Cheering the dictatorship

28 09 2015

Shawn Crispin has long been based in Bangkok as a journalist. Most of his writing in recent years has been for the Asia Times Online. Much of it has been conspiratorial revelations based on anonymous sources.

In a recent article at The Diplomat, he turns his hand to Thai-U.S. relations. His basic point is the relationship needs some fixing as they have been strained by recent coups and the persistence of the military dictatorship. He says the new ambassador Glyn Davies, who has just arrived in Bangkok has a chance to be the fixer. The ambassador’s position has been vacant for almost a year.

From that basic point, Crispin proceeds to reproduce a milder version of the vitriol that infects rightist and royalist social media when spitting at the U.S. for not sticking by the warped royalist vision of Thailand, something the U.S. has done since the 1950s.

Crispin sates that “[o]utgoing U.S. ambassador Kristie Kenney staked out a hard line against the coup, a position the State Department has maintained on democratic principle to the detriment of the wider strategic relationship.”

That might seem reasonable when Thailand is the world’s only country currently ruled by a military junta. But this is not Crispin’s view. He alleges that “Kenney’s stance has so far outweighed the views of Thailand specialists in Washington who have called for a more nuanced approach to guard the United States’ considerable economic and strategic interests in the country.”

Frankly, we do not know which “Thailand specialists” Crispin speaks with. As usual, he does not name any. In fact, some of the old guard in Washington are confused by State’s position. These conservatives have long had palace connections and hobnobbed with the elite. Others have maintained close relations with the military from the days when the U.S. rented the Thai military. Many academic specialists and the younger, more broadly connected State officials know more about contemporary Thailand than the old duffers and are thus more critical of military and royalist fascism.

Crispin refers to the U.S. having had “a series of less distinguished and sometimes disinterested envoys” in Thailand. He adds that “[m]any officials and analysts in Bangkok argue that former U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Ralph ‘Skip’ Boyce, a fluent Thai speaker with top connections across the political spectrum, was the last top American diplomat to see clearly through the country’s complex, personality-driven politics.”

He’s factually wrong and ideologically-driven in these claims. Again, no one is named. Kenney is a career diplomat who has been Ambassador in Ecuador, the Philippines and Thailand. She is currently a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. PPT didn’t always like what she did, but she was anything but disinterested and could not be considered “less distinguished” than Boyce, who only ever held one ambassadorship.

Boyce was replaced as Ambassador to Thailand by Eric John, whose CV looks very similar to that of Boyce.

What marked John and Kenney as different from Boyce was that they did not lodge themselves exclusively on the rabid yellow side of politics. Wikileaks cables clearly show Boyce’s remarkable royalist bias and John’s questioning of the old elite, refusing to accept the usual positions. Like John, Kenney had far wider contacts than Boyce. It was this difference that marked them for attack by the rabid yellow right.

What is useful in Crispin’s report is the revelation of the efforts by the royalist elite to re-capture the U.S. Ambassador, a la Boyce:

Prior to his arrival in Bangkok, Davies received personal calls from Privy Councilors, royal advisors to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, welcoming his appointment, according to a source familiar with the communications. (In one of his first moves as ambassador, Davies on Friday visited the Grand Palace to pay respects and wish good health to the king.)

Obviously, the palace meddlers are keen to re-establish the U.S. relationship as theirs. Crispin goes on:

That royal treatment contrasts with Kenney’s initial reception in 2010, where she was scolded by Privy Council President and long-time U.S. ally Prem Tinsulonanda for the leak of confidential U.S. cables, including one that detailed a meeting he and other royal advisors held with Boyce to discuss sensitivities around the royal succession. It’s unclear if that meeting, which Kenney later described to confidantes as among the toughest of her career, colored her diplomacy in favor of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her family clan’s affiliated ‘Red Shirt’ pressure group.

Notice Crispin’s accusation of bias against Kenney but his silence on the captured Boyce. The notion that Kenney was biased in favor of red shirts is little more than a repetition of yellow-shirt social media vitriol. The bias of Boyce is in the record and in his own words.

Crispin then makes the case for military rule: “While the United States has publicly pushed for a rapid restoration of democracy, it has no doubt by now dawned on American policymakers that [The Dictator] Prayut intends to stay in power until the [royal] succession is secure.”

