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U.S. Policy Options Toward Thailand

by Joshua Kurlantzick
thai-government-house A Thai soldier uses his walkie-talkie as he stands guard at the Government House before the first cabinet meeting in Bangkok on September 9, 2014 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy: Reuters).

In my previous post on the rule of Prayuth Chan-ocha, I noted that, in this “hard coup,” army rule could last a considerably long time–two years, and possibly even more. Some Thai observers are suggesting that Prayuth and the army will retain power for as much as five years. As I mentioned previously, in this “hard coup,” the military is likely to take more draconian action against any opponents in the next year as well, since the army has overseen somewhat of an economic rebound, has muffled most of the Thai press, and has gotten relatively little criticism from Asian countries like Japan, Indonesia, and India. I expect to see activists detained for longer periods of time, and treated much more roughly under army detention than they have been so far. I also expect Thaksin sympathizers to be purged from the civil service and the armed forces, and many leading pro-Thaksin politicians to be charged with offenses and actually sent to jail, a rarity in the past for Thai elites of any political persuasion. Read more »

What Will Prayuth Do as Prime Minister?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
prayuth chan-ocha Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha waits for his cabinet members for a group photo session after an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the Government House in Bangkok on September 4, 2014. Thailand's new military-stacked cabinet met King Bhumibol in Bangkok on Thursday, marking the formal start of an administration that will spend at least a year overhauling the Thai political system before calling a fresh election (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy: Reuters).

To the surprise of few Thai observers, in August Thailand’s legislative assembly, packed with military men and military allies, chose coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha to be the prime minister, until elections supposedly to be called late next year or early in 2016. Prayuth thus became the first Thai coup leader in decades to take the job as prime minister in Thailand, rather than finding a fig leaf civilian as interim prime minister, solidifying the notion that this was indeed a “hard” coup more similar to the draconian authoritarian rule in Thailand in the 1950s and 1960s than the “soft” coup that took place in 2006. The military, Bangkok elites, and the royal family supposedly learned from the 2006 “soft” coup that only a “hard” coup could really wipe out Thaksin Shinawatra’s organization in Thailand and entrench elite rule for at least another generation. The 2006 coup was followed by a new constitution and then elections that resulted in a pro-Thaksin Shinawatra party winning power again,  thus defeating–in the minds of Bangkok elites–the very purpose of the coup. Read more »

Human Rights Watch Reports Thailand Indefinitely Detaining Thousands of Migrant Children

by Joshua Kurlantzick
rohingya-in-thailand Rohingya people from Myanmar, who were rescued from human traffickers, are kept in a communal cell at the Songkhla Immigration Detention Centre in Thailand near the border with Malaysia in this photo from February 13, 2014 (Damir Sagolj/Courtesy: Reuters).

As if Thailand’s international image hadn’t suffered enough, with a coup government trying to turn the clock back forty years, the country’s seafood industry being exposed as one of the worst examples of human trafficking and outright slavery in the world, and even neighboring Myanmar’s politics looking good by comparison, Human Rights Watch today released a lengthy report on the detention of migrant children in Thailand. The report is available here. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of August 22, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
Thailand's newly appointed prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha (front), reviews honor guards on the outskirts of Bangkok on August 21, 2014 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters). Thailand's newly appointed prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha (front), reviews honor guards on the outskirts of Bangkok on August 21, 2014 (Chaiwat Subprasom/Courtesy Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha appointed prime minister. In a 191-0 vote on Thursday, Thailand’s rubber-stamp legislature named as prime minister the general who in May led the military coup of Thailand’s elected government. General Prayuth awaits an expected endorsement from King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of July 25, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A customer walks past a KFC store in Shanghai on July 22, 2014. The latest food scandal in China is spreading fast, dragging in Starbucks, Burger King, and others, as well as McDonald's products as far away as Japan (Aly Song/Courtesy: Reuters). A customer walks past a KFC store in Shanghai on July 22, 2014. The latest food scandal in China is spreading fast, dragging in Starbucks, Burger King, and others, as well as McDonald's products as far away as Japan (Aly Song/Courtesy: Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Andrew Hill, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. Meat scandal erupts in China. Shanghai Husi Food Co., a Chinese food supplier owned by the Illinois-based global food processor OSI Group Inc., has been shown to have repackaged old meat and changed expiration dates before shipping it to retailers. Some of the world’s best-known chain restaurants, including McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, and Starbucks, were sold the rotten meat and have been forced to alter their supply chains or cancel the sale of some products entirely. The Shanghai police have detained five employees of Shanghai Husi, and the head of the OSI Group has accepted “responsibility for these missteps.” Read more »

