Thailand And Myanmar Establish Humanitarian Aid Task Force Amid Escalating Border Unrest

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand announced that Myanmar will promptly send a team to Thailand to engage in further deliberations regarding this issue.

To enhance humanitarian support for individuals displaced by the escalating conflict in Myanmar, Thailand and Myanmar have agreed to establish a task force, as announced by Thailand’s foreign ministry on Friday. The task force has the potential to involve additional aid agencies in the future.

The conclusion was reached at a gathering held in China between Thai Foreign Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara and his Myanmar counterpart Than Swe, as part of the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation meeting. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand announced that Myanmar will promptly send a team to Thailand to engage in further deliberations regarding this issue. Should the initial stage of execution demonstrate positive outcomes, additional humanitarian organizations might be invited to contribute to subsequent endeavours.

Thailand aims for this initiative to foster constructive engagement among military-ruled Myanmar, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc, and the international community. The unrest in Myanmar, which has been intensifying since the military coup in 2021, has raised concerns among neighbouring countries, including China and Thailand, regarding the potential influx of refugees.

According to the United Nations, over 300,000 individuals have been displaced due to the ongoing conflict since a rebel offensive began in late October, adding to the already staggering number of over 2 million people who have been forced to flee since the 2021 coup. This conflict poses a significant challenge for the military government.

On Sunday, December 2, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara announced that the Thai government is prepared to construct shelters along the border to accommodate refugees if the situation in Myanmar further escalates.

While Myanmar’s foreign ministry confirmed the occurrence of the meeting, it did not mention the establishment of the humanitarian task force. A spokesperson for the junta was unavailable for immediate comment.

The junta’s exclusion from high-level ASEAN gatherings due to its inability to execute a peace plan, which it had previously committed to following the coup, has resulted in Thailand and Myanmar’s collaboration to establish a task force. This move indicates a positive development in terms of enhancing humanitarian aid and potentially strengthening Myanmar’s involvement with ASEAN and the global community.

Thailand’s geopolitical position is significantly affected by the instability in Myanmar. With a large population of 2.5 million ethnic Thais who have close connections to Myanmar, Thailand shares a border abundant in valuable resources. In terms of trade, Myanmar plays a crucial role as a key trading partner for Thailand, contributing to approximately 20% of Thailand’s total exports and 15% of its imports in 2020.

The growing influence of China in Myanmar poses a challenge to Thailand’s security and economic interests, and this is a matter of concern for Thailand. China has made substantial investments in Myanmar’s infrastructure projects and has shown political support for the military junta, despite the human rights violations that have taken place.

Thailand finds itself in a delicate position as it navigates its relations with both China and the United States, who are competing for influence in Southeast Asia. To maintain a balanced approach, Thailand has chosen to remain neutral on the issue of Myanmar, adhering to the non-interference norm set by ASEAN.

However, with the new government led by Pita Limjaroenrat from the Move Forward Party, which secured a majority in the May 2023 elections, Thailand may adopt a more proactive stance towards Myanmar. This could involve aligning with democratic values and human rights principles, reflecting Thailand’s commitment to these important ideals.