Further updated: “The end of Thailand as an open society”

21 01 2022

Referring to the regime’s efforts to control and delete NGOs it despises for their independent political line, a Bangkok Post editorial states the obvious: “NGOs in society might be entering a dark age.”

It observes:

The government is jumping on the bandwagon of nationalist governments, like the one in China, or those increasingly looking inward, like India’s, to tighten monitoring of foreign NGOs….

Like it or not, the anti-NGO sentiment might signal the end of Thailand as an open society, too….

So far, society has tolerated NGOs. Even if some of their campaigns touch on politically sensitive issues, the government has never expelled any NGO.

Yet the bill — which is to be tabled in parliament for its final reading soon — will become a game-changer that turns Bangkok into a second Beijing…. If passed, it will give the authorities the power to further audit and regulate NGOs.

Under military and military-backed regimes, political space has always been limited and controlled. In general terms, these regimes – including the current despots – have concentrated on locals identified as enemies of regime, status quo and monarchy. At times this has let to massive bloodletting in order to maintain the status quo of the Cold War and post-Cold War eras.

As the (usually hopeless) National Human Rights Commission points out, this backward-facing regime has made the so-called justice system a political weapon. The NHRC reports that “violations of people’s rights in the judicial process were the most common form of complaints lodged with the … NHRC … last year.” It added that the “complaints concerned the Royal Thai Police, the Department of Corrections and the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc).”

We are unsure how the military-political agency ISOC fits into to a justice system. But this is the military’s and royalists’ Thailand.

On the ground, repression continues unabated, mostly in the name of the keystone of the ruling class, the monarchy. A recent example is the police raid on one of the truly independent publishing outfits in the country, Same Sky, publisher of Fa Diaw Kan.

Some 30 police – yes, 30 – “raided the Same Sky publishing house on Thursday, but failed to find a book deemed a threat to national security.”

They mean the monarchy.

The police were desperate to find a book “Sathaban Phra Maha Kasat and Sangkhom Thai” (The Monarchy and Thai Society). The “book contains the speech human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa delivered at a rally at the Democracy Monument on Aug 3, 2020 calling for reform of the [monarchy].”

Yes, that’s a book the authorities fear is somehow threatening to bring down the whole ruling class and its state. All very Nazi-like, or borrowing from the Post above, rather more like the Chinese Party-State versus the independent media in Hong Kong.

The hordes of brown-shirted cops “did seize mobile phones and editor Thanapol Eawsakul’s computer, to search for incriminating evidence.” Maybe they’ll just put this evidence on his machines, as they have been known to do in the recent past.

Same Sky stated: “The publishing house does not distribute the book…”. But Same Sky is popular among those who oppose the military-backed regime and has a history of critical and well-researched analysis of the monarchy.

Add this to recent efforts to further constrain the already cowed media and Thailand’s future looks like a dark age, and not just for NGOs.

Update 1: This post marks PPT’s 13th Anniversary. It is not an anniversary to celebrate. Things are getting worse and there are more political prisoners than when we began this blog. PPT remains dedicated to those who are held in Thailand’s prisons, charged with political crimes.

Update 2: Prachatai has posted on the raid targeting Same Sky and Thanapol Eawsakul. PPT has posted the English version of the book the police want here.

Not Chinese whispers

5 09 2021

The Chinese often vow that they never intervene in the domestic politics of another country. But they seem unable to meet their self-mandated rule. In recent days, the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok “issued a statement, accusing some individuals and organizations in Thailand of attempting to discredit the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine…”. The statement claimed this was “harmful to the good wishes of China to support Thai people in the fight against the pandemic.”

In a Facebook post on Friday, the spokesman for the Chinese Embassy said: “Every dose of the Chinese vaccine represents the genuine friendship of the Chinese government and people toward the Thai government and the Thai people…”.

China was mainly carping about Thai politicians and activists.

The regime’s response was a marvel. So rapid was the response that it might have been coordinated with the Chinese. If not, the words were almost the same. None other than Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai “expressed concern that criticism of the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine for political benefits could affect the relationship between Thailand and China.” Opposition MPs were chastised.

