Germany

Yingluck's European tour: Strictly business as usual

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 23, 2012

Thailand's Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited Germany and France last week, her first visit to Europe since she took office a year ago. While the trip was primarily aimed at improving economic ties and regaining confidence among investors from the two most important economies in the European Union for the Thai government, other issues, such as the still unstable political situation and the continuously deteriorating freedom of speech, were mentioned in passing at best.

Over the course of five days, Yingluck completed a packed itinerary with lots of meetings and shaking hands with government officials, dignitaries and business representatives. She was accompanied by her entourage, including Foreign Minister Surapong Towijakchaikul,  and Suranand Vejjajiva, who know works for the government as her secretary-general. She also had 73 Thai private sector representatives in tow, underlining the main emphasis of this trip.

The first destination was the German capital Berlin, where she met with Chancellor Angela Merkel who greeted her with customary military honors at the Chancellery  for a working lunch and a joint press conference - which was pretty much the only chance for the German press to see her. Not much was reported about it - despite the fact it is the first visit by a Thai Prime Minister to Germany since 1995 and the German-Thai diplomatic relations are celebrating their 150th anniversary, as emphasized by both leaders. That said, the German media generally pays little attention to Southeast Asia (unless it is about Burma and involves Aung San Suu Kyi),

And so the official website of the Chancellery was the only outlet where interested followers could see the full press conference, which is available in German only. In the 17 minutes long presser, the German leader outlined the economic ties between the two countries pointing out that Germany is the "most important economical partner in the EU" and with about "600 German companies" already in the Kingdom, not to mention a popular tourist destination. The most important and interesting issue during this press conference and the meeting in general was the call to speed up the process for an ASEAN-EU free trade agreement, something Merkel has been advocating for some time already.

Prime Minister Yingluck said the two leaders have "trust in each other" and that the two countries will expand their relations "on all issues" including democratization, rule of law and human rights - which was pretty much one of the very few times these three words have been mentioned publicly during this trip. In general, nothing much else was talked about and the interest by the German press was virtually non-existent, as there was only one question directed to Yingluck by a Thai journalist and the other German colleagues asking Chancellor Merkel about the Euro crisis and the situation in Syria - and also a female reporter gushing over the apparent women power present at the stage (we talked about Yingluck and the issue with feminism before here and here).

And with that there was subsequently very much nothing reported in the German media outlets and the rest of Yingluck's stay in Germany can only be reconstructed via the official Flickr account of the Prime Minister (a great source for press photos licensed under Creative Commons btw!). Nevertheless, some interesting notes can be made from them: from giving a speech to a business forummeeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, and meeting Thai citizens in Germany at the Thai Embassy and also at a Thai Buddhist temple during a short sojourn to Munich.

Yingluck also met with a group of German MPs dubbed the "Friends of Thailand" consisting of the German-ASEAN parliamentary group. But the picture also shows another familiar face: the grey-haired man left from the table with the water bottles is Michael Glos, MP of the conservative Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), who has been to Thailand earlier this year. Glos also belongs to a group of conservative MPs that have lobbied at the Foreign Ministry to revoke the entry ban of former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last year and have been campaigning for a policy change towards Thailand with "Thaksin as a strong figure" (we reported).

On Thursday, Yingluck traveled to France to do essentially the same: meeting with President François Hollande to talk about economy and ASEAN and meeting with business representatives to drum the roll for French investors. However the small difference was the slightly higher media coverage in France: the Prime Minister gave interviews to Le Figaro - where she was also asked about the role of the non-democratic militaryher usual denial over changing anything about lèse majesté and her rejection over the notion that she's the puppet of her bigger brother - and a TV interview with France 24, recorded before her departure.

The trip ended on Sunday and a pleased Prime Minister announced on her own TV show that it was a good opportunity to build trust and goodwill towards Thailand and its economy. For the two European heavyweights, ASEAN is likely to be a majore economic partner in the not-so-distant future as both sides have strong interest in a free-trade agreement. However, the question remains about Thailand's role because, contrary to what Yingluck told Merkel and Hollande, the political outlook for the Kingdom looks less than stable and still could drive investors away to regional neighbors, despite all the efforts to mask a long-simmering political crisis as a short-term problem. For the economic and political future, Thailands needs strong partners like the EU, but do these strong countries equally need Thailand that much?

Thai delegation examines alternatives to nuclear power in Germany

Originally published at Siam Voices on March 5, 2012 Note: This article was originally published in German on February 9, 2012 and written for the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, the political foundation affiliated to German Green Party.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011 has raised doubts over the security and reliability of nuclear power once again and showed that even in a highly advanced country like Japan such accidents can happen.

Shortly thereafter, the German Federal Government reversed a recently made decision to extend the running period of nuclear power plants and, as the world's first industrial nation, wants to end its dependency on nuclear energy by 2022. Meanwhile in Thailand, the plans to build such nuclear power plants was still openly considered to meet the increasing energy demand, where natural gas is the main source to generate electricity, followed by coal and imported electricity from neighboring Laos and Malaysia.

More important is the development of alternative energy sources. But only 1.6 per cent of the country's electricity comes from renewable energy. That is not enough, say environmental activists and experts for alternative energy. In a cooperation between the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin and the regional office in Bangkok, a Thai delegation of experts on renewable energy and energy market regulation traveled to Germany to learn more about the energy turnaround and the challenges that comes with it.

Petra Zimmermann, project coordinator for Southeast Asia at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, says: "The aim of this trip was to inform the members of the delegation as much as possible about the challenges of Germany's energy turnaround and the implementation of the transition, especially on the legislative level."

On the program were meetings and panel discussions with proponents (such as the Federal Association for Wind Energy, Greenpeace and the Citizens' Group of Asse) and critics (German Atomic Forum) of the energy turnaround.

