Thailand to suspend invitation of Myanmar junta chief to attend BIMSTEC: MP

The Thai foreign affairs ministry will also postpone the entire seven-country summit, which the country initially planned to host on November 30, says the legislator

The Thai foreign ministry moved to postpone the upcoming Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) amid concerns about the invitation of Myanmar’s junta leader, according to a local parliamentarian who has knowledge of the matter. 

BIMSTEC—of which Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand are members of—was established in 1997 to deepen cooperation concerning trade, technology, energy, transport, tourism, fisheries, security, counterterrorism, disaster management and energy.

Thailand, the current chair of BIMSTEC, initially planned to host the summit at the end of November after an informal meeting of the organisation’s foreign affairs ministers in Bangkok in July, according to a report by Thai PBS on October 2. It said that all the BIMSTEC leaders, including Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, had been invited to attend the summit and that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had confirmed his participation.

Thai MP Kannavee Suebsang of the Fair Party told Myanmar Now on Thursday evening that he had been following up on the summit and was told earlier that day that the “senior level” of Thailand’s foreign affairs ministry had a meeting earlier that day and decided to postpone the summit. 

“…they said that they have to pause a little bit and wait for … consideration. Therefore, there will be no BIMSTEC [to] reconvene on the 30th of November just yet,” said the Thai MP.

“And also, the situation of the invitation to [general] Min Aung Hlaing has been suspended…because of the concerns from the public that we do not want to see the Thai government inviting [the general] officially to come to Thailand,” he added. 

Thailand’s foreign affairs ministry has not released any official statement about the alleged postponement of BIMSTEC and the cancellation of the invitation extended to Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.

Myanmar Now called multiple phone numbers for the Thai foreign affairs ministry on Friday to confirm Suebsang’s information but there was no answer. 

The Thai legislator also added that he has planned to submit a motion in parliament objecting if his government decides to go ahead with the BIMSTEC summit’s inclusion of Min Aung Hlaing.

In September, Suebsang pressed his government to investigate the Myanmar military’s movements on Thai soil after locals reported that up to 100 armed soldiers stationed themselves in the Thai village of Ban Le Tong Khu in Tak Province’s Umphang District. No action was taken by the Thai government on the matter. 

Since the 2021 military coup in Myanmar, many leaders of foreign governments, including regional bloc Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have excluded the country’s regime leader from top-level summits and gatherings. However, the few nations sympathetic to the Myanmar regime, such as Russia, have maintained their engagement with the junta amid calls for boycotts of the military administration from civil society organisations.

The air force chiefs of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore did not attend a conference held in Myanmar’s administrative capital of Naypyitaw from September 12-15, while their counterparts from Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam participated in person. 

Neighbouring Thailand has held its own bilateral talks with the junta in recent months, further dividing the bloc. In July, Thailand’s then-foreign minister said he had met with Myanmar’s ousted democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in her first-known meeting with a foreign envoy since she was detained following the 2021 coup.

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