The Prime Minister signalled, on Tuesday, Thailand’s stance on the UN resolution on Wednesday when he said that the kingdom would follow ASEAN’s lead.
Most ASEAN members voted to support the motion deploring Russia’s actions while Vietnam and Laos, pointedly, abstained.
‘It is about the regional grouping’s decision. We need to keep a balance. But most importantly, we have been concerned about the safety of people in countries involved in the conflict. We also have to ensure Thais in those countries are safe,’ he told reporters. ‘We also support the peace process to end the conflict and war. We need to tread carefully and act through Asean’s mechanisms.’
New diplomatic reality in line with popular sentiment has swept the world since last week’s invasion of Ukraine with strong opposition to Russia’s actions
The vote on Wednesday reflects the new diplomatic reality that has swept the world since last week as Ukraine fights for its existence against overwhelming Russian forces, something that has swept aside long-established diplomatic positions.
The initial statement issued by ASEAN on the 28th of February has been roundly condemned by many commentators as out of touch given the nature of the attack on Ukraine and was described By Professor Zachary Abuza of the National War College in Washington and Georgetown University on Tuesday as an example of ‘diplomatic cowardice’.
Thailand’s initial position, put forward by the Prime Minister, was also in marked contrast to Japan and New Zealand which moved quickly to condemn Russian aggression towards a neighbouring country while it was in line with India which remained neutral.
India’s neutral role linked to Russian arms
India’s stance is thought to be linked to the fact that Russia is a key supplier of arms to the country as it is to the junta in Myanmar which is only supported by China, Russia, Cambodia and although recently more mutedly, Thailand.
However, within ASEAN, Singapore appeared to be the first country to break ranks and forcefully condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The city-state quickly imposed rigorous and severe sanctions against Moscow including a Swift ban of its own and swingeing banking curbs.
Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, in a move similar to Norway, also promised to divest itself of Russian assets.
Singapore leads the way in ASEAN in opposition to Russia imposing strong banking and trade sanctions
Singapore’s position was explained by its Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan this week when he said: ‘We cannot accept one country attacking another without justification, arguing that its independence was the result of ‘historical errors and crazy decisions’. Unless we as a country stand up for principles that are the very foundations for the independence and sovereignty of smaller nations, our own right to exist and prosper as a nation may similarly be called into question.’
The strengthening of the resolve in western countries, whose populations have been shaken by the sight of the Ukrainian people under fire and their will to fight, is something not seen in the world of diplomacy in over 80 years and will undoubtedly contribute to what is increasingly developing as a divided world between the forces of democracy and autocracy with less and less patience for realpolitik and even neutrality.
Russia accuses America of unprecedented diplomatic pressure on countries in response to the decisive vote against its ongoing military action in Ukraine
The vote on Wednesday and the overwhelming support for Ukraine and the stern stance have been attributed by the Russian delegation at the United Nations to unprecedented diplomatic pressure from Washington and key western allies.
The change in western countries has brought the United Nations and institutions such as the European Union in line with strong grassroots support in what is seen as a direct reversal of popular sentiment since 2016.
This week, Switzerland, famed for its strict neutrality even in the course of World War II, allowed its banks to freeze the assets of Russian oligarchs and the Russian leadership including President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Diplomats from Western and European countries determined to call out Russia and halt the invasion of Ukraine, visited the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
This change and events on the ground in Ukraine have heightened the determination of western democracies to punish and call out Russia.
This was communicated diplomatically to the Thai government on Monday when 25 western ambassadors had a meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with permanent secretary Thani Thongphakdi.
The western ambassadors called on Thailand to fully support the UN resolution which was passed on Wednesday by a General Assembly meeting of the United Nations in New York, in a historic move to break the deadlock over a resolution and not seen since May 1982 after the Russian chair of the National Security Council last week vetoed a non-binding resolution deploring the invasion and calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops.
World lives in fear – UK Minister says Putin may not be in his ‘right mind’ as Thursday’s invasion goes awry
India, China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) abstained while the rest of the council supported the measure.
However, on Wednesday, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) reversed course and supported the motion within the General Assembly.
European Union ambassador, calling for Thai support, described Russia’s aggression as a challenge to the UN charter and international rules-based order
After Monday’s meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok, the European Union’s ambassador to Thailand, Irishman David Daly, a former civil servant and experienced official in Brussels, took to Twitter to underscore the significance of this crisis.
He described what Russia has done as a challenge to the United Nations itself and the established international order.
He called on Thailand to ‘speak up to save our rules-based international order and vote for the UN Resolution’ something which the kingdom followed through on Wednesday night when it broke with China in voting in favour the motion before the UN General Assembly meeting, the first of its kind since 1982 and the Falklands crisis when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, the territory of the United Kingdom.
PM initially cautious while Thailand, on February 17th, emphasised strong diplomatic ties with Russia seeking support to join the Eurasian Economic Union
On Tuesday, however, General Prayut appeared to give a hesitant response to the diplomatic representations and was adopting a cautious stance. ‘We need to be composed and make decisions carefully. Thailand must maintain a neutral stance and bring Thais in Ukraine back home quickly.’
In Thailand, the kingdom’s initial support for its relationship with Russia was seen on February 17th when Russian ambassador Evgeny Tomikhin paid a courtesy call to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also met permanent secretary, Thani Thongphakdi.
That meeting revolved around preparations to celebrate Thailand’s 125 years of diplomatic relations with Moscow and the kingdom’s request for its support in its application to join the Eurasian Economic Union.
This is an economic union comprising 184 million people of former soviet states established and dominated by Russia since 2015.
