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Experts question Thai energy crisis declaration

Althouch a Thai minister claimed recently that delays in resolving the disputed overlapping claims area with Cambodia would result in an energy crisis, experts said yesterday the statement had been politically motivated.

Thai Energy Minister Pichai Naripthaphan said last week Thailand would run out of gas in 15 years if the issue of the reportedly gas- and oil-rich area in the Gulf of Thailand was not quickly resolved, according to a Bloomberg report.

Petrochemical companies, which the minister said relied in part on wet gas from the Gulf of Thailand, could lose billions of dollars if oil and gas reserves were depleted, the report said.

Naripthaphan’s outlook has been shared by industry insiders as well, as some see threats from the country’s growing dependence on imported oil.

But a number of regional analysts said the risk of an oil crisis in Thailand was slim.

“It's not an energy issue, it's a political issue. They wanted to send out a political mess-age: we are ready to solve this problem now,” Pavin Chachavalpongpun, lead researcher for political and strategic affairs at the ASEAN Studies Centre in Singapore, said.

“It's hard for me to believe that we will run out of gas and oil within 15 years,” he said, adding that Thailand relied primarily on oil imported from Myanmar and the Pers-ian Gulf states.

Statistics regarding the energy minister's claims were not available to industry- watchers, he claimed.

Instead, the announcement of a potential energy crisis was a way for Yingluck Shinawatra's government to push forward talks on the OCA, Pavin Chachavalpongpun said.

Talks on the oil claims halted in 2006 when Thaksin Shinawatra, a proponent of the talks, was ousted from government. In 2009, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva threw out a 2001 memorandum of understanding on the OCA – which the Kingdom viewed as essential to resolut-ion – after Cambodia appointed the deposed Thaksin as an economic adviser.

Although she was unavailable for comment yesterday, Titima Chaisang told the Post in early October that Thailand's Foreign Ministry would resubmit the 2001 MoU to Yingluck's cabinet today.

Johannes Lund, Southeast Asia analyst at the Singapore consultancy Control Risks, agreed the statement had been politically motivated.

“It was probably more of a jab at the opposition party, because they had let the process stall since 2006. That's five wasted years,” Lund said, adding that the recent dialogue between Thailand and Cambodia was in both countries' best interests and that claims of a potential energy crisis would not disadvantage Thailand in the negotiations.

Although several Cambod-ian government officials were unavailable for comment, Phay Siphan, spokesman for Council of Ministers, said yesterday Thailand's recent announcement would not be a bargaining chip in resolving the OCA issue.

“We don't want to take any advantage from Thailand. We want to share prosperity with them and make this a prosperous region. We are very good friends,” he said.

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