He was supported by the director-general of the Department of Disease Control, Opas Karnkawinpong. Opas sounded like a regime mouthpiece when he “said the China-made Sinovac vaccine has helped Thailand control the pandemic since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak last year, when the world was facing a vaccine shortage crisis due to huge demand and inadequate supply.”

We wonder what the Chinese think about the debate over Chinese-made Antigen Test Kits (ATKs), some two million of which are being delivered?

Dr Witoon Danwiboon, managing director of the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, has been engaged in sniping with doctors and others about a kit that doesn’t have US approval over worries about accuracy. Never mind, the regime’s Thai Food and Drug Administration has approved it. The Chinese company that makesthe SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Tests, Beijing Lepu Medical Technology, touts its effectiveness and accuracy.

What caught our attention was the World Medical Alliance, “the company authorised to purchase 8.5 million kits for the government,” threatening. Siriya Thepcharoen, described as “an executive with the World Medical Alliance,” said: “We will file legal action against any person devaluing our product with fake information.” As far as we can tell, Siriya’s experience is in real estate.

But the idea of piling in for profit is well established.

Chinese Information Operation

21 04 2020

We at PPT don’t usually pay much attention to what the Chinese Embassy is doing in Bangkok. However, a recent story by Voranai Vanijaka at Thisrupt caught our attention.

Referring to The Great Pacific Twitter War, he explains that the Chinese Embassy has gotten in on the attacks by Chinese nationalists on Thais and others that’s been going on for a week or so.

The thing that sprung out at us was the Chinese Embassy’s hamfisted Information Operation, complete with trolls and fake news. It issued the following statement:

Statement by the Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Thailand Concerning Recent Online Statements Related to China

I have noticed there are many online statements related to China recently. First of all, I want to underline that the One China Principle is irrefutable and China is firmly opposed to anyone making any erroneous statement inconsistent with the One China Principle anytime, anywhere. Having said that, I want to point out that the One China Principle is a long-standing principle consistently recognized and supported by the Thai government and the Thai general public. The recent online noises only reflect bias and ignorance of its maker, which does not in any way represent the [long]standing stance of the Thai government nor the mainstream public opinion of the Thai People. The scheme by some particular people to manipulate the issue for the purpose of inflaming and sabotaging the friendship between the Chinese and Thai people will not succeed.

The friendship between China and Thailand dates back to ancient times, and the expression of “China and Thailand as one family” is a genuine epitome of our bilateral relationship. Be it the Asian financial crisis, the Wenchuan earthquake in China, the Indian Ocean tsunami, or the COVID-19 we are facing now, China and Thailand, as well as the people of both countries, have always stood firmly together and extended each other support and assistance during these trying times, which speaks volume of the fine tradition of the two peoples sharing weal and woe. At the most critical moment of China’s campaign against the COVID-19, we are blessed with valuable support from the Thai royal family, the Thai government and various social sectors. Now that the situation in China is turning around,the Chinese government, Chinese enterprises and social organizations are rallying up to provide Thailand with assistance to defeat the virus, despite enormous domestic pressure of epidemic rebound. The people from both countries feel deeply indebted and grateful to each others’ kindness.

Virus respects no borders, and there is no “sin” when it comes to this epidemic. Working together with concerted efforts is the only right way forward. We deeply believe that the long-tested China-Thailand friendship will stand the trial of this epidemic, and the kinship of “China and Thailand as one family” will emerge stronger with more vitality after we jointly overcome this challenge.


ดิฉันสังเกตพบว่า ในช่วงนี้มีการแสดงความคิดเห็นบนโลกออนไลน์ของทั้งประเทศจีนและประเทศไทย ก่อนอื่น ดิฉันขอเน้นย้ำว่า หลักการจีนเดียว เป็นหลักการที่ไม่ต้องสงสัย ฝ่ายจีนยืนหยัดคัดค้านบุคคลใดที่แสดงความคิดเห็นที่ผิดพลาดต่อหลักการจีนเดียวไม่ว่าจะสถานการณ์ใดก็ตาม ในขณะเดียวกัน ขอชี้ให้เห็นว่า หลักการจีนเดียว เป็นจุดยืนที่รัฐบาลไทยและประชาชนชาวไทยยึดมั่นมาเป็นเวลานาน ความคิดเห็นส่วนบุคคลบนโลกออนไลน์สามารถสะท้อนอคติและความไม่รู้ของตนเท่านั้น แต่ไม่สามารถแสดงถึงจุดยืนที่มั่นคงของรัฐบาลไทยและความคิดเห็นกระแสหลักของประชาชนชาวไทยได้ คนบางกลุ่มบนโลกออนไลน์ใช้โอกาสนี้ทำให้เรื่องขยายใหญ่โตลุกลามออกไป พยายามวางแผนมุ่งร้าย ยุแยงเพื่อทำให้ผู้คนผิดใจกัน ซึ่งความคิดนี้จะไม่มีทางประสบความสำเร็จอย่างแน่นอน