BreadThe point seems to be that the U.S. should accept this succession repression and royalist hegemony until the king dies. This sounds like Crispin as spokesman for the military and royalist elite. His bread seems buttered.

The problem with such advocacy is that the junta may decide to stay on for years after that, to manage the succession and long period of mourning. Still, that’s what some of these advocates seem to prefer.

Wikileaks, Siddhi and Anand on Samak

10 02 2014

WikileaksPPT hasn’t put up anything from Wikileaks for some time, but a Facebook post we saw drew this cable to our attention. We don’t think we saw it previously.

The cable links perfectly with comments made in a post earlier today and with an interview former premier and royalist spokesman Anand Panyarachun has made today in two articles at the Bangkok Post. We’ll say more about his Post interview in a later post, probably today, if we have time.

In his interview, to cut to the chase, Anand essentially supports the anti-democrats. Yes, he says a lot about democracy, but he is making the anti-democrats point in a calm, conservative and royalist manner. Clearly, the old men are all talking behind the scenes and trying to regain control of “their” Thailand.

So we thought readers would like this line-by-line reproduction of a cable (minus paragraph numbers) of a previous time the old royalists thought they needed to solve a national political “impasse.” Their proposed “solution” then didn’t come off, but Samak Sundaravej was soon gone as premier and the end game was put in place, so that the hated pro-Thaksin Shinawatra government was soon sent packing by the toady royalist courts.

The rest of this post is the cable:


US Ambassador Eric G. John writes of a meeting he had with Privy Councilor ACM Siddhi Savetsila September 3 2008 to discuss the then “political impasse and Siddhi’s views on the way forward.”

Siddhi laid out a scenario which he said he would present to King Bhumiphol in an audience at the Hua Hin Palace later in the evening September 3. In short: PM Samak had to go. The best replacement would be former PM Anand Panyarachun, bolstered by “honest” figures to “rehabilitate democracy.” The House and Senate would stay in place; the Constitution would also remain but needed to be amended to allow non-elected MP figures to serve in the Cabinet. Ambassador repeatedly stressed that any action in Thailand needed to stay within the constitutional framework, and that the U.S. would react negatively to developments which amounted to an extra-constitutional coup. Anand subsequently confirmed to Ambassador that he had been involved in related discussions for the past week, but he refused to be involved “before the fact,” and would only discuss terms of any possible role afterwards, focused on the least impact on the contents of Thai democracy.

¶2. (S) Comment: Confirmation that a trusted Privy Councilor and long-time friend of the U.S. is on his way to seek King Bhumiphol’s approval for the above scheme is disturbing news.

Siddhi suggested that matters might come to a head in the next 48 hours (In a separate Sept. 3 converation with Ambassador, Defense Ministry PermSec Winai said there could be some “good signs” this evening). That said, Siddhi freely acknowledged three crucial pieces to the plan are not yet in place, and might not fall into place: first and foremost, the King’s assent; second, Anand has not yet agreed to  participate; third, Army Commander Anuphong, probably the only person who could deliver the necessary message to Samak, had so far refused to tell Samak it was time to go. We will continue to press our message of staying within the constitutional framework to all parties involved. Anand took Ambassador’s message on board, but made clear he did not agree with the U.S. perspective.

Samak has to go

Privy Councilor ACM Siddhi Savetsila made clear to Ambassador Sept. 3 that he viewed Thaksin and, by extension, PM Samak as an existential threat to the Thailand he supported, centered on the monarchy. Samak had lost his legitimacy, beset by multiple court cases and the violence in the streets of Udon Thani and Bangkok against civilians. The only way out of the current political impasse was for Samak to resign or the House to dissolve. But Samak refused to leave; he had lied to coalition partners about his August 30 audience with the King, had dismissed Opposition Leader Abhisit’s suggestion during the August 31 parliamentary debate to call new elections which pro-Thaksin forces would win again, and had even rejected his own wife’s and daughter’s prostrate entreaties to resign for the good of the country. Samak therefore had to go.