Civil movements brought in the change

One of the most crucial lessons is the involvement of civic society in the turnaround. "At first I thought that the Federal Government themselves took the initiative - very progressive," says Rosana Tositrakul. The Thai senator was a long-time environmental activist and now tries to path the way for renewable energy on the political level. "But now I see that it was civil movements that pressured the stakeholders," she adds.

Santisukh Sobhanasiri, another Thai veteran activist and now an advisor to several Senate committees, agrees with her: "The work of citizens' groups seems to be more systematic and steady. They succeeded to work together with the policy makers and in the end brought in the change."

Many delegates lament the lack of cooperation. Boonyuen Siritam works as the head of the Provincial Power Consumers Commission of Ratchaburi Province in favor for the people's participation in the regulation of the energy market: "We cannot wait for politicians until they have passed some bills, because there is no green, environmental party. But we need green citizens, with whom we can work together on a legislative initiative."

Her colleague Wanun Permpubul from the Heinrich Böll Foundation's regional office in Bangkok recalls some citizens' movements, especially from the South, which have been successful in the past, but on a national level not all are equally effective. Nevertheless, she sees great potential for alternative sources of energy, such as solar cells. "The more important it is that more people are involved to give the push into the right direction and to make a change in the energy policy possible."

However, it also needs a rethinking in society, says Lieutenant Commander Borpit Thossatheppitak of the Royal Thai Navy's research and development department. "Here in Germany, people are being made aware of the environment from very early on. For example, kids in school learn about such things like waste separation and that stays on over the course of their lives. Thailand has still a lot to catch up in that regard."

Another hurdle in Thailand for an energy change is politics and the legislation when it comes to energy issues. "It has always been difficult to work with the Thai government, no matter who was in power," says Saree Aongsomwang, general-secretary  of the  Federation of Consumer Protection.

Local energy supply as a role model

Also on the program was a visit to the town of Dardesheim in the state of Saxony-Anhalt, central Germany, which gets its energy from 33 nearby wind turbines at the Windpark Druiberg - it produces more energy than the 1000 inhabitants consume within a year.

Boonyuen sees this kind of energy supply for small communities as an ideal role model for Thailand and goes even one step further: "The goal of our organization is that villages are able to supply themselves with energy from local, renewable sources - independent from energy companies, who would take away the properties of the residents to build a power plant on it."

One point of concern is that after the nuclear phaseout this very technology could be exported abroad to build nuclear power plants elsewhere. Thailand recently had several offers from China, Norway, France and especially South Korea.

In the end, Thailand's nuclear ambitions were for now pushed to 2026 after heavy criticism in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. "We hope that until then Thailand will not go the nuclear route," says Senator Rosana at the end of the week-long delegation trip.

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

2011 - Some Personal Thoughts

Originally published at Siam Voices on December 31, 2011 2011 is history and looking back on Thailand this past year, it has been yet another eventful year that brought some answers, but many more questions to the wide-spread problems that continues to plague the country in many aspects. However, 2011 brought many chances and changes, shed light on issues and topics left in the dark before, voices echoed by many and opinions uttered by a few, whether you agree with them or not.

This is a (definitely incomplete) list of these stories that happened in 2011...

Lèse majesté sees December surge

Let's start off with the most recent topic that has unfortunately brought Thailand into the world headlines for all the wrong reasons again and that is none other than the problematic issue of lèse majesté that is gripping freedom of speech. The whole month of December was filled with stories about high-profile cases and countless victims of this draconian law, the discussion to amend it and the (irrational) defenders of this law and the institution that is meant to be protected by it.

The recent surge of lèse majesté began in late November with the dubious sentence against Ampon "Uncle SMS" Tangnoppakul, despite doubtful evidence. The 62-year old grandfather is now being jailed for 20 years, five years for each alleged SMS sent. On December 8 the Thai-born US citizen was  sentenced to two and a half years prison for posting translated parts of a banned biography on the King. On December 15 'Da Torpedo', despite winning an appeal resulting in a restart of her trial, was punished to 15 years prison for alleged remarks made in 2008. These are just a few cases that happened in November and December compared to the countless other (partly ongoing or pending) cases over the past 12 months.

But the surge was also accompanied with growing and publicly displayed concern by the European Union, the United Nations and the United States Embassy in Bangkok over the increasing blatant usage of the lèse majesté law, only with the latter to be flooded with irrational, angry hate speeches and also the venue for a protest by royalists in mid-December (and also in a nearly instant iconic display of royal foolishness, the protesters are wearing Guy Fawkes masks, most likely inspired by the #Occupy-movement, but totally oblivious to its historical roots). It was not the first time this year that this issue got attention from the international community, as seen in October.

The government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra was elected into office last July (see below), and while she would have liked to see some change on the application of the law, not to the law itself though, the new ICT minister has vowed to exploit this to the fullest. He was only to be topped by deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung a few months later, who went into full combat mode and declared war on lèse majesté web content with a THB400m ($12,6m) strong war chest, right after a meeting with the military's top brasses. The hopes of many supporters of the Pheu Thai Party, especially the red shirts, are at latest by now fully gone, as this government already has a tainted record on this issue.

But there was also an important protest by opponents of lèse majesté - the "Fearlessness Walk" shows that this issue can no longer be ignored and the consequences of its enforcement are doing exactly the opposite of what it is supposed to do. It is drawing attention to the ambiguous nature of Article 112 of the criminal code (as well as the Computer Crimes Act), it is drawing attention to the signs of changing times and those who refuse to see them, and ultimately it will draw more opposition - we will (unfortunately) hear more about this issue in 2012!

