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  • Writer's pictureGeopolitics.Λsia

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim Visits Thailand with Key Agendas on the Table

Executive Summary: Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is set to visit Thailand for two days to meet with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to discuss economic cooperation between the two nations with a focus on border regions. Both leaders hope to reach a trade target of USD 30 billion by 2025 and work towards a post-Covid-19 economic recovery. Anwar's visit also aims to strengthen a decade-long peace negotiation between Bangkok and Thai-Malay separatist rebels along the shared border. The Thai government is eager to demonstrate control over the conflict ahead of the Prime Minister's reelection bid in May. The challenge lies in navigating the complexities of both sides with divisions within the Patani nationalist movement and the BRN. The Thai Office of the National Security Council aims to explore ways to collaborate in advancing the next phase of peace talks, focusing on the Joint Comprehensive Plan Towards Peace. Despite ongoing incidents, data shows an improvement in the overall situation in Thailand's deep southern provinces compared to previous years of conflict.




Yesterday, the Bangkok Post reported that Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim is set to embark on a two-day official visit to Thailand, marking his first tour of ASEAN. During his stay, Prime Minister Anwar is slated to meet with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to discuss opportunities for economic cooperation between the two nations, with a focus on border regions. The leaders aim to discuss areas of potential collaboration including trade links, investment, infrastructure, and industries such as rubber, halal food, energy, and the digital economy. Both Prime Ministers hope to reach a bilateral trade target of USD 30 billion by 2025 and work towards a post-Covid-19 economic recovery.


The Bangkok Post has cited Anucha Burapachaisri, Deputy Secretary-General to the Prime Minister and acting government spokesman, who referred to the official agenda of Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's visit to Thailand. However, according to Nikkei Asia, one of the key missions for Anwar is to strengthen a decade-long peace negotiation between Bangkok and Thai-Malay separatist rebels along the shared border. The Thai PM, Prayuth, is reportedly eager to demonstrate control over the conflict ahead of his reelection bid in May.


Anwar's arrival in Bangkok was preceded by his new chief facilitator, Gen. Zulkifli Zainal Abidin, a former chief of Malaysia's armed forces and an expert in counterinsurgency. He replaces Abdul Rahim Noor, a former national police chief who served as facilitator since 2018. Zulkifli held closed-door talks with Thai officials including retired Gen. Wanlop Rugsanaoh, the country's chief negotiator, and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan on Friday. The next round of talks will take place on February 21-22 in Kuala Lumpur.



Key Negotiators in Deep Southern Provinces conflict: Source


According to the report, the challenge for Anwar and Zulkifli lies in navigating the complexities of both sides, who may have varying levels of dependability, with divisions within the Patani nationalist movement and the BRN preventing the group from honoring cease-fires, and to the annoyance of BRN, the Prayuth government has held talks with Mara Patani. As noted by security analyst Don Pathan, "there's a degree of disconnect between the political wing and the combatant wing" of the conflict in Pattani.


According to the Thai Office of the National Security Council (NSC), General Wanlop, head of the committee, has convened a discussion group composed of representatives from various government agencies, including civilians, soldiers, and police, to engage with the Malaysian side. The aim is to explore ways to collaborate in advancing the next phase of peace talks, focusing on the Joint Comprehensive Plan Towards Peace (JCPP), a framework for cooperation aimed at promoting holistic peace. This builds on the General Principles of the Peace Dialogue Process and is expected to result in concrete actions by 2023 to reduce violence, facilitate public consultation, and seek a political solution. According to Manager Online, in January 25, 2023 the Talking Group for Peace in the Southern Border Provinces had heled a forum to engage in brainstorming prior to the upcoming peace talks in February, with the aim of finding a resolution to the ongoing conflict in the region.



Conflict in Thailand in recent years, source


Despite ongoing violent incidents in Thailand's deep southern provinces, data from both the Deep South Watch and The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) indicate an improvement in the overall situation compared to previous years of conflict, such as the Tak Bai incident of October 25, 2004, and the Pileng barracks gun robbery of January 4, 2004.


Thailand and Malaysia have a close relationship aimed at resolving the insurgency problem in both countries. On December 2, 1989, Chin Peng, Rashid Maidin, and Abdullah CD met with representatives of the Thai and Malaysian governments in Hat Yai, Southern Thailand. Separate peace agreements were signed between The Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and both governments, one of whose terms was the return of MCP members of Malayan origin to live in Malaysia. Upon cessation of hostilities, the total number of MCP members was 1,188, of which 694 were Thai-born and 494 claimed origins in Peninsular Malaysia. These individuals were granted a temporary grant and promised integration into Malaysia.


It is noteworthy that Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines are the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Strengthening the internal stability of these founding countries is crucial in preparation for the impending power contest in the Indo-Pacific, such as China vs the US. This year, Indonesia holds the chairmanship of ASEAN and facilitated the Foreign Ministers' meeting in Jakarta on February 3, 2023. President Jokowi emphasized two key points in the meeting: first, ASEAN must not be a proxy for any side, and its centrality and unity must be safeguarded and maintained. At the same time, he also emphasized the importance of upholding principles of democracy, law, and human rights in accordance with the ASEAN Charter. Secondly, President Jokowi stated that ASEAN must continue to be an“epicentrum of growth.”


 

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