Thailand's Landbridge will bring East and West closer

We publish here an excerpt of the speech by the Prime Minister of Thailand Srettha Thavisin on the Landbridge project

Thailand's Landbridge mega infrastructure project is an effort towards creating seamless connectivity to boost long-term growth prospects in the region and is fully in line with my Government's proactive economic diplomacy.

The project will include the construction of deep-sea ports in Ranong, on Thailand's Andaman coast, and Chumphon, in the Gulf of Thailand. Located approximately 90 kilometers apart, the two ports will operate under the “one port, two sides” concept, supported by a highway and double-track railway lines to connect the ports with each other and with the country's national network.

Each port will have the capacity to handle up to 20 million standard containers per year. The plan also includes the installation of a network of oil and gas pipelines. The total estimated cost is 1 trillion baht ($28 billion).

The Landbridge project represents an unprecedented opportunity to improve connectivity between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and to link economic activity between the two regions.

It promises to facilitate greater movement of goods and people between East and West, offering a viable route for maritime trade beyond the Straits of Malacca.

Once completed, the Landbridge is expected to reduce travel times by an average of four days between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific and reduce transportation costs by 15%. For a company shipping goods from Chennai to Yokohama, for example, this could mean savings of up to five days and 4% on costs.

Those familiar with Thailand's logistical development might see the Landbridge as a modern reworking of a century-old proposal to dredge a canal across the Kra Isthmus.

Although it was originally approved in 1989 as part of Thailand's Southern Economic Corridor, various considerations have left this project unrealized to this day. Now the timing will align well with the growth prospects of the economies of the Indian subcontinent and Africa.

Plans call for the first phase of construction to begin in September 2025 and last until October 2030. Contractors will likely be able to bid on the project between April and June 2025.

The Landbridge is expected to bring benefits of 1.3 trillion baht to the Thai economy and increase the country's annual gross domestic product growth rate by 1.5% through increased export opportunities and the creation of 280,000 jobs . It will also bring new development opportunities for other provinces in southern Thailand.

Il successo spaziale della Thailandia

Grazie al costo relativamente basso della manodopera, il Paese è un candidato interessante per la produzione avanzata nel settore spaziale

By Tommaso Magrini

Il satellite thailandese in orbita terrestre bassa, Theos-2, è stato lanciato con successo lo scorso 9 ottobre dal Centro spaziale della Guyana. Il satellite di osservazione della Terra Theos-2 è stato sviluppato congiuntamente dall’Agenzia per lo sviluppo della geoinformatica e della tecnologia spaziale (GISTDA) e Airbus per registrare immagini dallo spazio, proseguendo la missione di Theos-1, lanciato nel 2008. Ci vorranno ancora alcune settimane per controllare i vari sistemi del satellite, compresa la capacità di fotografare, prima che possa iniziare la sua missione. Theos-2 può scattare immagini ad alta risoluzione fino a 50 centimetri e scansionare circa 74.000 chilometri quadrati al giorno. Le agenzie spaziali thailandesi stanno inoltre lavorando per sviluppare un satellite al 100% di produzione autoctona, chiamato “Theos-3”. Sì, perché il programma spaziale di Bangkok procede a grande ritmo. La Thailandia è sede di una produzione avanzata di componenti per veicoli e di una serie di prodotti elettronici. Grazie al costo relativamente basso della manodopera, il Paese è un candidato interessante per la produzione avanzata in generale. Di conseguenza, il GISTDA ha spinto per sviluppare un centro di assemblaggio, integrazione e test satellitare nel Paese, sfruttando questi punti di forza.All’inizio di quest’anno, la Thailandia e la Corea del Sud hanno annunciato l’intenzione di effettuare uno studio di fattibilità congiunto per un sito di lancio. Un giorno potremmo vedere i razzi partire dal Paese del sorriso. La Thailandia non è l’unico Paese del Sud-Est asiatico a condurre un ambizioso programma spaziale. L’Indonesia è stata un pioniere delle comunicazioni satellitari tra i Paesi dell’Asia-Pacifico, avendo lanciato il suo primo satellite Palapa a metà degli anni Settanta. Negli ultimi anni, però, gli indonesiani hanno superato loro stessi: il programma BAKTI, gestito dal Ministero delle Telecomunicazioni (KOMINFO), ha l’ambizione di collegare circa 150.000 siti alla banda larga satellitare nei prossimi anni. 

Thailand moves closer to LGBTQ+ marriage

Thailand's new PM pushes in the direction of legalizing same-sex marriage. It would be the first Southeast Asian country to give the green light

By Tommaso Magrini

Thailand could become the first Southeast Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage. The green light was one of the issues on the agenda of Move Forward, the party that was victorious in last May's elections but has since remained out of government. It is an issue that has now been picked up by the Pheu Thai party's new Prime Minister, Srettha Thavisin. The PM relaunched the initiative in October, with her government preparing three bills for marriage equality, sex change, and decriminalization of prostitution. 

The Thai prime minister has "stressed that this is a very urgent matter," giving the relevant ministries a few weeks to hold public hearings on the bill and forward it to parliament, government spokesman Chai Watcharong said on Oct. 31. The bill will be debated in the upcoming parliamentary session in December, while the Pheu Thai-led coalition government is under pressure to deliver as it approaches the 100-day mark and must show that it has at least partially fulfilled key campaign promises, such as the $280 handout to Thai citizens.

Last year, the previous House of Representatives passed on first reading a marriage equality bill proposed by Move Forward, as well as a competing bill enshrining same-sex civil unions proposed by the conservative government of former Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. But neither bill moved forward before Parliament was dissolved for the May general election.

Supporters expect the Srettha government's proposal to be similar to the Move Forward bill in order to win the votes of the largest opposition party. The proposal would amend Thailand's Civil and Commercial Code, changing gendered words such as "husband" and "wife" to "spouse," while "man" and "woman" would change to "individual." Prachachat, a coalition party led by Pheu Thai and whose base is in the country's Muslim Deep South, has called for religious exemptions, such as exempting Muslim clerics and Christian priests from performing same-sex marriages. Srettha also supported Bangkok's bid to host the 2028 WorldPride, a biennial international event that would help boost tourism and consumption revenues in Thailand.