(Non-)Culture: Baring the unbearable and monopolizing "Thai"-ness

While we're on the subject on being subjected to the anachronistic ideas of a few, there were several stories in 2011 in the realms of culture that were disconcerting, to say the least. It wasn't so much the incidents themselves rather the reactions by those self-proclaimed cultural heralds of everything "Thai"-ness - a phrase I've been using too often in each of those stories: three girls dancing topless on Songkran, the then-culture minister calls for a crackdown on them as if they have attacked everything "Thai"-ness stands for. A few months later the same culture minister suddenly notices that infidels foreigners are getting Buddhist tattoos and calls for a ban (and back paddles after some considerable uproar). Shortly after his ministry senselessly attempts to crack down on a senseless internet meme because it's "inappropriate" and "not constructive". Later this year a rather curious guide for parents was published on their website. And finally a singer's rather raunchy video gets a ton of hits online and a sanctimonious scolding on national TV.

See a pattern here? The selective outcry borders on ridiculousness and fuels Thailand’s National Knee-Jerk Outrage Machine (“กลไกสร้างปฏิกิริยาอย่างไร้ความยั้งคิดแห่งประเทศไทย”, trademark pending), claims to uphold the only valid definition of "Thai"-ness, that isn't even fully spelled out yet, while they have not noticed that the world beyond their minds has moved on and come up with new and different definitions of what else Thailand could be. The problem is that these cultural heralds, by political office or class, claim monopoly on this. Everyone below their wage level is not entitled to even think about it. And if something doesn't fit their point of view, as guest contributor Kaewmala put it brilliantly, "Only taboo when it's inconvenient!"

The 2011 General Elections

Will he or will he not? In the end, Abhisit Vejjajiva did dissolve parliament and paved the way for early elections in May and also set off quite a short campaign season, which not only saw a few strange election posters and illustrious characters running for office, but it also saw the emergence of Yingluck Shinawatra as the lucky draw for PM candidate of the opposition Pheu Thai Party. After much skyping to Dubai discussion within the party, the sister of Thaksin was chosen to run and it turned out to be the best pick.

The Democrat Party were banking heavily on negative campaigning (a precursor to the upcoming, inevitable Thaksin-phobia in 2012), which reached its climax in the last days with their rally at Rajaprasong, the same venue where the red shirts protested a year ago. In this event, then-deputy prime minister Suthep Thuangsuban claimed to give the "full truth" on what really happened during the violent crackdown of May 19, 2010. What followed were hours of fear-mongering in case of a Pheu Thai win and an incident that almost caused a major misunderstanding:

The big screens flanking the stage on the left and the right are bearing a gruesome view. Footage of at times badly injured people from last year’s rally are being shown when suddenly at the sight of blood people started cheering – as it turns out, not for the brutally killed victims of the anti-governments protests of 2010, but for a woman with an Abhisit cut-out mask waving to the crowd behind her.

"Thailand’s Democrat Party rally: Reclaiming (the truth about) Rajaprasong", Siam Voices, June 24, 2011

The last days of the campaign were spent outside of Bangkok, for example Pheu Thai in Nakhon Ratchasima before the big day. On Sunday, July 3, election day of course meant a full-day-marathon for a journalist. Not only did it mean covering as many polling stations around town as humanly possible, not only to crunch the numbers of exit polls (which turned out to be total BS!), but also of course running the live-blog at Siam Voices. In the end, it went very quickly: Abhisit conceded, Yingluck smiled and at a lunch meeting later there was already a new five-party coalition.

The worst floods in decades: a deluge of irrationality

790.

This is the current death toll of the what has been described as the "worst floods in decades". Floods are an annual occurrence in Thailand during the rainy season. When the water was sweeping through Chiang Mai already back in late September, this natural disaster was somehow going to be different. But it took some considerable time, despite the unprecedented damage it has created in Ayutthaya to the ancient temples and the vital industrial parks, until the capital was drowned in fear of what was to come.

It was curious to observe that those who were least likely to be affected (read: central Bangkok) were losing their nerves the most. Back in November I attempted to explore one possible reason:

One of the real reasons why the people of the city react the way they did though is this: After a military coup, countless violent political protests and sieges of airports, government buildings and public roads, this city has a sense of anxiety not unlike New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: a sense of being constantly under siege by something or somebody that separates Bangkok from the rest of the country even more. An incident at Klong Sam Wa Sluice Gate (we reported) is a perfect example of the conflict between inside and outside Bangkok in miniature form.

"The Thai floods and the geographics of perception – Part 2: Certain fear of uncertainty", Siam Voices, November 23, 2011

On an anecdotal note I remember people around me hoarding bottled water, moving their belongings upstairs and barricading their houses waist-high - while I can understand these precautions, I was astonished to say the least when I started to read social media updates that accuse the government so much so to the point of deliberately drowning the people of Bangkok and other outlandish conspiracy theories, including the now ubiquitous "blame it on foreign media"-card.

There's no doubt that this natural disaster has not only shown the worst in people, but also it's helpful and charitable side (not only towards humans exclusively). During my work reporting from the floods for foreign news crews (hence there weren't many posts on Siam Voices), I admired the apparent resilience and defiance I saw from many victims of the floods - some of which are now struggling with rebuilding their lost existence. And a lot of clean-up will be needed to be done, both literally as well as politically, in order to prevent such a disaster from happening again!

What else happened in 2011? (in no particular order)

- Then-prime minister Abhisit urging then-president of Egypt Honsi Mubarak to respect the will of the people - while being totally oblivious that he exactly did not do that a year ago because, well, "They ran into the bullets" themselves!

- Half a dozen Thais walking through the border region with Cambodia and surprised that they're being arrested, in an arbitrary way to dispute the border demarcations between the two countries. This ongoing conflict, largely fueled by the ever-shrinking PAD, sparked into a brief armed battle. Two of the strollers are still sitting in a Cambodian prison.

- The one-year-anniversary of the crackdown of May 19 and my personal thoughts on this.

- The somehow strangely toned-down five-year-anniversary of the 2006 coup.

- Army chef General Prayuth Chan-ocha going completely berserk at the press.

- The fact that Thailand got its first female prime minister and the (un)surprisingly muted reactions by Thailand's feminists.

