thaicables – It's Your Right to know the Truth!

05BANGKOK3208 MY DINNER WITH THAKSIN

leave a comment »

“32549”,”5/13/2005 11:11″,”05BANGKOK3208″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

 

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

 

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BANGKOK 003208

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/13/2015

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PTER, BU, TH, IZ, Southern Thailand, BURMA, ASEAN

SUBJECT: MY DINNER WITH THAKSIN

 

Classified By: AMBASSADOR RALPH L. BOYCE. REASON: 1.4 (D)

 

1. (C) Summary: I had dinner on May 12 with Prime

Minister Thaksin. He was in a receptive mode. On trade

issues, Thaksin indicated that he was ready to push his

ministers to reengage on all FTA issues and said there was

\”no problem\” in lifting Thailand\’s ban on U.S. beef. He

accepted constructive criticism of his previous hard-line

policy in Thailand\’s troubled south and acknowledged the need

for new approaches. Thaksin also acknowledged the damage his

constructive engagement policy on Burma had done to

Thailand\’s international image and indicated that the RTG may

lower its profile on Burma and align itself more with an

ASEAN consensus. The Prime Minister welcomed the news of

Lockheed Martin\’s willingness to discuss a barter arrangement

in its F-16 package. The only less than positive note was

Thaksin\’s contention that his need to manage Thai Muslim

sentiments in the south made a new Thai ground commitment to

Iraq difficult. End summary.

 

GE INVISION ON HIS MIND

 

2. (C) Thaksin had invited me to dinner last week, but the

eruption of the GE Invision issue had intervened in the

meantime. This issue occupied much of the early part of our

meal and is reported septel. The strains of dealing with the

GE Invision controversy showed on Thaksin\’s face as he sat

down. He appeared haggard and tense, but gradually relaxed

as dinner progressed. Early on, we reprised some of our

earlier meetings, before he was Prime Minister and I was

Ambassador. I recounted a conversation that I had with him

about ten years ago in which I predicted that as soon as he

entered politics he would be subject to accusations that he

would enrich himself through his office. Thaksin noted this

and then surprisingly said that he was considering shedding

his telecommunications businesses, possibly selling it in its

entirety to Singapore Telecom this year.

 

WHERE\’S THE BEEF?

 

3. (C) Because we were dining at Hamilton\’s Steak House at

the Dusit Thani Hotel, I took the opportunity to raise

Thailand\’s continuing ban on U.S. beef imports due to

BSE-related fears. Thaksin claimed that he was unaware of

the ban and in a humorous vein, he compared U.S. beef

favorably with its Australian (too tough) and Argentinean

(smells like grass) rivals. Following the banter, I asked

Thaksin if I could so inform the Agriculture Minister that

her boss believed that there was no necessity in continuing

the ban. \”No problem,\” Thaksin replied. (Note: I saw the

Agriculture Minister the next morning on a previously

scheduled courtesy call and conveyed this news. End note.)

 

FTA

 

4. (C) Using the beef issue as an example, I commented to

Thaksin that major decision-making obviously centered on him.

Even his most trusted ministers appeared unwilling to embark

in new directions without his specific instruction. The FTA

was a good example. Despite the Prime Minister\’s oft-stated

commitment to a comprehensive FTA with the U.S., it was clear

that certain of his advisors and ministers (I didn\’t name

names) were unwilling to engage during negotiations on issues

such as financial services, IPR, labor and environment.

Thaksin replied that he clearly understood the need for a

comprehensive agreement that included these issues, and also

was aware that key aides such as Deputy Prime Minister and

Finance Minister Somkid Jatusripitak were lukewarm on the

issue of financial services. Thaksin added that he himself

was not apprehensive over the effect of an FTA on Thailand\’s

financial services sector. The Thai banking system needed

\”shaking up,\” Thaksin said. I welcomed his stance and urged

him to give his ministers a firm kick in this direction. I

noted that the Thai team that was to discuss financial

services at the recent Pattaya round of FTA talks had not

even shown up – this was not acceptable. I also told Thaksin

that at a meeting earlier with Commerce Minister Thanong

(another minister less than enthused on FTA issues) I had

reiterated this point – rather than not attend, it was in

Thailand\’s interest to go, engage and discuss.

 

5. (C) Thaksin agreed that the conversations must be

two-way and comprehensive. There could not be an FTA unless

the interests of both parties were addressed. I described to

Thaksin Deputy Secretary Zoellick\’s success during his recent

visit in discussions on FTA with a Thai parliamentary group

(septel), in which he addressed each of their concerns head

on. Most parliamentarians came away with a better

understanding of the issues. Both sides needed to explain

clearly their FTA issues and concerns. Thaksin agreed,

adding that Deputy Secretary Zoellick\’s suggestion that in

certain areas the FTA could be phased in over a number of

years had been very useful.

