“Depoliticized” military

26 02 2018

Kavi Chongkittavorn used to be with The Nation but now seems to write op-eds for the Bangkok Post. Some of his recent writings can best be described as undisguised political doggerel. His anti-democrat position was buttressed by an undisguised love for Abhisit Vejjajiva.

His most recent op-ed displays his other great affection. Kavi lauds the military-to-military alliance between the United States and Thailand. Triumphantly, Kavi declares:

The 37th Cobra Gold annual multilateral military exercise ended last week with one major outcome — the depoliticising of Thai-US relations which have been held captive since the May 2014 coup….

The US and Thailand are now strengthening relations through military ties — the pattern that has shaped their traditional alliance for decades but faced some hiccoughs during the Obama administration, which criticised the military’s seizure of power and joined the military training in smaller form. It is a reversal of US policy during the Obama administration….

Gen Prayut has expressed Thailand’s support for the US role in the Indo-Pacific. The region was given a big boost and new meaning when US President Donald Trump highlighted the close cooperation of US allies and friends — India, Japan and Australia — in strategic areas, including maritime security.

Apart from sounding a bit like a report from the Cold War, any notion that military-to-military relations are “depoliticized” is bizarre. Nothing could be more politicized, as any cursory review of Thailand’s little brother-hired hand relationship during the Cold War would reveal. The U.S. spent a lot of time and shiploads of money propping up military dictatorships in Thailand and undermining democratization. As Thailand’s generals learned the finer skills of political repression, some became fabulously wealthy.





Craving Trumps embrace

2 10 2017

Few sensible world leaders crave U.S. President Donald Trump’s imprimatur. Thailand’s General Prayuth Chan-ocha does. The Dictator heads the world’s only military dictatorship and the royalist elite he “represents” has been flummoxed by previous U.S. criticism of military rule.

Trump, far less attuned and attached to the trimmings of democratic rule, has no apparent moral issue in dealing with dictators (unless he takes a dislike to them). We imagine that this lack of a moral compass is a product of his own mini-dictatorship over various property development firms and other business dealings.

For The Dictator of Thailand, meeting Trump will, as a Reuters headlines it, “seal Thai-US normalisation.” It has been a “normalization” that has been unfolding since Trump’s election.

As the report puts it, citing human rights groups, “Monday’s White House meeting will underscore Mr Trump’s willingness to embrace authoritarian leaders and regimes at the expense of human rights concerns…”. (We should not ignore the Obama administration’s capacity for dealing with dictators too, like Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.)

In other words, for The Dictator and his military dictatorship, they will be anointed as “legitimate” by the United States administration.  The meeting “gives the outspoken former army chief [General Prayuth] a chance to burnish his leadership credentials amid signs he may be seeking to stay in power after an election tentatively scheduled for next year.”

With the Shinawatras exiled or facing more charges, with the red shirts corralled and with democracy activists hobbled by surveillance, charges and jailings, General Prayuth seems to be cementing his control and can decide how long he wants to be premier.

Trumps embrace matters for the military rulers.





Black deals II

1 07 2017

It seems that if a diplomat is posted to Thailand, he or she is not inoculated against foot-in-mouth disease. This affliction is rife amongst the members of Thailand’s military dictatorship and it highly contagious.

The US ambassador appears to have caught it.

In a revealing story at the Bangkok Post, Ambassador Glyn Davies has decided to “shed light on US President Donald Trump’s invitation to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to visit Washington, saying people have a ‘misconception’ that Washington halted diplomatic relations with Bangkok following the coup.”

There’s no need to shed light on Trump’s invitation. He’s invited Prayuth and Philippines President Duterte, praising the latter’s murderous war on drugs. Everyone understands what Trump’s doing and that he feels better when cosied up with right-wing fascists. The only place he has made a claim for “democracy” is in rolling back Obama’s changes on Cuba.

And, Trump is demanding trade deals to even things up, so let death’s traders do their work.

Davies goes further, saying that he and presumably the administration in Washington have decided that the junta is civilianizing. As we said a very long time ago, that’s all the US wanted.