Meanwhile, the proposed Gender Recognition Bill would allow transgender Thais to change their official sex, which is currently not possible, even though the country has become a hub for sex reassignment surgeries. Opponents have said that allowing official sex change would give men a way out of military conscription, a concern that may be outweighed by the fact that the Pheu Thai government plans to switch to voluntary enlistment. 

Mega redevelopment in Bangkok

More than 20 large-scale projects are planned in Bangkok with openings scheduled by 2027, totaling 500 billion baht of investment

Article by Tommaso Magrini

Bangkok is ready for a wave of renovation projects totalling more than $14 billion, supported by some of the country’s leading conglomerates. The aim is to transform the Thai capital into a destination that rivals Singapore. A mammoth development is underway on prime real estate opposite Lumpini Park in central Bangkok, led by the conglomerate TCC Group. One Bangkok will be one of the largest private sector projects in the country, with a value of 120 million baht. According to plans, the 167,000-square-meter area will host five office towers, residential skyscrapers, retail space and a concert hall and a Ritz-Carlton Hotel. TCC’s activity includes the brewer Chang Thai Beverage and real estate. The project will be a magnet for world-class businessmen, investors and tourists from all over the world , growing their will to come to Bangkok. Charoen Pokphand, one of Thailand's leading conglomerates, is working on a mega- project in Samut Prakan, on the outskirts of Bangkok, putting emphasis on sustainability. The Forestias will consist of commercial spaces, a hotel and residential areas, The operator of this 125 billion baht-wellness-oriented project has involved the Japanese Sumimoto Mitsui Trust Bank as an investor. According to data released by Nikkei, more than 20 large-scale projects are planned in Bangkok with opening schedules by 2027, totalling 500 billion baht of investments. Large projects of incomparable scale are being planned, becoming in this way Bangkok’s ‘landmark’. These renovation projects make sustainability a strong point. Many multinationals see the Thai capital as a great opportunity.

Thailand, who is the new PM Srettha Thavisin?

After a prolonged period of political uncertainty, Thailand has its new prime minister: Srettha Thavisin, a former U.S.-educated real estate tycoon who has always been close to the Shinawatra family. He is the epitome of a government that unites Pheu Thai, conservatives and the military

By Francesco Mattogno

One hundred days after the May 14 elections, Thailand has elected its new prime minister. With 482 votes in favor (including 152 senators), 165 against, and 81 abstentions, in the joint House and Senate vote on August 22 Pheu Thai candidate Srettha Thavisin passed the necessary threshold of 374 seats and became the 30th premier in Thai history.

His nomination was approved by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who thus made the outcome of the parliamentary vote official and paved the way for the formation of the new government. Which will not be a "change" government. Or at least not of the change voted for by the relative majority of Thais, who at the polls had awarded Move Forward, the country's most progressive and radical political formation, as the party with the most seats in the lower house (151).

Instead, Pheu Thai, which came second in the elections (141 seats), will lead the new executive. In a turn that was as abrupt as it was announced, in early August the party founded by Thaksin Shinawatra abandoned its coalition project with Move Forward and initiated a series of negotiations to form an alliance with political forces linked to the conservative and pro-military establishment.

The successful outcome of the talks resulted in an 11-party, 314-seat coalition encompassing much of the outgoing government led by former coup general Prayut Chan-o-cha, with the exception of the Democratic Party. In fact, the alliance that supported Srettha includes the Bhumjaithai (BJT) of former Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who may become the next interior minister, and the military's two parties, the Palang Pracharat (PPRP) of the other coup general Prawit Wongsuwon and the United Thai Nation (UTN) of outgoing premier Prayut, who has, however, announced that he plans to retire from politics.

In fact, Pheu Thai has struck deals with what until last May 14 were its bitterest enemies. Over the past two decades, the Shinawatra party has been ousted from power twice by army coups (2006 and 2014), and its leaders have been convicted of corruption and abuse of power by military-linked courts. The BJT, on the other hand, came into being in 2008 after an internal split within Pheu Thai, and has since become a symbol of betrayal and affiliation with conservative power for Reds supporters. Moreover, 16 out of 25 MPs from the same Democratic Party, once Shinawatra's number one opponent and now in the midst of a crisis, voted in favor of Srettha's nomination, contravening the party's line of abstention.

This is a reversal of what was promised before the election. At the height of the election campaign, Srettha-as well as all the Pheu Thai leadership-had ruled out an alliance with the military. Instead, on Monday, before the vote, he asked Thais to "forget" those words for Thailand's sake. Pheu Thai claims it had no alternative, since the Senate (appointed by the military) would have prevented any coalition including Move Forward from governing. To form an executive, therefore, one had to surrender to compromise with conservative forces in the name of "national reconciliation." And so it did.

Despite skepticism, the new prime minister pledged that the coalition would abide by Pheu Thai's electoral program, which made the economy a "priority" to go along with more progressive and democratic policies, such as amending the constitution and ending compulsory conscription.

Srettha is the main promoter of the "digital wallet," a 10,000 baht (270 euros) subsidy promised by his party to everyone over the age of 16, which would be in addition to an increase in the minimum wage. He said in the election campaign that he would push to expand Thailand's export markets in Africa and the Middle East and to forge more free trade agreements (above all, the one with the European Union), saying he also opposed decoupling between China and the United States. "I don't believe in working with individual nations," he said in an interview with the Nikkei.

A member of a well-connected family within the Thai elite, Srettha studied economics and finance in the United States (he graduated from the University of Massachusetts and took a master's degree at the Claremont Graduate School in California), and once he returned to Thailand in the 1990s he became chairman of Sansiri, a family business that became one of the largest companies in the Thai real estate industry. In contrast to many of his fellow entrepreneurs, Srettha has often exposed himself politically on social media and beyond, becoming one of the trusted men of former premiers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra. In November last year, he finally joined Pheu Thai, stepping down as CEO of Sansiri two months before the elections.

