Tongue-Thai'ed - With 'love' from Bangkok to Beijing

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 6, 2015

"If I were a woman I will fall in love with his excellency" - Thai Foreign Minister Thanasak Patimapakorn _____________________________

This is part XXXI of “Tongue-Thai’ed!”, an ongoing series where we collect the most baffling, ridiculous, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures. Check out all past entries here.

It is no big secret that ever since Thailand's military seized power in a hostile takeover with the coup of May 2014, the military junta would face big challenges - among them, on the diplomatic world stage. Thailand just narrowly avoided becoming a pariah state among Western countries (we reported) only because it is still a (geo-)strategically important stakeholder in Southeast Asia. But all the rather soft and symbolic sanctions still couldn't avert Bangkok's diplomatic pivot towards Russia and especially towards China.

We reported back in December:

(...) it did not come as a surprise when then-army chief and still-to-this-day-junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha greeted Chinese businessmen as his first guests shortly after the coup of May 22 in an effort to woo investors back to the country and help jump start Thailand’s struggling economy. That was shortly followed by a visit of Thai military commanders to China.

Other bilateral meetings between Prayuth and Chinese leaders took place during the Asia-Europe Meeting in October, where he met China’s premier Li Keqiang and a month later at the APEC Conference hosted in Beijing with president Xi Jingping. The latter would welcomePrayuth again to the Chinese capital last week, where both countries signed a memorandum of understanding to develop and build a “medium-speed” rail network linking the countries.

"Thai junta seeks deeper ‘China pivot’, lauds Beijing’s leadership style", Siam Voices, December 29, 2014

Since then, the Thai military government has made more advances towards Beijing by fulfilling the navy's long-held dream of buying submarines from China worth $1bn - even though the purchase is on hold for now - while around the same time controversially deporting around 100 Uighur muslims to China.

But what's strikes a bigger chord with the Thai generals is China's authoritarian one-party rule in exchange for economic propensity.

So, it came to no surprise when the Thai military's Foreign Minister General Thanasak Patimaprakorn was full of praise for China again, as expressed earlier this week at an ASEAN forum in Kuala Lumpur...

At a joint press conference in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday, Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn made a surprise declaration while standing on a podium with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

"If I were a woman I will fall in love with his excellency," he told reporters in English, much to the surprise of China’s top foreign envoy who appeared somewhat unsure how to respond. (...)

"Let’s say we are so close, we are more than friends, just say we are cousins with a long history together," he said.

"We don’t talk diplomatic talk, we talks like personal, like family, like friend," he added.

"Thai junta envoy admits crush on China", AFP, August 5, 2015

Well, that got awkward pretty quickly...

Also, why the need to change gender to express your love? There's no need to be ashamed of expressing one's man crush. And even if the probably biggest one-sided declaration of bromance on the diplomatic stage has been so far not reciprocated, this will most likely not the last we hear of it.

Thai junta seeks deeper 'China pivot', lauds Beijing's leadership style

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 29, 2014 Thai prime minister and junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinxing during APAC Bilateral Meeting at the Great Hall of the People on November 9, 2014 in Beijing, China. (Picture: Facebook/Khaosod)

Thailand's military government is seemingly seeking closer ties with China, as seen with the approval of a big infrastructure project and some odd words by Thai junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha.

It is no big surprise that Thailand is not on best terms with some countries since the coup and still has an uphill task to gain the international reputation and respect it craves, despite being an authoritarian military government that does not tolerate dissent and continues to move the date for promised elections further and further into 2016.

With many relations - especially with Western countries - decidedly chilly (we reported), Thailand is looking closer to home for allies. We have previously reported that neighboring Cambodia and Burma have welcomed the military junta and gave their amicable endorsement of the new regime. And while it has maintained the familiar official stance talking to those countries that "understand" Thailand and those who "don't understand" (read: all those that condemned the coup), it nonetheless tries to play nice with countries that play a crucial economic role, especially with Thailand's biggest foreign investor Japan.