But to deny that “the US stance towards Thailand under a military government has changed recently, particularly after Mr Trump in April invited Gen Prayut to meet him at the White House” is a bit like the military dictatorship denying it uses torture. Both are fabrications and distort that thing known as truth.

Then Davies adds more on the military relationship with the junta, saying that “despite the past criticism of the military government, the relationship has continued as usual, citing the sale of military equipment to Thailand this year.”

Of course, the “as usual” bit is a gross exaggeration. But he’s been told that Trump wants to get back in Thailand, so Davies stuffs and garnishes his exaggerations: “Our military ties have been strong. We have sold almost US$1 billion (about 34 billion baht) worth of arms to Thailand just over the last ten years…”.

Ten years means since 2007. He then says the “Thai government bought Black Hawk and Lakota helicopters from the US after the coup.”

We are not sure this is accurate. We recall orders in 2009 and 2011, and deliveries in 2013 and then in August 2014. We are not sure that is a purchase of Black Hawks after the coup. We think the Lakota sale goes back to 2013, with deliveries after the coup. Readers can look up these and more at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

His claim that in “2017 alone, US$261 million worth of military deals are in the works…” is probably accurate, although “in the works” is elastic.

We are pleased that Davies clarified that the reduced cooperation and assistance after the military coup was just something to do with law and that it was a minor impediment.

Now he’s really sounding like the military dictatorship, saying: “Our laws state that when a civilian-elected government is overturned by a military coup, certain aid must stop…”. But that’s trifling says the ambassador: “a few million dollars of aid could not be compared with the kind of cooperation that has continued between the countries.” Yahoo! That law is nothing and we deal with dictators.

We all knew that, it’s in the DNA of the relationship between Thailand and the USA.





Black deals I

30 06 2017

Remember all that stuff from the Obama administration about Thailand’s military junta and how it was shunned? Remember the lines about no military trading?

Seems like all of that was for public consumption and that the USA continued to deal with the corrupt and repressive regime. Of course, that’s what you would expect – think Egypt – and the US has seldom had any problem dealing with dictators. Its history in Thailand is of supporting military dictatorship. But all that American rhetoric about “democracy” was strong.

Then there were all those journalists and commentators who got excited, declaring that Thailand’s junta had been ditched by the US and had cuddled up to the Chinese. It seems that is not so accurate.

At Khaosod, there’s a report that should alter all of those views. The news yesterday that the Trump administration was selling more Black Hawk helicopters to Thailand had “US embassy spokesperson Melissa Sweeney [saying] … the latest development is part of the two nations’ ‘strong defense relationship’.”

Sweeney added that “US military sales to Thailand since the 2014 coup amounted to approximately USD$380 million, including Black Hawks and Harpoon Block II Missiles.”

$380 million is about 13 billion baht. That’s one Chinese submarine. Of the military sales data we have seen, the junta’s purchases from China are about the same level as all other purchases. In other words, half of arms and equipment purchases since 2014 have gone to China.

While this is a change, the details on the US’s sales and the junta’s gratification that Trump has looked their way suggests that the China tilt has not been as acute as previously suggested by the regional watch commentators.





Anniversary and operations

9 06 2016

Two monarchy stories have been prominent this week. One is about the 88-year-old king’s ongoing and tortuous last years as his health declines and the royal doctors work to keep him alive. The second story is of the muted commemoration of the king’s 70 years on the throne – a throne that he came to in still official mysterious circumstances of his brother’s death. Of course, as Andrew MacGregor Marshall says, the unofficial story is that the present king “killed his brother,” without necessarily implying intent. One newspaper report mentions the event.

Superstitious types might link the two stories.

About a week ago, the Royal Household Bureau reported another problem in the the king’s health, saying he was being “closely monitored for irregular function of his heart muscles…”. We commented that this might be cardiac dysrhythmia, that could indicate a heart attack, but that it could also be many other disorders. Within days, it was reported that the king had “received treatment for narrowing of the heart arteries with ‘satisfactory results’,” dealing with the coronary artery disease that often impacts the elderly.

