Thailand Confirms Former Career Diplomat as New Foreign Minister

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Thailand Confirms Former Career Diplomat as New Foreign Minister

Maris Sangiampongsa, a former ambassador to Australia, Fiji, and Nepal, will replace the outgoing foreign minister, who resigned unexpectedly over the weekend.

Thailand Confirms Former Career Diplomat as New Foreign Minister
Credit: Depositphotos

A former career diplomat with close ties to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has been nominated to replace Thailand’s foreign minister, who stepped down over the weekend after less than a year in the position.

Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara announced his resignation unexpectedly on Sunday, in protest of losing the post of deputy prime minister, which he held concurrently with the foreign affairs portfolio, in a cabinet reshuffle.

Parnpree will be replaced by Maris Sangiampongsa, a former ambassador to Australia, Fiji, and Nepal who has served as an advisor to Parnpree since his appointment last September. According to the Bangkok Post, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has forwarded the appointment to the King for royal endorsement.

The announcement came after several media outlets reported on Maris’ appointment, citing sources with knowledge of the situation. Srettha said earlier yesterday that he had selected a new foreign minister candidate with “long involvement in diplomatic circles,” and who has worked behind the scenes at the ruling Pheu Thai Party, though he declined to name the candidate.

Deputy Transport Minister Manaporn Charoensri confirmed the report of Maris’ appointment today, the Post reported. Yesterday, Maris resigned from the board of Thanulux, a Thai conglomerate, effective immediately, citing “personal reasons” in his letter of resignation to the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

According to Thai media reports, Maris “is known to have been close” to Thaksin Shinawatra, the de facto leader of Pheu Thai, since the latter’s appointment as foreign minister in the Chuan Leekpai government in 1994. He has reportedly maintained a close relationship with the Shinawatras, who have recently been rehabilitated after 15 years of political war with Thailand’s conservative political establishment.

As I noted yesterday, Parnpree’s resignation comes at an awkward time, just a week after he was appointed chair of an interagency task force on the humanitarian and security emergency next door in Myanmar. It threatens to disrupt the growing momentum of change in Thailand’s response to the crisis in Myanmar, which has been prompted by the growing conflict in Kayin (Karen) State along Thailand’s border. In recent weeks, ethnic Karen rebels and allied resistance groups have battled with the Myanmar military for control of the border town of Myawaddy and its surrounding areas, prompting around 3,000 civilians to flee temporarily into Thailand in mid-April.

What approach Maris will take is hard to say. In 2015, while serving as ambassador to New Zealand, he gave an address in which he praised Myanmar’s political and economic opening, which was sharply curtailed by the military coup of February 2021. In particular, he praised the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)’s policy of engagement with the military government that introduced the reforms in the early 2010s. “Thanks to the Constructive Engagement policy towards Myanmar, initiated by Thailand and supported by ASEAN where ASEAN friends stood side by side with Myanmar through the difficult times of economic sanction,” he said.

This is not necessarily an indication that Maris will pursue the same policy of engagement now, in very different circumstances, and the balance of probabilities suggests that he will continue the more balanced policy initiated since Srettha took office last year. But it does suggest that his past experience of dealing with Myanmar will be of limited use in the deteriorating economic and political conditions that have held sway since the coup.