Thailand and Myanmar: Whose Drug Is This?

Relations between Thailand and Myanmar have recently sunk to an all-time low following a series of high-profile accusations of illicit drug trade. The Thai government under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which has declared drug control as the country’s number-one priority, claimed that the Burmese regime assists the United Wa State Army in producing drugs, which are then smuggled into Thailand along their common border.

According to Bangkok’s leftist Phuchadkarn (May 28), at least 50 million amphetamine tablets, popularly known as “mad pills,” have been seized along the Thai-Burmese border since January. As a result, the Thai military has set up a special task force to deal with the influx of amphetamines. The continued influx has raised concerns in Thailand.

Last month, in an unusual diplomatic step, Thailand asked China to act as facilitator of a drug summit with the leaders of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand to improve cooperation and coordination in combating drug smuggling. Thai lawmakers also joined in the effort.

In an interview with the Burmese opposition magazine The Irawaddy (June), which is published in Thailand, Thai Senator Kraisak Choonhawan suggested that if Myanmar does not stop causing trouble for neighboring countries with its export of drugs, it should be expelled from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

But Kiatchai Vongvanich, a columnist for Bangkok’s center-left Kao Sod (May 31), contended that Thai-Burmese ties reflect Thai domestic brinkmanship also. Prime Minister Thaksin, who is under indictment for the fraudulent declaration of his assets, thought that visiting Myanmar would improve the two countries’ overall ties. Conveniently enough, Vongvanich suggests, it serves him to draw attention away from the domestic scandal to foreign policy—in this case, drug problems with Myanmar.

The squabbling between the two neighbors has escalated and has now grown beyond narcotics. A May 21 article by Ma Tin Win in Yangon’s government-controlled New Light of Myanmar drew protest from the Thai government for insulting [19th-century] King Rama IV as a selfish ruler who was more interested in protecting his throne than his country.

Even more offensive to Thailand was a history textbook released in Myanmar claiming that Thai people are “servile” and “lazy.” The Thai government has urged the Burmese regime to apologize for damaging relations. But instead of apologizing, according to Bangkok’s center-right, pro-government Naew Na (June 7), the Burmese responded by telling Thaksin to cancel his planned visit to Myanmar. Thai historian Charvit Kasetsiri told Bangkok’s business-oriented Krungthep Turakij on June 7 that the Burmese junta is disparaging Thailand only to divert attention from its own oppressive regime. On the flip side of the coin, however, another historian, Sunait Chutintaranond, said in the center-left Matichon Daily, (June 7) that Thailand should first set its own house in order: It should stop portraying its neighbors in a negative light in its own textbooks.

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