Thailand: Saying No To China

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April 3, 2016: The military government keeps looking for new ways to deal with unwanted criticism. The generals know that growing public discussion about military rule is what always forces military government in Thailand to return to elections and a loss of power by the generals. The military is trying to avoid that this time around and so far are not having a lot of success. Despite the growing number (over a hundred so far) of known (via speeches, Internet posts or published remarks) critics who have been arrested and held, often without being charged the anti-military sentiments can still be heard or seen. The generals are increasingly criticized for these police state tactics but the most common criticism the refusal to name a date when elections and democracy will resume. Best estimate now is late 2017, maybe. There is growing foreign pressure about elections from neighbors (except China) and the West. Worse since September 2015 the pro-democracy populists (the “red shirts”) have largely ceased demonstrations. The populists did so to demonstrate that there was no “violent opposition” to justify continued military rule. The red shirts are waiting for the military government to allow elections which is what Thai military governments all eventually do. The May 2014 coup came after months of political protests in the capital and those tensions remain but the army is definitely in control. Despite that the economy is not doing as well as people expect and the military government is blamed. In the past this sort of thing played a large role in persuading the generals to allow elections again and that seems to be happening again.

China is concerned that Thailand is not being sufficiently receptive to Chinese offers of military and economic assistance. For China the big problem is the fact that Thailand has never been submissive and despite the military government currently in power (and eager to stay in power) China has not been able to gain as much influence inside Thailand as it hoped.

Security forces have arrested at least fifteen people so far as suspects in the six attacks in the Moslem south in mid-March. Despite that unexpected spike in incidents the violence down south continues to decline. Islamic terrorist bombings were down 49 percent in 2015 compared to 2014. The 2015 bombing activity was 65 percent less than 2007, the peak year for violence in the Moslem south. The violence has been going on since 2004 and most Moslems in the south are fed up but there are still a few hard core violent separatists who keep at it. This is believed partly responsible for the recent increase in separatist violence down south. Meanwhile the peace talks with southern separatists remain stalled, in part because the separatists do not believe the current military government will remain in power long enough to carry out the terms of any peace deal.

March 31, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) Islamic terrorists carried out nine bomb attacks leaving one person dead and twelve wounded. Most of the bombs went off near homes or businesses.

The army ordered troops to assume police duty and gave military personnel police powers to arrests, detain and question people. The generals justify this move because they believe there is a shortage of police personnel.

March 29, 2016: In the south (Narathiwat province) Islamic terrorists used a grenade launcher and gunfire to ambush a police vehicle, killing three policemen and wounding six.

March 28, 2016: The military government ordered the army to crack down (harass or arrest) anyone spreading “confusing ideas” between now and the August 7 national referendum on a new constitution that gives the military more power, all in the name of national defense.

March 27, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) two soldiers were shot dead as they travelled along a rural road on a motorbike.

March 23, 2016: The government has decided back out of a deal with China to jointly build a major new railroad. This was a solution to a disagreement over construction costs for a $4.8 billion rail line from Bangkok to the Chinese border in the northeast. Thailand will build a rail line of their own design and finance it themselves. There were man disagreements on details of the entire 900 kilometer rail line from Laotian border to Bangkok. China was to supply most of the $23 billion cost and construction was expected to be complete by 2021. This is part of a larger project to build a “Shanghai to Singapore” high speed rail line. This would cut the cost of travel (currently mainly by air) for Chinese by more than half and increase the number of Chinese tourists to Thailand by at least two million a year. The Chinese were too insistent on doing the 900 kilometer long rail line their way and resisted Thai suggestions and preferences. Finally the Chinese were told that the two years of negotiations were at an end and that Thailand would proceed on its own.

In neighboring Malaysia police arrested 13 people who were apparently trying to organize terror attacks for ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Thailand has not had any such problems. The mood in Moslem southern Thailand is generally hostile to the actions of major Islamic terror groups like al Qaeda and ISIL. Very few, if any, Thai Moslems have joined ISIL although a few Malaysians Moslems have. Since January 2015 Malaysia has arrested over 170 people for actual or suspected ISIL activity. As a result there has been no ISIL connected violence in Malaysia nor has there been much throughout the region. There was one ISIL attack in Indonesia during January 2016.

March 18, 2016: The navy received six fast (over 72 kilometers an hour) boats for patrol and commando operations along rivers and coastal waters. The 10 meter (32 foot) boats have a crew of five and up to eight passengers. These M10 Mk II boats were built in Thailand and can be armed with three 12.7mm machine-guns. There are 34 more of these boats on the way to replace 39 older boats from the 1980s.

March 14, 2016: The government ordered increased counter-terrorism activity in the Moslem south after several attacks over the weekend in Narathiwat province left seven soldiers wounded. There was an attack on a hospital plus several bombings and shootings. This was apparently to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the BRN (Barisan Revolusi Nasional) the oldest separatist group in the south.

March 13, 2016: In the south (Narathiwat province) at least a dozen armed men attacked a hospital in order to get to the second floor and fire on a nearby military checkpoint. Seven soldiers were wounded by that gunfire and during subsequent efforts to catch the fleeing gunmen. Islamic terrorists in the south have regularly attacked medical facilities because many of the medical personnel are non-Moslem and thus considered “the enemy.” This was the first time the Islamic terrorists had attacked a hospital. Although no medical personnel or patients were hurt lots of damage was done to the building and equipment.

March 9, 2016: In the south (Narathiwat province) two soldiers were killed and five wounded by a roadside bomb.

 

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