Opinion: Should We Be Proud of Thailand’s Abstention in UN Vote?

Video monitors show member nation vote in the United Nations General Assembly in favor of a resolution condemning Russia's illegal referendum in Ukraine, Wednesday Oct. 12, 2022 at U.N. headquarters. Photo: Bebeto Matthews / AP
Video monitors show member nation vote in the United Nations General Assembly in favor of a resolution condemning Russia's illegal referendum in Ukraine, Wednesday Oct. 12, 2022 at U.N. headquarters. Photo: Bebeto Matthews / AP

I was asked by an up-and-coming journalist from a neighboring country earlier this week why Thailand chose to abstain from voting to condemn Russia for its annexation of Ukrainian territories in a shambolic referendum during the latest U.N. General Assembly emergency special session in New York on Wednesday.

Well, apparently, the journalist must not have believed in the explanation put forth by Thailand’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. Suriya Chindawongse.

For those willing to believe it, Suriya partly wrote in English that “Thailand chose to abstain from the vote on the resolution because it takes place during an extremely volatile and emotionally charged atmosphere and situation, and thus marginalizes the chance for crisis diplomacy to bring about a peaceful and practical negotiated resolution to the conflict that may push the world towards the brink of nuclear war and global economic collapse.”

Suriya also added that Thailand feels for Ukraine nevertheless and called the situation an “absolute tragedy” but did not directly mention the aggressor.


“Thailand bemoans the physical, social and humanitarian destruction of Ukraine and the extreme hardship endured by Ukrainians. We therefore emphasize the need for all stakeholders in this absolute tragedy in Ukraine to de-escalate the conflict and violence, and try to find a peaceful means to settle the differences by addressing the pragmatic reality and concerns of all involved…”

Well, while 143 states endorsed the resolution to condemn Russia, including seven of our ASEAN neighbors, namely, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Malaysia; Thailand was among the 35 states who chose to abstain.

The list of the 35 states includes our neighbors and former client states of the USSR such as Vietnam and Laos. Others in the group of abstentionist states are Sudan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Eritrea and China – basically mostly dictatorial states and you know what I mean.

BTW, the list of the five countries which voted to oppose the resolution are North Korea, Nicaragua, Belarus, Syria and of course Russia herself.

Now, if you still do not mean in Suriya and the Thai foreign ministry which distributed the explanation note, here is my take to be empathetic to the unspeakable stance of the ministry.

First, this is not Thailand’s war so we should not get deeply involved, one way or the other. There is no need to get caught between Russia and the rest of the West. Thailand does not want to end up as another pawn of a proxy-war between the US and Russia in Ukraine, period. Many educated Thai conservatives are fully convinced that Ukraine has been used by the U.S. as a proxy to contain and confront Russia.

Second, Russia is a big tourist market for Thailand and we want more Russians to come and enjoy themselves and it may leave them with a sour taste in their mouth if these Russian tourists have learned that Thailand voted to condemn Putin, I mean Russia.

Welcome to Thailand! Come one, come all! BTW, Thai security source confirmed earlier this week that Russian President Vladimir Putin is attending the APEC 2022 Summit in Bangkok (why Biden will not) so perhaps this is a little gesture from Thailand to massage Putin’s ego.

Third, Thailand has a historical soft spot for Russia. Most conservative Thais believe the last Tzar, Tzar Nicolas II, played an instrumental role in helping Siam keep two imperial powers, France and Britain from directly colonizing Siam by making it clear that the Siamese King, Rama V, was his friend. Even during the Soviet era, Thailand eventually managed to ensure that the USSR did not support its then-client state, Vietnam, from invading Thailand.


Fourth, choosing to abstain from taking side, Thailand continues its bamboo and Siamese diplomacy and plays it hard to get. Forget about human rights, the principle of national sovereignty of other states, these issues are very, very low on Thailand’s lists of things to keep in mind.

By abstaining to condemn Russia but also refer to the tragedy in Ukraine, the Prayut Chan-o-cha’s government hopes to appease both Russia and Ukraine and try to make sure they do not make the conflict into Thailand’s conflict.

But what about the reputation and integrity of Thailand? Can Thailand maintain respectability in the eyes of the international community by trying to have it both ways?