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Southern Philippines Deal a Lesson for Southern Thailand?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
October 10, 2012

People leave the scene after a car bomb exploded in southern Thailand's Sai Buri district. People leave the scene after a car bomb exploded in southern Thailand's Sai Buri district (Surapan Boonthanom/Courtesy Reuters).

In the wake of the Philippines government announcing last weekend that Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had agreed upon a peace plan after fifteen years of negotiations and forty years of war, many Thai news outlets are wondering whether Manila could teach Bangkok a lesson in how to deal with the southern Thailand insurgency. The Nation today, in an editorial titled “A Lesson for Thailand from the Philippines,” offers that the Philippine agreement has many key points for Thai policymakers to learn from, a mantra echoed by several other Thai media outlets. Yet there are key differences between southern Thailand and southern Philippines that, at this point, will make it hard to apply many of Manila’s lessons to Thailand:

  1. Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is not personally engaged in ending the insurgency. According to nearly all Philippine news sources, Philippines president Benigno Aquino III made a peace deal with the MILF one of his highest priorities, and agreed to face-to-face meetings with the MILF leaders in order to personally guarantee the peace process and demonstrate his commitment. Prime Minister Yingluck has shown no such interest, perhaps because her brother Thaksin remains the power behind the throne, or perhaps because most Thais in Bangkok and the north/northeast, the Puea Thai power base, do not really care about the situation in the south as long as the war does not trickle beyond the south. The Philippines government was also willing to offer the south a self-governing autonomous zone, which is a red line most Thai politicians will not cross at this point.
  2.  The southern insurgents in Thailand do not have any apparent leader. Time and time again, efforts by the Thai government to launch negotiations have been stymied because Bangkok is still not really sure who leads the insurgency, or even whether the top leaders are in touch with each other, since the insurgencies’ cells are so diffuse and disconnected. In contrast, the MILF had a clear leadership to negotiate with.
  3.  The Thai government has rejected most assistance from outsiders. As The Nation notes, because the government and insurgents have no trust in each other, outside mediation can be crucial, but the Yingluck government wants to have a peace process with the insurgency with minimal input from outside parties like Malaysia, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, or Saudi Arabia. As a result, the few negotiations that have taken place have failed in acrimony.
  4.  The Thai insurgents are not tired of war. Unfortunately, unlike in the southern Philippines, the southern Thai insurgents seem to be only getting stronger and angrier.  Seven people have been killed in the south in the past few days alone, and the insurgency, by shutting down businesses most Fridays, appears to be gaining the upper hand.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Ari Halos

    The last reason is sad, I can’t imagine anyone who isn’t tired of violence. One area I used to frequent, North Cotabato, was a war zone a little more than a decade ago. But with less clashes, many of the towns there are beginning to bloom. Thailand’s a beautiful country, and I’d rather see businesses and industry bloom with activity rather than go BOOM with bombs!

  • Posted by taher

    You forgot to mention another key difference. The north is Chinese/Thai the Muslims are Malay. Two different people. The Muslims don’t want to be part of a Buddhist country. That’s pretty clear.

  • Posted by Zashnain Zainal

    Your article seems completely dependent on The Nation, which is clearly a lopsided news pro-elite agency favoring Yingluck’s political enemies.

    I was in Narathiwat, I am well aware of what the political situation in the province, not to mention the attitudes of the government towards the south, the complacency of the ruling Democrats in the south and the agenda of my country, Malaysia, in co-facilitating peace initiatives with their counterpart across the border.

  • Posted by Mahes

    Filipino insurgency is harder to sustain because its an island country. The stopping power of Water makes it much harder to supply weapons and materials for violent ends (but water is much more cost effective for peaceful trade).

    Southern Thailand shares land border with Malaysia, so insurgency can rage much longer due to material and psychological support from Malay World.

    Differential fertility is another aspect Joshua keeps ignoring, as if on purpose.

    What is the fertility rate difference between Buddhist and Muslim Thais? And between Christian and Muslim Filipinos?

    Joshua has this chronic blind-spot on population momentum and fertility rates he needs to fix to strengthen his analytical core.

  • Posted by Raja M. Ali Saleem

    Another difference is civil-military relations. In Philippines, military has accepted civilian supremacy, in Thailand, it has not. To complicate things, the trust level between Thai military (and Palace) and prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra is low, making it highly unlikely that any deal done by the prime minister will be accepted.

  • Posted by Yuletide Kid

    Religion, religion, religion…. I have not lived in Thailand for over thirty years but it appears that the Buddhists are still much more peaceful, as a group, than the Muslims. Generally speaking, however, human beings worldwide are more and more hostile, self-seeking, and aggressive these days. We would all fare better if we took the Thai view of compromise and reconciliation.

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