BANGKOK — Officials and experts on Monday said they fear Thailand may be caught in collateral damage from the heightened confrontation between the U.S. and Iran.
Following the U.S. drone strike on Friday that killed Qasem Soleimani, who is widely considered to be Iran’s second most powerful person, an international relations professor urged Thailand to remain vigilant, as the assassination could prompt responses from armed groups allied to Iran.
“Although I believe that the killing of Soleimani will not grow into an all-out war between the U.S. and Iran as many have speculated, I suggest Thailand should be watchful of the situation because Iran will certainly retaliate,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak said in an interview. “An Iran-linked attack happened in Bangkok in the past.”
In 2012, a failed bomb attack in Bangkok led police to arrest a group of Iranian nationals who were later accused of attempting to target Israeli diplomats in Thailand.
Given Thailand’s cordial relations with both the U.S. and Iran, he said the situation is unlikely to spell any grave ramifications for Thailand, but the professor warned that Iran may resort to unconventional warfare in other countries, targeting U.S. citizens and assets.
“The government should step up security measures at vulnerable places like tourist attractions or embassies,” he said. “The risk is not that prominent since Thailand is not directly involved with the conflict, but we should better stay alert.”
There are signs the government is already making preparations in case the tension takes a turn for the worse. The Ministry of Labor said today the government has prepared an evacuation plan for Thai citizens in Iran and Iraq.
“There are 257 Thais working in Iran and 25 Thais working in Iraq,” labor minister Chatumongkol Sonakul said. “We have coordinated with the Thai Embassy in Riyadh, which is also responsible for Iran, to facilitate wellbeing of Thais in the region.”
The Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) index slid down 0.68 percent by 1.40pm on Monday.
Energy minister Sontirat Sontijirawong said the country has enough oil reserves to prepare for potential disruptions in global oil supply.
But the Ministry of Commerce on Sunday warned that Thai economy could be affected by global fluctuations in stock markets and oil prices as conflicts between the U.S. and Iran escalated.
“In the short term, oil prices soared nearly four percent on Friday and were likely to rise further unless the situation was relieved,” Pimchanok Vonkorpon of the Trade Policy and Strategy Office said. “In the medium and long terms, it could have a negative impact on investors’ confidence and a slight impact on global economy.”
The director-general said the situation had yet to pose direct impact to Thailand, but she believed that it could get worse should the U.S. or Iran retaliate against each other, especially if the conflict involves a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz, where about 20 percent of global sea shipments pass through.
Nevertheless, Pimchanok added that she saw a silver lining in the situation, as Thai exports of petroleum-based products such as plastic pallets and petrochemicals could benefit from rising oil prices.
According to official statistics, the trade between Thailand and the Middle East region worth USD 25,683 in the first 11 months of 2019, or 5.8 percent of the country’s overall trade. Rice, clothing, and air conditioners were among Thailand’s top exports to the region.