มิตรภาพระหว่างจีน-ไทยมีมาช้านาน “จีนไทยใช่อื่นไกล พี่น้องกัน” เป็นคำบรรยายที่แท้จริงของความสัมพันธ์ระหว่างทั้งสองประเทศ ไม่ว่าจะเป็นวิกฤติการเงินในเอเชีย หรือแผ่นดินไหวเมืองเวิ่นชวนในประเทศจีน ไม่ว่าจะเป็นสึนามิในมหาสมุทรอินเดีย หรือการแพร่ระบาดของโรคโควิด-19ในวันนี้ก็ตาม จีน-ไทยและประชาชนทั้งสองประเทศต่างก็ดูแลและช่วยเหลือซึ่งกันและกัน ร่วมฟันฝ่าความทุกข์ยากนี้ไปด้วยกัน ซึ่งสะท้อนให้เห็นถึงประเพณีอันดีงามระหว่างทั้งสองประเทศที่ช่วยเหลือเผื่อแผ่กันในขณะที่ต่างฝ่ายต่างก็ลำบาก ในช่วงเวลาที่ตึงเครียดที่สุดของการต่อต้านการแพร่ระบาดของจีน พระบรมวงศานุวงศ์ รัฐบาลและทุกแวดวงสังคมของไทยได้ให้การสนับสนุนอันมีค่าแก่จีน เมื่อสถานการณ์การแพร่ระบาดของจีนเริ่มดีขึ้นเป็นครั้งแรก แม้ว่าจีนเองจะมีแรงกดดันอย่างยิ่งจากกรณีโรคระบาดย้อนกลับมาอีกครั้ง รัฐบาล ผู้ประกอบการ ตลอดจนแวดวงสังคมของจีนต่างก็ให้การสนับสนุนและช่วยเหลือฝ่ายไทยอย่างสุดความสามารถ ประชาชนของทั้งสองประเทศต่างก็ซาบซึ้งใจเป็นอย่างยิ่ง

ไวรัสไม่มีพรมแดน ยิ่งไม่มี “บาปดั้งเดิม” การเผชิญกับการแพร่ระบาดของโรค การจับมือกันรับมือเป็นวิธีเดียวที่ถูกต้อง พวกเราเชื่อมั่นเป็นอย่างยิ่งว่า มิตรภาพอันยาวนานระหว่างจีน-ไทยนั้นจะสามารถผ่านบททดสอบการแพร่ระบาดของโรคนี้ไปได้ หลังจากประสบการณ์ในครั้งนี้ มิตรภาพที่แสนพิเศษดังคำกล่าวที่ว่า “จีนไทยใช่อื่นไกล พี่น้องกัน” จะสามารถเปล่งพลังที่ยิ่งใหญ่และแข็งแกร่งมากขึ้น

One-China policy is always dear to the Beijing regime’s heart and propaganda. The “ancient times” blarney is always repeated and the Communist regime claiming to be “blessed with valuable support from the Thai royal family” is jaw-dropping, but not unusual for the Embassy. The thing that amused us was the capacity of the Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in Thailand speaking for Thailand’s government and the Thai people.

While visiting the Chinese Embassy Facebook page, we noticed another post that seems to take IO in Thailand to the Americans and fans conspiracy theory in Thailand. It posts this discussion of a recent academic paper and claims it supports the claims emanating from China that the virus originated in the USA. It does nothing of the kind, stating that the paper “charts the ‘incipient supernova’ of COVID-19 through genetic mutations as it spread from China and Asia to Australia, Europe and North America…”. The paper should also debunk conspiracy theories in the USA that China created the virus in a lab.


