Chinese checkers is said to have been developed in Germany, but whatever its origin, it has some striking characteristics that will suggest why the analogy with Thailand’s military dictatorship and the practices and policies it might want to designate as a “foreign policy.”
We say this noting that Wikipedia states that “[l]ike other skill-based games, Chinese checkers involves strategy.” Strategy, perhaps, but as the “rules are simple, so even young children can play.” That seems to sum up the military junta’s approach to foreign policy.
There’s been quite a bit of commentary since the 2014 military coup noting that the junta prefers authoritarian China to the scolding it occasionally gets from long-time ally, the United States, for failing to go the way of previous military juntas and hand over to some kind of civilianized but still authoritarian regime.
The junta’s China pirouette is based on such simplistic views of “friends” and “enemies” and notions that the Chinese well understand, of “face.” Indeed, these motivations are seen in its domestic politics as well.
But as Khaosod reports, the China pirouette is costly. Not just in terms of the necessity of doling out infrastructure projects to a “friend,” but in terms of human lives and any residual notions of freedoms or rights in Thailand.
This Khaosod report is about Chinese journalist Li Xin, who fled China last year, and has been seeking asylum. It is unclear whether he took “secrets” from China or is a state informer who has had second thoughts. Whatever is the case, his wife believes he was abducted by agents of the Chinese state and will be returned to China, if he isn’t there already.
As Khaosod points out, this “journalist’s vanishing is the latest in a string of disappearances of China-related activists in Southeast Asia that have raised suspicions of Chinese government involvement.”
The first case in Thailand, in a string of disappearances and state deportations, is the disappearance from Pattaya of Hong Kong publisher and Swedish national Gui Minhai. The Guardian describes him as a “successful Hong Kong publisher,” and says that “Gui is one of four members of Sage Communications — famed for sensational tomes on the private lives of China’s elite — to go missing.” He finally turned up in China, appearing on Chinese state TV, improbably declaring that the eggs in the fridge, half-done DIY project, boxes of medication, divided into daily doses, still in his apartment, and CCTV footage of the men suspected of kidnapping Gui, he says “he returned to China to turn himself in for an old crime.” A bit like lese majeste suspects in Thailand, Gui has since appeared on state television admitting guilt.
Yet this is just the latest case. Readers will recall the bombing in Bangkok last August (here and here). One of the very first guesses of responsibility involved Uighurs, with police being asked if “the attack could have been in retaliation for Thailand’s recent decision to send some Uighur illegal migrants [sic.] back to China…”. Of course, for a considerable time the police and the military junta denied this. In the end, though, at least based on the occasional court appearances of those charged, this is very likely what the bombing was about.
In July 2015, 109 Uighers were forcibly repatriated to China in what the junta described as a joint Bangkok and Beijing operation “to solve the Uighur Muslim problem” while declaring that China would “look after their safety.” The deportation, which saw the deportees guarded and with bags on their heads, resulted in demonstrations in Turkey.
In November 2015, Thailand deported Jiang Yefei and Dong Guangping, two well-known dissidents, who “were arrested by Thai authorities on 28 October for not having valid visas.” What made this case more egregious was that the UNHCR said it was “deeply concerned over the refoulement of two recognised refugees from Thailand,” and said the two “had been approved to be resettled outside Thailand and China and were due to depart days after the unannounced deportation…”.
While such actions fly in the face of international law and reflect poorly on both China and Thailand, the links between the two authoritarian governments, operating in concert and using similar methods of extra-legal detention and more. The Thai junta seems more than willing to engage with China in these matters and, indeed, to learn the simple strategies of “foreign policy” constructed to reward friends.