The other regional superpower Thailand's junta has been trying to court is China. Given that nearly all Western countries - especially the United States - have downgraded (but not completely given up due to strategic reasons) their relations with Thailand since the coup, it did not come as a surprise when then-army chief and still-to-this-day-junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha greeted Chinese businessmen as his first guests shortly after the coup of May 22 in an effort to woo investors back to the country and help jump start Thailand's struggling economy. That was shortly followed by a visit of Thai military commanders to China.

Other bilateral meetings between Prayuth and Chinese leaders took place during the Asia-Europe Meeting in October, where he met China's premier Li Keqiang and a month later at the APEC Conference hosted in Beijing with president Xi Jingping. The latter would welcome Prayuth again to the Chinese capital last week, where both countries signed a memorandum of understanding to develop and build a "medium-speed" rail network linking the countries.

And it was after that most recent visit General Prayuth Prayuth said in his weekly TV address last Friday:

"I spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping and he told me that 60 years ago his country was (one of) the poorest in the world. In 30 years they were able to make their country a world economic superpower," Prayuth said. "But we are still bickering amongst ourselves."

"Thai leader cites China as positive example in year-end message", Reuters, December 25, 2014

It's not so much the envy towards China's economic growth and power that is striking, but the apparent perception by the junta leader that the "bickering" in the Thai political discourse is what's holding us back. One could mark this down as yet another of the half-baked throwaway thoughts that General Prayuth has become quite (in)famous for. He essentially ignores the fact this "bickering" is in fact the political discourse that in the past decade has turned into an ongoing crisis mostly because of the refusal of the politically established elite to accommodate a changing social and political landscape, as this blog has debated for years and most recently here. Also, it doesn't help that the junta is intolerant of dissent and criticism, as evident in yet another blow-out by Prayuth against the press, threatening to shut shut dissenting outlets down - a threat supported by his deputy.

Nevertheless, Prayuth's remark also hints at a genuine reverence towards an effective, authoritarian one-party rule in exchange for economic propensity. With the junta currently sitting comfortably in power (in part thanks to ongoing martial law)  and pushing its political "reforms" through appointed bodies, it can consider implementing some of these elements, as the some of the constant chatter from the Constitutional Drafting Committee suggests:

ส่วน คสช.จะทำหน้าที่ต่อไป โดยอาจปรับเปลี่ยนใหม่ อาจเป็นรูปแบบของ "คณะกรรมการพิทักษ์รัฐธรรมนูญ" เพื่อดูแลการทำงานของรัฐบาล ซึ่งจะมีลักษณะคล้ายกับรูปแบบของกรรมการโปลิตบูโร

Concerning the future of the “National Council for Peace and Order” [NCPO, the junta's official name], it may be transformed into something like a "Committee to Protect the Constitution" that oversees the work of the government,  similar to a politburo.

"สะพัด! คสช.เสนอโมเดลใหม่! สส.ลต.รวมสว.สรรหา 500 คน-ให้คสช.อยู่ต่อ ควบคุมรัฐบาล", Matichon, December 23, 2014

A politburo is an executive committee usually found in one-party-ruled, communist countries like, guess what, China! Now, the idea here seems to be more that the junta will remain to co-exist beside a partially or fully elected parliament and would hawkishly watch over the government.

With the number of possible partners abroad ever dwindling - in contrast with the foreign minister stating that Thailand is getting "due recognition" by "4.7bn" of the world that support the junta "100 per cent" - Thailand's military junta hopes that its relationship with China may be its ace in the hole. But that may turn out to be a zero-sum game because, as The Economist argued, in the end China has nothing significant to gain or to lose from this relationship, while the junta is under more pressure (especially domestically) to deliver on all fronts.

As the New York Times implies: Does Thailand expel journalists like China?