Amid the prolonged political crisis, the country's GDP grew only 1.8 percent in the second quarter of 2023, well below expectations. Therefore, according to Bloomberg, given his business career and promises to stimulate the Thai economy through public spending, investors should welcome Srettha's appointment as premier. And there is talk of his possible dual role as finance minister as well. Different is the talk on the purely political level. The new prime minister has no political experience, nor a strong support base both within the party and in the electorate. And this is no small detail for a premier who will have to hold up a potentially very fragile and unpopular coalition (a poll of a sample of 1,310 citizens recorded about 63 percent disapproval).

Despite the decent result at the polls, for the first time in 20 years Pheu Thai did not win the election. This makes Srettha a much weaker prime minister than his predecessors elected with the Shinawatra party, who came to the seat with huge popular mandates and were surrounded by a kind of aura of invincibility. And in a further threat to his legitimacy, Srettha has been accused of tax evasion and malpractices during his time at Sansiri. The new premier will thus have to prove that he can control a government in which Pheu Thai, despite being the largest party in the coalition, is actually outnumbered by potential deals between BJT, PPRP and UTN, which together have 147 seats. One wonders then how well Srettha will be able to implement the promised policies, and whether moving behind him may be a far more navigated figure like Thaksin, moreover, who has just returned from exile.

Thailand, the scenarios for the new government

As expected, Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat failed to win enough senatorial votes to be named prime minister. For Thailand, a phase of great political uncertainty begins. Parliament goes back to vote on July 19: here are the scenarios for the formation of the new government

Article by Francesco Mattogno

64 votes were needed, 13 came in. The first joint session of the Thai parliament to vote for a new prime minister closed Thursday night without the nomination of the only candidate in the running, Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat. This was no surprise.

After winning the May elections, Move Forward formed a coalition of eight parties, grouping a total of 312 seats: more than enough to have a majority in the lower house of 500 MPs, but too few to elect the new government without the influence of the Senate. Until May 2024, in fact, the 250 senators appointed by the military have the constitutional power to participate in voting to appoint the prime minister, who then needs at least 376 votes to be elected (which became 375 on Wednesday following the resignation of a senator). A huge obstacle for those proposing to shake up the pro-monarchist, pro-conservative status quo that those same senators have been charged with protecting.

The parliamentary session

Beyond token optimism, it was clear from the eve of the vote that Pita would not have the numbers to leave the chamber as Thailand's 30th premier. Before the vote, parliamentarians were given about six hours for debate. The Move Forward-led coalition remained united and put forward Pita as its sole prime ministerial candidate, while the pro-conservative front parties did not put forward any aspirants for the role. The result was a single-issue session.

All the speeches focused on the legitimacy of Pita and his party to govern, with the Move Forward's willingness to amend the law on lese majesty, a proposal that conservative deputies and senators have repeatedly deemed dangerous to the country's stability, at the center. Another central issue in the opposition to the Orange leader has been the legal proceedings hanging over him. On Wednesday, the day before the vote, the Election Commission of Thailand asked the constitutional court to disqualify Pita as an MP, accusing him of having been aware of his ineligibility due to owning shares in the media company ITV (the constitution in such cases prohibits him from running for office).

According to the Move Forward member, this is a specious accusation--ITV has not operated since 2007--but in the meantime, the constitutional court could suspend him from parliament pending final judgment, which could also include his disqualification from political activity and a sentence of one to three years in prison. The court also accepted another case seeking the dissolution of Move Forward because of the party's intention to amend the law on lese majesty. Pita denounced the suspicious timing of the two proceedings, which provided an assist to senators to legitimize their refusal to vote for a suspect as prime minister.

The day ended with 324 votes in favor of Pita's nomination, 182 against, 199 abstentions. Those in favor included 311 coalition deputies (House Speaker Wan Muhammad Noor Matha abstained as usual) and 13 senators. More than 40 members of the Senate, however, did not show up in the chamber.

The main scenarios

On a formal level, there is no upper limit on the number of votes parliament can hold to appoint the prime minister. The next joint session has been set for July 19, and it is expected that a possible third session could be held as early as the 20th. On the political level, things are different. "I'm not giving up," Pita said on the sidelines of the vote. But the support he enjoys from coalition partners may be timed. Some members of Pheu Thai, the alliance's second-largest formation, said the party would support him for three votes, but then would have to think of an alternative path.

There are essentially four possible scenarios. The first envisions that -- net of legal proceedings -- the Move Forward leader will be able to find the 64 votes needed to be named premier. MPs from Bhumjaithai, the third largest party in the House (71 seats), have said they would vote for him should his party abandon the plan to amend the law on lese majesty. Which Move Forward has categorically denied. The second is to thus maintain the coalition but have Srettha Thavisin, a Pheu Thai candidate deemed more acceptable even than Paetongtarn Shinawatra herself, daughter of the party founder, elected as prime minister. However, there are those who argue that the establishment is unlikely to accept Move Forward even being part of the governing coalition.

There is thus the possibility of "betrayal." Pheu Thai could leave the coalition and form a government with conservative and pro-military forces, a choice that could have consequences both in terms of popular support for the party and law and order. It is believed that in the event of Move Forward's ouster from the executive, a series of mass protests by its supporters could be triggered. Very likely even in the case of the last scenario, that of the formation of a very weak minority conservative government.

The other possibilities

There are other possibilities, however. A more extreme and complicated one is to extend to the bitter end the joint parliamentary sessions for voting for the premier until the Senate's term expires in May 2024. Unlikely also because it would worsen Thailand's already highly uncertain political and economic situation. Therefore, the pro-democracy coalition would be considering an alternative solution.

As reported by the Thai Enquirer, on Friday Thai afternoon Move Forward plans to propose to the House the amendment of Article 272 of the constitution, the one that allows the Senate to vote on the appointment of the prime minister. The proposal would pass with the support of half of the lower house deputies (250) and a third of the senators (84). According to Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, one of the leaders of the progressive movement, several of the senators who abstained from Thursday's vote could accept the amendment, which could then take effect within four weeks. It remains a complicated scenario. Meanwhile, the interim prime minister remains former coup general Prayut Chan-o-cha, in power since the 2014 coup. Prayut has announced his intention to retire from politics, but if the appointment of a new premier drags on for a long time his interim government would end up having to make important decisions, such as those regarding the budget for 2024 and the army and police reshuffle. Political instability has also always been a pretext in Thailand for "restoring order" through a coup. Hypotheses that no observer of Thai affairs ever feels like ruling out entirely.