Stressing that Ambassador was the only foreigner he would share the information with, Siddhi laid out a scenario which he said he would present to King Bhumiphol later in the day in an audience for the Privy Councilors in Hua Hin. The solution was not by using force but to rehabilitate Thai democracy. The same Constitution would remain, amended to allow outsiders (non-MPs) to serve in the Cabinet. The House and Senate would stay. Universally respected former PM Anand should serve as the leader of the “project,” which would involve respected, “honest” ex-military and Ministry of Interior officials, academics, one or two PAD members, and perhaps some Democrat Party figures. The mandate would be to initiate a wide array of reforms in the economic, social, and political sphere. That in turn would “weed out” the bane effects of Thaksinism from the system. Army Commander Anuphong would have to deliver the message to Samak; no one else could.

Who is behind the effort and why?

Siddhi said that a group of prominent figures had approached him with the plan, more than could fit in his modest living room. The only one he named was Pramote Nakorntab, a retired respected professor and political scientist from Chulalongkorn University; others included a high ranking Air Force officer and a Constitutional Court Judge. Since, as a Privy Councilor, he was not supposed to be involved in politics, only in advising the King, Siddhi agreed to meet “as a former military leader” ready to do his best for the country. He was willing to push forward and present the project to the King in part to shield Privy Council Chair Prem Titsulanonda, who had been heavily and unjustly criticized for backing the PAD and trying to promote a Democrat Party-led government. The stakes were high; it was essential to rehabilitate the democratic system in Thailand. “If we lose, Thaksin will come back, and if Thaksin comes back, the monarchy will be lost,” Siddhi explained.

Siddhi acknowledged that neither Anand nor Anuphong were on board yet. Anand said he would need to review a proposal in detail before accepting. Even though Anuphong thought Samak must go, Siddhi said Anuphong was reluctant to push in part because he disliked the PAD, especially leaders Sondhi and Chamlong. Siddhi said he had challenged Anuphong – was he prepared to lose his principles in support of the monarchy because he did not like 3-4 people? Most importantly, it was up to the King to indicate what he thought of the plan. Siddhi would brief; the King would stay aloof, but provide his reaction. “What will happen will happen.”

Ambassador repeatedly emphasized U.S. concerns with non-elected systems of governance; the U.S. could not condone any extra-constitutional change in government in Thailand, since it would amount to a coup by another name. Ambassador urged Siddhi to explore alternatives within the constitutional framework: caretaker government prior to snap elections; reconfigured coalition with a different PM; or a national unity cabinet involving the Democrats. Leaders in a democracy needed to be elected.

Siddhi demurred, and said that Samak simply would not listen to anyone. Ambassador stressed that PAD leader Sondhi was just as stubborn as Samak, but that it was imperative to push for a dialogue to begin to seek a political resolution to the political crisis.

Anand more forthcoming the second time

Ambassador engaged Anand after the Siddhi meeting for the second time in 24 hours. More forthcoming this time than on September 2 (reftel), Anand acknowledged he had been listening to the group for the past week, but refused to get involved directly in anything before the plan was put into action. If the plan went forward, he was prepared to meet with them at that point. It was imperative to ensure the least impact on the contents of Thai democracy; even in the case of non-elected persons of supposed quality, care needed to be taken. Anand claimed that “I’m always my own man,” and that he had turned down many positions offered when he thought others sought to control him.

Ambassador underscored the critical importance of developments in Thailand staying within the framework of the constitution and rule of law; if that did not occur, the U.S. would respond accordingly. Anand replied that he had disagreed with the U.S. reaction to the 2006 coup and frequently disagreed with western views of what constituted democracy in various countries.

Updated: Wikileaks, Pansak and Surin

30 12 2012

WikileaksAs mentioned in an earlier post, PPT has finally found the time to get back to Wikileaks cables and is looking through the 6,000 or so cables to see what we missed in our past viewings. We are doing this in a systematic way, trying to ensure that we don’t double-up and re-post something we’d commented on previously.  We are now working our way through the 2006 cables.

Two cables get our attention in this post. The first is from a meeting with Thaksin Shinawatra’s close adviser Pansak Vinyaratn and the second from a talk with the Democrat Party’s Surin Pitsuwan. Both cables revolve around politics and monarchy.Boyce

PPT has previously posted on comments made by Pansak. In an earlier cable, this one dated 9 March 2006, Pansak meets with Ambassador Ralph Boyce and then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asia Eric John (who later became ambassador to Thailand). PPT thought we had covered this one previously, so if we are doubling up, we apologize.