The report states that “[d]octors performed a procedure known as balloon surgery to widen the arteries on Tuesday … after tests had shown insufficient blood in the heart muscles. Arteries on both sides of the king’s heart had narrowed…”. The Bangkok Post reported the Royal Household Bureau also inserted a “stent and rotablator in some locations, to widen the arteries…”. Details on the use of rotablator can be found here. Information on stents and balloon angioplasty is here.

Less reported in the international media has been the sickly Princess Chulabhorn’s hospitalization. The latest report on her condition – third report from the palace – is that she remains in hospital following a “biopsy on May 20 at the hospital after a polyp was found in her neck.” Late in May, doctors stated she “had a high fever at times and was still very weak.” The latest report says ” she remained very weak, and doctors therefore had recommended that she put off royal activities for a while longer.” It refers to “a successful operation to remove a tumour from her neck…”.

The commemoration of the king’s 70th year on the throne is not at all like the massive series of events staged on the 60th anniversary. With the king more or less out sight, unable to effectively do anything and very ill, such celebrations were never likely. Newspapers have specials, wire services have stories, the “compulsory” commemorative banknote has been released, world leaders sent regards and the military junta has arranged a few things.

The international media has shown some interest, with the International Business Times UK having not much of a story but quite a few high-quality photos that can be interpreted in various ways. Interestingly, the only two prime ministers of Thailand we can identify in them are Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra.





Jet-lagged, out of his league, dopey or an inveterate liar?

20 02 2016

Thailand’s National News Bureau quotes The Dictator quite often and usually very briefly. In a recent short statement, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is quoted on his trip to the US, where he had photo-ops with US President Obama.

The story has The Dictator declaring:

The Prime Minister has assured that while the US has devoted great importance to Thailand and ASEAN, it has refrained from pressuring the Kingdom on its political situation.

Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha has revealed that during his attendance of the US-ASEAN leader’s summit in California of the United State, US President Barack Obama did not indicate any pressure on Thailand concerning its political circumstances. He stated that instead, the US leader acknowledged that Thailand is moving towards democracy with the drafting of a new constitution and gave his support on the matter as he sees the ASEAN region as an important partner for the US.

We are not sure that Prayuth was actually in charge of his faculties while in the Summit. What we saw – and we weren’t there – was the record. As we posted earlier, resident Obama “called for a return to civilian rule in Thailand.” He is quoted from a press briefing at the US-ASEAN Summit: “We continue to encourage a return to civilian rule in Thailand…”.

The Joint Statement from the Summit stated, among other things:

Our commitment to ensure opportunities for all of our peoples, through strengthening democracy, enhancing good governance and adherence to the rule of law, promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, encouraging the promotion of tolerance and moderation, and protecting the environment….

Was The Dictator jet-lagged, out of his league, dopey, all of these? Or is he just an inveterate liar who thinks that the Thai people are all stupid and unable to understand these reports? Or all of these?





Updated: Don’t hold your breath I

17 02 2016

In a brief report, the Bangkok Post states that US President Barack Obama “has called for a return to civilian rule in Thailand.” He is quoted from a press briefing at the US-ASEAN Summit: “We continue to encourage a return to civilian rule in Thailand…”.

All PPT can say is don’t hold your breath. Even if there is an election, it is clear that unless there is some remarkable change in Thailand, no election (or referendum) will be free or fair. No election under junta rules will result in any major change to the clique holding power or in the nature of the authoritarianism being embedded in laws and procedures.

Yes, we know, all the US wants is a civilian leader in the mold of previous post-coup administrations, but even that looks impossible while the business tycoons and royalists pimps support the military regime.

Update: Readers may be interested to note the Joint Statement from the Summit, where among other things, The Dictator, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, agreed to this:

Our commitment to ensure opportunities for all of our peoples, through strengthening democracy, enhancing good governance and adherence to the rule of law, promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, encouraging the promotion of tolerance and moderation, and protecting the environment….