Its members include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, all countries in the grips of political turmoil and strife. The observer countries to the pact are Cuba, Moldova and Uzbekistan.
Threat to Taiwan from China is linked to this crisis
The significance of this moment for Thailand and Southeast Asia is the threat that exists to Taiwan and the growing prospect of an invasion of that country by China in the next five to ten years.
China will be watching carefully and may be surprised by the force of the diplomatic and economic backlash to the Russian invasion.
China claims Taiwan as a renegade province and refutes any suggestion that it is an independent or sovereign country.
China signed a significant and far-reaching mutual assistance and friendship pact on February 7th last which clearly defined itself as anti-American and opposed to western hegemony.
While many observers, last week, were quite surprised that China voted to abstain on the motion calling on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine, there is already some evidence of China’s tacit support for the move.
Security sources in Washington have fed into this narrative by letting it be known that China requested Russia to defer the invasion until after the conclusion of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Anger towards China in Ukraine
There is also growing anger in Ukraine towards the stance adopted by Beijing even though China is its largest trading partner.
Indeed, China’s advice to its population has altered in recent days from urging Chinese citizens in Ukraine to openly identify themselves as Chinese to suggesting a more cautious approach.
The disarray of officials in Beijing regarding what is happening can be seen from the fact that initially this policy was portrayed by them as affirming the strength of China’s position in the world.
It is clear that the Chinese Foreign Ministry either foresaw a quick Russian victory or dangerously underestimated the depth of national opinion in Ukraine which is doggedly opposed to the invasion.
Chinese censors support Moscow’s disinformation campaign behind the Great Firewall where anti-American sentiment reigns with no talk of invasion
China has also acquiesced in Moscow’s disinformation programme in connection with the invasion of Ukraine by what is now reported to have involved up to 70% of Russian land forces.
It has, so far, categorised the Russian action against its neighbour as a military operation, conforming to terms being used by state media in Russia.
In Russia meanwhile, independent media outlets have been shut down for using the terms war and invasion which have been forbidden since Saturday.
The situation has seen action by the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office causing highly respected Russian journalists to take flight from Moscow in the last 48 hours with their families.
China has also rejected any call to impose sanctions on Moscow which have seen the ruble collapse in recent days, runs on Russian banks and an overnight doubling of interest rates in the country.
West now waging an economic war against Russia
The leadership of the European Union and officials in Washington are making no secret that the current ramping up of sanctions is, in fact, economic war against Russia designed to collapse its economy.
This is coming at a high cost to western countries and is unprecedented as it is supported by a highly galvanised western population that increasingly sees Ukraine as a potential prelude to a wider war in Europe if Russia’s aggression is not halted in its tracks.
China watching the reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with encroachments into Taiwanese air space and an aggressive posture in the South China Sea
The lesson will not have been lost on the Chinese leadership as it contemplates an invasion of Taiwan, something the Chinese Communist Party has openly referred to amidst strengthening and more widespread encroachments on Taiwan’s air space and threatening military operations in the South China Sea in the course of the last six months.
In China, behind the communist country’s great firewall, pumped up nationalist sentiment is the order of the day with most commentary praising Russia’s President Putin and negative references to the government in Kiev and a generally anti-American narrative being the overwhelming opinion online.
China abstained from Wednesday’s vote in New York and was joined by countries such as Cuba, Iran, Mali, Pakistan and Laos.
Both India and South Africa also abstained with 13 countries recording no vote at all.
Vietnam also abstained as well as other Eurasian countries more sympathetic to Russia.
Significantly, even Afghanistan, now under the control of the Taliban, voted to support the resolution and condemn Russian aggression.
Countries who voted against the motion (5):
Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria.
Countries who abstained (35):
Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burundi, Central African Republic, China, Congo, Cuba, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, India, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar, Mali, Mongolia, Mozambique, Namibia, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, Zimbabwe.
Countries who supported the motion including Thailand (141):
Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Antigua-Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Canada, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Cote D’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Latvia, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Micronesia, Monaco, Montenegro, Myanmar, Nauru, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Norway, Oman, Palau, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Rwanda, Saint Kitts-Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent-Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome-Principe, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Spain, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad-Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Yemen, Zambia.
Countries who recorded no vote (13):
Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Morocco, Togo, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela.
Beijing Daily newspaper show where China’s sympathies lie as it republishes distorted claims of the Russian ambassador regarding ‘neo nazis’ in Kiev
On Monday last, in the Chinese capital, the Beijing Daily newspaper republished a statement issued through the Russian Embassy in Beijing calling on the world not to support the ‘neo nazi’ regime in Kiev.
That the publication and the Russian Embassy in China felt comfortable with such a statement gives some idea of how out of touch the Chinese population is concerning the events in Ukraine.
The newspaper, established in 1952 with a circulation of 400,000 with an international news portal, is owned by the Beijing Daily Group and is widely circulated in the Chinese capital as well as being the city’s official mouthpiece.
This tells us more accurately what we need to know about Chinese foreign policy despite the country’s Foreign Minister’s call on Tuesday to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb after which he spoke of concerns for citizens and the quickly deteriorating situation on the ground due to Russian bombardment.
Thailand along with ASEAN appears to be awakening
Earlier, a spokesman at the ministry in Beijing, Hua Chunying, again refused to call the situation an invasion and told reporters that the ‘historical context is complicated’ and that the crisis was ‘caused by all kinds of factors’.
These were diplomatically acceptable words prior to the invasion on February 24th but this week, in western countries and increasingly across the globe, they are no longer so.
Thailand, just as its fellow ASEAN partners Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and even Cambodia and Myanmar appears also to have taken note of this in the face of Russia’s flagrant breach of international law.