At a time when People’s Alliance for Democracy rallies were expanding, Pansak is said to have “brimmed with fatigued confidence.” He even felt a “military coup improbable.” According to Pansak, denouncing “the ‘arrogance’ of the political opposition”,

the current political crisis is the “last hurrah of the old wealthy class,” according to Pansak. This cabal of political and economic elite who have dominated modern Thai society are “absolutely, deeply resentful” of Thaksin, who Pansak suggests is a new type of businessman and politician. Pansak said he told Thaksin, “all of these people who have lost their role in society, who have lost their shirts because of arrogance, want to come back (and defeat Thaksin.)” This “unholy alliance” of big business, the Democrat Party and “some people close to the palace” remain feckless. They have no specific programs or platforms and lack even the leadership to defeat Thaksin….


Thaksin, Pansak claimed, “has strengthened democracy…”. By this he seems to mean that “Thaksin’s power base ‘is the people’,” with Thai Rak Thai Party “took only five years to capture the hearts and minds of the people.”Again, Pansak pans the “immature” established “elite who have dominated the country for so long have focused too much on a form of representative democracy that meets their needs and minimizes the voices of the masses.”

Boyce decides that Pansak claims are a “humorous efforts to paint Thaksin as a man of the people…”. In all of the cables we have seen, apart from being an ardent admirer of everyone in the palace, Boyce shows a congruence with the elite in usually being unable to understand Thaksin’s popular appeal.

At the same time Pansak reveals the Achilles heel of the aggressive Thaksin and an arrogant TRT: “In the past, journalists were thrown in jail…. Now, we sue them, because we believe in the custom of democracy.”

Of course, the monarchy wasn’t missing from the discussion. Pansak refers to “the King’s personal private secretary Arsa Sarasin had called Democrat Party Chief Abhisit Vejjahiva [sic.] to ask him if he would like to meet Thaksin at the palace to discuss the current crisis. Abhisit refused, saying that if the palace would like him to meet with the PM, they would have to submit a list of subjects for discussion first.” This invitation is confirmed by the ambassador and by Abhisit to the media.

Pansak made “a cryptic sentence or two that seemed to suggest a preference for a respected but politically uninvolved monarch.” He is quoted as saying:

“To revere the King in the correct manner is to allow him to be in the palace with happiness and his eunuchs only come out of the palace to go to the supermarket. So always fund beautiful roads for eunuchs to go back to the palace…the situation now is, build beautiful roads for eunuchs to go back to the palace.”

The second cable is also dated 9 March and begins with a comment on the monarchy, with the Democrat Party Deputy Leader and former Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan is headlined as having “voiced his hope that the Palace would convince Prime Minister Thaksin to step down.” As the Kingcable has it:

When DAS John asked where he thought the situation was going, Surin said that he hoped that someone such as Privy Council Chairman General Prem Tinsulanonda would be able to weigh in with the Palace’s authority to persuade Thaksin to go for the sake of the country’s stability. He opined that otherwise Thaksin will not likely go without being pushed. If Article 7 comes into play, Surin said, the King could appoint a new Prime Minister and “fair and transparent” elections be scheduled…. The Ambassador asked if the DP had lines through to the Palace towards this eventuality. Surin said he thought not, but that the DP was “hopeful” that the Palace would decide “enough is enough” and tell Thaksin to go.

Surin’s next claim was that Thaksin and TRT were engaged in vote-buying for the 2006 election, which his party was boycotting.

Nothing much ever seems to change in the (un)Democrat(ic) Party. In a kind of bizarre failure to recognize that Thaksin and TRT had been weakened by the Shin Corp sale, Surin seems blinded to the changes that had taken place quite rapidly following this deal. He lists Thaksin’s “consistent evasion of the law and misuse of authority” and drones about how Thaksin had

… manipulated all of the country’s supervisory mechanisms — the Security and Exchange Commission, the Constitutional Court, the Election Commission, the Tax Department, etc…. Even the nominally independent courts are suborned by Thaksin through bribery. In addition, Thaksin controlled the electronic media and much of the print media, Surin complained.

