Diplomacy: Can Abhisit Save Obama’s Asian Trip?

By Frank, this blog political journalist

Abhisit, the Thai prime minister, is in a rare position of having the opportunity to save Obama, the US president, a great deal of face.

AFP just reported that Obama will be heading to Singapore next month for the APEC meeting, where for the average American North Korea, Burma and China influences is a deep concern.

Abhisit as the head of ASEAN, can help out a great deal on all accounts, because Obama is heading into APEC with a mind-set that most Americans can not accept. On North Korea and Burma, it is an inconsistent with strong leaning towards engagement. On China’s influence, Obama does not have a clue of what to do.

But Abhisit, as the ASEAN head, had taken ASEAN and jumped in on the North Korea issue-saying ASEAN welcomes a dialog and again on Burma, Abhisit said ASEAN also welcomes a dialog. And on China, Abhisit in his meeting with Hillary in Phuket and Bangkok, said he welcomed renewed American interest in ASEAN.

Now the APEC meeting is coming up in Singapore and Obama really needs a good showing, among other reasons, is to beef up his showings to the middle class Americans, where his popularity has plunged to the Bush level.

Obama will meet Abhisit for individual talks in Singapore according to AFP, but will also see Obama meeting the Burmese junta leader also on an individual level.

That will likely caused a great deal of stir with human rights activist, who have been calling for Burma to release Aung San. Most human right organizations such as Human Rights Watch have already issues statements that in sum is opposes Obama’s engagement policy.

Over more, at the head of ASEAN meet in Hua Hin, just before the APEC summit in Singapore, human rights activist and NGOs said they will be holding a parallel meeting. That will likely see some strong statement coming out on Burma, just before the APEC meet.

All of the above is the stage set before Obama’s APEC meet and Abhisit has a choice to either help out Obama, or lay-back and try not to stir up problems for Thailand that may come from linking Thailand too much to Obama.

Already, the human rights condition in Thailand has deteriorated to the breaking point and to pile on to that Thai internal condition, with a strong support for Obama on engaging Burma, could seriously hurt the reputation of Thailand on the human rights front.

Lastly, on China’s ASEAN influence, while ASEAN and Thailand can benefit from stronger US involvement in the region, the US brings with it advance capitalist and democratic concepts that many Thais still see as too foreign for Thailand and still prefer China’s influences.

The case of the auto maker GM firing union leaders, is an example of the type of business practice the American brings at a time, that labor and environment issues are gaining in importance in Thailand.

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