Very (North) Korea-like

9 01 2019

It may be just us at PPT, but we feel there’s been a considerable uptick in royal propaganda in recent weeks. Perhaps it has to do with the cool season and the fact that royals seem to mainly be in-country and getting out. Or perhaps it is in tandem with the standoff over “election” timing.

PPT has tended to ignore most of this palace propaganda. As we have posted previously, much of it feels like a 1970s refrain: “Meet the new king, Same as the old king” kind of stuff. But the new king uses image and manufactured aura of the old king to his advantage, and as it is done, it continues mantras that seem cut from the North Korean cult of personality playbook.

The latest “report” is perhaps appropriately (North) Korean in that it is about the Navy and Korean vessels.

Remarkably, a serious newspaper actually parrots Family Kim-style propaganda in declaring it was “a day of overwhelming joy for the navy when Government House informed them early this month that two new ships were named by His Majesty the King in remembrance of the late King Bhumibol.”

The captain of the newly-named HTMS Bhumibol Adulyadej blubbered: “We were all overwhelmed. We never thought the vessel would be given a name that means so much…”. The ship, he said, was the “pride of the Royal Thai Navy.”

Like so many non-thinking royalists, the captain declared: “The name has been given by His Majesty the King and it means so much to the Thai people.” How does he know? He’s had it drummed into him from birth.

The fine print is that the new frigate had another name, selected by the Navy, but that’s now ditched. Of course, as many old salts know, changing the name of a vessel brings bad luck. We assume the Navy will perform all kinds of superstitious ceremonies to ward off the bad luck.





When the military is on top XXVIII

5 10 2018

The junta and the Army have inserted themselves into a land dispute. that goes back years and decades.

In the middle of a public meeting and seminar, discussing “unjust land expropriations within three Eastern Economic Corridor provinces,” [that’s the junta’s big plan] being held at Tambon Yothaka, local affected people, land rights activists and the Thai Society of Environmental Journalists found their meeting invaded by “military personnel from Infantry Division 11, high-ranking officers of Chachoengsao Provincial Internal Security Operation Command (Isoc) and the NCPO.” That’s the junta.

The Army “had notified local people beforehand,” but as the troops descended, the “seminar was suddenly paused and then taken over by the commander of Infantry Division 11 and the NCPO representative in Chachoengsao, Maj-General Worayuth Kaewwiboonphan, along with the deputy director of Chachoengsao Isoc, Maj-General Panit Siriphala.”

The land dispute is between between the residents of Tambon Yothaka in Chachoengsao’s Bang Nam Priew district and the state and military.

Explaining the intervention, Maj-Gen Worayuth said the troops were deployed “to broker a peaceful resolution to the conflict over 4,000 rai of land in four villages in Tambon Yothaka between the members of old communities and the rightful land owner, the Royal Thai Navy (RTN).”

Maj-Gen Worayuth went on to “explain” that there was no “land-grabbing … by wealthy investors for industrial expansion within the EEC provinces” but an effort by the Navy to use the land. He said the Navy agreed to rent lad to the farmers once they gave it back.

He pointed out that despite the Navy having secured the rights to revoke rental agreements on the disputed land, the NCPO and the Army had negotiated with the Navy that the affected tenants be allowed to continue leasing 300 rai of land. He therefore “asked” locals “to refrain from arranging public gatherings and organising protests over the … issue.” Most especially, they should not rally in Bangkok.

Apparently, the Navy purchased 4000 rai of land back about 1948 and people have used it ever since. It isn’t clear in the report who paid for the land back then.

Locals rejected Maj-Gen Worayuth’s call and demanded that the Navy negotiate with them. They have been ordered to vacate the land.

This is how Thailand “works” under a military dictatorship.





More privy councilors

2 10 2018

The king can have up to 18 privy councilors. Until today we think he had 13, mostly former military men and former judges. He now has three more, each with junta connections.

The Bangkok Post reports that a “former cabinet secretary and the former commanders of the army and the air force who retired on Sunday have been appointed privy councillors, effective immediately.”

The Royal Gazette announced that “Ampon Kittiampon, a former cabinet secretary, Gen Chalermchai Sitthisad, former commander of the Royal Thai Army, and ACM Johm Rungswang, former commander of the Royal Thai Air Force, have been appointed privy councillors.”

Ampon “was adviser to Gen Prayut before the appointment.” Gen Chalermchai “was secretary-general of the National Council for Peace and Order and the 40th army commander.” ACM Johm is a “classmate of Gen Chalermchai, was the 24th air force commander and board member of Thai Airways International.”

The links between the Privy Council and the junta are further strengthened.





An interfering monarchy II

13 07 2018

Just over a week ago PPT commented on the cave rescue and the king’s self-selected role.

We noted that the king had ordered – a “royal order” – that “cave search-and-rescue training will be introduced to the curriculum of all branches of the armed forces…”. That was announced by The Dictator. The report cited went on to say that the king was “[w]eighing in on how the nation’s armed forces should be trained…”, and ordered that “the skills and knowledge used to rescue 12 boys and their football coach be incorporated into their training…”.