From the energy transition a new beginning between Thailand and Saudi Arabia

The Thai giant PTT aims to produce green hydrogen and restart diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.

Thailand's state-owned oil giant, PTT Group, will invest $7 billion in green hydrogen with Saudi Arabia's leading renewable energy company, ACWA Power, while aiming for decarbonization and restarting diplomatic ties between the two countries.
The investment is part of the different approaches taken by PTT Group to find a balance between reducing emissions and maintaining profitability. The agreement would also prove to be an important step in restoring diplomatic relations between the two kingdoms, which were suspended for about 32 years until January 2022. The two companies, joined by the State Electricity Generation Authority of Thailand, signed a memorandum of understanding to start the project. The investment commitment of seven billion dollars is looming as a further step in its realization.

Auttapol Rerkpiboon, the CEO of PTT, said the project aims to build a plant in Thailand with a production capacity of 225,000 tons of hydrogen per year, the first step needed to make Thailand an international exporter as well as the main supplier in ASEAN, of green energy. The investment plan will serve to identify green hydrogen as a future energy source to create demand and fuel the increasing use of electric vehicles in the region.

Unlike "brown" and "grey" hydrogen, whose generation involves fossil fuels, green hydrogen is obtained using exclusively renewable energy sources and, consequently, generates zero emissions. Following in the footsteps of many other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Singapore and Australia, Thailand is also investing significant economic resources in the production of green hydrogen on a gigawatt scale. PTT's net-zero strategy thus aligns with the Thai government's commitments to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2065. However, using green hydrogen on an industrial scale requires two key factors - high capacity and low cost of capital - to bring prices down to a competitive level and encourage people to stop using fossil fuels. In this sense, PTT is trying to generate supply ecosystems to increase demand. Its subsidiary PTT Oil and Retail has partnered with Bangkok Industrial Gas, Toyota Daihatsu Engineering & Manufacturing and Toyota Motors, to set up hydrogen charging stations in the kingdom's Eastern Economic Corridor, a special industrial zone in Bang Lamung district, in Chonburi province. The station is expected to serve fuel cell vehicles which will be used as limousines from U-Tapao Airport to the popular tourist destinations of Pattaya, Chonburi and surrounding areas. The investment in green hydrogen production facilities will surely help in healing relations between Thailand and the Saudi kingdom decades after their ties were soured by the Blue Diamond Affair, which began with the theft of jewels from a Saudi prince's palace by by Thai gardener Kriangkrai Techamong in 1989. A theft worth $20 million, including a 50-carat blue diamond. The two countries only reached a diplomatic thaw in January 2022, when Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha paid the first visit by a head of government in more than three decades. After the resumption of relations, a further sign of the thaw between the two countries came from the Saudi state oil giant Aramco, which increased the supply of crude oil, petrochemical products and liquefied natural gas to PTT Group.

Italy’s mission in Thailand

By Maria Tripodi, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation

From 16 to 18 May, I was on a mission to Thailand to attend the 79th session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and for bilateral meetings, in conjunction with the stopover in the country of the Multipurpose Offshore Patrol Boat "Francesco Morosini". It was my first visit to Thailand, as well as the first by an Italian government member since 2018, reflecting Italy's renewed focus on a key player in the Indo-Pacific. At the ESCAP Commission, I spoke on 'Disaster Resilience: Early Warnings for All in Asia and the Pacific'. Italy is at the forefront of the fight against climate change and disaster management in the region and supports ESCAP's 'Multi-Donor Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness' with a contribution of €260,000. This commitment was highly appreciated by the UN Under-Secretary-General and ESCAP Executive Secretary, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, to whom I renewed my intention to continue working together towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The session was also an opportunity to promote Rome's candidacy for EXPO 2030, during short meetings with some of our partners in the area (Tuvalu, Palau, Samoa).

I then had a fruitful conversation with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vijavat Isarabhakdi: on the 155th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Italy and Thailand, we hoped that our deep relations could continue to strengthen, thanks also to the forthcoming opening of the Italian Institute of Culture, the scholarships offered by the Italian Government, and the excellent results achieved in 2022 by our bilateral trade (+21%), which will also benefit from the EU-Thailand Free Trade Agreement, the negotiations for which were recently restarted. Italy is increasingly appreciated in Thailand, as I was able to see during my visit to the 'Future Energy Asia' fair (one of the main regional events in the energy sector) and the welcome given to the patrol vessel Morosini, excellence of our Defence, a sector in which bilateral cooperation can be strengthened.

The next 'High-Level Dialogue on Italy-ASEAN Economic Relations', to be held in Bangkok in the autumn, will be an opportunity to deepen cooperation with Thailand and ASEAN in strategic sectors: pharmaceutical, agri-food, fashion, space, renewable energy, and defence.

How Thailand's elections went

Article by Francesco Mattogno

Move Forward won the elections in Thailand, disproving predictions that long held Pheu Thai as the dominant party. The two have already decided to join together in a coalition, but the clear majority obtained in the House may not be enough

The consensus among analysts covering Thailand is that election polls are not that reliable. Both because of the method of data collection (mostly online) and because of the distribution of the sample, which comes mainly from the cities, Bangkok in particular. And indeed, the polls were wrong. Move Forward's growth in voting intentions in recent weeks was thought credible, but perhaps overstated. Instead, Pita Limjaroenrat's party won the May 14 election by a decent margin over second-placed Pheu Thai and has already formed on paper a coalition to lead Thailand according to its own political agenda, focused on constitutional and institutional reforms that promise to shake up the country's power structure. Precisely because of this, however, seeing Move Forward govern will not be so easy.

On Sunday, Thais voted to elect the 500 members of the lower house of parliament, but not the 250 members of the senate, appointed instead by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order, i.e., the military junta that led the country from 2014 to the 2019 elections. According to ad hoc provisions in the constitution, until 2024 senators have the power to participate in parliamentary votes to appoint the prime minister. A condition that in 2019 allowed coup general Prayut Chan-o-cha to remain in power despite the fact that his candidate party, the Palang Pracharat (PPRP), came second in the election. And that now potentially outvotes the Move Forward-led Democratic Front although it won a clear victory at the polls.


