Border area is becoming focus of cooperation on economic, socio-economic and security fronts
RELATIONS between Malaysia and Thailand are indeed good. Not only is the usual business of economics, such as increasing bilateral trade, going well, now the urgent matter of border security caused by the decade-old Thai Muslim unrest in the south of the country is being looked at. In this last, Malaysia, having successfully mediated for the Bangsa Moro, is being asked to play a similar role between the Thai government and the insurgents. Thailand's first woman prime minister, here for the Fifth Malaysia-Thailand Annual Consultation, has taken the initiative to start a dialogue between the parties, for the first time, to identify the root causes of the problem and, hence, a solution, that will end the violence.
The border area is fast becoming the focus of cooperation between the two countries on the economic, socio-economic and security fronts. A new cross-border agreement has been signed to replace one that predated Malaysia's independence. This will allow for better regulation of people movement. Complemented by a beefed-up border security to stamp out transnational crime and counter extremist elements from both sides, the move will lay the groundwork for the proposed joint development of the inter-border areas to be driven by the private sector. The goal, according to the Thai PM, is "to promote people-to-people link, cross-border trade and infrastructure connectivity between both countries". To kick it all off, Malaysia and Thailand have agreed to speed up the building of two bridges across Sungai Golok to connect Kelantan to southern Thailand.
Four joint-government memoranda of understanding to exploit both sides of the border were signed for private sector ventures in several major sectors. None of this planning, however, will come to pass if there is no peace there. The imperative then is for Bangkok to commit to peace and work with the insurgents to end a conflict that since 2004 has claimed 5,300 lives from the Buddhist and Muslim communities. If the Malaysian prime minister is right, peace will be achieved sooner rather than later. Given that Malaysia is playing a facilitating role, the PM is well placed to keep his promise. Bilateral relations between Putrajaya and Bangkok are excellent; the peace dividend will bring an economic harvest on both sides; and, like President Benigno Aquino in the Philippines, Yingluck Shinawatra is proving to be just as eager to end the bitterness of a long suffering people. The pursuit of peace, therefore, is looking to be the cement that will bond even closer ties between Malaysia and Thailand.