1 10 2019

PPT is wondering about the “forgetfulness” that characterizes post-2014 Thailand.

Our wondering was partly prompted by Pithaya Pookaman, a regular contributor to Asia Sentinel. One issue is the awful standover man/MP/Minister/fraudster/former heroin trafficker/purveyor of fake degrees Thammanat Prompao. He’s gone very quiet and we assume that a bigger boss than him has told him to shut up. The advice is probably that quietness will see all that “trouble” dissolve. We previously mentioned that he would probably get away with his lies and deceit. He’s powerful, influential and well-connected. How many countries have convicted drug traffickers as ministers? But his sins can be “forgotten.”

Pithaya refers to “the farcical election in March 2019 that laundered the authoritarian power of the military junta under [Gen] Prayuth [Chan-ocha] into a shaky and unwieldly 19-party coalition…”. But what happened to the complaints about the election and the toadies at the Election Commission? Is that best forgotten? For the junta and its new regime, it probably is, but it seems stealing an election is not an offense when done by the military in 2019.

He also reckons that “the political conflict in Thailand is not between … the rich and the poor.” How quickly the basic facts are forgotten. We recall Amartya Sen’s confusing rhetoric on this, perhaps better forgotten. And it may be easily forgotten that back in 2007, per capita provincial GDP for the provinces that voted for the Democrat Party were more than 220,000 baht. For those voting for the People Power Party was just over 90,000 baht. It seems to us that those who gain most from electoral politics are those with the least.

Somyot and his money (or someone’s money)

Meanwhile, as China celebrates its nationhood, it was only a few days ago that Song Tao, the head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee met with Gen Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. It should not be forgotten that they reportedly “agreed to enhance cooperation between ruling parties for further development of bilateral ties.” Ruling parties…

Then there’s the long forgotten raid on the high-class Victoria’s Secret brothel. In recent days “[a]nti-human trafficking advocates [have been] calling on … Prayut[h] to look into a controversial decision to drop human trafficking charges against key suspects in last year’s Victoria’s Secret brothel crackdown.”

This involved underage women, including “services such as sex with virgin girls for which it charged customers as much as 100,000 baht as it was a ‘high demand service’…”.

The report remembers that “[f]ormer national police chief Somyot Poompanmoung last year admitted that he had borrowed “around 300 million baht” from [brothel owner] Kampol [Wirathepsuporn], whom he described as a friend.” It forgets to say that nothing at all has happened about Somyot’s corruption, his relationship with a sex trafficker and unusual wealth. Well, only unusual for regular people, not senior police who are mostly on the take and become seriously wealthy. Of course, Somyot was a big junta supporter and servant.

And, of course, there’s lots that is conveniently forgotten and some that’s forgotten because a lot of people are fearful of the power of military, monarchy, tycoons and other varieties of influential people.

There’s the case of Chaiyapoom Pasae, a kid shot and killed by the military and where that military has actively thwarted investigation.

Then there’s the bodies floating in the river, the disappeared anti-junta anti-monarchy activists, including men extradited to Thailand who simply disappeared. Can they really be forgotten?

Clipped from Thai Alliance for Human Rights website

Related, there’s the king. Do people really forget his missing missus? Do they forget the missing plaque and the missing monument commemorating the defeat of royalists?

But let’s not forget the protesters murdered by the military and never adequately investigated, in 1973, 1976, 1992 and 2010 (to mention just a few of the military’s murderous efforts).

There’s so much forgetfulness that any rational observer could only conclude that it isn’t forgetting but lying, covering up, maintaining impunity and great fear.



Human rights gone

3 02 2019

The record on human rights under the military dictatorship has been worse than abysmal.

Both accredited refugees and those seeking refuge have been “disappeared” or have been returned to the countries they fled. In most cases, it seems likely that deals have been done between the dictatorship in Thailand and dictatorial regimes in Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China.

Uighurs have been deported back to China, sometimes chained and hooded, and en masse. Chinese dissidents have suddenly “disappeared” in Thailand to reappear, in China, in the custody of officials, suggestive of deals being done between regimes to allow foreign forces to operate with impunity on Thai soil. Cambodian dissidents have been deported back to prisons in their country.