The Pita-led party won a total of 152 seats (one more than originally expected), beating what was thought to be the main pro-democracy formation, Paetongtarn Shinawatra's Pheu Thai, which elected 141 MPs. Among the scenarios speculated both before and after the vote was that Pheu Thai might choose to ally with pro-military and conservative parties in an attempt to form a compromise government. On Monday, however, the party debunked this assumption, and Pita officially declared the birth on paper of a coalition involving four other parties besides Move Forward and Pheu Thai: the Prachachart (9 seats), Thai Sang Thai (6), Seree Ruam Thai (1) and the Fair Party (1).

The coalition's 310 seats are more than enough to achieve a majority in the House, where the PPRP elected 40 MPs and Prayut's "new" party, the United Thai Nation (UTN), 36. But that is less than the 376 needed to form a government without the senators' vote proving decisive. The idea of Pita and his people is that the popular mandate received is too strong, and that the Senate will not vote en masse to prevent him from governing. Otherwise, "those who are thinking of abolishing the election results or forming a minority government will pay a rather high price," he said at the press conference proclaiming victory. The Move Forward leader considers the hypothesis just described "unlikely," but some senators have already said they will not support him as prime minister.

For this, the third-place finisher in the election, Anutin Charnvirakul's Bhumjaithai (BJT), which won 71 seats, could prove crucial. Anutin is the outgoing health minister in the PPRP-led government, however, his is a center party, not anti-establishment but not completely siding with the military either. For now Pita has stated that "it is not necessary" to involve the BJT, but that could change. Meanwhile, the Move Forward leader-who says he is "ready to become Thailand's 30th prime minister"-is preparing a memorandum of understanding for the coalition. A kind of "government contract" in which the program of things to be done during the first year of the ruling executive will be outlined.


There are indeed several issues on which the parties must agree. The coalition is made up of those who have shared the last four years in opposition, but relations, especially between Move Forward and Pheu Thai, have had ups and downs. The key issue is undoubtedly that involving Article 112 of the Thai Penal Code, i.e., the "law on lese majesty," which provides up to 15 years in prison for anyone who "defames, insults or threatens" members of the royal family.

Move Forward has among its candidates several of the protesters charged with lese majesty for their role in the 2020-21 democratic and anti-monarchy demonstrations, and Pita has long expressed his desire to repeal the law. As the elections have approached, the party's position has softened, but the intention to amend and depower the rule remains, and has been confirmed by the leader himself in several post-victory statements.

Although it has been blunted, it remains a radical position in the Thai context: the monarchy is among the most powerful in the world and a source of political legitimacy (the king must approve the appointment of the prime minister); no other major party has dared to question it so openly. At the press conference where Pheu Thai announced that it had agreed to join the coalition, Pateongtarn said that the party "will not support the abolition of Article 112," but that "there can be discussion in parliament on how to implement it effectively."

But Move Forward's program goes beyond the monarchical issue. The party has also proposed organizing a referendum to elect a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, replacing the 2017 military-driven one and thus limiting the army's influence and power in Thai politics. Then there is the will-this one shared with Pheu Thai-to cancel compulsory conscription, produce an anti-monopoly law, raise the minimum daily wage from 330 to 450 baht (from 9 to more than 12 euros), and legalize gay marriage. On marijuana, however, Move Forward would like to limit its use to medical purposes only.

On foreign policy, Pita proposed de facto non-alignment between the U.S. and China, but called for "rules-based diplomacy" to be respected. He condemned Russia's aggression in Ukraine, and on Myanmar he said Thailand should cooperate with the international community so that the Burmese people can "resolve their conflict." This too is a de facto distant position from the Thai military's top leadership, which has always maintained an ambiguous relationship with Myanmar's military junta.


Pita has been accused of holding some 42,000 shares in ITV, a Thai broadcaster that closed in 2007 but whose registration still remains active. This would be a violation of election laws (which prohibit candidates for parliament from having holdings in media companies), and at worst could lead to disqualification of the candidate and the party. Pita says he is calm, but for similar litigation Move Forward's de facto predecessor, Future Forward, was dissolved in 2020 and its top leadership banned from politics for ten years.

The matter will be investigated by the Election Commission. In case the military wants to overturn the election result, at the moment it is believed that the judicial route is more likely than a further coup, which has been denied by Armed Forces Chief Narongphan Jitkaewthae himself (who will also be on an official visit to Hawaii until May 28). If it is legitimate to have doubts about such statements, the same may be true for those of Prayut, who once the defeat became clear said he would respect the democratic transition. With the Senate on the conservative side, the possibility of a pro-military minority government also remains alive, which at that point (for numerical issues) should be led by the BJT. There is no shortage of time for possible reversals. The Election Commission must publish official election results within 60 days, then parliament will be convened to vote for the prime minister. After being approved by the king, the premier can form his government. It is expected to happen no earlier than early August.

Thailand on the ballot: here's what's at stake

Everything is set for Thailand's May 14 elections. Paetongtarn Shinawatra's Pheu Thai dominates in the polls but is unlikely to rule alone, while pro-military parties know they can count on the 250 votes of the unelected senate. Move Forward and Bhumjaithai the most interesting variables, but they will not be "free and fair" elections

Article by Francesco Mattogno

For two decades, elections in Thailand have been held according to an almost identical script. It is expected that the ones set for May 14 will not deviate from it too much either. It will again be a struggle between the Shinawatra family party and parties associated with the conservative, military-linked, pro-monarchist establishment. The Pheu Thai (PTP) - the third name of the Shinawatras' populist party, which has been dissolved twice in the past - won every election from 2001 to 2019, but ruled on and off only as long as the military allowed it to.

Despite two coups (2006 and 2014) and a new constitution written by the military (2017), Pheu Thai remains the country's leading electoral force. The generality of polls ahead of the May 14 elections give it between 46 percent and 49 percent, with its main premier candidate, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, still leading the polls by at least twenty points ahead of the other parties' incumbents. But to win will not be enough.

