The Thai-Malaysia wall is more of a political matter than a security matter

Photo: Prayut Chan-ocha/Wikimedia Commons

Thailand and Malaysia agreed on a plan for a border wall in Songkhla. It more closely resembles a political calculation than a calculated national security measure.


The Thai and Malaysian governments have agreed on a plan for a border wall. The proposed plan includes an 11km wall in Dan Nok-Dan Sadao, Songkhla province. The committee will outline the finer details at a later date.

There are still no details on who will fund the project

The Thai foreign ministry has been pushing for an agreement on a border wall for two years. Thai Prime Minister General Prayut raised the issue in 2016. In 2014, Prayut promised to adopt a “zero tolerance” approach to human trafficking. Prayut hopes the wall will help tackle Thailand’s human trafficking problem.

The wall is far more important to Thailand than Malaysia. Cutting down on human trafficking and drug smuggling will benefit both countries. But for Prayut, the wall is a matter of national security. Insurgents escape across the border after carrying out attacks in southern Thailand. The wall represents an opportunity for progress in the crusade against the insurgents.

Malaysia knows this. Although no details on funding have been agreed, Thailand will likely have to pay for most of the project.

The benefits will be muted

The wall itself is unlikely to have a serious impact on smuggling efforts. There are already walls and fences along parts of the 640 km border. However, these are ineffective at stopping smugglers and human traffickers. Often, smugglers and traffickers cut holes in the fences and break holes in the walls.

Many people traffickers work with local communities and authorities to remain undetected. Border authorities have been implicated in sales of victims to human traffickers. The wall will do nothing to stop this collusion.

It will also struggle to stop insurgents entering and leaving the country. Much of the Songkhla population holds dual citizenship. These citizens will be able to enter and exit Thailand and Malaysia unhindered. It is very probable the insurgents are among them. Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon requested the governments to find out the number of people in Songkhla with dual citizenship.

Prayut’s objectives are more political-minded than security-minded

With Prayut’s new promised election date less than a year away, he needs to demonstrate progress. He promised to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to human trafficking. But numbers indicate he has done less than the previous government on the issue.

Source: Global Slavery Index, The US State Department (I), (II)

Prayut’s record on the slow-burning insurgency in the South is no better. There is still no end in sight. Another attack rocked Yala in January. A motorcycle bomb exploded at a crowded market killing three people. Heavy-handed responses from the Thai military is driving the population towards the insurgents.

Prayut’s government has negotiated the establishment of a “safe zone” with MARA Patani. But MARA Patani does not control any of the active insurgents. Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN) controls the militants. The government has made no progress in bringing BRN to the negotiating table.

The wall will be a political tool. It will be something Prayut can point to as a sign that he is trying to solve Thailand’s difficult issues. Its effects are unlikely to make any real progress towards a solution for either issue. But this will not stop Prayut from trying to pass the vague promise of a future border wall off as progress.