The statement raises a question about the Pheu Thai Party’s position as well as that of Thaksin Shinawatra towards efforts by the current US administration to take on China in the light of an unlikely alliance earlier in May between Red Shirt activist Jatuporn Promphan and royalist lawyer Nitithorn Lamlua when they protested at the US Embassy against US efforts to counter China in the Indo Pacific and Thailand’s declared engagement, revealed on Friday by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce Jurin Laksanawisit, with the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), a new US economic pact with Asian countries which is to be unveiled in France next month.

A former Thai Finance Minister, Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala, has raised concerns about the current trajectory of Thailand’s stance on the growing rift between the United States and China with an escalating US effort to counter China’s influence in the Indo Pacific. It comes as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce Jurin Laksanawisit, on Friday, revealed that the Thai cabinet, last Tuesday, gave the go-ahead for diplomatic talks with US officials on the Biden administration’s new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) initiative. This comes just weeks after Thailand signed a military pact with Japan, a founding member of the Quad defensive alliance between the United States, Australia, India and Japan.

Mr Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala was Thai Minister of Finance from August 2011 until January 2012. This weekend, on social media, he expressed his concern at the overt and explicit nature of the United States campaign to counter China’s influence in the Indo Pacific region. It comes with some indication that Thailand is engaging with the United States after the cabinet last Tuesday decided, in principle, to participate in the new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) due to be launched by the superpower in June. This is despite protests, earlier in May, by both Royalist and Red Shirt activists against even voicing support for the initiative, warning the government not to depart from its neutral position between the two rival powers or to cause Thailand to be positioned against China.

On Friday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce Jurin Laksanawisit held a meeting with US special trade representative Katherine Tai on the sidelines of an eventful meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade ministers which earlier saw representatives from Japan, the United States, Australia, Canada and New Zealand stage a walkout after Russian economic development minister, Maksim Reshetnikov, began to deliver his remarks to the gathering.

The event, hosted by Thailand in Bangkok, saw both Russia and China participating with other Asian players but failed, at the end of the day, to agree on a joint communiqué.

APEC summit ends without a communiqué as Thailand petitions US to remove it from Watch List

Japanese minister, Koichi Hagiuda, told reporters afterwards that while the summit was intended to discuss economic recovery after the pandemic with a coordinated response from all nations, differences arose concerning the wording of the final statement over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the meeting between Ms Tai and the Commerce Minister Mr Jurin, several issues were raised including a request from Thailand to be removed from a US watch list in relation to the protection of intellectual property rights.

Recent Thai governments have made progress with controlling and eradicating abuses linked to intellectual property rights extending to US brands, software and entertainment output both online and offline.

In December 2017, the United States removed Thailand from the Priority Watch List (PWL) and placed the kingdom on the Watch List (WL). 

Thailand signals its intention to engage with the proposed US ‘framework’ trade initiative in the region

The Deputy Prime Minister also informed Ms Tai that the Thai cabinet had requested the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take steps for the kingdom to open negotiations concerning the latest US trade initiative in the region, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) although officials later stressed that, at this stage, Thailand has not entered into any legally binding arrangement.

The new framework, it is understood, will require a commitment from Thailand and other participating countries, among other things, relating to the operation of the internet including no restrictions or controls on the flow of data or arbitrary taxes being applied. 

While there will be a negotiated outcome specifically tailored for each country, the new framework will have requirements and commitments to labour rights, the elimination of corrupt practices and in some shape or form, commitments in respect of fighting climate change.

The goal of this framework is to raise standards of engagement and supply chain security with the United States forging bilateral partnerships with each country concerned.

Japan is on board while Singapore, the Philippines and South Korea express interest in the American plan

It is understood that Japan is supportive of the initiative while Singapore, the Philippines and South Korea are also positively disposed but, like Thailand, they will wait to see the finalised fine print on what is required from them and weigh it against what benefits such a framework will offer.

It has already been noted that the US policy signals that it will not now be looking at the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as US officials seem to be following Trump’s policy of shielding the US economy from the concept of globalised markets and trade which is, increasingly being abandoned in favour of secure supply chains and partnerships with countries who have shared values such as a commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

The new framework initiative has not been formally launched yet.

It can only be assumed, at this stage, that countries that meet their commitments under the ‘fair and resilient trade’ module of the new framework will see more investment from the United States and its partners while this may also provide the basis for improved bilateral free trade agreements which would have to be ratified by the US Congress.

Former Pheu Thai Finance Minister uneasy about the expressly overt nature of US policy to contain China

It comes as, over the weekend, a former Pheu Thai Minister of Finance in the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala, voiced his concern at the Biden administration’s current policy which sets out to contain China on all fronts.

On his Facebook page, Mr Thirachai wrote of a document he had seen this February outlining the US administration’s strategy for the Indo Pacific region, one which has since been amplified by conferences as well as diplomatic and indeed military moves by America’s partners in the region and the Biden’s administration’s initiatives.