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha immediately did as decreed, declaring: “[We] can adapt the rescue plan into diving and swimming lessons for the special operation forces in the future.”

We asked what business does the king have in “decreeing” how the military should be training? We also asked how many similar emergencies are there likely to be in the next few decades?

But in royalist Thailand, he who must be obeyed gets what he wants. Naval Special Warfare Command chief Rear Admiral Apakorn Yukongkaew has stated that “[s]kills unfamiliar to Thai Navy Seals but key to the successful rescue” of the kids and their coach in the cave “will be added to the training regimen of the Navy’s elite unit to better prepare them for unexpected situations.” He says that the operation prompted thinking “about arming themselves with the skills needed to navigate flooded, dark and murky passageways.”

We doubt that. This is coming from up high. When Rear Admiral Apakorn was asked “to name a priority for his Seal unit after returning from the cave rescue mission” he states that “Seals need cave-diving training…”.

To be honest, this is a bizarre response that only makes “sense” in the context of the royal command. And that makes very little sense.

Perhaps there’s also some nationalism at work when it is reported that the Navy team “handled the risks and pressure at Tham Luang well, but they still needed to be guided by world-renowned cave divers who also joined the rescue operations.” Nationalism is dangerous in such circumstances and the administration’s quick action in calling in experienced cave divers from all over the world was exactly the right thing to do.

We think the BBC gets it right too when it asks and answers:

Could the Thais have done this on their own?

No, and few countries could. Cave diving is a very specialised skill, and expert cave rescuers are even rarer.

Thailand was fortunate that an experienced caver Vern Unsworth has explored the Tham Luang cave complex extensively, and lives nearby.

He was on the scene the day after the boys disappeared, and suggested that the Thai government needed to invite expert divers from other countries to help.

The Thai navy divers who went down initially struggled, because both their experience and equipment were for sea diving, which is very different. They were driven out of the caves by rapidly rising flood water, and finding the boys seemed a hopeless cause.

Once foreign divers arrived, from many different countries, the Thai authorities allowed them to devise first the search, and then the enormously complex rescue. It was a huge logistical operation involving hundreds of people, building guide rope and pulley systems, putting in power and communication cables.

It is to Thailand’s credit that it was organised so well, and there was no attempt to diminish the foreign contribution.

So when a king who wasn’t at the scene and has no experience in caves or rescue operations provides daft advice, he should be ignored, not blindly followed. Monarchs need to be kept in their legal and constitutional place.





Military business is always corrupt

19 09 2017

With virtually all of the various corruption complaints made since the military came to power through its illegal coup in 2014 having been dismissed, perhaps it is no surprise that the military is now using its taxpayer-funded facilities in money-making ventures.

Of course, some of this has been seen in the past, with military property used by state enterprises in the past, including for airports. The corruption that dogs Thai Airways and the Airports Authority are, in part, a result of the military connection.

Of course, as absolutely everyone knows, under the military dictatorship, the National Anti-Corruption Commission is not concerning itself with military corruption. The NACC does not want to be bothered by anyone other than Shinawatras and certainly doesn’t want to get in trouble with its political bosses.

But, really, is no one officially interested in the already rewarded submariners in the Navy constructing “a new ferry terminal at Chuk Samet deep-sea port in Sattahip, part of the infrastructure development for the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC)”?

Why on earth is the Navy investing taxpayer money for the development of “a port serving cruises, cargo vessels and ferries linking Pattaya, Chon Buri and Rayong with other destinations, including Koh Chang in Trat and Hua Hin district across the Gulf in Prachuap Khiri Khan province”?

The land is also state land, paid for by taxpayers.

The investment space “will have souvenir shops, a food court, ticket counters and boarding areas…. It one of 13 projects with total estimated cost of 2 billion baht to be undertaken by the navy under the EEC blueprint.”

Now we know why so many business suits are Navy blue. But, seriously, this sounds like a recipe for more military corruption.





The Dictator and the media means repression

3 05 2017

There’s been a spate of reporting saying the military dictatorship was prepared to “compromise” on the controversial media control bill.

For example, the Bangkok Post stated that “National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) Monday endorsed a controversial media bill after making changes to two controversial issues in an apparent attempt to ease pressure from the press and critics.”

The Post reported that the revisions meant the “contentious plan to license individual journalists was dropped. However, journalists would be required to obtain certificates from their respective media companies.” Whatever that means.

It also reported that “the much-criticised 15-member national media profession council, which would include permanent secretaries from the PM’s Office and Culture Ministry, state representatives will serve on it during the five-year transitional period.” Again, this could end up meaning whatever the junta wants it to mean.

In an editorial, the Bangkok Post responded to this move, basically saying the whole bill should be flushed down the nearest drain.