The there seem to be deals done that allow Thai hunter-killer squads to operate in Laos, torturing and murdering.

Recently, Thailand has cooperated with Bahrain’s monarchy is arresting and seeking to extradite a dissident footballer who has refugee status in Australia. Thailand doesn’t have an extradition agreement with Bahrain, but they still plan to send him back. Rightist officials in Australia seem to have facilitated this situation.

And, now, the news that former Vietnamese political prisoner, Truong Duy Nhat, has “gone missing” in Bangkok.

There’s a pattern emerging regionally. Presumably the reason for dictatorial regimes cooperating is to allow them to threaten and silence all dissidents, at home and abroad.

With 3 updates: Human rights violations and the military junta

7 01 2019

There’s very wide media coverage of a young woman from Saudi Arabia “being held at a Bangkok airport fears she will be killed if she is repatriated by Thai immigration officials…”. Thai officials “have confirmed the 18-year-old has been denied entry to the country.” An interesting aspect of the story is that:

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun said she was stopped by Saudi and Kuwaiti officials when she arrived at Suvarnabhumi airport and her travel document was forcibly taken from her, a claim backed by Human Rights Watch.

Again, it is the Deputy Dictator’s man, Big Joke Surachate Hakparn who is “managing” more human rights abuse and who confirms that she will be forcefully repatriate. He has also played an important and negative role in the detention of Bahrain refugee.

Under the military junta, there have been several reports of foreign police and/or military officials actively “working” in Thailand. Most reports have involved Chinese police or provincial “authorities.” Dissidents have disappeared in Thailand and reappeared in China and those seeking refugee status have been forcibly deported.

Update 1: The Bangkok Post reports that Rahaf barricaded herself in her room and avoided the first effort to deport her. No doubt the huge international media attention and the interest of several governments has also caused the blunt dolts associated with the junta and Immigration to think a bit more, if “think is the correct term for what they do:

Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch was quoted by media as saying Rahaf had refused to leave her hotel room at the Miracle Transit Hotel, which was surrounded by police who were refusing to let anyone inside.

UN officials were present, he reportedly said. However, ABC reporter Sophie McNeill tweeted that representatives of the United Nations Human Rights Committee were being refused access.

Update 2: A reader sent us a link to an interesting Australian media report on these events, saying that if Rahaf’s account is accurate, “Thai authorities have questions to answer” about how they are doing backroom deals with Saudi and Bahraini officials and with regimes with terrible human rights records.

Update 3: Intense international media attention seems to have caused the Thai authorities to do that “rethinking.” The Bangkok Post reports that Rahaf has been “temporarily admitted to Thailand for evaluation by the UN refugee agency…. Pol Lt Gen Surachate Hakparn told reporters Monday night that 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun would be granted entry under the protection of the office of the UN High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR).” Immigration police allowed the UNHCR to meet Rahaf and accompany her from the airport.

When the military is on top XXVII

2 09 2018

Khaosod’s Pravit Rojanaphruk has an op-ed and a story that deserve attention.

In the stroy, Pravit points out that the “head of a private anti-corruption organization has been silent on its decision to award full marks to junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in its annual assessment.” He refers to a press conference where Chairman Pramon Sutivong celebrated the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand’s 7th anniversary by declaring that his “organisation has helped save 25.1 billion baht of state funds that could have been lost to corruption over the past seven years.”

As it turns out, they don’t mean over seven years but since 2015, when ACT partnered with the military junta.

Pramon claimed lots of “outcomes” that can’t be verified, but correctly touted ACT’s “involvement in the development of their 2017 constitution which the organisation implemented as an ‘anti-corruption constitution’.”

At the media circus, Pramon stated: “I give Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the prime minister, full marks. But I admit that there are still a number of people around him that have been questioned by the public…”. He means Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, where ACT has made a comments, but didn’t get into nepotism and military procurement.

When Pramon was asked to “explain how its score was calculated to award the highest possible ranking to a regime that has been marred by corruption scandals, …[he] did not respond to multiple inquiries.”

One activist pointed out that Pramon and ACT gave The Dictator “full marks” when international rankings had Thailand wobbling and had a lower ranking now than in 2015.

