Thai PM eyes maiden trip to Burma

Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will visit Burma in the “near future”, according to Burmese state media, as she pushes ahead with a tour of regional nations.

Few details have been released on the Burma trip. Dr Pavin Chachavalpongpun, from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, said Yingluck may use the visit to “introduce herself” to the government in Burma in a bid to spur bilateral investment and ease tensions over the closure of a key border trade route near Mae Sot.

“The relationship between the two new governments is likely to be better than in recent years,” he said, particularly if Yingluck follows in the footsteps of her brother, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and places an emphasis on business over political matters.

Moreover, with Burma’s shift to a nominally civilian government and recent signs that it is releasing its vice-like grip on the country’s economic and political arena, there would be “no inclination to implement a different agenda” from previous years.

Whether Yingluck will meet with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi remains up to the government. Despite an apparent shift towards more dialogue with the opposition, Naypyidaw remains wary of her influence on neighbouring states gaining in ground.

Nyo Ohn Myint, from the exiled National League for Democracy – Liberated Areas, told DVB that a meeting with Suu Kyi would most likely get permission from the Burmese government.

“Both Yingluck and the government need it to boost their own images,” he said. There would be little substance to the meeting, he believes, other than for both governments to project a sense that they are dealing with either side of Burma’s political spectrum.

As for Thailand pushing Naypyidaw on the vast array of areas it still needs to improve on, Nyo Ohn Myint was sceptical. “Human rights and environmental voices have always been very weak in Thailand’s foreign policy. I don’t think that will change with the new prime minister.”

But with strong support for Suu Kyi among Thailand’s ‘Red Shirt’ faction, who broadly supported Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party in the elections this year, a meeting between the two would be a PR coup for the prime minister, particularly if a relationship develops prior to Thailand’s next elections.

Following Yingluck’s ascendance to office in July, Suu Kyi said: “I like that she’s a woman but the most important thing is the relationship between the two nations and our people.

“We also have to welcome the government democratically elected by the people.”

During the mass Red Shirt protesters in Bangkok last year, Suu Kyi lamented that Thailand would remain unstable until its military constitution was redrawn.

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