Needing to love the military dictatorship

13 07 2018

Some pundits have wondered if the cave rescue has made the military dictatorship more popular internationally and more “electable” domestically. We don’t know the answer to those questions, but we do know that authoritarian regimes have long felt comfortable dealing with Thailand’s military junta and that the West, moving rapidly to the right, has sought to re-engage with the regime.

An op-ed – The Rest of the World Has Warmed to Thailand’s Military Rulers – by Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, addresses the “warming” to the regime that has been seen in recent times.

Despite the junta embedding itself for the long term, delaying “elections” and engaging in widespread repression, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha “has been welcomed in many leading Western democracies.” Worse, he observes that “[f]rom Europe to Australia to the United States, countries have largely dropped their efforts at pressuring the Thai government [to civilianize], even while Thailand’s political crisis stretches on indefinitely.”

After the 2014 military coup, “[m]any democratic states took a relatively harsh line toward Bangkok,” that’s changed. The countries in Europe, the U.S. and Australia are now moderately supportive of Thailand’s military regime.

The Dictator and the U.S.’s Trump

President Donald Trump hosted The Dictator at the White House in October 2017. No surprise there, but the “Obama administration had already begun normalizing those military-to-military ties.”

Kurlantzick observes that “European states and other major democracies have acted similarly.” The EU re-established “all political links with Thailand” in late 2017. In March, Australia’s conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull welcomed Prayuth “reversing the Australian travel ban on top junta leaders.”

The Dictator and Australia’s Turnbull

The author doesn’t note it, but Turnbull has moved rapidly to the right, adopting policies that the military regime in Thailand would appreciate.

In June, “Prayuth took his first trip to Europe since the easing of EU sanctions on Thailand. He met British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron, along with a wide range of business leaders.” May heads a government that is engaged in a Brexit debate that sees the right gaining ground, recent events notwithstanding. Linked to post-Brexit needs, “Prayuth and May agreed to relaunch talks on a free trade agreement.”

The Dictator and Britain’s May

Kurlantzick observes that “[f]or all the junta’s attempts to boost its image abroad, the political environment in Thailand is still as repressive as it has been since 2014.” It is the other countries that are rushing to the right and thus having no qualms about embracing repressive military regimes.

Another factor involved has been the panic over China: “the junta has pointed to its growing ties with China, which did not condemn the coup, as a reminder to other leading powers that Thailand has alternatives for investment, aid and diplomatic and military ties.”

The Dictator with China’s Xi

This causes some Western countries to ditch human rights concerns in the interests of checking China. It’s all a bit Cold War like.

China’s influence is not new and has been on the rise in Thailand, as it has elsewhere, but the junta still craves “balancing” as much as it does “bending,” and it is the junta that has made overtures to the West.

And, as ever, business is interested in profits rather than human rights, making Thailand attractive as it is at the heart of a broader ASEAN region.

For all these reasons the West feels the need to cosy up with the nastiest of regimes.

“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….

Prayuth, the draft charter and domination

16 02 2016

We all know that The Dictator is in California, at a US-ASEAN summit. There aren’t any other military dictators attending, even if there are some leaders who share Prayuth’s authoritarianism.

We felt that readers might find a story at The Washington Times of some interest reminding American readers and President Obama of the problems facing Thailand.

A coup-installed government writing a new constitution and opposition parties (and supportive parties) and human rights groups rejecting it and the junta.

For Americans, the article notes that “the balancing act the Obama administration has faced dealing with the new government [it is hardly new after about 21 months].” The once “key U.S. ally in the region” is now a problem: “the government’s anti-democratic tendencies and persistent courting by China have put heavy strains on the bilateral relationship.”

There’s a bit of repeating things about the DOA undemocratic charter and the junta’s demands and threats:

Many people are afraid to directly criticize the draft constitution because of the regime’s frequently shifting punishments against free speech, enforced by threats to seize assets and military trials for civilian dissidents who express themselves.

Prayuth’s tantrums are mentioned: he grumbled, he labeled journalists “stupid,”  threatened to have the country “depart from this world, from the international community.”

It quotes Michael H. Nelson, a research fellow at Thammasat University, who reckons the military plans to hang on, in some form, for another four years. Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the Faculty of Political Science at Ubon Ratchathani University, essentially agrees: “It is more than likely that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s military junta will remain essentially in power, even if we have elections in 2017, albeit with a new prime minister…”.

Burin Kantabutra, a columnist, is also quoted as saying: “I fear we are headed towards the political system of the People’s Republic of China…. I think that post-charter, postelection Thai politics will be a train wreck…”.

A “scholar of Southeast Asia who asked not to be identified because of his research” [hmmm] explains that the “military is too backward, hopeless at government and an embarrassment…”. That scholar reckons this means there will be an election.

PPT reckons that it might be a reason for not having an election.