Originally published at Siam Voices on May 10, 2012 The New York Times/International Herald Tribune wrote a blog post on Wednesday that compares two recent developments in China and Thailand, while it may or may not (unintentionally) mislead readers in the first lines:

China’s expulsion of the correspondent for Al Jazeera — a move seen as reprehensible by supporters of press freedoms and the right of dissent — has parallels in other parts of Asia.

Three of the 10 most heavily censored countries in the world are in Asia — North Korea, Uzbekistan and Myanmar, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. China and Vietnam also drew condemnation from the group, which said, “By exporting censorship techniques, China plays a particularly harmful role worldwide.”

"China’s Expulsion of Journalist Has Parallels in Thailand", International Herald Tribune, May 9, 2012

The article then makes quite a jump from talking about the correspondent's expulsion from China and dives down into the numerous Thai cases showcasing the steady decline of freedom of expression: the death of 'Uncle SMS' earlier this week, Chiranuch Premchaiporn's trial, Joe Gordon's imprisonment, thousands upon thousands of websites being blocked (even though the numbers differ) and lèse majesté in general - all cases that might be familiar to most readers of this blog.

The attention by the international media on Thailand's continuous oppression against those seeking to voice their opinion freely and the dire need for legal amendments has rightfully increased again recently with the death of Amphon 'Uncle SMS' Tangnoppakul - marking the first victim of the lèse majesté law to die during imprisonment - and so did this IHT blog post, which shows that the atrocities in Thailand can be compared to those in China.

However, leading in with the story of Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan and her expulsion from China and headlining to draw parallels to Thailand may or may not lead readers to believe that this post hints that Thailand is also dealing with its foreign correspondents the same cold and cynical way as the People's Republic.

If memory serves me right, despite its tendencies, Thailand has not officially to revoke a foreign journalist's visa yet in recent years. That does not mean, however, that the Kingdom has always been kind to them. In a way, there have been a few cases in recent years that have exposed various Thai authorities putting pressure, if not even downright intimidating, foreign reporters.

In 2002, two journalists from the Far Eastern Economic Review, Shawn Crispin and Rodney Tasker, got themselves into hot water after publishing an article about possible tensions between then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (not the biggest fan of a critical press as well, especially if it's against him and his business ventures) and the King - which led to the issue being banned and...

Thai immigration authorities threatened to expel two foreign correspondents from the Hong Kong-based Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) on the grounds that they endanger national security. Crispin, the magazine's bureau chief, and correspondent Tasker, who is also president of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand, received an official notice revoking their visas dated February 22, the same day that Thai-language newspapers carried stories saying that the police had placed the two reporters on a blacklist. The magazine's publisher, Philip Revzin, and editor-in-chief, Michael Vatikiotis, were also named in the blacklist circulated to Thai media outlets. (...)

Interior Minister Purachai Piemsomboon, who must formally sign any deportation order, told reporters that it was purely an immigration issue. "This matter has nothing to do with prime minister's personal anger over FEER," Purachai told The Associated Press. "Please do not speculate that the government has ordered the police to do such kind of thing."

"Attacks on the Press 2002: Thailand", Committee to Project Journalists

Their case was probably the closest in recent years to journalists being expelled from Thailand.

Another example highlights some intimidating measures Thai authorities have taken with foreign reporters. German journalist Florian Witulski wrote a detailed blog post on his ordeal to get a work permit and a journalist visa, where the officers have asked him some uncomfortable questions:

Surprise No 1: One of the first critical questions was what my view on the monarchy was. I was clearly asked if I had problems with the King or the monarchy in general.

Surprise No 2: They were very serious in asking me why I am focusing on human rights & censorship and why I didn’t want to cover politics in my home country of Germany instead of Thailand.

After these questions were asked there was a glimpse of clarity for me when they referred to a report from the MICT (Ministry of Information & Technology) about my blog being blocked two times before. I explained to them that I was not aware of writing anything offending in regards to the monarchy (lese majeste laws). I also never changed any content after publishing to appease them and bring the blog back, and yet it never stayed blocked for long.