He seems unable or unwilling to see anything other than a dominant Thaksin:Surin

DAS John asked how he would address critics who say that the DP is a “spoilsport” that, cognizant that the Prime Minister would win in a new election, will try to bring him down by other means. Surin responded that the political and governmental system itself has gone bad under Thaksin — constitutional controls have been undermined by the Prime Minister and electoral watchdog bodies compromised.

A politically despondent Surin seems to think that Thaksin is too popular for event the king to intervene: the king “would be reluctant to oust a populist leader elected by a large majority of the populace and still apparently enjoying great popularity outside of Bangkok and the DP’s traditional stronghold in Thailand’s south.” The Democrat Party seemed out of ideas and hoped for royal political rescue.

Update: Interestingly, our post appeared just as The Nation published a story on the end of Surin’s 5-year term as ASEAN Secretary-General. While supplicant academics praise him, PPT wonders why, after 45 years, ASEAN attracts so much attention but achieves so little.

Wikileaks, Thaksin and moral turpitude

21 08 2012

The Nation has another one of its yellow-hued anti-Thaksin Shinawatra articles for which it is well-known. This one, as well as citing unverified claims by ASTV (from where its whole story is derived), lists a Wikileak cable to ask why the United States permitted Thaksin to enter the country when, in 2009, it considered Thaksin “may or may not have committed crime of moral turpitude,” and “considered him a man unsuited for a US visa.”

It seems that The Nation is referring to a Wikileaks cable dated 7 May 2009 under the name of then Ambassador Eric John. As usual, The Nation gets the quote wrong, and fails to provide the context of the cable. The actual quote is, with a bit more than the report has, stating: “… the possibility that Thaksin may/may have committed a crime involving moral turpitude.”

Many readers will be stunned to know that Thaksin is accused of “moral turpitude.” Like PPT, most sensible people would consider “moral turpitude” to relate to sexual immorality, but as a quick search shows, the U.S. maintains a legal definition that is entirely 19th Century in its framing, referring to “conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals.” In immigration law, it is a convenient and generally difficult to define concept that allows immigration officers considerable discretion.

The cable is interesting for the context it provides to this situation and, contrary to the claims of yellow-shirted commentators, that the U.S. Embassy under Eric John was not a nest of pro-Thaksin diplomats. In fact, it shows that John and the Embassy acting, in part, to curry favor with the royalist Democrat Party-led and military-backed government.

The cable’s summary states: “Post recommends that the Department prudentially revoke former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s U.S. non-immigrant visas. This recommendation is based on our belief that Thaksin has possibly committed a crime involving moral turpitude.” A prudential revocation is a kind of “just in case” revocation for, as is stated, the Post only believes that Thaksin “has possibly” committed a crime. By recommending the revoking the visa/s the post is suggesting that the revocation can protect the U.S. and its relations with Thailand’s government.

In any case, the cable states, “Thaksin currently fails to meet the requirements for entering the U.S. on his valid B1/B2 visa because the RTG has revoked all of Thaksin’s Thai passports.” If the passports with the visas have been revoked by the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, Thaksin could not enter the U.S. based on those previously issue visas and revoked passports. In fact, this is the lead point of the main body of the cable.

The cable also refers to two arrest warrants issued by the Abhisit government, one related to Thaksin skipping bail following his debated conviction in the lad deal case, and going into exile and the other related to his allegedly inciting violence in April 2009, where the post states:

While we do not have evidence that Thaksin intended for his supporters to engage in violent acts, and Thaksin has publicly denied orchestrating the mid-April riots, we believe that Thaksin’s rhetoric was inflammatory and could reasonably be interpreted as a call for unruly actions.

This leads the Embassy to conclude:

Given the above, post believes that there are grounds for a prudential revocation of Thaksin’s U.S. NIVs, based on the possibility that Thaksin may/may have committed a crime involving moral turpitude.

At the same time, the Embassy states:

Post has not at this time developed a view regarding whether grounds would exist for a finding of visa ineligibility in connection with a crime involving moral turpitude, but we note that the standard for a prudential revocation is lower than the standard for a finding of ineligibility.

