Posts tagged ‘thailand’

February 6, 2015

US tells Thailand to restore democracy or alliance is over

Police stand guard outside the US embassy in Bangkok January 28, 2015. — Reuters pic

BANGKOK, Feb 6 — The United States will not fully reactivate its military alliance with Thailand as long as the junta-controlled country refuses to restore democracy, a US diplomat warned yesterday.

“There has to be a full restoration both of the institutions of governance and justice as well as the full restoration of a duly democratically elected civilian government,” the senior State Department official told journalists.

It follows a recent visit by Daniel Russel, the most senior US official to travel to the kingdom since Thai generals imposed martial law and took over in a coup last May.

The United States strongly condemned the coup at the time, with chief diplomat John Kerry calling for a return to civilian rule via democratic elections.

Washington and Bangkok maintain a military alliance dating to the Cold War and the fight against communism in Southeast Asia, notably during the Vietnam War.

US and Thai armed forces remain tightly linked, but the United States cancelled joint military exercises after the coup and suspended a small part of its military assistance to Thailand. — AFP

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January 3, 2015

China to build Thai rail link to Laos

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HONG KONG — China has signed a memorandum of understanding with Thailand to build 542 miles of double-track railway from Nong Khai on the Laos border to the Thai industrialized eastern seaboard.

The MOU was signed on the sidelines of a two-day regional summit in Bangkok, and is seen as consolidating China’s influence in a country that has had strong ties with the U.S., but which have cooled since the military coup in May, according to a report by Reuters.

“China will be responsible for the construction and development of the rail network and Thailand will take part in preparing the groundwork for construction,” Thai Transport Minister Prajin Junthong told the agency.

China has provisionally agreed with Laos to build a railway from Kunming through Laos, with the aim of connecting with Thailand. China will also develop another, 82-mile rail line linking the central province of Saraburi to Bangkok, about 67 mile away. Construction would begin in 2016, said Air Marshal Prajin.

Earlier this month, Thailand’s military-stacked Legislature approved a preliminary agreement on the China deal, putting the value at $10.66 billion.

Mayasu Hosumi, president of the Japan External Trade Organisation in Thailand (JETRO), said the rail network was “indispensable for the enhancement of production networks” in the region.

The rail development will link Thailand’s container port of Laem Chabang with Laos and revive the gateway port’s single rail transfer project that aims to ease the flow of containers to and from the terminals. It is part of Laem Shebang’s phase three development that was put on hold by the military coup.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attended the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) summit in Bangkok alongside prime ministers and presidents from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand. Li is the most high-profile foreign leader to visit Thailand since the coup, signalling, Thailand says, its return to normal following months of political unrest, said Reuters.

The army seized power in May to end months of political turmoil, but the economy of Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy has struggled in the face of weak exports and sluggish domestic demand. The economy grew just 0.2 percent in the first nine months of the year, although the central bank said its GDP has expanded in the last quarter.

Factory output in November declined 3.5 percent year-over-year, down for a 20th straight month.

Exports, which are equal to more than 60 percent of the economy, picked up in September and October but slipped in November. The central bank forecast exports to contract 0.5 percent this year and rise only 1 percent in 2015.

Contact Greg Knowler at and follow him on Twitter: @greg_knowler.


China, Thailand eye closer agriculture, railway cooperation

2014-12-20 09:21 Xinhua Web Editor: Qian Ruisha

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Visiting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said here Friday that China and Thailand have agreed to kickstart mutually beneficial cooperation on agro-product trade and railway.

China eyes deeper cooperation with Thailand and hopes for a more balanced bilateral trade and economic relationship, Li told reporters after meeting with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.[Special coverage]

The two governments signed a memorandum of understanding on farm produce trade cooperation. China, Li said, has agreed to double its purchase on the basis of the volume the two sides agreed upon last year.

China expects the new initiative to empower both China and Thailand to resist risks of international market fluctuations and help improve the livelihood of Thai farmers, he said.

“Only China has such a big market and a huge purchasing power which could consume the big agricultural production of rice, rubber and others of Thailand,” said Li.

In addition, the two governments also inked a memorandum of understanding on railway cooperation.

Li said the Chinese and Thai governments have agreed to build Thailand’s first standard-gauge railway lines with a total length of more than 800 km, which has been approved by the National Legislative Assembly of Thailand.