In Thailand, only the 500 seats in the lower house of parliament are elective, while the 250 seats in the senate (which participates in voting for the prime minister) are military-appointed. A condition provided for ad hoc in the 2017 constitution that allowed coup general Prayut Chan-o-cha to retain the prime minister's post in 2019 and hope for reelection today, despite the fact that his party, the United Thai Nation (UTN), is third and far behind in the polls (10-15%). Further behind, but for the same reason still struggling, is the other general behind the 2014 coup, Prawit Wongsuwon. He was the premier candidate of the main military as well as ruling party, the Palang Pracharat (PPRP), at 2 percent.


Fifty-two million Thais will be called to vote. Pheu Thai's stated goal is to win about 300 seats, a threshold that would demonstrate an indisputable popular mandate and thus make it theoretically difficult for the Senate to thwart the formation of a Shinawatra-led government. According to analysis by the Thai website The Nation, this is not an impossible goal, but certainly a complicated one. And it is already clear that in order to build a stable executive - achieving a majority of at least 376 seats - the party will have to form a coalition.

Behind Pheu Thai, in second place in the polls is a progressive party, the Move Forward (MFP). Born from the ashes of Future Forward, which came third in 2019 and disbanded in 2020, Move Forward gathers among its candidates and voters many of the young people who participated in the democratic and anti-monarchy protests of 2020-21. It is a strong party among the under-25s and in urban centers. Forecasts put it at around 15-20 percent and potentially growing, but it should be considered that the polls mainly take into account Bangkok and major provincial cities, making the sample unrepresentative of rural areas of the country. However, Bangkok is the city that awards the most seats (33), followed by those in the northeast, a Pheu Thai stronghold region.

That Pheu Thai and Move Forward may form a post-election alliance (along with other smaller progressive parties) is evident. Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat has ruled out coalitions only with those associated with the coup, namely PPRP and UTN. On alliance with the military, however, the Pheu Thai leadership has long maintained ambiguity. Only recently did Paetongtarn state that she did not "like the last two coups," i.e., the coups by which the military deposed and forced into exile first her father Thaksin and then her aunt Yingluck. More direct is the party's other premier candidate, real estate tycoon Shretta Thavisin, who said he did not want to join those who "looted the sovereign power of the people."

Complicating a relationship that would seem a foregone conclusion are Move Forward's radical stances toward the law on lese majesty. In the past, Limjaroenrat has explicitly called for the amendment of the infamous Article 112 of the Penal Code, which provides a penalty of 3 years to 15 years in prison for anyone who "insults or defames" the royal family. Thailand's monarchy is one of the most powerful in the world, and challenging it poses a risk to the political survival of parties that try. In the election campaign no one, including Pheu Thai, ever mentioned the law on lese majesty, and even Move Forward itself has toned it down.


To be accused of high treason is easy; even more so is to respect the status quo. Thailand's Democratic Party (DP) has always been a master at this, although in recent years it has begun to pay for its own unscrupulous political transformism. In 2007 the country's oldest party reached 38 percent of the vote: today it is given around 4 percent. Democrats have often "declared things pleasing to the masses before elections" but have no clear political agenda, writes the Diplomat. The latest vote-catching move is the proposed legalization of sex toys (today owning one in Thailand can result in up to 3 years in prison), but there is a fair chance that this could drive away even the last remnants of the conservative electorate left to the Democratic leader and current Minister of Commerce, Jurin Laksanawisit.

Also part of the current PPRP-led government is Health Minister Anutin Charnveerakul's Bhumjaithai (BJT), the man behind the chaotic legalization of cannabis. He is a figure to be reckoned with because of his ability to put the BJT at the center between conservatives and progressives. If Pheu Thai dominates in the agricultural northeast, Move Forward is strong in urban centers, and Prayut's UTN in the south of the country, BJT seems able to pick up votes just about everywhere. It is given around 5 percent, but there are estimates that believe it is more competitive.


Charnveerakul's is seen as a balancing profile, one that would be capable of serving as prime minister either in a conservative government together with the military or in a progressive government. The BJT leader has also stated that he would support the formation of an assembly to rewrite Thailand's constitution, i.e., one of Move Forward's key policy proposals. Indeed, the Progressive Party and Pheu Thai have included a number of constitutional and army reforms in their election program, including the abolition of compulsory conscription.

These are measures that would challenge the current conservative legacy order of the coup and help make it difficult to think that the Senate would support an eventual Pheu Thai premier, particularly a Shinawatra. Because of this, and the fact that Paetongtarn will give birth to her second child right around the time of the elections, the possibility of a compromise prime minister (or that Pheu Thai will aim for Thavisin) should not be discarded.

If on the political level one can still notice markedly two poles, the conservative and the progressive, anti-military poles, things change when it comes to the economy. "Populism has won," argues analyst Titinan Pongsudhirak. Beyond minor differences in form, each party has as the mainstay of its economic program the presence of one or more subsidies and welfare measures. Unbridled welfarism was inaugurated by the Shinawatras, who made it the primary source of their popularity for two decades, particularly among farmers. An approach not appreciated by all, especially in Bankgok, but one that has the merit of clearing the air on the issue of huge income inequality in Thai society and actually strengthening the welfare system, an issue on which the Prayut government also built some of its support. Today the same pro-military parties that portrayed the Shinawatras as irresponsible are among the most generous in promising economic aid, but the really ambitious proposals always come from Pheu Thai, which pledges to double the minimum wage for workers and to give everyone over the age of 16 10,000 baht (about 270 euros). Ideas that have drawn criticism for their potential burden on government spending. Little is read instead about how to structurally reform Thailand's economy, which has not grown as much as those of the region's major states for a decade. One common desire is to make the country a manufacturing hub for new technology industries, such as electric cars, reinforcing a process that has already been underway for some years.

Princess Pa in Vienna – through the lens of a fellow diplomat Sun Thathong

I first became involved in Princess Pa’s work when I joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2009. I was assigned to be part of a team campaigning for the “Bangkok Rules on the treatment of women prisoners and offenders” to be adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. It was to be a culmination of a project Princess Pa was professed to be passionate about. I recall being up until three in the morning in Brazil, defending the inclusion of a paragraph on these draft Bangkok Rules in the outcome document of the Twelfth Crime Congress in 2010. This would later pave the way for the successful adoption of the rules later that year in New York. At that time, I learned a great deal about her personal motivations and efforts behind the initiative. Her sense of justice made a strong first impression on me. 