A file with my name on it was opened and I could not believe my ears when I heard the quotes. The official was reading out selections from my blog posts & tweets (some of them over a year old). The content was mostly about critical issues within Thai culture, the monarchy or Thai politics.

"Thai Work Permit:Lese Majeste & Hidden Observers",, July 17, 2011

To add injury to insult, the immigration officers have left him out hanging to dry for weeks and weeks until he finally got his permit and visa. Several colleagues have told me that this 'practice' is not an exception.

One correspondent that eventually got chased out of Thailand actually happened without the (apparent) help of any officials or authorities. Criticized for their 'biased' coverage of the anti-government red shirt protests of 2010, CNN and their correspondent Dan Rivers have been disproportionately witch-hunted by many angry Thai netizens, spearheaded by a fault-ridden open letter that got much, much traction - especially by the folks over at The Nation...! Eventually, Rivers left Thailand and CNN have abandoned their Bangkok bureau - which could have been a source for somewhat erroneous reporting in the following years.

To answer the question that has been raised earlier and that was mistakenly implied by the IHT title whether or not Thailand has expelled foreign journalists in the same fashion as they did with Melissa Chan in China: No! However, these numerous cases show that Thai authorities always have ways to put pressure on them, not realizing that such actions will only backfire and hurt Thailand's international image even more in the process.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention the case of the BBC's Jonathan Head, who has been hit with a lèse majesté complaint and moved to Turkey in 2009. Read more about his case here.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and on Facebook here.

WikiLeaks: China About Post-Coup Thailand 2007

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 15, 2010 While most of the media focussing on the trials and controversies over it's founder Julian Assange (he's been granted bail by the way, in case you haven't heard yet), the whistle-blowing site WikiLeaks has been steadily, albeit slowly, uploading US diplomat cables. So far, there have been almost 1500 documents leaked and only 2 were from the US embassy in Bangkok. Nevertheless there have been Thailand-related cables popping up from other places, where diplomats from regional neighbors have been chiming on Thailand - some of them quite explosive (see Bangkok Pundit's posts here, here and here).

Over the weekend, a cable from Beijing, classified as 'secret' appeared on the site describing a meeting in March 2007 between Chinese diplomats and Eric G. John, then Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asian Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs and current ambassador to Thailand. Apart from mainly talking about Myanmar, the cable also reveals this:

Reinforcing Democracy in Post-Coup Thailand

20. Thailand has a long history of peaceful democracy, which is in China's interest to support, DG Hu said. While not an ideal turn of events, the September 2006 coup emanated from "very specific circumstances" and did not involve violence, DG Hu said. Noting that he had just returned from Thailand, DG Hu quipped that, even with the coup, Thailand is still more democratic than Singapore, highlighting his belief that the coup was an aberration in Thai politics rather than a signal of long-term change. Still, given the recent resignation of former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Pridiyathorn Thewakun and [...], Beijing is closely monitoring the political situation in Bangkok. China has invited Thai Prime Minister Surayut Chulanon [sic!] to visit China in late May and hopes to use the visit as an opportunity to demonstrate Beijing's support for a stable, peaceful transition of power in Thailand, DG Hu said.

07BEIJING1448, DAS JOHN DISCUSSES BURMA, SOUTHEAST ASIA WITH AFM, created 2007-03-05 12:12, via WikiLeaks

Then-interim prime minister Surayud Chulanont indeed visited China in May 2007, but apart from some agreements, nothing really substantial to this story happened there.

The remarks by the Chinese diplomats reflect what many probably were thinking shortly after the coup that this was a short period of transition, a carte blanche, a reset of Thai politics if you will - even it was clear (at least in hindsight) that the Thai military was regaining long-lasting political influence. May be that Chinese diplomat now thinks otherwise.