Editorial Notes

No credit to Gen Prayut for Thailand's new UN role: The Nation

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha addresses a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 on Sept 27, 2015.
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha addresses a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 on Sept 27, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on Sept 29, 2015, the paper says that chairmanship of the Group of 77 will be a test of the country's skill at coordinating development 

Nothing should be read into Thailand being given chairmanship of the United Nations' Group of 77 in terms of earning international "recognition" for the military-installed government under General Prayut Chan-o-cha. 

Nor can Prayut claim any particular credit for gaining the leadership of one of largest intergovernmental groupings of developing countries at the United Nations. 

Thailand will take over from South Africa at the beginning of next year.

Prime Minister Prayut was in New York for the UN General Assembly when Thailand's chairmanship was endorsed last week, but he did nothing to bring about the nomination. Judging from his words to journalists about the Group of 77, he doesn't appear to even know the nature of the group, let alone the role of its chairman. 

Prayut said Thailand was chosen to chair the group because it has succeeded in reducing poverty and fostering development.

Gaining leadership of some United Nations agencies is difficult for UN member-countries due to the inherent competition and political gamesmanship. This is not the case with the Group of 77, for which the chairmanship is shared on a rotational basis.

The chairmanship rotates regionally among the nations of Africa, the Asia-Pacific area, Latin America and the Caribbean. 

The term lasts one year. It is important to note that the Group of 77 has several constituent chapters within the UN-agency system - the Geneva, Nairobi, Paris, Rome, Vienna and New York chapters. 

Each of these has its own way of conducting business, though they share a few features in common, such as similarities in membership and their approach to making decisions. 

So becoming chairman of the Group of 77 is hardly difficult. Serving as chair, however, can be tricky, due to the complexity of the issues at hand and the diversity of its members. 

Established in June 1964, the Group of 77 currently represents 134 developing countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. The diversity is daunting, and not just in geographical scale from sprawling China to tiny Nauru. 

The group initially aimed to promote South-South collaboration in development, but the geo-economic situation has changed utterly in the half century since its inauguration. 

China, most notably, has become prosperous and powerful, the second-largest economy in the world, and that gives Beijing entirely different status in the Group of 77. 

When the UN adopted its post-2015 agenda at a Sustainable Development Summit on Sunday, the Group of 77 welcomed the move. 

It will play an active role in implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 associate targets. 

Chairmanship of the Group of 77 was hardly a "gift" to visiting Prime Minister Prayut. 

It does, however, represent a major challenge for Thai diplomacy. 

Nations across the planet have to be convinced that these goals for sustainable development can and must be achieved. 

The Foreign Ministry has high-calibre staff at UN headquarters, but that will not be enough to demonstrate that Thailand is capable of doing a good job in this new role. 

The premier and his government will have to prepare unambiguous guidelines for the Thai diplomats in New York to achieve their mission and, by doing so, enhance the country's status in international eyes.

The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 22 newspapers seeking to promote coverage of Asian affairs.