- The saga of the impounded Thai plane on German ground, the curious case study on how Thai media reported it, the juristic mud-slinging, and how this mess was eventually solved. Which brings us to...

- The German government allowing Thaksin back into Germany, after heavy campaigning by a bunch of conservative German MPs. Still boggles my mind...!

- And while we're on topic, we are saying good-bye to a regular contributor of outrageous quotes - no one has been so focused to do a different job than written his business card than Thaksin-hunter and former foreign minister in disguise Kasit Piromya!

I'd like to thank my colleagues at Siam Voices for building a diverse and opinionated collective, our editor who keeps everything in check and YOU, the readers! THANK YOU for the support, feedback, criticism, links and retweets!

Here's to an eventful, exciting 2012 that brings us news, changes, developments to discuss for all the right reasons! Happy New Year!

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist based in Hamburg, Germany again (*sigh*). He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

Now Germany and soon Japan: More countries let Thaksin back in

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 15, 2011 We all know Thailand's ex-prime minister and on-the-run fugitive, Thaksin Shinawatra, is pretty busy traveling the world ever since he's out of Thailand. When he's not at his new home base in Dubai, he mostly goes on business trips, for example in Uganda. But the list of countries he can visit has kind of shrunk, despite his new citizenship of Montenegro and his Nicaraguan diplomatic passport. For example, when Thaksin sneaked into Germany and got a permanent residence permit in late 2008, the European country had thrown him out after they have found out about it a few months later.

It is now Germany again, who has recently revoked the entry ban for Thaksin (see previous coverage here), thanks to heavy lobbying by German conservative MPs and officially to the new political “situation in Thailand”, which of course enraged chief Thaksin-hunter Thai foreign minister, Kasit Piromya, on his last days. Well, he might want to cool down now because he won't like what the Thai media have reported recently.

Matichon and Khao Sod have reported that Thaksin recently has made a trip to Germany and met Thai expat red shirts supporters there, both referring to the website "Thai Red EU" (caution: the website is overloaded with several audio livestreams going off at the same time!). According to the website, Thaksin visited Munich on August 5, on the same day that Yingluck was voted in as prime minister in parliament.

A few days later, on August 9, Thaksin arrived in Hamburg via his personal jet before he met with 'officials of the UDD EU' organization. Thaksin then attended a red shirt meeting at Wat Buddhabharami, a local Thai Buddhist temple, where a religious memorial service was held for the victims of last year's protests. In a speech after the service, he expressed delight to meet "so many Thais at once" and demanded his supporters to remain "patient" about "seeking justice". He was later seen at a Thai restaurant, dining with fellow red shirts and red organizers from many European countries such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, France and Finland. Thaksin then left Hamburg after having spent about five hours in the North-German city. (Source: YouTube video 1, video 2)

Hamburg has a well-organized group of red shirts and it is quite possibly the center of the movement in Germany. The people behind have apparently good connections to Thaksin and are also well-connected to other red shirts all over Europe (although the total number of any group has not been verified yet), as seen during their rally on the eve of the anniversary of the military coup of 2006. What is also striking is that the German red shirts have a heavy focus on Thaksin as their personal champion. When comparing the red shirt rallies worldwide on September 19, 2010, you'll see that only the rally in Hamburg has references to the former prime minister - let alone a phone-in by him.

Thaksin has also previously entered Finland in mid-July. Reporters of the Helsink-based Helsingin Sanomat have spotted Thaksin during a private shopping trip in the Finish capital and quoted him praising the Scandinavian country and to have come for "over the tenth time." Finland is part of the Schengen Agreement, which does away with the internal border controls for most of continental Europe. Friends of the infamous Finland Conspiracy will take notice of this.

In related news, the Japanese government has reportedly granted Thaksin a special entry permit. Thaksin hopes to visit the areas affected by the earthquake and tsunami later this month, since he has donated an unspecified sum for disaster relief. This comes after the new Thai foreign minister, Surapong Towijakchaikul, had politely addressed the Japanese ambassador to Thailand, whether or not Thaksin could be let in to Japan - to which the ambassador asked if Thailand would mind. It also coincides with reports from Japan that its lawmakers have expressed their wish to let Thaksin in, even having met the former prime minister before last year - see something similar here?

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

Thai govt pays €38m to Walter Bau, gets royal plane back

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 10, 2011 Bangkok Post reported on Tuesday night:

A court in Germany has released the Boeing 737 seized from HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Tuesday.

Mr Abhisit told reporters the government has posted the full 38 million euros demanded by Walter Bau company in an account to be controlled by the German court.

As a result, the court released the jet. Terms of the agreement were unclear, as was the role of Mr Abhisit.

The government used public money for the deal. (...)

"Germany 'releases royal jet'", Bangkok Post, August 9, 2011

AP's take:

A Munich airport official confirmed that German authorities on Tuesday had released the plane used by the Thai crown prince. "It has been released, he just has to tell the airport when he would like to fly," Edgar Engert, a spokesman for the airport, told The Associated Press.

"Thailand post German bond to free prince's plane", Associated Press, August 10, 2011

This is quite yet another intriguing turn of events, which probably ends an awkward spat between Thailand and Germany, that started almost a month ago over an issue that dates back even further, when a German construction firm built a tollway to Bangkok's old international airport in Don Muang in a jointventure with the Thai government. The Thai government has broken several contractual obligations, including toll hikes and not building other roads that would compete with the tollway.

This German construction firm later merged with Walter Bau AG, another German construction firm that went bankrupt in 2005 - it was then when liquidator Werner Schneider found the old contract and demanded compensation from the Thai government. An international arbitration court ruled against Thailand in 2009 and ordered them to pay €30m ($42m or THB 1,2bn) - which has grown to almost €38m thanks to interests and the Thai government simply ignoring the order for years.