The Embassy adds: “We make the recommendation for a prudential revocation having considered the political impact of such a decision, if it were to become public knowledge.” That said, the Embassy discloses:

We are confident that the current [Abhisit-led] RTG administration would welcome our revoking Thaksin’s visa. We hope to avoid a situation in which Thaksin manages to enter the U.S., which would ensure that issues surrounding Thaksin’s status would dominate the U.S.-Thai relationship, at least in the short term. We believe revoking Thaksin’s visa, and conveying that news to him, might help to deter him from trying to enter the U.S.

Finally, the cable notes that Thaksin is pragmatic and that he will understand this action: “We do not rule out the possibility that at some future date Thaksin may regain dominant influence over the RTG.” The implication being that the visa situation can be reviewed in the future. It is a pity The Nation engages in propaganda rather than journalism.

Wikileaks: More on US and Utapao

24 06 2012

PPT noted comments by the Democrat Party that suggest the  somewhat desperate leadership appear to be misleadingly denying any connection with the US use of the naval air base at Utapao.

We haven’t been following the debate all that closely since our earlier post, but the opportunistic Democrat Party seems intent on making a yellow-shirt-like ultra-nationalist stand without revealing their own long support of US military use of Utapao.

A search at Cablegate lists 84 cables mentioning Utapao between 2005 and 2010, and all are pretty much the same.

This is a cut-and-paste from a cable dated 28 January 2009 under the name of Ambassador Eric John. PPT has highlighted a couple of things, The cable sets out the use of Thai resources by the US. The basic point is that several governments over this period have all permitted this quite extraordinary situation, including the Democrat Party-led government under Abhisit Vejjajiva.


¶4. (S) The strength of our military relationship with Thailand provides us with benefits rarely achieved in our relations with other regional partners. One such benefit is ready access to many Thai military bases, most notably the Utapao Naval Air Base, built by the U.S. during the Vietnam War. Thailand quietly let the U.S. position aerial refueling assets at Utapao to support air-bridge operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and gave blanket airspace clearance for U.S. combat and support aircraft, some of which could not have made their initial bombing runs into Afghanistan without it. Thailand also permitted the U.S. military use Utapao as the hub for our regional tsunami assistance program in 2004-2005 and for our relief flights to Burma after cyclone Nargis in 2008. While high-profile relief operations have publicly highlighted the value of access to Utapao, our military quietly accesses the air base over 1,000 times per year for flights in support of U.S. operations, including missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

¶5. (S) Moreover, the RTG has granted the U.S. military aircraft use of Utapao for flights on targets of intelligence interest, and we received permission for these operations as a matter of routine, without having to answer questions to the purpose of the flights. It is hard to imagine another Asian nation so easily permitting such operations. While we avoid publicizing our use of Utapao to avoid Thai sensitivities regarding the perception of foreign basing, Utapao and other Thai air fields and seaports remain vital to our force projection objectives in Southeast Asia.


¶6. (C) Thailand affords the U.S. military a platform for exercises unique in Asia. Thailand offers good base infrastructure and large areas in which our aircraft and ground forces can conduct unrestricted operations, including training for electronic warfare. Opportunities to access such training infrastructure are in short supply elsewhere in Asia. Despite thousands of U.S. troops in Japan and Korea, training in those countries is increasingly limited due to physical and political constraints, and efforts to reduce our base footprint in those nations could make access to training facilities in Thailand even more important. Thai leaders are far more willing to host multinational exercises than are other countries in Asia. Unlike Japan, which only hosts annual bilateral exercises due to legal prohibitions over collective security, or the Philippines, where planning for multinational exercises has been difficult, or Australia, which refuses to multilateralize Tandem Thrust; the Thai government encourages multinational exercises as a way to show regional leadership.

¶7. (C) Cobra Gold, the capstone event of our exercise program, is PACOM’s largest annual multi-lateral exercise and for 28 years has served to strengthen our relations with Thailand, highlight our commitment to Southeast Asia, and provide exceptional training opportunities for our troops. The event has evolved over the years and now facilitates important objectives such as promoting a greater role in the Asian Pacific region for Japan and Singapore and re-establishing a partner role with Indonesia. Cobra Gold is key to building partner nation capacity in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, especially at a time when U.S. forces face other global commitments. We have also been able to incorporate into Cobra Gold a robust Global Peacekeeping Operations Initiative (GPOI) event with active participation of Indonesia and Singapore.

