Singapore Govt steps in for Temasek, wants Thailand to clarify ‘buy-back’ remarks

Bangkok Post and AFP
19 Feb 07

Singapore yesterday demanded Thailand clarify remarks made by chairman of the Council for National Security Sonthi Boonyaratkalin that he wanted to buy back some of the national assets Temasek Holdings, an investment arm of the Singaporean government, had bought from Shin Corp.

”Singapore is surprised at what Gen Sonthi was reported to have said about buying back Thai national assets which have been sold to foreigners,” AFP quoted a Singaporean Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying. ”We should wait for the Thai government to clarify what those remarks meant,” the spokesman said.

Gen Sonthi, while addressing 1,000 territorial defence students on Friday during a seminar on patriotism, described the control over the country’s satellite concessions as national assets that should be reverted back to Thai control. He was referring to satellite concessions held by Shin Satellite Plc which is 41% owned by Shin Corp, now majority owned by Temasek.

He said in Ratchaburi yesterday that if the island state wanted clarification of his remarks, the Singapore government should make it formally in a written statement. ”If not, I will not explain it to Singapore,” he added.

The army chief stood by his position that he would like to see Shin Satellite and other national assets back under the control of Thais and called for the Surayud Chulanont government to find ways to reclaim ownership.

Foreign Minister Nitya Pibulsonggram said the Foreign Ministry has yet to assess the impact of Gen Sonthi’s remarks on Thai-Singapore bilateral relations.

He said Thailand’s relations with Singapore were being carefully evaluated, although the two governments have continued cooperation projects without any interruption.

Government spokesman Yongyuth Mayalap said Thais in general share the same wish as the CNS chairman and want to see Shin Satellite Plc back in Thai hands.

The government will explore the possibility of buying back the satellite concession. But it will first have to take into account the cost-effectiveness of doing so, he said.

While the Information and Communications Technology Ministry conducts a feasibility study, the Foreign Ministry will clarify government policy on the issue to the Singaporean government, Mr Yongyuth said.

He believes the issue would not affect the two countries’ bilateral relations.

Democrat deputy leader Alongkorn Ponlabutr hailed the CNS chairman’s call but cautioned that the government should go through a proper process in its attempt to seek the return of the Shin Satellite concession, otherwise it could be seen as government interference in investment matters.

”It should be made very clear to international investors that the government was not trying to seize control of satellite concessions back from foreign investors,” he said.

Relations between Thailand and Singapore have soured since early this year when deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra met Singapore Deputy Prime Minister S. Jayakumar during his visit to the city-state. The Singapore government insisted the meeting was private but Thailand argued that the welcome given to Mr Thaksin by a senior Singapore official with his government’s knowledge was inappropriate.

Mr Alongkorn said if the government plans to buy back the satellite part of the Shin Corp shares from Temasek, it should do so with the mutual agreement of both parties. The Singaporean government could take this opportunity to mend relations with Thailand by agreeing to sell Shin Satellite Plc shares back to Thais, he said. The government may issue bonds to raise funds for the repurchase of Shin Satellite, he said.

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