The agreement allows China to invest in two dual-track rail lines in Thailand that will span 734 km and 133 km respectively and connect northeast Thailand’s Nong Khai province, Bangkok and eastern Rayong province.

The project is estimated to cost some 10.6 billion U.S. dollars.

“This is the expansion, extension and further confirmation of the previous agreement that the Chinese and Thai governments reached last year,” said Li.

The Chinese premier said he hopes that the two sides will speed up preparation for the railway project and lay a solid basis for the beginning of construction at an early date.

The new railway will also benefit neighboring countries if being extended to other places of the region, Li said.

Chinese standards, equipment and manufacturing capacity will all be used in building the Thai railway, which helps China export its manufacturing capacity to the rest of the world, Li said.

For his part, Prayut said Thailand and China are friends sharing weal and woe, and his country highly values its relations with China.

Bilateral cooperation on railway and farm produce trade is of vital significance to Thailand, and is conducive to regional inter-connectivity and development, said Prayut, adding that Thailand will cooperate closely with the Chinese side to facilitate the implementation of relevant cooperation agreements.

Thailand, he said, will take the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties next year as an opportunity to elevate its relationship with China to a new height.

Li is here to attend the fifth summit of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Economic Cooperation.

The Chinese premier said he looks forward to having an extensive exchange of views with all parties on deepening regional trade and economic cooperation, enhancing inter-connectivity and promoting innovation in industrial cooperation.

Hailing China’s “crucial” role in the GMS, Prayut said Thailand is willing to join hands with China and other parties of the GMS mechanism for more fruitful results.

The GMS Economic Cooperation Program, which was started in 1992 by six countries along the Mekong River — Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, aims to pool their efforts for improving infrastructure, promoting trade and investment and stimulating economic growth.

On a broader scale, Li said, the GMS cooperation will further enrich China’s partnership with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

China, he added, stands ready to cultivate stable, peaceful and friendly relations with its ASEAN neighbors.

November 23, 2014

Thai Protesters Are Detained After Using ‘Hunger Games’ Salute

Thai Protesters Are Detained After Using ‘Hunger Games’ Salute

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An activist, Nacha Kong-udom, flashed the three-finger salute from the “The Hunger Games” as plainclothes police officers led her away from a cinema in Bangkok on Thursday. Credit Rungroj Yongrit/European Pressphoto Agency

BANGKOK — A Thai theater chain has withdrawn the latest “Hunger Games” movie after several student protesters were detained for using a gesture taken from the films, a three-finger salute of resistance to authoritarian government.

The salute, which in the movies is a daring act of silent rebellion, began to appear here in the weeks after the May 22 coup. The authorities warned that anyone raising it in public could be subject to arrest.

The military government in Thailand has clamped down on all forms of protest, censored the country’s news media, limited the right to public assembly and arrested critics and opponents. Hundreds of academics, journalists and activists have been detained for up to a month, according to Human Rights Watch.

The arrests came on Wednesday, before the premiere in Thailand of “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.” Five students in T-shirts bearing the slogan “We don’t want the coup” flashed the sign during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup and later became head of the military government.

The students were quickly detained by the police, who handed them over to military authorities.

Army officials later confirmed that the students were held for several hours for “attitude adjustment” and then released. They were told to report back the next day with their parents and still could be charged with violating martial law.

The prime minister was making his first visit to northeastern Thailand, the heartland of the red shirt political movement that supports former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a coup in 2006. Armed soldiers are highly visible in the northeast, manifesting the military’s control, while there is little sign of them in Bangkok’s streets.

The prime minister appeared to take the students’ protest in stride, according to local news reports. He was quoted as saying: “Well, that’s it. But it’s O.K. Go easy on them. We will take care of the problems. Any more protests? Make it quick.”

Three more students were detained in Bangkok on Thursday outside a theater where the film was being shown.

The students were members of a protest group that said it had bought hundreds of tickets to a showing of the film and planned to hand them out free, according to The Bangkok Post.

The theater chain, Apex, quickly canceled showings of the film. A spokesman for Apex told the newspaper that the company acted because “we feel our theaters are being used for political movements.”