¶8. (S/NF) A specific indication of Thai readiness to accommodate USG interests is its repeated willingness to host the Ellipse Charlie counterterrorism exercises – most recently in 2008, but also in 2002 and 2003. That Malaysia and Cambodia were considered as hosts for the 2008 exercise but rejected due to difficulties related to national-level approval and their capacity to host, similar to what occurred in 2003 vis–vis Germany, underscores the ongoing value of the U.S. access in Thailand. These interagency exercises brought together members of FBI, State, special operations personnel, and others to exercise a range of intelligence and hostage rescue activities that likely could not have been conducted elsewhere in Asia (in 2003, lawyers concluded the exercise could not even be held on a U.S. base in Germany). In another example of the unique training opportunity found in Thailand, U.S. and Thai Navy SEALS conduct exercises on Chevron-owned gas and oil platforms in the Gulf of Thailand. Altogether, the U.S. averages over forty multilateral and bilateral exercises per year with Thailand.

Wikileaks: The Democrat Party and following orders

2 05 2012

In a Wikileaks cable signed by U.S. Ambassador Eric John and dated 30 July 2008, the main story is about the defection of a tiny party from the Samak Sundaravej coalition government.

At the time there had been some discussion of a “national government” that was thought by a few to be an opportunity for crating “unity.” Embassy people raised the issue with “Isra Sunthornvut, Secretary to Democrat Party Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva…”. His response is recorded:

 Isra told us there were currently no plans for the Democrats to join a “government of national unity” … and it was difficult for him to imagine the formation of such a cabinet. Isra assured us that politicians would not come to such an arrangment [sic] by themselves, although, if instructed to do so by the palace, they would obey.

That seems a clear statement of who was the boss for the Democrat Party at the time. No mumbling in this conversation about the monarchy or palace being “above politics.”

Wikileaks: king and foreign affairs

21 04 2012

A 27 July 2008 cable, released by Wikileaks, and under the name of U.S. Ambassador Eric John, is mainly about issues related to the Preah Vihear temple area and the People’s Alliance for Democracy agitation regarding the Samak Sundaravej government’s relations with Cambodia over the temple.

A couple of weeks earlier, Foreign Minister and Thaksin Shinawatra lawyer Noppadon Pattama had resigned over the temple issue. He was replaced by career diplomat and royalist Tej Bunnag. Tej had previously been assistant to the king’s Principal Private Secretary Arsa Sarasin.

On the appointment of Tej as foreign minister, John reports:

An Australian diplomat told us on July 29 that King Bhumibol had directed the hurried appointment of palace advisor Tej Bunnag as Foreign Minister (ref A), and this appointment reflected the King’s serious concern over both the Preah Vihear tension and Thailand’s chairmanship of ASEAN.

PPT doesn’t know if the Australian diplomat was correct or the source of his/her information, but the perception of direct palace intervention was remarkably widespread.

Wikileaks: more on HRW and the coup I

31 01 2012

About a week ago PPT looked at comments made by Human Rights Watch, lese majeste and the 2006 coup.

The Wikileaks cable quoted HRW’s Sunai Phasuk regarding a lese majeste case as “unattractive” and that attending to it might damage Sunai’s work as a human rights defender. Of course, given HRW’s mission statement to stand with victims and activists to prevent discrimination [and] to uphold political freedom,” Sunai should have defended the lese majeste victim rather than mumble lame excuses.

In another post we mentioned a cable that indicated comments attributed to Sunai pro-coup and pro-army sentiments as he expressed relief at the “Thaksin’s government forced out,” and that he “had always held the military in high regard…”. Sunai seemed to throw aside human rights concerns and historical perspective in being politically partisan.

Other Wikileaks cables add further perspective to those mentioned above. In a 15 December 2006 cable, the State Department’s Eric John (to become U.S. Ambassador some time later) met with Sunai during a Bangkok visit.

Sunai is described as “one of the many activists who had reluctantly accepted the September 19 coup as the ‘only remaining option’,” but who had become “frustrated” with the failure of the interim government headed by Privy Councilor General Surayud Chulanont because it was

still inadequate in explaining just what former Prime Minister Thaksin [Shinawatra] had done that justified their coup.

