Last Thursday, police arrested two men in Ayutthaya for possession of drugs. They were driving a pickup with 700 one-kilogramme bags of crystal methamphetamine, a so-called recreational drug without medical or social value.
To provide an idea of the international drug trade now centred in Thailand, abusers and addicts of crystal meth, or ya ice commonly use less than half a gramme per dosage. So 700kg represents a shipment of 1.75 million doses of the drug at a minimum. The seizure had a wholesale value in Thailand of about 2.1 billion baht. It is worth five to 10 times that abroad and in individual dosages about 100 times more.
It is telling that this was a minor newsstory last week. It made no front pages and most media buried it in the crime news, if they even bothered. The sad fact, however, is that such stunning disclosures have become routine. Anti-drug agents diligently perform their duties. They routinely seize millions of ya ba tablets, along with kilogrammes at a time of ya ice and heroin.
This has turned Thailand once again into a primary supply nation of illicit drugs to the world. One would think that a government concerned about the national image after one tourist was rudely shoved at the airport would have the issue of drug trafficking on the front burner of diplomatic and security concerns. It does not. There seems no reasonable explanation of this and the recent history is somewhat depressing.
The 9th annual Meeting of the Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation between the two countries was held in mid-August in Nay Pyi Taw. The three-day meeting was a prime example of "diplomacy lite", with much effusion and little-to-no substance. As described by Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai's public relations team, he and his counterpart U Kyaw Tin vowed to enhance what they call a "natural strategic partnership".
Relations between neighbours may be natural, but the "strategic" part is questionable. Thailand and Myanmar have many common problems that are best approached by diplomatic cooperation. Successive governments often have reached out to help Myanmar. This has not always been successful or appreciated; witness Thaksin's quagmire over satellite TV for schools. But there never has been a serious problem, and getting along certainly is better than border battles.
For many years -- and this pre-dates recent bloody, government-caused havoc against the Rohingya -- Myanmar has struggled with massive under-development in the western state of Rakhine. Recently, Thailand has stepped up its work on a programme to develop a shrimp culture demonstration project in Sittwe, Rakhine. At the meeting, Mr Don pledged Thai money and expertise to this project, coveted for years by the Aung San Suu Kyi government.
This is an excellent programme but it raises large questions. These begin with the simple fact of the origin of all illicit drugs flooding Thailand, other Myanmar neighbours and on to many outside countries. Myanmar is where all such drugs are made, where all the drug lords responsible live and where all drug smuggling and trafficking arrangements originate. Thailand is an example country where drug production was wiped out. Paramilitary strikes against the drug lords helped, but the real reason was the drug substitution programme envisioned and so actively supported by the late King Bhumibol.
Diplomats should take up the question with Myanmar of why it refuses to pursue any solution to the massive drug trade inside its borders. It is not credible that after five decades the Tatmadaw (military) is incapable of bringing order. This question deserves repeating until Mrs Suu Kyi and the army provide a proper response.