EU to resume Thai ties

The EU says it will resume political contacts “at all levels” with Thailand, more than three years after suspending them after the May 2014 military coup.

It announced that the adoption of a new Thai constitution and a pledge by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha (pictured), an ex-general, to hold elections in November next year meant it was “appropriate” to re-establish ties.

Brussels repeated its call for democracy to be restored while voicing concern about the treatment of human rights activists and restrictions on free speech.

Thailand’s exports to the EU were worth US$23.11 billion in 2015, according to the European Commission, the executive branch of the bloc.

It said the EU’s exports to Thailand, including machinery and transport equipment, totalled US$15.8 billion in 2015.

The EU’s foreign ministers met in Brussels this week and announced it was “appropriate to pursue a gradual political re-engagement with Thailand”.

The bloc is Thailand’s third-largest trading partner after China and Japan while Thailand is the EU’s third-biggest Asean partner.

The EU “has decided therefore to resume political contact at all levels with Thailand in order to facilitate meaningful dialogue on issues of mutual importance, including on human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the road towards democracy”, the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council announced.

All official visits and the signings of further partnership and cooperation deals were suspended in June 2014 to protest against the bloodless coup.

Bangkok has promised to the end the prosecution of civilians in military courts for specific offences, like offending the monarchy under harsh lese majeste laws.

The EU said it would consider resuming talks on a free-trade deal and a partnership and cooperation accord “with a democratically elected, civilian government under the new constitution”.

But no democratically elected government is in sight in Thailand. The controversial military-drafted constitution reduces the power of elected politicians and calls for a fully appointed upper house, with several top jobs reserved for military appointees.

The military has legally hard-wired its role into the kingdom’s governance by declaring that any government must follow the “legally binding 20-year plan”.

The US also downgraded ties with Thailand following the coup, scaling back joint military exercises with its closest regional ally.

But US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appears amicable. He recently noted that 2018 would mark the 200th anniversary of the “flourishing US-Thai relationship that had brought so many benefits over time to our two nations and to the region”.

“As a partner for security, public health and commercial growth, Thailand remains a trusted US friend and ally in Asia,” the chief US envoy said.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha. Picture credit: Kremlin