That hardly sounds like someone who had “reluctantly” accepted the coup. Sunai then admits that: “The investigations into corruption were proving to be ‘too hard’.” While an interesting admission in itself, it is then stated that

HRW had encouraged the government to turn to the extra-judicial killings, primarily from the drug war of 2003, to find prosecutable offenses by the former government.

While the War on Drugs killings were a disgrace (and still haven’t been properly investigated), this sounds remarkably like HRW coaching the coup makers.

It is striking that Sunai is taking such positions even when he was skeptical that the junta-backed government was unlikely to get a “good constitution in place followed by good elections…”.

Sunai was also said to be critical of the “the government’s approach to the party dissolution cases now pending before the Constitutional Tribunal…. He believed that the case against the Democrat Party should have been dropped…”.

Sunai also revealed that the junta’s interim government had an informal mechanism for consulting civil society groups. He claimed that “[o]ne of the ministers in the PM’s office was very highly regarded and served as a liaison between the government and NGOs.”

Readers may draw their own conclusions on the propriety of such relations and revelation.

We have more cables to post on regarding HRW and political events.

Wikileaks, Thaksin, queen and lese majeste

8 08 2011

In a Wikileaks cable citing U.S. Ambassador Eric John and dated 22 October 2008, Thaksin Shinawatra is cited, having called John from exile. The reporting is revealing of Thaksin’s then position on several matters. At that point, Thaksin was confident of his political party/ies winning any election. He was worried about a coup:

“9. (C) Thaksin said he had sent a message to Army Commander Anupong Paojinda that the Army should not seize power. Thaksin said he could guarantee that a coup in current circumstances would not resemble General Sonthi Boonyaratglin’s 2006 coup — it would not be peaceful, and Anupong would regret it, Thaksin said.”

Thaksin is then reported to have commented on where the pressure for a coup was coming from: “10. (C) Thaksin told the Ambassador that Anupong did not want to launch a coup, but Queen Sirikit was pressing him to do so. Thaksin also asserted that Anupong knew that King Bhumibol did not favor a coup. Thaksin highlighted that, at the same time when the Queen presided over the funeral of a PAD protestor, the King granted an audience to PM Somchai, sending a more positive public message than the Queen’s. Thaksin added that he had been on the verge of releasing a letter in response to his conviction, but his staff had discouraged him from doing so, saying his tone would have been too angry and negative toward the monarchy.”

Thaksin goes on to comment on lese majeste: “Thaksin said one item on his agenda (and presumably in his draft letter) was the need to remove lese majeste provisions from the criminal code; Thailand could not rightfully claim to be democratic so long as there remained a threat of prosecution for lese majeste.”

PPT wonders if Yingluck Shinawatra will slowly move on this essential area of reform?

Wikileaks, palace and the coup I

2 08 2011

Continuing PPT’s Wikileaks series, today we draw attention to a cable  dated 28 April 2008, where U.S. Ambassador Eric John comments on the question: Why such tepid opposition to the 2006 coup? The following part of his response is interesting:

“3. (C) The coup leaders benefited from an appearance of Palace endorsement. King Bhumibol publicly signaled his acquiescence (if not support) when granting an audience to [General] Sonthi [Boonyaratkalin] and the other coupmakers involved on the night of their coup. Like many of their predecessors, the leaders of the 2006 coup portrayed themselves as forced to act to protect the King, highlighting their allegiance when identifying themselves as (roughly translated) ‘the Council for Democratic Reform under the Monarchy’ (CDRM), and receiving the King’s imprimatur in the form of a Royal Command appointing Sonthi as the head of the CDRM. We believe signals of Palace support — or, at a minimum, acceptance — played an important role in promoting the public\’s acceptance of the coup, although other key factors included widespread frustration with the ongoing political crisis and faith in the coup leaders’ promise to hold elections in approximately one year.”

Of course, ambassadors and embassy staffers are not always correct in their analysis.

None the less, many of the cables we have seen indicate that the significance of the leaks is in revealing beliefs and attitudes. In the above quote, we see that John – and presumably others in the embassy – felt that the palace’s role was significant in reducing opposition to the coup. Of course, the position is now very different, and the palace has lost much credibility by its political involvement.

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