Thursday, January 18, 2007

Thailand-Singapore Relations: Singapore's elite should have stayed on the sidelines

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, Director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, Faculty of Political Science at the Chulalongkorn University writes his opinion on former Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's recent visit to Singapore which offended the new Thai government. From Bangkok Post:
Having become entangled in Thailand's political drama following the Shinawatra family's scandalous sale of Shin Corp to Singapore's government-linked Temasek Holdings early last year, Singapore's elite should have stayed on the sidelines and waited out the resolution of Thailand's deep-seated and ongoing confrontation and conflict.

But Singapore's leaders did not, and have not. They keep shooting themselves in the foot. They never got Thailand right. In view of their latest diplomatic blunder, perhaps they never will.

That Singapore's elite has persistently coddled Mr Thaksin prior to, and in the aftermath of, the military coup on Sept 19, 2006, is understandable.

Mr Thaksin's ties with Singapore's ruling Lee family run deep. The former premier was one of the first Lee Kuan Yew fellows back in 1994. The Singaporeans annually pick out up-and-coming young politicians from the region and treat them to red-carpet packages on the island in an effort to win over future regional leaders. In Mr Thaksin, the Singapore government picked a winner.

In addition, Mr Thaksin's and the Lees' common Hakka Chinese background further deepened their relationship. Like the Lees' one-party dominance of Singapore's democratic system, Mr Thaksin's authoritarian, decisive leadership style, and virtual monopoly in Thai politics during his nearly six-year rule also helped to solidify ties.

It was thus somewhat unsurprising that when it bought Shin Corp and allowed Mr Thaksin to cash out for 73.3 billion baht, Temasek was headed by none other than Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's wife, Madam Ho Ching.

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