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Princess Bajrakitiyabha at the 12th session of the Human Rights Council 

September 2009, Geneva 

Source: Jeff Hoffman, UN 

A year after the Bangkok Rules were adopted, I took leave to pursue a law doctorate in the United Kingdom. It was not until I returned and was posted to Austria in 2018 that I re-encountered Princess Pa’s work. But this time, it was the fruits of her labour in her capacity as a Vienna-based ambassador during 2012 – 2014.

Two years is considered a relatively short time for a posting, but it was enough time for her to leave a lasting imprint. And throughout my four years in Vienna, I came to admire her as a model lawyer-diplomat, whose passion for justice and the rule of law served Thailand’s interests in many significant ways. From a practitioner’s perspective, I have found this to be deeply inspiring.

Princess’ Road to Vienna

Before arriving in Vienna, I had often wondered how, at such a young age, Princess Pa would handle the job of being Ambassador of Thailand to Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia, and Permanent Representative of Thailand to the UN and other Vienna-based international organisations. How would she handle looking after more than 6,000 Thai people in three countries and simultaneously representing Thailand in several international organisations? To say that the job was demanding is an understatement and some would say it should have required decades of experience in diplomacy.

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Princess Bajrakitiyabha addressing the UN General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on the Rule of Law, 24 September 2012, New York. 

Source: UN 

In my view, having a law doctorate from Cornell, a distinguished career as a Thai lawyer-prosecutor, and prior experience working at the Thai Permanent Mission to the UN in New York, actually prepared her in more ways than one when compared with other fellow, career diplomats.

Then I realised one very important factor. Being born a public figure, Princess Pa naturally underwent ‘diplomatic training’ since birth. Moreover, as a member of the Royal Family, service to her people and compassion for their trials and tribulations was in her blood. The UN had already recognised her skills in diplomacy when it named her UN Women National Ambassador to Thailand in 2008. The successful adoption of the Bangkok Rules back in 2010 was also in part the result of her appreciation of and skills in multilateral diplomacy.

Princess Pa had already mastered a diplomat’s essential skills some time before coming to Vienna. This explains why, despite her relatively short tenure as Thai Ambassador and Permanent Representative in Vienna, she was able to make such remarkable contributions, advancing Thailand’s national interests and multilateral diplomacy.

Leading the leaders  

A permanent representative’s main task is to represent their country and promote its interests at international negotiations. Some may take on extra, voluntary roles in conducting meetings and chairing decision-making bodies of these organisations. I was astonished to learn that, while she was in Vienna, Princess Pa personally took on a long list of these voluntary leadership positions in several fora.

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Princess Bajrakitiyabha chairing the 21st session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Vienna, 23 – 27 April 2012

Source: UNODC

For the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, a UN body dealing with crime prevention and criminal justice matters, Princess Pa served as chair of its annual session from 2011 to 2012. For the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, a UN body dealing with drug-related matters, she served as second vice-chair of its 2013 annual session and as first vice-chair the following year. For the International Atomic Energy Agency, an organisation that seeks to promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, she served as vice-president of the 2013 annual session of the Agency’s General Conference. She also served as vice-chair of the inaugural session (2012) of the General Assembly of the International Anti-Corruption Academy, an institution that promotes anti-corruption education. 

I had seen other Thai permanent representatives performing similar roles and have been part of the team serving them, but I never heard of a single permanent representative taking on such a long list of roles over such a short period of time. Indeed, being elected to these positions, one after another, was testament not only to the trust that the Viennese diplomatic circles placed in Princess Pa, but also to her incredible work ethic and competence. In discharging the above positions, she helped build bridges, resolve tensions and advance common goals. In doing so, she raised not only Thailand’s profile, but also the profile of the organisations themselves.

Princess Bajrakitiyabha met with the UN Secretary-General during the UN General Assembly’s Thematic Debate on ‘Drugs and Crime as a Threat to Development,’ 26 June 2012, New York

Source: UN

Influencing the global agenda 

Princess Pa also sought to widen Thailand’s influence in other ways. One was to make Thailand better known as a hub of international meetings. At the first session of the General Assembly of the International Anti-Corruption Academy in 2012, she conveyed Thailand’s offer to host the Assembly’s second session in Thailand the following year, an invitation that the Assembly gladly accepted. Then in 2014, Thailand hosted two UN meetings chaired by Princess Pa herself – a preparatory meeting for the 13th Crime Congress and an expert group meeting to develop draft model strategies and practical measures on the elimination of violence against children.

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Princess Bajrakitiyabha at the ECOSOC panel discussion on crime prevention in the context of post-2015 development agenda, 22 July 2013, Geneva

Source: Jean-Marc Ferre. UN

Another manner in which Princess Pa widened Thailand’s influence was through actively engaging with relevant actors in promoting Thailand’s causes. In 2013, Princess Pa joined a panel discussion on crime prevention in the context of the post-2015 development agenda at an ECOSOC meeting in Geneva. Later in 2013, on the margins of the UN General Assembly’s annual session in New York, she moderated a high-level panel discussion on gender-related killings of women and girls. She also met with the Deputy UN Secretary General to discuss issues related to the rule of law and sustainable development. Outside the UN, she delivered speeches at meetings of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), where Thailand is a partner country, to share Thailand’s experiences in promoting the rule of law, sustainable development, and women’s empowerment.

Achieving concrete outcomes

In less than two years, more than ten resolutions proposed or co-proposed by Thailand were successfully adopted by Vienna-based UN bodies. During 2013-2014, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs adopted five resolutions proposed or co-proposed by Thailand on matters such as alternative development and prevention of drug abuse. During the same period, the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice adopted eight resolutions proposed or co-proposed by Thailand on matters such as elimination of violence against children, treatment of prisoners, and criminal justice.

This high number does not in itself indicate unprecedented achievements, given that it is common for Thailand to propose and co-sponsor a few (or more) resolutions at Vienna-based international organisations each year. It does show, however, that under Princess Pa’s ambassadorship, Thailand continued to be proactive and perform well in Vienna. It is also worth noting that it was during Princess Pa’s ambassadorship in Vienna that Thailand finally ratified the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its anti-human trafficking protocol, having been their signatory for more than a decade.