Thailand’s Chaplinesque Hynkel, The Great Dictator, known more widely as General Prayuth Chan-ocha, even prattled about having ” a forum to hear the views of members of the media on the controversial media bill…”. But this is window dressing. The Dictator stated: “”Don’t worry. All issues of concern will be jointly discussed. The bill has both positives and negatives…”. Whatever one thinks of this verbal manure, Prayuth wants control and limits on the media.

At the same time that he was babbling to the media, he was also criticizing the Navy for giving too much information to the media, claiming that “no other country has ever had to disclose this much information about military hardware procurement as Thailand just did.” This is just a lie. But the point is, Prayuth wants secrets kept so that his people can do what they want.

Then there’s the abduction of critics. No one may speak ill of the junta.

Bigger than this, though, is the desire to control the history that Thais know, not to mention the protection of a new palace regime of toadies and other supplicants in the service of a king who simply can’t be trusted.

We have speculated that the king is responsible for the removal of the 1932 commemorative plaque. So when the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) decided to hold a panel discussion on the stolen plaque, the dictatorship had a political heart attack.

The result was that on 3 May , the “FCCT announced on its Facebook page that it had received orders from the police to cancel [the] panel discussion…. The police advised that the order came from so-called ‘relevant officials’ who perceived the seminar as a threat to national security.”

The national security threat is presumably an admission that the king had the plaque stolen.

The FCCT went on to say that it “regrets to announce that the panel discussion ‘Memories of 1932: The Mystery of Thailand’s Missing Plaque’, … has been cancelled. The decision was made after the FCCT received a letter from the Lumpini Police asking for the event to be called off, after the police were contacted, they say, by ‘relevant officials’…”.

It added: “The FCCT has been given to understand that this cancellation is on the orders of the NCPO, and we have no choice but to comply.”

That’s the junta’s position: the media cannot be free because it and the palace has many secrets that may not be revealed to anyone, least of all the media. If anyone reports on these secrets, they risk years in jail or even the king’s private lock up.





Sub-optimal

2 05 2017

Despite much negative and regime weakening press and calls for its submarine deal to be scrapped, the Navy is really happy and thumbing its nose at the country.

The “Royal Thai Navy has said a new government can terminate the approved procurement of a Chinese-made submarine costing 13.5 billion baht, but it has to justify doing so as it will result in the loss of a 700-million-baht down payment by Thailand.”

Not only that, they have also said that the taxpayer can be screwed for more loot.

Navy Deputy Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Patchara Pumpiched “revealed” that the “deal to buy three Chinese submarines could cost more than Bt36 billion – the initial price given by the government – if the Navy believes it requires more advanced technology.”

He “explained” that there “might be additional costs if they [we assume he means the Chinese] enhance the capability of submarines in the future…”

“But,” said Vice Admiral Patchara, fear not for the navy is on the job…. He “revealed” that the navy will “also make sure that all equipment that we request in the agreement is obtained.”

What a good idea! Can we assume that it is usual for the military to not ensure it gets all the taxpayer paid for? GT200, Sky Dragon? On those deals they also got what they paid for: commissions and worthless crap.

The Vice Admiral was moved to declare: ““I don’t think any Defence Ministry or the Navy of any country would get a deal like we have…”.

Maybe. As far as we can tell, only two governments have purchased these subs, Thailand and Pakistan. The Thai purchase price does appear cheaper per sub, but the Pakistani deal includes building four of the vessels in Pakistan. Technology and  jobs are involved. But this is not a part of the Thailand deal and we doubt any of the commission jockeys even thought of it.

In fact, the Thailand “deal” apparently includes the Chinese “send[ing] staff to be stationed in Thailand for two years…”.

It was Navy chief of staff, Admiral Luechai Ruddit, who was also chairman of the navy’s submarine procurement panel who chuckled about having the next government over a 700 million baht barrel:

Adm Luechai admitted that the next government could revoke the contract, but before the new government is able to take office after an election expected in late next year, the down payment for the purchase of 700 million baht would have been paid.

Adm Luechai defended the purchase by “explaining” that Thailand doesn’t have submarines and others do. That brilliant piece of deductive reasoning was followed up with this:

“We want to have submarines so that we do not get tangled up in a war,” he said, adding that if the kingdom has submarines, other countries would hesitate to wage war on Thailand.

He seems to be eyeing those dastardly Malaysians and Singaporeans, both having submarines. Or maybe it is India an Pakistan as the navy claims to want to pen some of the submarines on the Andaman Sea side.

(It can’t be China he’s thinking of as they are supplying the subs…).

Or maybe it is the Americans. The Admiral babbled:

“As for those wondering if the [average] depth of 50 metres in the Gulf of Thailand really can accommodate a submarine, such a medium-sized vessel can easily navigate through the gulf as some from the US and its allies did several times during World War II in operations causing substantial damage to Thailand,” he said.

(If any reader has information on submarine attacks that caused “substantial damage to Thailand,” we’d be interested. We can find none. Perhaps the Admiral is confusing submarines with bombers?) For those interested in a similar Navy effort to get submarines, in 1934, this might be of use.

The deal is the Navy gets subs and the taxpayer gets slugged.