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PM under pressure in Paris

As Prayut pushes economic ties, dissidents tell macron ‘he is not legitimate leader’

IN A MEETING with French President Emmanuel Macron today, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha would highlight economic relations, offering opportunities for entrepreneurs from France to use Thailand as their regional hub for trade and investment, but the junta chief was also ready to discuss democratisation, diplomatic sources said. President Macron was expected to raise the issue of democratisation and human rights but Prayut would reaffirm his stance on following the road map towards election early next year, said diplomats close to the preparations for the meeting. A group of exiled dissidents in France, meanwhile, plan to gather and show their disapproval of Prayut’s visit while urging Macron to pressure the junta chief on suppression of democracy and human rights abuses. Prayut, however, might not be seeing the dissidents, as the French authorities are likely to keep them away from the meeting venue.

“The relations with France these days are driven by economic factors notably the role of the private sector in trade and investment in aviation and the high technology sector,” said a diplomat on condition of anonymity. Prayut arrived in France from London on Friday and witnessed the signing of an agreement between Airbus Commercial Aircraft and Thai Airways International in Toulouse to set up a multi-billion-baht maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) project for jetliners at the U-tapao airport.The MRO would be a giant leap towards making Thailand a genuine aviation hub in the region, said the diplomat and added the country would be a major supply chain for the industry. Dubbed as the largest MRO hub of its kind planned for Asia Pacific, the U-tapao facility will have an annual capacity to service up to 4,800 wide-bodied aircraft such as A350 and A380 over the next two decades. Many leading French companies such as VINCI Construction have also expressed their interest in doing business in Thailand, notably in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC). Their investments would support Thailand’s 4.0 vision and human resource development, he said. Prayut’s visit to Europe became possible only after the European Union softened its stance on resuming political engagement at all levels with the Thai military government late last year. Paris might have realised that enhancing economic ties had to go along with strong political relations with the Thai government, the diplomat said, adding, “engaging is better than no engagement”. Macron, who champions the causes of reform, multilateralism and climate change, is expected to broach these subjects with Prayut, especially as Thailand would be taking the leadership reins of Asean next year. The EU is a dialogue partner of Asean and France also regards the regional grouping as the centre of security architecture in the Indo-Pacific, the diplomat said. In this context, regional issues such as the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar would be raised and Prayut was prepared to discuss Thailand’s role, he said. Saran Chuichai is fixing posters in protest of Prayut’s visit to Paris–[pictured by Junya Yimprasert]Meanwhile, activists Junya Yimprasert, Saran Chuichai – better known as Aum Neko – Jaran Ditapichai and other well-known dissidents said they had organised a series of protests since late last week when Prayut landed in France. The group has distributed hundreds of posters and stickers slamming Prayut as a dictator in Paris yesterday. Posters entitled “Dictateur de Thailande” were seen in public in Paris, according to Junya’s Facebook.Jaran Ditapichai, left, is in protest on business deal between Airbus and Thai Airways sealed when Prayut arrived in France on Friday [pictured by Junya Yimprasert]The demonstrations would reach a climax today when the group takes its protests to the French Presidential Palace, although local police would keep the group 150 metres away from the palace. “There would be a surprise for the Thai dictator,” Junya told The Nation, “we have a clear message for the French leader – not to have any agreement with Prayut since he is not the legitimate leader of Thailand.” Prayut staged a military coup in 2014 to topple the elected civilian government led by Yingluck Shinawatra, who is now in self-exile abroad and showed up in London when Prayut was there last week. “We want President Macron to press him to return democracy to the Thai people soon,” Junya said. The group also submitted a protest letter to Airbus when the giant aircraft manufacturer signed a pact with Thai Airways last week. Yesterday, the group gathered at a park, distributed posters and leaflets as well as discussed the future of Thai democracy on the occasion of 86th anniversary of the 1932 Revolution that turned Thailand from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy.

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