‘I have never seen a document which makes so patently clear the intention against a rival country,’ the former minister’s social media post read.

Mr Thirachai served as Thailand’s Finance Minister from August 2011 until he was replaced in a cabinet reshuffle in January 2012.

The statement raises a question on the position of Pheu Thai and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to the growing US campaign in the Indo Pacific given that Thailand does appear to be carefully aligning itself with the United States although it may be more accurate to say it is aligning its position with Japan.

Thai cabinet, last Tuesday, gave the green light for Foreign Affairs to open talks with the United States on its new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF)

The Thai cabinet, last Tuesday, took a step towards Thailand joining the American led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) which is to be unveiled by the Biden administration formally in France next month.

This new pact, conceived as a ‘21st-century economic arrangement’ is regarded by some observers as a response by the Biden administration to the withdrawal of the United States by former President Donald Trump from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2017 which later went on to become the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The new pact is understood to be more flexible than a trade agreement organised in modules, while at the same time, it does not immediately guarantee more market access as it is not considered by the United States per se as a trade agreement which would have to be ratified by the Congress.

Biden described the initiative in October 2021, during an East Asian online summit, as a defined vision of shared objectives with partners in trade 

In October 2021, US President Joe Biden himself described the new framework while addressing the East Asia Summit held by video conference and chaired by Brunei.

Biden told his Asian audience that the ‘United States will explore with partners the development of an Indo-Pacific economic framework that will define our shared objectives around trade facilitation, standards for the digital economy and technology, supply chain resiliency, decarbonisation and clean energy, infrastructure, worker standards, and other areas of shared interest.’

The new plan is being seen as an à la carte module-based framework for each bilateral relationship by which the United States can set out to improve supply chain security with each country in the region based on shared standards, performance and understanding.

Fierce opposition from China to US moves with Beijing’s repeated warnings of an Indo Pacific NATO

However, the proposal is already generating fierce opposition from China which sees the move as part of a coordinated strategy to counter its growing role in the region.

This perceived threat by Beijing includes the creation also of a military or security alliance such as the Quad and AUKUS military pacts which are being seen as a precursor to the possible expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) into the Indo Pacific including Southeast Asia or the creation of a new military alliance for the region modelled on NATO.

China’s anxiety has become increasingly pronounced with fiery rhetoric emanating from Beijing’s Foreign Ministry suggesting that America is intent on sowing the seeds of war in the region.

China’s FM warns of a new cold war and arms race as America attempts to counter ‘the trend of the times’

This line was visible in Thailand with a protest last month outside the US Embassy, led by an unlikely combination of royalist activist and lawyer Nitithorn Lamlua and the Chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship or Red Shirts, Jatuporn Promphan.

They both called upon the Thai government to refrain from even stating support of the new trade initiative.

Protesters at the US embassy in Bangkok from a strange alliance of royalists and redshirt activists warning the government not to stand against China

Protesters at the event also attacked the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) as well as Japan with whom Thailand signed a military cooperation pact before the participation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha at the US ASEAN Summit on the 12th and 13th of May last where the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) was outlined to participants.

The protesters warned that there is a current trend emerging, indicating that the kingdom was in danger of losing its more balanced or nuanced position as a member of the ASEAN bloc seeking to avoid taking sides between the two competing superpowers.

This balancing act looks like it is poised to grow even more difficult as tensions over Taiwan and the South China sea appear to be building up including an overt arms race between China and western powers.

On Monday, May 2nd, during an official visit by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to Bangkok, Thailand and Japan signed a new military cooperation pact.

Move being seen as a move by Thailand toward a growing western military alliance in the Indo Pacific

This comes at a time of rising tension in the Indo Pacific region particularly between Japan and China with the latter now moving beyond its previous position of pacifism which is enshrined in the Japanese constitution to bolster its defences.

Japan is emerging as a key player as a strong US and Thai ally in the Indo Pacific as tension mounts, particularly concerning the status of Taiwan

Japan is the founding member of the Quad military alliance between it, the United States, India and Australia.

It has also been participating in North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) briefings with strong indications that a new, broader alliance is being formulated for the Indo Pacific by the United States to counter the perceived threat from China with US officials openly contrasting tensions over Taiwan with tensions over Ukraine before the Russian invasion on February 24th.

China, of course, points out, that diplomatically, Taiwan, unlike Ukraine, does not have sovereignty under the ‘One China’ principle which has been accepted by nearly all powers for the last fifty years and is recognised, de jure, by the United Nations.

This is now being questioned by more and more people on the renegade island as well as a de facto challenge by US policy since the Trump administration moved to re-enforce a possible defence of the island from Chinese aggression including the sale of arms and the stationing of American service personnel there in a training capacity.

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