Letter to Obama

16 02 2016

A letter received from a reader:



President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

RE: Thailand’s Human Rights Abuse

Dear President Obama:

My name is Prachuab Charoensuk, a naturalized U.S. citizen, ethnically Chinese and born in Thailand. I am one of the founding members and an Executive Director in charge of International Affairs Department of Red-USA. We are a human rights organization advocating human rights, equality and democracy in Thailand. Our membership consists of approximately twenty thousand professionals from all walks of life. We are based in Southern California.

I am writing to inform you of the continued gross violations of human rights in Thailand as committed by the military junta regime headed by Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha.

We are not happy with the annual Cobra Gold military exercise which was held on February 9, 2016 and the US-ASEAN summit to be held on February 15–16, 2016 in California.

We are disturbed that your administration appears to be forging closer ties with the Thai junta- which, in our view, may give a wrong message to this illegal regime. Such high-profile summit in the United States with the Thai junta may serve as a propaganda tool and legitimize them both within Thailand and internationally.

We are also concerned that the US-ASEAN Summit may undermine other US government commitments on human rights and other basic constitutional rights and that Thai people have a lower priority than economic, political or security aspects in so far as our U.S. interests are concerned.

US Code § 8422 “restricts assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coop or decree.” Section 502B of The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 prohibits the provision of security assistance to countries with poor human rights practices and Thailand’s human rights record has been abysmal in the wake of the coup.

Frank G. Anderson of Post-Gazette Jan 28, 2016, reported “Americans pay for much of the military aid going to Thailand. Sadly that aid is most often used against the innocent Thai people, notably democracy, and human rights advocates, rather than external enemies”

Mr. President, why were these laws, which could help restrain the military dictator Prayuth Chan-o-cha and other human rights abusers in Thailand, ignored by our government?

The Thai junta does not deserve to be included in this US-ASEAN Summit. The junta has a careless and arrogant attitude towards the US and the Thai people. This was prominently illustrated in the recent treatment of our US Ambassador to Thailand, Glynn Davies. As you know, Ambassador Davie was frivolously accused of and investigated for lese majesty (insulting royalty), just for expressing concern for the 60-100 Thai victims of this barbaric law, also known as

“Article 112” of the Thai Criminal Code.

A list of lese majeste law victims can be found on this esteemed website:

A case in point on how vicious this unjust law is, a woman had just received a 30-year sentence by the junta’s military court for six posts on Facebook for allegedly insulting the royals. Another case consisted of two innocent people, a policeman, and a fortune teller suddenly died in military custody within weeks of their arrests of lese majeste charge.

General Prayuth Chan-o-cha will not last long; he is self-destructive and often displays an idiosyncratic behavior in public which has put Thailand to shame in the eyes of the civilized world.

He promises the so-called “democratic reform” but in truth, his top priorities have been censorship of the press and social media and public witch-hunts against any and all critics of his regime. The draft constitutions put together under his watch have been highly undemocratic and downright dictatorial.

Most people view such drafting, whose committee was all appointed by the Royals and the military, as a stalling tactic for the regime to stay in power for as long as possible. Those who expected reform and a quick return to democracy are disillusioned.

Mr. President, we suggest that you disassociate or stay as far away as possible with the Thai junta in this US-ASEAN Summit to demonstrate your solidarity with the Thai people and to avoid the embarrassment of being seen with dictators. If possible, we ask you to uninvite all representatives of this junta government and cancel their visas.

Mr. President, I can list more than 40 major reasons why you should withdraw the invite top the Thai junta to this summit, and I do so in Appendix I.

Unlike some countries we deal with, Thailand aspires to be a democracy that respects human rights. (Even the junta claims democracy as its goal). For the sake of the Thai people, we should hold the junta to its promise to return the country to democracy, and we should pressure Thailand to honor its international human rights commitments. Also, Thailand has officially ratified some treaties guaranteeing international human rights; these treaties also require Thailand to be a fully democratic nation.

If this is not possible, at the Summit, please relay to the Thai junta that concerned Thais and Americans stand together in demanding Thailand to:

  1. Release all the political prisoners and dismiss pending cases of the alleged lèse majesty law violations or Article 112 of Thai Criminal Code.
  2. Drop all charges against the student activists, NDM (Neo-Democracy Movement).
  3. Demand that the drafting committee of the new constitution be elected and NOT selected.
  4. Conduct a fair election without any influence from the monarchy or the Royal Thai Army.
  5. Rescind Article 44 which gives unlimited power to the military junta.
  6. Rescind Article 112, the lèse majesté law, which limits free speech, and cripples open political discussion.
  7. Rescind NCPO Order Number 7/2014 prohibiting political assembly and Article 116, which is used for the military harassment of community and student groups.
  8. Reopen and retry all cases with wrongful convictions due to improper legal due process. This would be the best way for Thailand’s current rulers to prove to the world that they believe in democracy, as they claim.
  9. Compensate the families of the dead victims for their suffering for past atrocities.
  10. Respect the rules of the international laws and principles of human rights.
  11. Demand civil, not military, trial for all civilians.

Most of all, please do not give the Thai junta leader a chance for a photo-op with you or any of your staff.

Your attention to these urgent matters is highly appreciated.

Respectfully yours,

Prachuab Charoensul

Executive Director



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