That's when Werner Schneider had enough, decided to up the ante against the Thai government and seeked to impound the Boeing 737 of Thai Crown HRH Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. That set off a bilateral spat in which Thailand, partly thanks to the confusing domestic media coverage, but also active disinformation and an apparent failure to distinguish a German court from the German government, had a weak case on their hands in not only trying to release the plane, but also fight against the order to pay the hefty sum to WalterBau AG.

The main legal battle focussed on whether or not the royal 737 plane is owned by the Thai government or is personal property of the Crown Prince. A German court has then decided to release the plane only for a €20m ($28.4 or THB 851m) deposit, which still kinda led some Thai news outlets to believe that the plane is actually freed, since there has been no verdict on the ownership status, which was supposed to take place later this August at a German court.

The lastest developments (which were also the last acts of the now former Thai government of Abhisit Vejjajiva and then-foreign minister Kasit Piromya) consisted of who was going to pay. Of course, it started off with Kasit refusing to pay the deposit, the Crown Prince then announced to pay from his own fund, to which Kasit was suddenly ready to flip the bill so the Crown Prince doesn't have to until Abhisit overruled him and said no - as summarized here by Bangkok Pundit.

Now apparently the Thai government is actually paying the whole bill to Walter Bau after all. But why so suddenly? Was it an attempt to score one last 'victory' by the outgoing government by not only getting the royal plane back? Was the realization that the 'new information' presented to the German courts was neither new nor informative enough to be in favor of the Thai government? Apparently the Thai side ran out of arguments:

DLA Piper, the law firm representing Thailand in the case, said the country is committed to honoring its obligations and wants to rule out premature actions against assets of it or others.

"Thailand has strong grounds for challenging the confirmation of the award," a DLA Piper lawyer, Frank Roth, said in the firm's statement. "However, if the Berlin court finally concludes that the award against the Kingdom of Thailand is enforceable, the Kingdom of Thailand has made the funds available."

"Thailand post German bond to free prince's plane", Associated Press, August 10, 2011

This statement by this law firm is particularly interesting, since just a week ago they have released a press release sounding very confident and trying to convince that the €20m deposit to be a 'victory'. But according to one Thai official, this whole thing is not done yet:

Thai Foreign Ministry official Chavanond Intarakomalyasut said a German court ordered the release of the aircraft Tuesday after the Thai government posted a 38 million euro ($54 million) bond, equal to the Walter Bau claim.

He said Thailand would continue to contest the claim on the tollway dispute until a definitive court ruling. Abhisit stepped down from the prime minister's post last week after his Democrat Party lost a July general election.

"Thailand post German bond to free prince's plane", Associated Press, August 10, 2011

Chavanond probably refers to an ongoing appeal at a New York court, even though the award itself is already final, unappealable and enforceable worldwide - the chances are reportedly 'very slim' (source) though that the Thai government would actually get anything from this procedure.

There's of course at least one Thai news outlet that gets it wrong - you can all probably guess which one it is...

German authorities have agreed to withdraw impoundment of two 737 Boeing jets belonging to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn parked at the Munich airport, after Thai government placed 38 million euros as guarantee, former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday.

The Thai embassy in Germany is working further on the issue to retrieve the two aircraft [sic!], and a lawsuit will be soon lodged with German court, said Chawanong Intharakomalsut, secretary to former foreign minister Kasit Piromya. He did not give details over which grounds over the issue the lawsuit would appeal against.

"Germans to free jet as govt pays Bt1.6-bn surety", The Nation, August 10, 2011

Wait, wait - TWO impounded planes?! Who said that TWO planes have been impounded?! Yes, there was a second Thai royal plane landing on the runway in Munich, but the German liquidator was only considering to impound the second plane - if that would have happened, we would have already known about this, if not from the Thai press, then at least the German press! Even the Thai Embassy in Berlin has said nowhere about a second plane!

This leaves now the question with what they actually mean when they said that 'public money' has been used...?

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

Tongue-Thai’ed! Part VII: Kasit’s last rant

Originally published at Siam Voices on August 2, 2011 “Tongue-Thai’ed!” encapsulates the most baffling, amusing, confusing, outrageous and appalling quotes from Thai politicians and other public figures – in short: everything we hear that makes us go “Huh?!”. Check out all past entries here.

Outgoing Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has been one of the most vocal, if not the most colorful representative of this now past government, and given his position, also the whole of Thailand. During his tenure, Kasit has surprised the public and the international community for his erratic outspokenness and apparent fixation to hunt down Thaksin. One of the most infamous flare-ups was last year, when he lashed out against half of the world and suspected a world-wide, pro-Thaksin and anti-Thailand conspiracy.

Since this is this his last day, let's look at the most likely last public comment by Kasit - unless he threw a last-minute tantrum we haven't heard about yet.

The government is demanding answers after Germany reportedly re-granted a visa to deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya yesterday said the German government should explain to the international community the reasons for its decision, after revoking Thaksin's visa in 2008. (...)

"Kasit slams German decision", Bangkok Post, July 30 2011

Hold on, hold on - who's talking about a visa here? As previously reported here (and before anybody else did), the German government has revoked the entry ban for Thaksin a few weeks ago, not a word about a visa. That is something entirely different than, say, a country inviting somebody and granting him a visa in order to be able to enter the country!

But that didn't stop him from railing on:

Mr Kasit said the Germans were pursuing a double standard.

The German government had called on the Thai government to respect its law and justice system, after the German court seized a Thai Boeing 737 owned by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn at Munich airport.

"But in Thaksin's criminal case, the German government cites the changing political climate here as the basis for re-granting a visa to him," said Mr Kasit. (...)

"Kasit slams German decision", Bangkok Post, July 30 2011

Again, it's not a visa! Kasit is referring to a statement by the German Embassy in Bangkok made last week in connection to the Walter Bau saga that has become the impounded plane saga. It is one thing when government or its embassy comments on a certain issue or case, it is another thing though if a government refuses to follow a verdict by an international tribunal and also not fully explain the pending appeal at a New York court (more details at Bangkok Pundit).

