Thailand: China Makes Nice

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October 6, 2016: Peace talks with Malay separatists in the three southern Moslem provinces are deadlocked so the government is going ahead with economic investment and improving education and security in general. This includes creating a new combined headquarters to coordinate all operations down there. The new organization is officially called the “Steering Committee for Solving Southern Border Provinces' Problems”. The new committee is supposed to eliminate the problems with different federal agencies operating at cross-purposes with each other. Meanwhile the government pointed out that progress was being made and terrorist incidents in the three provinces were down 60 percent in the last year and insisted that the growing incidence of terror attacks in nearby provinces was not related to the Islamic terrorism in the far south. The police apparently do not agree but are apparently under orders to keep quiet about that. Most of the people in the three provinces are hostile to the military government and apparently is waiting for a new elected government to take over before supporting serious peace talks. The southern three provinces voted against the proposed new constitution, despite the vote manipulation that was going on.

The military effort to coerce enough Thai voters into approving the August 7 referendum on a new constitution was a success at least to the extent that there was no widespread protests against the rigged vote. There is enough evidence of voter manipulation, especially since the vote tally was 61 percent in favor of the pro-military constitution while opinion polls just before the vote indicated 48 percent approval. Many opponents of the military government refused to vote which was a factor in only 59 percent eligible voters participating.

The new constitution reverses decades of progress in replacing medieval privilege with democratic methods. The military will continue trying to coerce opponents to keep quiet. Even before the referendum vote royalist and nationalist politicians who backed the 2011 coup were 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 coups slow down the spread of democracy but does not stop it. It’s a nasty cycle that will apparently continue.

Money Talks

The economy continues to grow, but slowly. That and the recent failure by the opposition to block a new constitution indicates that most Thais prefer to focus on basic survival and deal with the illegal military rule and corrupt politicians later. Based on past history here, there will be a “later” eventually and the generals are trying to delay that as long as they can. The military government is aware of how unpopular their rule is and are striving to figure out how to stay in power permanently. Changing the constitution is a start and the military government is depending on China to help them out. It was not surprising that the military government developed close ties with China, which is the regional expert in keeping an unpopular dictatorship in power. So China has been quietly supplying help in controlling the Thai media, especially the Internet. The military government cannot get away with doing this openly, as the Chinese communists do, so they have to quietly monitor the Internet and then arrest suspected “troublemakers” and charge them with one of a growing list of fictional offenses. The Thai government repays China by refusing to admit anyone that the Chinese Communist government does not approve of. The government recently admitted that they maintain a secret blacklist of individuals and groups who are to be taken into custody if they try to enter Thailand and, if China requests, sent to China (even if the blacklisted travelers are not citizens of China). The Thai military government also publically backs Chinese claims to the South China Sea. Most Thais oppose Chinese territorial claims and are uncomfortable about being this cooperative with their overbearing neighbor. China is now the third largest foreign investor in Thailand and is encouraging Chinese firms seeking overseas locations for production facilities to pay special attention to Thailand (which is not as cheap as nearby Vietnam, Burma or Cambodia but is now officially recognized inside China as more “Chinese friendly.”)

September 29, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) Islamic terrorists shot dead a female gas station attendant and placed a remote controlled bomb nearby. When police showed up the Islamic terrorist set off the bomb, wounding three police, two local defense volunteers and a civilian. Elsewhere in the south (Narathiwat province) ten armed Islamic terrorists attacked a school guarded by three local defense volunteers, killing one and wounding the others. The attackers promptly fled on five motorcycles with the assault rifles (an M-16 and two AK-47s) the volunteers were armed with. This was a bold operation because police or soldiers are quick to respond to any attack on schools (which Islamic terrorists oppose because they teach secular subjects and most of the staff are not Moslem). All Thais, including most of the southern Moslems, disapprove of attacks on schools especially when they wound or kill children (as one recent attack in the south did).

September 23, 2016: In the south (Yala province) Islamic terrorists used a roadside bomb and gunfire to kill three policemen and wound another.

September 21, 2016: The navy commissioned the HTMS Laemsing, first of four M58 type ships built (at a shipyard outside Bangkok) to replace an aging fleet of patrol vessels built in the 1990s and earlier. The 520 ton M58 type ship cost about $30 million and is also offered to export customers by the Thai builder. Over a dozen smaller patrol boats are being built locally as well.

China agreed to the lower price for a joint Thai-China railroad project. Back in March Thailand told China the deal had to be renegotiated, mainly because it was too expensive. China has now basically agreed to the terms Thailand insisted on. Thus Thailand will build a rail line of their own design and finance it themselves with some technical assistance and financing help from China. This will enable China to construct a 900 kilometer rail line from the Laotian border to Bangkok. China hopes to have the new railway operational by the early 2020s. 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. After the Thais walked away after two years of negotiations China quietly resumed negotiations and ultimately agreed to comply with the Thai preferences.

September 17, 2015: In the south (Yala province) police attempted to arrest Sorbri Buenae, a known Islamic terrorist suspected of involvement with a series of bombings last August in tourist areas outside the three Moslem provinces. The suspect resisted arrest and after a ten minute gun battle was killed.

September 15, 2016: The military government announced a new organization to handle the security and economic efforts undertaken to deal with the separatist unrest in the three southern Moslem provinces.

September 8, 2016: In the south (Pattani province) a roadside bomb attacked a police vehicle escorting teachers to work. Two policemen were wounded. In neighboring Songkhla province a similar attack missed the police vehicle and instead wounded a civilian in the vehicle behind the target. Only about 25 percent of the people in Songkhla are Moslems. Moreover they speak Thai rather than Malay and have not shown any support for Moslem separatism. Despite that police earlier warned that some of the Islamic terrorists to the south have discussed carrying out attacks in nearby non-Moslem provinces.

 

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