It would be misleading to conclude that Princess Pa initiated and accomplished all the above tasks by herself. The crucial supporting roles of her staff who helped to propose agendas, draft speeches, and lobby for support should not be overlooked. But it would also be naïve not to acknowledge the unique persuasive power that Princess Pa had over her counterparts, both domestic and foreign.

An inspiration for all

Princess Pa left Vienna and returned to the Thai Attorney General’s Office in October 2014. She has since then taken on even more roles such as the UNODC Goodwill Ambassador for the Rule of Law in Southeast Asia, and carried on with her royal duties and personal passions. On reflection, I cannot help but think of Prince Wan Waithayakon – one of Thailand’s greatest diplomats and Princess Pa’s own first cousin thrice removed – who presided over the UN General Assembly in 1956. They are known for having a similar grace, compassion, and competence. But while Princess Pa has stepped off the path of a career diplomat for now, she has already cemented her place as a role model for the new generation of diplomats, and remains a symbol of empathy and justice and a source of inspiration for all.


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Sun Thathong è un avvocato-diplomatico thailandese, attualmente in servizio come consigliere presso il Dipartimento dei Trattati e degli Affari legali del Ministero degli Affari esteri della Thailandia. In precedenza ha ricoperto il ruolo di Primo segretario presso l’Ambasciata reale thailandese e la Missione permanente della Thailandia a Vienna (2018-2022).

EU-Thailand FTA negotiations resume as Bangkok prepares for elections

The EU recently resumed talks with Thailand on a free trade agreement, while Bangkok is preparing for the elections. Economic relations are an essential part of the European strategy for the Indo-Pacific.

On 15 March, the Commission announced that negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) with Thailand would resume after a stop of almost ten years. In 2014, just a year after they were launched, the talks had been suspended in response to the military coup that ended the political crisis generated by the clash between the Cabinet, led by the family of tycoon and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the ultra-conservative establishment linked to the Monarchy and the Army. Since then, the country has been led by the military's political proxies, who reformed the Constitution in 2017, strengthening the royal powers and putting the Senate under the firm grip of the Army, which appoints all senators. In this scenarioi, pro-Army forces won elections in 2019 and the European Council recommended reviving the cooperation with Bangkok and FTA negotiations ‘in light of Thailand's advances on the democratisation process'. A few days ago, after the announcement of the relaunch of FTA negotiations, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha (in power since the 2014 coup) dissolved the House of Representatives and started the process that will take the country to the polls in a few months.

It is said that History repeats itself, but this would be an understatement when it comes to Thai politics. FTA negotiations stopped when Thailand's democracy was suspended by the military and are now resuming a few months away from a major test for the country's Institutions. However, it is difficult to share the European Council's optimism: between 2019 and today, Bangkok has been shaken by intense protests calling for curbing the power of the Army and Monarchy and more democracy. These protests have gradually died down after the repressive reaction of the ultra-conservative forces. Therefore, it seems legitimate to ask whether a 'democratisation process' is really underway in Thailand, as European leaders believe. To answer this question, one has to look at the last decades of history of the ‘land of the free’. Elections are held regularly in the country and, almost always, won by supporters of the Thaksin family. The parliamentary majority is able to govern for a few years, even if clashing politically with the supporters of the Army and the Monarchy, but almost never manages to complete a full term. At that point, the incumbent government tries to force its hand by going to snap elections, but the political-institutional clash escalates and causes the military to intervene and overthrow it. A military junta governs for a few years and then allows new elections to be held, with new and suitably modified rules, in the hope that their political proxies will prevail over the pro-Thaksin forces, which, however, almost never happens. This script was repeated with disarming regularity in 2006 and 2014 and may now repeat itself in 2023.

In this context, looking at the health of Thai democracy, it is hard to believe that anything has actually changed since the years immediately preceding 2014. What would happen to the FTA negotiations if yet another coup takes place in Bangkok? Would the EU halt them once again? This is not an easy dilemma for Brussels decision-makers, and one that comes up often, especially in South-East Asia, where trade policy becomes even more 'political'. On the one hand, liberalising trade brings undoubted economic benefits for both sides. Thailand is the second largest economy in ASEAN and currently the fourth largest regional partner for the Union. Like other ASEAN members, Thailand's economy is very promising for highly innovative sectors (renewable energy, electric vehicles, semiconductors and other electronic products). The country could become a key supplier for European companies, but also a market for expansion. For an export-oriented economy like Europe (and Italy), reducing trade barriers is almost always a good opportunity for growth, and Brussels is keen to revive its FTA-based strategy to try to overcome the economic difficulties caused by the energy crisis.

But trade policy goes beyond economic interests. Europe must also take political decisions that require a difficult balancing act. On the one hand, deepening trade ties with countries with 'flickering' or 'apparent' democracy risks legitimising authoritarian regimes and undermining Brussels' international standing. Moreover, trade policy remains a polarising issue between European voters and Member States. On the other hand, recent FTAs contain rules that commit the partners to cooperate in sustainable development (i.e. economic, but also socio-political and environmental) and can positively affect the growth of Thai society. The Commission is well aware of the delicacy of this balance and requires a Sustainability Impact Assessment to be prepared during the negotiation of each FTA in order to better consider the opportunities and risks of trade liberalisation. However, there is a further political aspect to consider in order to understand the recent choice of Brussels. In 2021, the EU launched its strategy for the Indo-Pacific and strengthening (economic and political) ties with the region has become essential in the context of growing international tensions. Trade almost becomes ‘the continuation of politics by other means’. In particular, to contain the Chinese "systemic rival", which is in turn active in strengthening trade relations with ASEAN countries. On this level, Brussels must also adapt to the ongoing trade and technological clash between the United States and China. The political scenario is increasingly complex, but it brings also economic opportunities for ASEAN countries, which can replace Chinese companies in the supply chains that end up in Europe and America. However, the risk remains that the European and American governments, moved by the desire to involve Asian democracies in their action (and trade agreements) to contain the ‘authoritarian’ powers, end up underestimating or, worse, ignoring the difficulties and risks faced by the truly democratic forces of these countries. Future developments in the Thai case will be very important for understanding how Brussels intends to resolve this dilemma.