For the double standard accusation, even Thai officials disagree with him:

Attorney-General Julasing Wasantasing said it was Germany's right to decide whether to allow Thaksin to enter the country. The Thai government could not interfere, he said.

"Thaksin no longer banned from Germany, says Noppadon", The Nation, July 30 2011

Kasit concludes his rant:

"The German government was pressured by one of its coalition parties from the southern part of [Germany]," he said. Someone wanted to give Thaksin the right to re-enter the country. "I requested a meeting with members of that [German] party, but they refused to meet me."

"Kasit slams German decision", Bangkok Post, July 30 2011

He is right about the intense lobbying by conservative, Bavarian MPs which is undoubtedly very, very fishy and doesn't make those MPs look good. On the other hand, given Kasit's reputation (not only during his tenure as ambassador to Germany), it is hardly surprising why that German party had refused to him.

And now for the punchline:

Germany is obliged to answer why it appears sensitive to 15 million votes cast for a party to take power but ignores opposing votes, he said.

"Thaksin no longer banned from Germany, says Noppadon", The Nation, July 30 2011

Oh farewell, Foreign Minister Kasit - your tirades will be missed...!

Just because we will have a new government, it doesn't mean they all suddenly stop saying stupid things. If you come across any verbosities that you think might fit in here send us an email at siamvoices [at] gmail.com or tweet us @siamvoices.

Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and journalist currently based in Bangkok, Thailand. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith and now also on his public Facebook page here.

Conservative German MPs help Thaksin enter Germany again

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 24, 2011 The Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper reports that former fugitive prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is allowed to enter Germany again. Some excerpts from the newspaper:

Thaksin Shinawatra can enter Germany again. The entry ban against Thaksin, in effect since 2006, has been already revoked on July 15 by the order of Foreign Minister Guido Westerwellse, as this paper understands. The ministerial order has been forwarded to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, which will direct all subsidiary authorities, including the federal police [which also patrols the borders of Germany], to implement the ruling immediately. (...)

The decision by Berlin, which isn't publicly known in Thailand yet, might further put a strain on the relations of both countries. (...)

The reason for the revoking of the entry ban by Germany is the "changed [political] situation in Thailand" according to government circles in Berlin.

"Thaksin darf nach Deutschland", Frankfurter Allgemeiner Zeitung, July 22, 2011 - translation by me, note: Article is behind a paywall

Even though there has been an entry ban for him since 2006, Thaksin was still able to sneak into Germany in late 2008 and even got a residency permit in Bad Godesberg, near the former Western German capital Bonn (which also happened to be the place of residency of the then-ambassador of Thailand) - with help of some very suspicious German friends, including a former spy, a former local police chief, a lawyer and with recommendation letters of conservative German MPs. Both state and federal authorities were unaware about Thaksin's sojourn to Germany, even to the point blaming their own foreign intelligence agency to have helped him. When this incident came to light, the permit was immediately revoked in May 2009. This was the subject of my first ever blog post, where you can read more details about this case.

The question is now why Thaksin's entry ban has really been revoked after all? The Süddeutsche Zeitung has reported in June about increased attempts of German MPs, all apparently members of the Christian-conservative Christlich Soziale Union (the Bavarian sister-party to the nationwide, governing CDU), to convince Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (member of the center-right Freie Demokratische Partei, which is a government coalition partner) to allow Thaksin to enter the country again:

The phantom [Thaksin] also keeps the Foreign Ministry and the Chancellor's Office busy. In the past few months, several conservative politicians have campaigned behind the scenes that Thaksin can travel hassle-free to Germany again. In a comparatively diplomatic way, former Minister of Economics Michael Glos (CSU) has asked Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, if the entry ban for Thaksin still exists.

His colleague on the hand, MP Hans-Peter Uhl (CSU), is already starting to get on many diplomat's nerves with his pro-Thaksin initiatives. Several conservative politicians are campaigning in Berlin for a policy change towards Thailand, in which Thaksin should become a stronger figure again. (...)

"Thailands Ex-Premier Thaksin: Dubioser Besucher", Süddeutsche Zeitung, June 22, 2011, translation by me

The article goes on to hint at possible visits by Thaksin in the very recent past (thanks to his new citizenship of Montenegro and his Nicaraguan diplomatic passport) to meet somebody, who also visits Germany pretty often.

This reported revoking of the entry ban for Thaksin couldn't come at a worse time for Thai-German bilateral relationships, thanks to the impounded Royal Thai Air Force plane-saga (see previous coverage here and here), which by the way is apparently far from over. While most likely the Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya will fume with anger over the reports and insist that the bilateral relations will take a huge hit, more focus has to be put on the conservative German MPs.

Thailand has never prominently popped up on the radar of German foreign policy (if at all) ever since the current administration took over in 2009 (critics say that the Foreign Minister has not much interest in anything) - the more interesting it is to see the MPs pushing for a change. The questions remain though: why do they want a pro-Thaksin policy towards Thailand? What are they hoping to gain from? Were they that influential on the Foreign Ministry? And why are these all conservative MPs of a Bavarian-affiliate governing party?

One has to keep an eye on another prominent Thai's activities, who will come to Germany more often in the very near future.

The impounded Thai plane is free - but not for free

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 21, 2011 A German court has decided on the fate of a Royal Thai Air Force aircraft, belonging to Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn - or to the Thai government, depending on who you listen to - which was impounded last week by a liquidator for the bankrupt Walter Bau AG construction company. For more background, see Bangkok Pundit's posts here and here. From Reuters:

A German court on Wednesday ruled Thailand's Crown prince would have to pay a 20 million euro deposit ($28.40 million) for the return of his plane, impounded during a long running commercial dispute.

