Thailand calls for resumed EU relations

MSNBC News

By Sabine Muscat in Nuremberg and Hugh Williamson in Berlin

Updated: 10:11 p.m. ET March 15, 2007

Thailand on Thursday called on the European Union to follow the United States in
resuming full diplomatic relations with Bangkok following last October’s military coup.

Nitya Pibulsonggram, Thailand’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times
that his government should not be placed in the same category as other
governments which were not democratically elected.

“The Europeans put these policies in place that were rather severe,” he said in an interview. “We would like the
Europeans to have a clear distinction about who we are and that one cannot lump us into one category with other governments which were not democratically elected”.

The EU last year condemned the coup as undermining democracy in Thailand
and suspended talks on a new partnership and co-operation programme and
on a bilateral trade pact.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, foreign minister of Germany, holder of the EU’s rotating
presidency, acknowledged that Thailand “cannot be compared” to
neighbouring Myanmar, where the human rights record of the military
generals running Myanmar has for years hindered relations between the
two regions.

But he reiterated that there had been “more than just irritation” at the
undemocratic change of government in Thailand. He also stressed that
the EU remained “deeply concerned with developments” in Myanmar.

Mr Nitya and Mr Steinmeier were speaking at a meeting in Nuremberg,
southern Germany, of foreign ministers from the EU and Asean, the
Association of South-East Asian nations.

The ministers agreed to enhance trade co-operation, as a step towards
eventually signing a full EU-Asean trade agreement. The EU is currently
pursuing bilateral co-operation pacts with several Asean members
including Singapore and Indonesia.

On the subject of diplomatic relations, Mr Nitya said “the US has been
much more pragmatic and flexible in dealing with us”. The US government
initially announced an interruption of military cooperation with
Thailand but is now planning a joint exercise of the armed forces this
coming summer, the minister said.

Nitya renewed the military government’s pledge to hold elections by the end of the year.

The steps on trade were part of a joint declaration on ‘enhanced
partnership’, also covering improved security and anti-terror ties and
increased co-operation on climate change.

EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Walder said “we have
clearly said that we would like to go for a free trade agreement
between the two blocs (but) we will have to start working (bilaterally)
with the different countries”.

An agreement with Indonesia could be finalised within a month, but issues
remain to be resolved with Singapore. The EU is aiming for a similar
pact with Vietnam, but both human rights problems and trade frictions
are concerns, EU diplomats said.

Asean welcomed the EU’s intention to join the bloc’s mutual assistance
“Treaty of Amity and Cooperation” as soon as remaining legal obstacles
are removed. Accession to this regional assistance treaty is a formal
prerequisite for joining in the East Asia Summit Process (EAS), an
international agreement also includes China, India, Japan as well as
Australia.

 

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