Thailand: Generals Confusion

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June 27, 2015: The government has decided to buy three diesel-electric submarines from China. German and South Korean subs were also considered but the Chinese price ($335 million each) was considered the best deal. The Thai Navy has not operated subs since 1951. Thailand would be getting the 2,000 ton Type 41. These Song Class subs look a lot like the Russian Kilo class and that was apparently no accident. China began ordering Russian Kilo class subs, then one of the latest diesel-electric designs available, in the late 1990s and within a decade began building boats that were similar to the different models of the Kilo. Pakistan also ordered six Type 41s in early 2015. Thailand will not receive these subs until the early 2020s, assuming a new (elected) government does not cancel the deal. Aside from prestige, most Thais see no value in having subs.

The violence in the Moslem south continues to decline. The security forces have been building a DNA database of those living in the three largely Moslem provinces in the south and this has made it easier to identify Islamic terrorists via DNA evidence left behind in hideouts or at crime scenes. Since there are not many active Islamic terrorists in the south and a fewer than a hundred are believed responsible for most of the attacks, the DNA approach put more pressure on the few remaining active terrorists. There is also no evidence of any Thai Islamic terrorists joining the more radical ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). This is in line with the belief that the Moslem violence in the south is more about separatism than Islamic terrorism.

The military government fears that they cannot hope to win (by having a pro-military candidates replace them) the promised elections unless they can achieve some widely popular goals. Curbing corruption is a favorite but that is not something that lends itself to a quick fix. Peace in the south is another long-term project that cannot be rushed. The military government is also in trouble because the economy has not been recovering from the 2008 recession. There is still GDP growth, but that rate continues to slow. Recently economists cut the current annual GDP growth estimate from 3.6 to 3.1 percent. Because of all this it is believed the generals are considering the unpopular move of moving the promised September 2016 elections to 2017 or later. Meanwhile the military makes itself less popular with enforcement of the growing list of censorship laws. Seeking foreign support the military government finds that only fellow pariahs (North Korea, Cuba, Iran and China) are willing to get close. As unpopular as China is with most other nations in the region, it is a neighbor and economic powerhouse.

The military government continues to be criticized by most of its economic partners, especially in the West, for the removal of an elected government. The continued Islamic terrorism in the south also keeps Thailand on an unpopular list of the top ten nations in terms of their "Terrorism Risk". For most of the last decade this list has included Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Lebanon, India, Algeria, Colombia, and Thailand. As with Thailand, most of the countries on this list find the actual risk confined to small parts of the countries. In Algeria it’s the eastern coastal mountains. Some countries, like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia, have long suffered high numbers (several thousand a year) of terrorism related deaths. The major factor for the ranking is the amount of terrorism mayhem going on in the nation. Thus Thailand is barely on the list (with a few hundred terrorism related deaths a year), but still has enough terrorist violence to be counted and noted internationally.

The unrest in Thailand is partly sustained by long-term organized criminal activities. For example, professional people smugglers in China have noted the needs of North Korean refugees and will get North Koreans from northeast China to the South Korean embassy in Thailand for $6,000 or more. This involves the cooperation of Thai gangsters. The “customers” cannot stiff these snake heads (as they are affectionately called by their customers and next-of-kin) because they have operatives everywhere. If you don't pay, they can get to you, or kin in China or even North Korea. The Thai security forces pay more attention to multi-national smuggling gangs. Burma, Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia have all become more active in a joint effort to shut down the criminal gangs responsible for smuggling Bangladeshi and Burmese Moslems through Thailand to Malaysia and beyond. Since early 2015 this effort has made it so difficult to travel overland via Thailand that the smugglers have had to use ships instead and thus bypass Thailand. Police in Burma, Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia have identified several criminal gangs involved with people smuggling and already arrested nearly a hundred individuals and are seeking even more. Thailand recently confiscated several million dollars of assets belonging to these smugglers. Often the gangsters resist and there have been several gun battles (and over a dozen dead smugglers). The Chinese smugglers are less of a political problem because if China wanted the movement of North Korean refugees to Thailand they could do it inside China. The smuggled Moslems, however, are an international scandal that Thailand wants no part of.

June 26, 2015: In the capital 14 pro-democracy demonstrators were arrested for demonstrating, something the military government has outlawed.

June 15, 2015: In the south (Narathiwat province) a soldier was killed when his convoy was ambushed by Islamic terrorists. He was one of the guards escorting teachers returning home from school. Islamic terrorists see secular education as an attack on Islam and discourage it with attacks on schools and teachers. Most Moslems in the south want secular education for their children.

June 3, 2015: In the south (Yala province) four off-duty soldiers were killed when their car was ambushed as they returned to base.

May 30, 2015: In the south (Pattani province) two off-duty soldiers were ambushed and killed.

May 27, 2015: The military government now says elections would be delayed until April 2016. The majority of Thais still back the populists so the struggle continues and will heat up once the elections are held. Most Thais are also unhappy with the stalled economy, which they attribute to military opposition to the last two elected governments and their inability to shut down the Islamic terrorist violence in the far south. Until recently the military said it was going to hold elections at end of 2015. But the military is aware that their government takeovers are unpopular with most Thais and a popular vote will put populists (which the military has been persecuting) back in power and seeking to punish the military. This may not end well.

 

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