The Landshut court in Bavaria said in a statement on Wednesday the 20 million figure was based on the estimated value of the plane. It said a deposit was necessary as it had not yet decided on the ownership of the plane.

"German court wants $28 mln to free Thai prince's jet", Reuters, July 20, 2011

AFP further details the verdict:

But a court in nearby Landshut said it had received an assurance under oath from the Thai Department of Civil Aviation's director that the plane belonged to the prince, not the Thai state, as well as a 2007 registration certificate.

The vice president of the court, Christoph Fellner, said however that since these documents provided only a "presumption of ownership," 20 million euros ($28.2 million) had to be deposited in the form of a bank guarantee.

"No guarantee means no take-off," he said. "If everything goes well for the prince and we establish that the aircraft really belongs to him, than he will get his bank guarantee back."

"German court releases Thai prince's plane", AFP, July 20, 2011

In a nutshell the court gave the Thai government the benefit of the doubt over the ownership of the plane and if this assurance would be decided as wrong, it will cost the Thais 20 million Euros.

But how do the Thai media outlets report on this, given how gingerly they handled this story in the past week? The Nation goes with the headline "German court releases Thai plane", Bangkok Post writes "Royal jet released", which both wrongly imply that the plane can now leave Germany. But the biggest offender is MCOT who went with:

German court rules royal jet doesn't belong to Thai government: Thai Foreign Ministry (MCOT, July 13, 2011)

But the court said its decision was only preliminary so a bond was requires and 20 million euros (US$28.2 million) must be deposited as a bank guarantee. When the court finally establishes that the aircraft does belong to the Crown Prince, it will return the bond.

A German court on Wednesday ruled that the impounded aircraft used by Thailand's Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn does not belong to the Thai government and agreed to release it on condition that a 20 million euro (over US$28 million) bank guarantee must be deposited, according to Foreign Ministry's Information Department deputy director-general Jesda Katavetin. (...)

He said the Thai legal team was working on the details of the ruling and could not reveal the details at the moment, but the ruling could be considered as a successful crucial step for the lawyers. (...)

You couldn't be further from the truth! That's what you get when you only speak to government officials: you only get opinion soundbites that aren't necessarily true - and of course they will try to sell this as a success, which clearly isn't. This whole piece is only topped by the last paragraph, which basically contradicts the whole article! Even the Thai language media, both press and TV, were more accurate in their reporting.

All in all, this is not to be considered a victory by the Thai side but the final verdict has not been delivered yet - until then, the plane will remain grounded and with it hopefully the rabble rousing by all people involved as well.

[UPDATE] The liquidator Werner Schneider has issued a statement in German through his law firm (PDF here), some excerpts:

"Even though the plane has been released, with the deposit of 20 million Euros we have achieved an important, successful interim result. It will be interesting to see who will pay the security deposit," says Werner Schneider, liquidator of the WALTER BAU-AG. Eventually, the point of the impoundment was not to turn the Thai plane into account, but to push [the Thais] for the required payments. In the point of view of Schneider, Geiwitz & Partner [the law firm], we have gone one big step ahead. (...)

Schneider sees the responsibility for potential diplomatic disturbances between Thailand and Germany only at the Thai government, because of their refusal to pay. "Thailand violated a bilateral intergovernmental agreement to protect investments for years - without any effective reactions from the [German] Federal Government," continues Schneider.

From: "Pressemitteilung: Insolvenzverwalter Schneider: Pfändungsaktion war ein Erfolg" (PDF), Kanzlei Schneider, Geiwitz & Partner, July 20, 2011 - translation by me

I think Schneider can now really forget about a holiday to Thailand anytime soon...!

The impounded Thai aircraft and lessons from the Thai media

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 20, 2011

You may have heard by now that last week a Boeing 737 airplane of the Royal Thai Air Force was impounded by a German liqudator and is now in a hangar at Munich airport. And by now you might have also heard that this plane belongs to Thailand's Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn - or does it? The outgoing Thai foreign minister Kasit Piromya is claiming and trying to prove to the German judiciary that this plane is not Thai government property, but the Crown Prince's personal aircraft. The German court is not convinced and sees this plane as of the Royal Thai Air Force plane and thus as a government vehicle.

This is where things stand at the moment before said German court will, after the examination of countless documents provided by the Thai side, decide on Wednesday if the plane remains impounded or not. For more on the background on why this plan was seized in the first place, read Bangkok Pundit's coverage here and here.

What's interesting to see was how the Thai media handled this story - or not at first, given the sensitivity of the subject. This story broke exclusively on Financial Times Deutschland (google for “Der Insolvenzverwalter des ehemaligen deutschen Baukonzerns Walter Bau streitet sich mit Thailand um Millionen”) last Tuesday, which quickly was reported in German and international media - only in Thailand the media was predictably silent.

This was until outgoing foreign minister Kasit Piromya called in for a press conference on last Wednesday evening shortly before he got on a plane to Germany (a regular Thai Airways flight, mind you!) to get this plane back, thus effectively making this issue a state affair. Still, despite explaining the legal reasons (the debt to be paid by the Thai government), many Thai media outlets were treading a fine line on what to mention and what not. Let's take this article from The Nation as an example:

Thailand will make all efforts to release a Thai national's Boeing 737 impounded in Germany due to a payment conflict between the government and a German construction firm, outgoing Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said yesterday.

"Germany made the great mistake of confiscating property that does not belong to the Thai government," Kasit told reporters yesterday. (...)

"I made it clear that this matter has nothing to do with the royal court," he said. "It is a huge mistake for Germany to do this and we will not allow this issue to jeopardise relations between the two countries."

"Thailand's making 'all efforts' to end aircraft spat: FM", The Nation, July 15, 2011

As you can see, no references to the Crown Prince were made here. But slowly over the course of the next day the newsrooms realize they couldn't tell the story without the owner of that plane. So bit by bit they started to mention the Crown Prince as the owner of this aircraft, for example Thai Rath, Bangkok Post and also the evening news on Thai TV (with ThaiPBS even leading in with this story on Friday).