In “The Hunger Games” novels by Suzanne Collins and in the films based on them, the salute begins as a gesture of gratitude and farewell and evolves into a symbol of defiance. One of the detained students, Natchacha Kongudom, told reporters, “The three-finger sign is a sign to show that I am calling for my basic right to live my life.”

Francis Lawrence, the director of several films in the series, said he was both excited and concerned that the salute was being used in Thailand.

“We were shooting when this started happening,” he said in remarks reported by The Sydney Morning Herald. “Part of it is sort of thrilling, that something that happens in the movie can become a symbol for people, for freedom or protest.”

But he added: “When kids start getting arrested for it, it takes the thrill out of it, and it becomes much more dangerous, and it makes the feeling much more complex. When people are getting arrested for doing something from your movie, it’s troubling.”

One student who was detained performed another banned act of protest, silently reading George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” in public.

The military government in Bangkok says its crackdown on dissent is necessary to restore calm to a nation that was torn by months of street protests leading to the coup. It has said it plans to hold a general election eventually, and then hand power to a civilian government, but that a number of conditions must first be met.

A new constitution is being drafted, including a proposal by the military to make the current restrictions on the news media permanent; news groups are challenging the proposal.

September 11, 2014

Public event held in Cambodia to oppose Laos’ Don Sahong dam

Public event held in Cambodia to oppose Laos’ Don Sahong dam

Public event held in Cambodia to oppose Laos’ Don Sahong dam

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PHNOM PENH, Sept. 11 (Xinhua) — World Wildlife Fund (WWF) held a public event in the capital city of Cambodia on Thursday to share the concerns of more than 250,000 people who are calling on Mega First Corporation to suspend construction of the controversial 260-megawatt Don Sahong hydropower project on the Mekong River in Laos.

Since May this year, 12,404 concerned Cambodians have added their names to a WWF public petition opposing Don Sahong dam. The local action was bolstered by a global online petition signed by 255,596 people representing more than 200 countries, the WWF said in its news statement.

Laos’ Don Sahong dam could herald the demise of important fisheries and critically endangered Mekong dolphins, the statement said, adding that around 85 dolphins are now restricted to a 190 km stretch of the Mekong River between southern Laos and northeast Cambodia, with the dam project in southern Laos located just 1 kilometer upstream of the dolphins’core habits.

“More than a quarter of a million people around the world are sending a strong and clear message to Mega First. Stop Don Sahong dam or risk the dubious honor of precipitating the extinction of a species,” said Chhith Sam Ath, country director of WWF-Cambodia. “Don Sahong dam is a dangerous experiment and Mega First is gambling with the livelihoods of millions.”

The public event on Thursday was attended by about 100 community members, NGO partners, youths and monks to reiterate their concerns of the impacts of the Don Sahong construction. As part of the event, a boat traveled along the Mekong River displaying banners calling on Mega First to respond to the huge public opposition to their project.

WWF said the dam will block the only channel available for dry- season fish migration, putting at risk the world’s most productive inland fisheries and the livelihoods of 60 million people living in the Lower Mekong Basin.

“Without fish and dolphins, our livelihoods will be destroyed,” said An Hou, chief of Community Fishery Network in Cambodia’s Kratie province. “We are helpless and we do not know what to do if the dam goes ahead.”

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August 11, 2014

Thailand: Peace, order, stagnation


Peace, order, stagnation

As the economy stumbles, the junta has an image problem

Aug 9th 2014 | BANGKOK | From the print edition

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THE army has long been the most powerful force in Thai political life, and has wholly monopolised it since its latest coup in May. Bangkok, the capital, remains calm, and many ordinary Thais do not miss the self-serving political classes who were booted out. Still, how popular the National Council for Peace and Order, as the junta calls itself, really is remains hard to say. It is a criminal offence to criticise it, and the press is muzzled. Lèse-majesté cases are piling up. The junta has even banned a computer game, Tropico 5, in which players set up their own military dictatorship in a fictional paradise where sunny beaches and political corruption “coexist in perfect harmony”.

The coup leader, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, and his fellow soldiers have been busy putting up a façade that bespeaks legitimacy. The coup has the endorsement of the 86-year-old king, Bhumibol Adulyadej. On August 7th the crown prince, Maha Vajiralongkorn, chaired the opening ceremony for a new national assembly to replace the elected politicians who were kicked out. Stuffed with army officers and members of the old Thai establishment, it will be a rubber-stamp affair.

