The Thai military have now declared parts of Bangkok a “live firing zone” as their struggle with the Red Shirt protestors intensifies. One of the most striking things about this horrible crisis is how little leverage outsiders have over the course of events. If Thailand was in Africa rather than Asia, it would be on the receiving end of a constant flow of envoys from the UN, AU, EU and so on ad nauseam. But the multilateral architecture for crisis management in Asia is weak – and nobody wants to get entangled in a crisis on China’s periphery without being sure of the consequences.
For a very thorough overview of the difficulties of conflict management in Asia and the Pacific, check out my colleague Elsina Wainwright’s new paper on the topic from CIC.
Her conclusion (very broadly) is that no one organization has the potential to take a consistent lead on prevention across the region – the UN is marginal to most Asian conflicts, and ASEAN is super-cautious. The U.S., Australia and Japan have an interest in a stronger conflict management system in Asia, in part to reduce the chances of friction with China – but the challenge is to construct this without it looking like an initiative to box Beijing in. So, says Wainwright, the real challenge is to work on creating, ad hoc case-specific coalitions of states and institutions to handle conflicts as they arise. Let’s hope that the Thai case sparks new thinking on just that.