On October 21, a significant number of demonstrators, including Thais of varying religious faiths, gathered outside the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok to protest the ongoing bombings in the Gaza Strip. The protesters, hailing from diverse backgrounds, including Thai Buddhists and ethnic Malay Muslims from the Deep South, expressed their concerns and solidarity with the people of Gaza, through chants, homemade signs, and the waving of Palestinian flags.
“The people of Gaza are under attack. We are Muslim, and Palestinians are Muslim,” Jamal Patow, who attended the protest, told Voice of America. “We come from the South of Thailand, and we want to protect the Muslim people.”
Israel’s ambassador to Thailand, Orna Sagiv, expressed disappointment about the protest, accusing the protesters of overlooking the October 7 attacks on Israel by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which killed more than 1,000 Israelis and prompted the current Israeli assaults on Gaza. “Instead of … showing support for … innocent civilians in Israel that were slaughtered and murdered in cold blood – babies children, old people – instead of that, they are burning flags of Israel in front of our embassy,” the ambassador told VOA.
Over the years, the Israel-Palestine conflict has prompted reactions and protests across the globe, and Thailand has been no exception. But amidst these international reactions to the current conflict, the Thai government has maintained a notably neutral stance. In the wake of the October 7 attacks on Israel, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement expressing “our deepest condolences to the Government and people of Israel on the unfortunate loss of lives and injuries from this inhumane and indiscriminate act.”
To comprehend Thailand’s neutrality in the Gaza conflict, it is essential to consider the nation’s demographics and international relations. Thailand, a country with a diverse population, is primarily composed of Buddhists, but it’s also home to a significant Muslim minority, especially in the southern region near the border with Malaysia. This demographic fact shapes Thailand’s approach to international conflicts involving Muslim-majority nations.
For decades, southern Thailand has been home to a simmering Malay Muslim separatist movement, which seeks independence from the Thai state. Given this ongoing conflict, Thailand has a vested interest in avoiding anything that inflames the security situation, especially concerning international issues involving Muslim-majority nations, such as the Gaza conflict.
Thailand’s decision to remain neutral in the Gaza conflict reflects a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, the nation seeks to protect its interests, including the safety of its citizens. The initial attack by Hamas, which took more than a dozen Thai nationals’ hostage, has created a direct concern for the Thai government. Their primary objective became the safe release of these hostages and the repatriation of thousands of Thai nationals working in Israel. Thailand’s strategy of non-alignment in the conflict aims to navigate the geopolitical landscape without exacerbating tensions or jeopardizing the well-being of its citizens.
On the other hand, Thailand maintains diplomatic relations with both Israel and the United States. The relationship between Thailand and Israel has been characterized by economic and strategic cooperation, with Israel being an important trading partner for Thailand, especially in areas like agriculture and defense. According to data from the International Trade Promotion Department, Israel ranks as Thailand’s 40th largest trading partner and holds the sixth position among nations in the Middle East. In the initial eight months of 2023, the bilateral trade between Thailand and Israel reached a total of $857 million. Thailand’s exports to Israel stood at $546 million.
Additionally, Thailand is a security ally of the United States, whose support for Israel is well-documented. Thailand’s diplomatic balancing act in the Gaza conflict involves maintaining these relationships without inflaming tensions or compromising its citizens’ safety.
Thailand’s engagement in diplomatic efforts at achieving peace in the Gaza conflict, is worthy of closer examination. Thailand has denounced the use of violence by all parties and calls upon both sides to engage in peaceful and lasting negotiations to facilitate a resolution, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Jakkapong Sangmanee said during a meeting of the ministry’s Rapid Response Centre.
While its size may pose some limitations, Thailand’s commitment to peace, diplomacy, and past involvement in conflict resolution in southern Thailand makes it a credible candidate for playing a valuable role in fostering a peaceful resolution between Israel and Palestine. By remaining neutral and actively participating in diplomatic channels, Thailand can act as a mediator or facilitator in the pursuit of peace.
While public opinion within Thailand may lean towards support for the people of Gaza, the government’s neutrality allows its citizens to express their concerns, despite Israeli concerns. This delicate balancing act enables Thailand to play a role in international peace and conflict resolution while safeguarding its own interests.
In a nutshell, Thailand’s neutral stance in the Gaza conflict is the result of multifaceted demographics, internal security concerns, and a commitment to international diplomacy. The nation’s priority is to protect its citizens, as evidenced by its active engagement in diplomatic efforts to secure the release of hostages and repatriate its nationals.
The Gaza conflict remains a deeply divisive and challenging issue on the international stage. Thailand’s approach underscores the complexities of navigating such conflicts and the role of neutral nations in the pursuit of peace. In a world where geopolitical tensions persist, Thailand’s stance serves as a reminder of the importance of diplomacy and dialogue in resolving complex and deeply rooted conflicts.