A reporter’s questions were said to have included one on whether Pramon considered “staging a coup and monopolizing state funding through the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly as a form of corruption or not.” No response.

Pravit points out that a source at ACT “defended the announcement by saying Pramon, who was appointed by the junta leader to his National Reform Council following the coup, only gave full marks to Prayuth for his ‘sincerity’ to tackle corruption.” That ACT employee flattened out, saying: “He [Pramon] must have heard something that made him feels that His Excellency [The Dictator] Prayuth was sincere…. He may have had some experience from meeting [Prayuth].”

Of course, nothing much can be expected of ACT. It was a royalist response to the election of Yingluck Shinawatra and was populated by royalist “advisers” including Anand Punyarachun and Vasit Dejkunjorn, both activists in opposing elected governments. (By the way, ACT’s website still has Vasit listed as Chairman despite his death in June.)

Pravit’s op-ed is on China in Thailand. Chinese and Chinese money are everywhere, he says. Tourists, property buyers, investors are seen in everything from high durian prices to military authoritarianism.

It is the latter that Pravit concentrates on, citing academics who “publicly warn how the rise of China bodes ill for human rights and democracy in Thailand and Southeast Asia.” PPT commented on this seminar previously. One thing we said was that the emphasis on China, blaming it for the resilience of the military junta seemed a little overdone for us.

But Pravit is not so sure. He notes that China is unlikely to promote democracy, but that hardly needs saying. He does note that Japan and South Korea have “failed to put any pressure on the [2014] Thai coup-makers as well. To them, it’s business as usual.” As it is for China.

Pravit seems to be pointing to the West that was, for a time, critical of the 2014 coup. But, then, some in that  same West were pretty celebratory of the 2006 coup – think of US Ambassador Ralph Boyce and his commentary in Wikileaks.

But Pravit says that “the difference is that China has become much more influential in Thailand compared to Japan or South Korea.” Really? We have previously pointed out that it doesn’t take much work to look up some data to find out which country is the biggest investor in Thailand. But here’s a problem. Pravit cites a deeply flawed book, riddled with errors, that makes more than a few unfounded claims.

We might agree that “[d]emocracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech are at risk if we ape the Chinese model of politics and administration…”. But think, just for a few seconds about this statement. Thailand’s democracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech are not at risk from Chinese supporters but from Thailand’s military. Under the junta, they have been mangled.

Thailand’s generals don’t need Chinese tutors on how to undermine democracy, human rights, press freedom and free speech. They have done it for decades. It comes naturally, whether “relying” on the support of the US as many military leaders did or with China’s support.

Academic discussion of democracy

25 08 2018

Khaosod reports on an event at Chulalongkorn University that summarizes the outcomes as being:

China’s growing influence in Thailand, middle class support for the junta, a royalist ideology and the West’s declining interest in human rights abroad have led to the ruling junta’s long stay in power….

We were immediately somewhat dismayed. Some of these things may have had an impact but one of them – royalist ideology – disappeared from the report. All we get is the statement that the junta has been:

“manipulating” … “royal-military authority” as an alternative power structure. Prajak [Kongkirati] called the issue of the monarchy the elephant in the room, while Puangthong [Pawakapan] said she could not discuss the issue…. “You see it, but you cannot discuss it openly,” Puangthong said.

We were also dismayed that other “major factors” were simply missed (at least in the report): repression, the bringing down of the red shirt movement and the militarization of almost everything, not to mention the power of the military’s armed threat.

So this report is a bit ho hum, but we are still going to write on it because even the fact of having an academic meeting on the future of democracy is something of an achievement in the junta’s Thailand!

That China gets some of the blame for the resilience of the military junta seems rather overdone. After all, contrary to the daft comments of the American commentator Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Hoover Institution, who miraculously appears in a range of places “advising” on how to be more democratic, Thailand has long experience with authoritarianism and authoritarianian principles are deeply embedded in many institutions.

Much of that was achieved when Thailand leaned heavily on the US. And as Thitinan Pongsudhirak of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University observed, “China said whatever government you have is okay with us…”.

