Thailand: The Military Governments Seeks Help From China

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July 13, 2016: In the Moslem south there was again an increase in Islamic terrorist violence during the Moslem holy month of Ramadan (June 7 th to July 2 nd this year). There were 49 attacks during Ramadan in the three Moslem provinces, leaving 22 dead and 47 wounded. There were sixteen bombings, 22 shootings and three arson attacks. At the end of Ramadan some separatists began a publicity program to encourage the establishment of Islamic religious schools in the south. These schools have not been popular because most parents see secular schools as the best way for their children to have a better future. The efforts to negotiate a peace in the south are stalled, mainly because of doubt that any agreement with a military government won’t survive once elections are resumed.

The Military Experiences A Change In Attitude

The military effort to coerce enough Thais into approving the August 7 national referendum on a new constitution continues despite growing popular opposition. Even the courts are not cooperating, often quickly releasing those arrested for violating a new law forbidding anyone from openly campaigning against the new constitution. The army persists in trying to coerce opponents to keep quiet. But even the royalist and nationalist politicians who backed the 2011 coup are now openly calling on the generals to back off. The pro-military parties (yellow shirts) that lost the national elections in 2011 used their continued control of the courts and the military to outlaw the elected government (“red shirts”) after which the army stepped in to “keep the peace”. This was not a unique event in Thai history but most Thais are fed up with the coups. There have been twelve of them in the last 80 years, since a constitutional monarchy replaced the centuries old absolute monarchy.

The military is encouraged by good news on the economy, which is slowly recovering. Foreign economists note that most Thais are not as optimistic and foreign customers and investors are prepared to back off on Thailand if the military does not abide by the results of the August 7 vote, or tampers with the voting. The head of the military government recently announced that if the proposed new constitution is rejected (as seems likely unless the vote is tampered with) in the August referendum he will personally write a new one. In other words the military is determined to retain power one way or another. To do that the military government is trying to improve economic relations with China and being more pro-China in general. Thus Thailand is officially neutral in the dispute all its other neighbors are having with China over Chinese claims on the South China Sea and other international waters near China. The international court of arbitration recently ruled against Chinese claims in the South China Sea. Although the UN and nearly every other nation abides by the rulings of this court, China rejected the court and the decision against China.

July 8, 2016: In the south (Songkhla province) a patrol boat opened fire on three Vietnamese fishing boats which had been chased out of Thai waters earlier in the day but returned. Two of the Vietnamese boats sank when they collided with the Thai patrol boat. Two of the Vietnamese fishermen were wounded and another went overboard and disappeared. The remaining 17 Vietnamese were arrested. Vietnam protested and accused Thailand of overreacting. This sort of thing has happened before and the last time was in September 2015.

July 5, 2016: In the south (Narathiwat province) Islamic terrorists shot dead a Buddhist woman and left a note saying it was revenge for troops opening fire near a mosque in Yala the day before. Elsewhere in the south (Pattani province) a policemen was killed when a bomb in a truck went off at a checkpoint.

July 3, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) a large (100 kg/220 pounds) went off on railroad tracks cutting service (not restored until the 13th) with Malaysia on one of the busiest days of the year (the end of the Moslem holy month of Ramadan). Later in the day another bomb went off near a major mosque in Pattani, killing one policeman and wounding three others. Elsewhere in the south (Yala province) a roadside bomb killed two people on a motorcycle, one of them a civilian who worked for the police.

July 2, 2016: In the south (Narathiwat province) police and soldiers cornered three armed members of a separatist organization. In the ensuing gun battle two of the separatists were killed while the third escaped. All three were armed with assault rifles. Two soldiers were wounded as well.

July 1, 2016: The navy has revived its plan to buy three submarines from China. The navy had first proposed this in June 2015 but withdrew the proposal a month later, apparently because of American opposition. The United States has long (over half a century) been Thailand’s major military and diplomatic ally. Given that China is a growing regional military threat (but not so much to Thailand) the U.S. would be reluctant to continue military support for Thailand if Thailand had close military ties with China. The unspoken reason is American opposition to the military government and realization by the generals that they would need all the allies they could get once they hand power back to elected officials. The consensus was that it was better to have good relations with the Americans (who are pressing for new elections) than the Chinese (who are quite comfortable with a military dictatorship). Moreover a lot of Thais are uncomfortable with the growing military power and aggressiveness of China. In the last year the situation has changed and the military appears determined to hang onto power no matter what and to do that they need an ally like China, not the United States. Meanwhile most Thais oppose the navy submarine proposal and believe that the billion dollars needed to buy the three Chinese subs would be better spent on updating the rest of the navy and buying for patrol boats to improve security along the coasts. The sad shape of many Thai warships, especially the sole aircraft carrier, is a national embarrassment.

June 29, 2016: In the south (Narathiwat province) a roadside bomb attacked an army patrol killing one soldiers and wounding three others.

 

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