It is all a throwback to an earlier, simpler era. Unlike the generals of 2006, when the last coup took place, the current lot are intent on retaining complete control. A temporary constitution grants the army men absolute powers. And to safeguard against the generals ever coming before the courts in some future reckoning, it grants an amnesty for actions related to the toppling of the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

The 2006 coup leaders ousted her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecoms billionaire turned authoritarian politician whose populist parties have for years won every election that has been permitted. Back then the generals thought they could marginalise Mr Thaksin as a political force and encourage a return to a tutelary democracy guided by the establishment around the king. Those who removed Ms Yingluck now realise that they must ensure the Shinawatras are wholly spent as a political force. The generals let Ms Yingluck leave Thailand for Paris on July 20th to attend a birthday party for Mr Thaksin. They did so on the condition that she returns to face possible charges relating to her time as prime minister. Yet some must be calculating that she will join her brother in self-imposed exile. Without competitive elections, the Shinawatras are powerless.

The Orwellian name the junta has given the new dispensation is “genuine democracy”. There is, in truth, a reformist element to its programme, including a desire for less inequality and an impartial enforcement of laws. Many of the populist proposals, such as reforms to health care, are taken straight from Mr Thaksin’s playbook.

Yet finding people with stature and experience to front the new order is not proving easy. For foreign minister, the junta tried to recruit Surin Pitsuwan, a former secretary-general of ASEAN, the Association of South-East Asian Nations. At home and abroad, he is one of Thailand’s most respected figures. But he could not be tempted. South-East Asian diplomats say the Thai foreign ministry is paralysed, lacking guidance.

With no proper interim government, portfolios are unlikely to be filled on merit. Although a non-businessman is running the state airline, at least he is the air force chief. How, though, to explain the head of the navy heading the ministry of culture?

Getting the trains to run

The junta seems to realise it has an image problem. This matters to it because for all the emphasis now on political stability, the economic mood is jittery. The economy has shrunk precipitously this year. Exports, in a country that depends more than most on them, have stopped growing. High household debt further complicates matters. Thailand is likely to be Asia’s most lacklustre economy this year. Economic revival is the generals’ priority.

From day one, therefore, General Prayuth has tried to reassure investors. He has made himself head of the Board of Investment, which has swiftly approved billions of dollars worth of pending applications. General Prayuth is leading a splurge in infrastructure spending, including on two high-speed railways worth $23 billion that are seen as vital future links to China. But approving such projects is one thing; getting them up and running so that they start to have a positive economic impact is quite another. Nor is the quest to reassure outsiders helped by the certain knowledge that cronies of the army (whose officer corps at times resembles a business club) will be hungry for the juiciest deals.

As for democracy, that will have to wait. General Prayuth gives October 2015 as the probable date for an election. The junta will not say, however, what restrictions it might impose. Given that the whole point of this coup, and the last, was to overturn a winner-takes-all electoral system that served Mr Thaksin so well, it would be a wonder if no restrictions applied. Whether the next full constitution, Thailand’s 20th, will be put to a popular referendum is equally unclear.

What the generals want, above all, is for “moral people”, not elected populists, to run the country. It is heartening that the junta has shown some concern to bring about a reconciliation, however unlikely, between the pro-Thaksin “red shirts” and their opponents, who paralysed Bangkok in giant protests from late last year. But that does not necessarily mean the army will allow Thaksinite politicians to take part in drafting the new constitution, let alone run in the proposed election.

Most Thais would like to see their country emerge one day as a prosperous, truly democratic leader within South-East Asia. Thailand’s economic growth since the 1960s has raised incomes and provided education to most of its citizens. But the pillars on which future prosperity rests are crumbling. A strong commitment to the rule of law, a well-regulated financial system, and transparency in how fortunes are made are all in short supply.

For now the army men taking Thai society back to the past are legally unassailable. Many Thais may in any case give them the benefit of the doubt. But at some point the self-appointed leadership will be unable to justify its continued existence. The junta may yet surprise everybody by pushing reforms, healing society’s deep rifts, and restoring democracy. But do not count on it.

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