It is true that, initially, China was important for Thailand because, as Prajak Kongkirati of Thammasat University, the junta had to “lean on China as it came under pressure from the United States, European Union and Australia in the immediate aftermath of the coup.”

But all that has since changed, and the junta has been enthusiastic on the nations of Europe and the US. Watch these countries accept the rigged election results when the junta decides it can “win” it.

Still on China, Puangthong Pawakapan of Chulalongkorn University, said “China has become the biggest investor-donor in Southeast Asia, provide uncritical support to oppressive regimes in Southeast Asia and has become a model for authoritarian rule in the region.”

Only some of that is true.It is true that China provides uncritical support of oppressive regimes. It is also uncritical of the governments that are not so repressive in the region. We also think that China’s successful marrying of authoritarianism and rampant capitalist development is seen as something of a model.

At the same time, a significant part of the rise of that “model” has to do with the failures of democracy in the West, where citizens have been economically disenfranchised and politically marginalized and the plutocrats and their states have moved sharply to the political right.

What isn’t right is the reported claim that China is the “biggest investor-donor in Southeast Asia.” More research is needed on this. But it isn’t true for Thailand, where the data do show China as the biggest trade partner, even before the junta, but the data up to a year or so ago show China a relative minnow in terms of investment.

As reported, Diamond’s commentary is uninformed on Thailand and rather too formulaic on electoral politics. The claim that: “It’s hard to imagine a long authoritarian rule being stable here,” seems too focused on recent years. Authoritarian rule has been remarkably stable in Thailand since WW2. And, as Prajak points out the junta is now “the longest-ruling regime since 1973…”. He means military regime, because Gen Prem’s regime was in place for a longer period (1980-88).

Prajak is right to observe that “support from the middle class and big capitalists would keep the military in power.” And Puangthong is probably right to say that “Thailand was the worst in Southeast Asia when in comes to the rise of support for authoritarianism among the middle class, though she did not cite any evidence of this.” She added that this support “is the strength of the military regime now…”.

How does that happen?

16 08 2018

With the military junta in its fifth year of rule, at times it does seem to lose even its own plot. Below are three news items that PPT struggles to comprehend.

First, in a financial scandal that looks something between a white-collar crime and a Ponzi scheme with new means, the Bangkok Post reports that a big investor on the Stock Exchange of Thailand and staff from at least three commercial banks “are suspected of being complicit in a 797 million baht (US$24 million) scandal involving a foreign investor and the cryptocurrency bitcoin…”. The banks are the big three: Bangkok Bank, Siam Commercial Bank and Kasikorn Bank. Police say that “several of the banks’ employees failed to report money transfers of 2 million baht or higher, a serious violation of bank rules.” Those rules come under the Anti-Money Laundering Office.

It was just a couple of days ago that The Dictator sacked the head of AMLO. That head had only been in the job for about a month. Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha used his unbridled Article 44 powers to send the AMLO boss packing. What’s going on there?

(Call us suspicious, but we do recall the big wigs being involved in the Mae Chamoy chit fund that was exposed in the 1980s. The Wikipedia entry states:

The fund had a large number of politically powerful investors from the military and even the Royal Household and as such there were calls for the government to bail out the banks and the chit funds. After discussions with King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the nature of which were not made public, the Mae Chamoy Fund was shut down and Chamoy Thipyaso was arrested. She was held in secret by the air force for several days and her trial was not held until after the losses for the military and royal personnel involved had been recovered.)

Second, the Nikkei Asian Review reports that the junta is dumping its Special Economic Zone projects. It observes:

Since taking power in 2014, the military-led government had floated SEZ projects with the idea of building industrial complexes in the poor, remote areas along the country’s border. The plans backfired by fueling property speculation and sending land prices substantially higher, driving up the costs of building the SEZs.

How does that happen? Perhaps it has to do with the third story, with the junta stating it now wants to concentrate on infrastructure rather than SEZs.

Third, the Bangkok Post reports that “Transport Ministry officials have confirmed that auctions for the construction contracts for all sections of the first phase of the Thai-Chinese high-speed railway project will commence by the end of the year, despite unsettled negotiations between both countries.” How does that work?

One way it works is by dividing up the work into “14 separate contracts, which will use design and construction blueprints from China.” Quite a few are going to be in the money!

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.

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