 

THE SOUTH

6. (C) I told Thaksin that if we had met about three months

ago, I would have expressed grave concerns over his policies

of the last year plus in the troubled Muslim majority deep

southern provinces. However, with formation of the National

Reconciliation Commission (NRC), headed by former Prime

Minister Anand Panyarachun, and his own admissions in

Parliament that it was time to look at new approaches, I

sensed that he was on the right track. It was possible, I

added, that Thaksin\’s new stance was costing the separatists

their best recruiting tool – his previous hard line stance.

The Prime Minister did not contest this point. I pointed out

that the overwhelming majority of Muslims had no truck with

violence or radical beliefs but, at the same time, were

highly resentful of being lumped in with radicals – something

that leaders should avoid in their statements.

 

7. (C) Continuing in this vein, I suggested to Thaksin that

on the next occasion that he wanted Malaysia to return to

Thailand an accused Thai separatist or investigate alleged

separatist camps in Malaysia or Indonesia, he should call

Prime Minister Badawi or President Yudhoyono privately before

resorting to issuing public statements. While both Malaysia

and Indonesia were quick to defend themselves against public

accusations that they were harboring terrorists, they also

had a deep understanding of the dangers and if approached

quietly and off-line could be very helpful. Thaksin took

this on board, but vented his resentment of what he

considered Malaysia\’s unhelpfulness when Thai Muslim

separatists retreated into Kelantan state. Thaksin added

that he understood that Malaysia had its own problems in

Kelantan, but said that Kuala Lumpur must sympathize with

Thailand\’s situation on its porous border.

 

BURMA

 

8. (C) Thaksin recalled his conversation with Deputy

Secretary Zoellick (septel) and repeated his comment at that

 

SIPDIS

time that neither constructive engagement nor sanctions had

worked. What should we do? I replied by telling Thaksin

that Thailand\’s international image was suffering from its

engagement policy with the SPDC – rather than being part of

the solution, Thailand was viewed by many as being part of

the problem. For example, I said, last December in a radio

address Thaksin had reported Than Shwe\’s argument that Aung

San Suu Kyi\’s continuing imprisonment was necessary to

prevent Burma\’s disintegration. Thaksin then went on to say

that it was \”reasonable\” to be concerned about the country

coming apart. However, reportage of his remarks described

Thaksin as saying he found it reasonable to keep Aung San Suu

Kyi locked up. Thaksin gave an exasperated sigh, referred to

his often tense relations with both international and

domestic media, but took the point that Thailand must be wary

of its image on Burma.

 

SURPRISING COMMENT ON REGIME CHANGE

 

9. (C) I noted to Thaksin that a number of ASEAN nations

were beginning to view Burma as a serious impediment to the

organization, particularly its upcoming chairmanship. Rather

than issue unilateral statements regarding (and seemingly

supporting) Burma, Thailand would be better served by letting

ASEAN take the lead and become part of a consensus. Burma

had shown indications that it might skip its turn at the

ASEAN chair. Thailand should back away and let ASEAN\’s will

prevail, I emphasized. In response, Thaksin said that

Rangoon\’s relinquishing of the chair would be \”not enough.\”

Thaksin added that this would only indicate that the regime

was so unwilling to loosen its grip on power that it would

sacrifice the prestige of holding ASEAN\’s chair. Then,

surprisingly, he said that the only solution was \”regime

change\” in Rangoon. The generals were \”impenetrable,\”

Thaksin complained. They were suspicious of the outside and

suspicious of each other. Their only concern was their own

protection and they feared that any opening to the NLD would

lead ultimately to their destruction.

 

10. (C) I replied by saying that in future meetings with

the SPDC leaders Thaksin might remind them that Aung San Suu

Kyi had stated that she was not interested in retribution,

only in the building of a democratic future in Burma.

Turning to the recent bombings in Rangoon, Thaksin said that

he agreed with theories that Khin Nyunt supporters were

likely responsible and suggested that these incidents could

signal the beginning of the unraveling of the SPDC. He noted

that Burmese Prime Minister Soe Win had abruptly canceled a

recently scheduled visit to Thailand – probably, Thaksin

speculated, from fear of being out of the country at a

sensitive time.

 

CHANGE OF POLICY ON THE BORDER?

 

11. (C) Thaksin said that if Soe Win had come, he would

have expressed to his Burmese counterpart his increasing

irritation with the situation on Thailand\’s border with

Burma. Rangoon\’s use of the Wa to attack Shan formations had

pushed some Shan across the border into Thailand – as much as

two kilometers in places. Thaksin said that Thailand was

currently allowing the fleeing Shan to cross the border. He

added that he was considering turning the tables and using

the Shan to deploy against the Wa in Burma. He asked for my

views. I pointed out that four years ago Thaksin had

reversed a very similar strategy that had been implemented by

his predecessor, Chuan Leekpai. I added that it was his

right, of course, to return to the previous policy and if he

did so it would send a strong message to the SPDC.

 

IRAQ

 

12. (C) We turned the discussion to Iraq. In earlier

meetings with Admiral Fallon and Deputy Secretary Zoellick

Thaksin had said that he would consider some \”humanitarian\”

presence in Iraq. At this private dinner, Thaksin seemed

extremely sensitive to the issue, particularly the symbolism

that a Thai presence in Iraq would have in the south.