Only The Nation was most likely the last media outlet to hold off mentioning the Crown Prince's name - even when they put articles together from foreign news agencies as they referred to it only as a "Thai national's personal plane". It took them until Sunday, two whole days after everyone else, when they have finally mentioned his name, albeit again only with agency material.

The only original content from The Nation on this whole plane saga was an opinion piece by a certain Alexander Mohr, who wrote:

(...) first of all, the seizure of a plane from a royal fleet is simply not the most straightforward approach. One cannot help thinking that the insolvency manager went for the most sensational approach. Seizing a plane from the Thai royal fleet guarantees media attention and exposure. (...)

But while the identity of the aircraft's owner may remain unclear, the action of seizing a vehicle used by a member of the Royal Family exceeds all bounds of a reasonable approach towards a solution. The damage is done.

The Thai side tried to solve the issue on a political level last week. Foreign Minister Kasit flew to Germany where he met with Cornelia Piper, an under secretary of the German foreign ministry. The German side does not want to intervene in the case and refers to the independence of the judiciary. (...)

It is very likely the dispute will be settled soon. However, the avoidable damage caused to bilateral relations between Germany and Thailand is done, with both the economic and also political ties suffering.

"Plane stupid: the damage is done", by Alexander Mohr, The Nation, July 19, 2011

First off, the author is billed as a "partner for International Relations at the government relations firm Alber & Geiger in Brussels", which is a "political lobbying powerhouse (...) known for representing foreign governments" - so pretty much this was most likely written for the Thai government who wants to get their message across. What this piece reveals as well is that the Thai side seems genuinely astonished that the German government cannot influence its judiciary whatsoever and that only the they see the bilateral damage, since they made it a state affair.

It was an interesting lesson in how the Thai media handles such sensitive stories - if at all. After the void of total silence at first was mostly filled by the international media and the internet, the floodgates opened as soon as this was made into an affair of upmost national importance by the foreign minister. Granted, due to the legal restraints no one is allowed to publicly say why the Crown Prince and that plane is in Germany in the first place...

Thai Navy plans to buy submarines from Germany

Originally published at Siam Voices on January 23, 2011 The Bangkok Post reports

The Royal Thai Navy wants to buy two second-hand submarines at a cost of 6-7 billion baht [$195m - $228m].  [...]

The specifications of the submarines have not been determined but the navy is expected to buy them from European suppliers, probably Germany.

The navy has stressed the need to acquire submarines because Thai sailors have little knowledge of submarine technology, which is constantly upgraded.

"Several neighbouring countries have submarines at their disposal. But Thai sailors have never come into contact with submarines. We are still backwards in terms of submarine technology," said the source. [...]

The plan has the backing of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who wants the armed forces to improve their capabilities in what is seen as a return of favours to the military for standing by the government in dealing with the red shirts during last year's protests.

"Navy wants to buy 2 subs", Bangkok Post, January 22, 2011

A local German paper, Kieler Nachrichten, reported recently that the Thai Navy wants to buy six used type 206 submarines from Germany. It continues:

Thailand's ministry of defense has promised their navy 500 million Euros [$681m] for the construction of a submarine flotilla in last March.

Bilateral talks between Berlin and Bangkok have already taken place. When the purchase contract with Thailand is ready to be signed is not known by this time. But the boats have already been inspected. The planned relocation of the submarines from Eckernförde to Wilhelmshaven for decommissioning has been stopped shortly thereafter.

"Chancen stehen gut: Großauftrag für HDW in Sicht", Kieler Nachrichten, January 18, 2011, translation by me

The story goes on that the Kiel dockyard company HDW is tipped to be contracted with the maintenance and preparation for the handover of the submarines, which is scheduled after March.

The Royal Thai Navy has long desired to buy new submarines for some time now (read here and here), including the suspected involvement of arms dealer Viktor Bout. The necessity though is debatable to say the least. Navy officials are repeatedly citing various reasons ranging from economic reasons (in the sense of securing trade routes by sea) to a "strong bargaining power in international negotiations" (source), which is clearly an offensive, if not aggressive, stance against its neighboring countries. While Thailand is so far the only one in the region that maintains an aircraft carrier, others like Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore have or are in the process of acquiring submarines, leading to the suggestion of an arms race.

That said, according to Richard A. Bitzinger, Senior Fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, even though it is not an arms race per se, it has its consequences:

If Southeast Asia is in the midst of an arms dynamic, as it would appear, it may still have a deleterious effect on regional security. Relatively considerable sums of monies are being spent on weaponry, perhaps with little regard to their actual usefulness in military situations (at least, the kind of likely military situations that would occur in the region), and the deployment of these weapons are no less potentially distressing to the regional security dynamic, especially if some event were to push the region into conflict. On the other hand, the acceptance that the region is in an arms dynamic and not an arms race means that the situation is not immutable and that the problem of arms proliferation in the region is resolvable, [...] easily comprehended, bounded and constrained. The cycle can be broken or mitigated, and it is certainly within the power of the local states to do so, should they choose to do so.

Bitzinger, Richard A.: "A New Arms Race? Explaining Recent Southeast Asian Military Acquisitions", in: Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs, Volume 32, Number 1, April 2010

From a domestic angle, this is another one in a long list of the proposed equipment procurement of the army (see previous story on Ukrainian APCs and German engines to Thailand). In the greater scheme of things, this is also the result of the Thai government granting the army a bigger budget in order to secure their support. A Bangkok Post story from March 2010 (in anticipation of the red shirts protests) suggested that the armed forces were to file in their wish lists. Since the protests have been dispersed by the army, the government is now owing the rewards to them - no matter how uselessimpractical or dubious these soon-to-be mothballed big toys will be.