So Many Southeast Asia Top Events, So Many Questions

by Joshua Kurlantzick
A member of the pro-government "red shirt" group holds a picture of ousted Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra during a rally in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok on May 10, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters). A member of the pro-government "red shirt" group holds a picture of ousted Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra during a rally in Nakhon Pathom province on the outskirts of Bangkok on May 10, 2014 (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

The past week has been so busy with events, both tragic and hopeful, related to Southeast Asia, that I barely have time to keep up with the news.  A few short thoughts:

1. Is Prabowo Going to Concede?

No way. Prabowo Subianto is now tacitly hinting in interviews that, on July 22, he might be declared the loser of Indonesia’s presidential election, and he is now using interviews to argue that, whatever the result announced on July 22, it is likely a fraud. This is a shift from his earlier position stating simply that he was going to win. On July 22 he will expand on his fraud argument and file a case to the Constitutional Court. Jokowi – and Indonesia – better be prepared for a long and drawn-out legal contest. Read more »

Thai Junta Plans Election for Autumn 2015

by Joshua Kurlantzick
Prayuth Chan-ocha Thai Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks during a meeting with Thai ambassadors at the Royal Thai Army Headquarters in Bangkok on June 11, 2014 (Chanat Katanyu/Courtesy: Reuters).

Over the weekend, Thailand’s junta leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, announced a firmer roadmap toward civilian rule than the army had previously revealed. Prayuth went on Thai television and announced that a drafting committee will write a new permanent constitution, to replace the 2007 version the army junked in its May coup. The committee will finish drafting by the middle of next year, Prayuth announced, and then by the fall of 2015, Thailand can hold national elections again. In the meantime, Thailand will operate under an interim constitution that the junta draws up. The junta will pick some civilian ministers to help run the country. Read more »

Thailand, Other American Partners Downgraded to Worst Ranking in New Trafficking in Persons Report

by Joshua Kurlantzick
cambodian-migrants-from-thailand Cambodian migrant workers carry their belongings as they walk to cross the border at Aranyaprathet in Sa Kaew on June 15, 2014. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that over the past week 100,000 Cambodians have poured over the border, as the military that seized power in a May 22 coup intensifies lax measures to regulate illegal labour. The military's ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) insists Cambodians are leaving of their own accord and said 60,000 had crossed the border as of Saturday (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

 

In the new State Department 2014 Trafficking in Persons report, officially released this morning by Secretary of State John Kerry, the administration pulls no punches. In previous years, some countries that had deserved being downgraded from a Tier 1 country to a Tier 2 country, signifying deteriorating progress in combating trafficking, or from a Tier 2 to a Tier 3 country, the worst possible rating in the report, had been saved from downgrades. Usually, they were saved due to their close strategic ties with the United States and their effective lobbying of this administration and its predecessors. A ranking in Tier 3, according to the report’s definition, means a country “whose government does not fully comply with the minimum standards [in combating trafficking in persons] and are not making significant efforts to do so.” Countries that fall into Tier 3, the report notes, “may be subject to certain restrictions on bilateral assistance, whereby the U.S. government may withhold or withdraw non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.…Governments subject to restrictions would also face U.S. opposition to assistance from international financial institutions.” Read more »

Friday Asia Update: Top Five Stories for the Week of June 20, 2014

by Guest Blogger for Elizabeth C. Economy
A Chinese Coast Guard vessel (R) passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 (L), in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam on June 13, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters). A Chinese Coast Guard vessel (R) passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 (L), in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam on June 13, 2014 (Courtesy: Reuters).

Ashlyn Anderson, Lauren Dickey, Darcie Draudt, Charles McClean, Will Piekos, and Sharone Tobias look at the top stories in Asia today.

1. China sends more oil rigs to already-tense South China Sea. Two rigs are now stationed between China and the Taiwan-occupied Pratas Islands, and one has been given coordinates to be towed just outside Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone. Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang asked China to remove the rigs that are in disputed waters. China has been increasingly assertive in its claims to the Paracel and Spratly Islands, all of which are off Vietnam’s coast, and is reportedly moving sand onto reefs and shoals to support buildings and surveillance equipment. Read more »

What Will Thailand’s Post-Coup “Democracy” Look Like?

by Joshua Kurlantzick
prayuth Thai Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives before a meeting to discuss the 2015 national budget at the Army Club in Bangkok on June 13, 2014. Prayuth was the head of the junta that seized power in Thailand last month (Athit Perawongmetha/Courtesy: Reuters).

As an excellent piece in the Associated Press notes this week, Thailand’s junta appears to be entrenching itself for the long haul. Junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha has named himself to Thailand’s Board of Investment. The junta is putting other cronies at the heads of major state-controlled companies, Prayuth has left the timetable for a total return to civilian rule purposefully vague, and the coup leaders also have refused to say exactly what that civil government will look like, or what Thailand’s next constitution will look like either. (The generals essentially ripped up the previous constitution after launching the coup in May.) Read more »