Thaksin stressed that as an ally Thailand supported the U.S.

on Iraq, but asked us to be sensitive to his own efforts to

manage the situation in Thailand\’s south. I responded that

we were sensitive to his situation but had to emphasize that

to be an active member of the coalition, presence on the

ground was the proof. We left it at that.

 

ADVOCACY

 

13. (C) On the pending combat aircraft purchase in

Thailand, I noted that Thaksin\’s current account concerns had

led him to decide not to go with either counter trade or

offset arrangements, but to seek a strict barter agreement.

I told him that earlier that day I had met Commerce Minister

Thanong and informed him that Lockheed Martin was ready to

discuss with his Ministry a 100 percent barter arrangement

for the purchase of the F-16, but added that Commerce was

apparently still under the impression that the Prime

Minister\’s previous stipulation that only Gripen and Sukhoi

could bid still applied. Thaksin welcomed the news of

Lockheed Martin\’s readiness to discuss a barter arrangement

and added that the Thai Air Force would be \”very happy.\”

 

14. (C) I also raised the issue of General Electric\’s bid

(together with Pratt and Whitney in the Engine Alliance) to

provide engines for Royal Thai Airlines Airbuses. Thaksin

laughed and said that we should first get the GE Invision

issue resolved – otherwise he would have to go with Rolls

Royce.

 

SURIKIART CANDIDACY

 

15. (C) I asked the Prime Minister about Deputy Prime

Minister and former Foreign Minister Surikiart\’s bid to be

the next UN Secretary General. Thaksin replied that if it

was Asia\’s turn to take over, then Surikiart had a good

chance of succeeding Kofi Annan. I asked what effect Sri

Lanka\’s interest in its own candidate, Jayantha Dhanapala,

would have on the race. Where was China going with its

support? Thaksin replied that even if Sri Lanka were

serious, Thailand had more support among Asian countries. I

decided to leave the question of Dr. Surikiarts\’s quest at

that.

 

THAI POLITICS

 

16. (C) Turning to Thaksin\’s overwhelming electoral victory

last February, I told Thaksin that I had followed Thai

politics for close to two decades and, in my view, he had

clearly revolutionized the Thai political landscape. I asked

him what he intended to do with his massive mandate. Thaksin

said that he expected his second term would be easier, though

he agreed with my assertion that running a faction-loaded 377

seat party was no easier than running a five party coalition.

At one point in the dinner Thaksin asked if I could imagine

a worse beginning to a political year, ticking off the

tsunami, high world oil prices, continuing avian flu concerns

 

SIPDIS

and the drought in Thailand. His most difficult political

task now, Thaksin said, was satisfying the \”professional

politicians\” in the factions. They expected influential

ministerial and administrative positions, but were incapable

of being effective in these jobs. He had tried to appoint

them to less significant slots to try to minimize their

potential to damage. Thaksin said that he expected to run

for a third term to ensure that the next generation of party

leaders would be sufficiently groomed before he finally

retired.

 

SLIGHTS THE OPPOSITION

 

17. (C) Thaksin did not have much good to say about his

current opposition counterpart, Democrat Party (DP) leader

Abhisit Vejjajiva. Thaksin described the younger politician

as too \”cool\” a personality for Thai politics. Without a

hint of irony Thaksin said that Abhisit\’s arrogance would get

him in trouble as would his lack of respect towards elder

politicians. Noting that the DP had reverted to essentially

being a regional party based in the south, I recalled a trip

to their stronghold in the mid-nineties in which it had

appeared that the party seemed clapped-out ideologically,

bound in tradition, happy to be a local power and unwilling

to address the increasingly complex issues facing Thailand.

They seemed to be undergoing a similar cycle now. Thaksin

agreed, and noted that when former Prime Minister and Chart

Pattana (CP) Party leader Chatichai Choonhaven was on his

deathbed, Thaksin had been approached to take over as head of

the CP. Thaksin said that he made the better decision to

form the Thai Rak Thai Party rather than take over an

old-line, later discredited party. (Note: CP has now become

part of the Thai Rak Thai. End note)

 

COMMENT

 

18. (C) This dinner was an opportunity to cover a wide

range of issues with Thaksin in a relatively direct and open

setting. Thaksin was in general very forthcoming and his

comments on his political problems and the possible sale of

his telecommunications companies were surprising and

refreshingly candid. Overall, the outcome of dinner with

Thaksin looks encouraging. Thaksin took on board our

constructive criticisms over his Burma policy and his earlier

stance towards Thailand\’s southern problems. He appears

ready to reenergize Thai engagement on FTA. He also appears

ready to open the combat aircraft competition to Lockheed

Martin and to lift restrictions on U.S. beef imports. The

Prime Minister was in an acceptance mode and looks ready to

move in the right direction on a number of our issues. End

comment.

 

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

June 24, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Posted in Confidential, Thaksin

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: