Thailand’s junta came under scrutiny this week after critics filed a petition asking the office of the auditor-general to investigate allegations of extravagant spending on a trip to Hawaii for a defense meeting.
It is the latest in a series of allegations against the military government that seized power in May 2014, promising to root out entrenched corruption in state institutions and close Thailand’s festering political divide.
The government has defended allegations that a 20.9 million baht ($600,000) chartered flight taken by Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and his entourage to a meeting in Hawaii last week was exorbitant.
On Wednesday, Srisuwan Janya, head of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, a government watchdog, petitioned the Office of the Auditor-General to investigate expenses incurred on the Thai Airways flight.
These expenses included 600,000 baht ($17,200) spent on in-flight food and beverages, according to details posted on the Secretariat of the Prime Minister’s website.
The allegations threaten to erode the military government’s credibility, say critics, including civil society groups.
Last month, Isra News, an investigative news website, reported that Pathompol Chan-ocha, a nephew of junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, was awarded seven construction projects with the Third Army Region, which had been under his father’s command, prompting claims of nepotism.
The National Anti-Corruption Commission is currently investigating those claims.
Preecha Chan-ocha, Pathompol’s father and junta chief Prayuth’s brother, has defended his son and said he acted according to the army’s rules and regulations for contractors.
“Both of these are issues that Thai society is criticizing a lot and it will reduce the junta’s credibility,” Srisuwan told Reuters. “This is contrary to what people expect from this military government. The prime minister should boldly act to restore public confidence and not shirk responsibility.”
Colonel Piyapong Klinpan, deputy spokesman for the junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said it welcomed public scrutiny.
“If there is any issue of public interest, then the agency involved can examine it. We are not trying to hide or conceal anything,” Piyapong told Reuters.
“The NCPO does not interfere in these independent bodies and we ask that people trust the NCPO.”
The investigation follows allegations of graft last year, leveled by some Thai media and opposition groups, involving construction of a $28 million park built to honor the monarchy that threatened to undermine an anti-graft drive by the junta.
An internal investigation by the army in November 2015 found no evidence of corruption.
Thailand’s military has always been powerful, but the 2014 coup established it as the nation’s pre-eminent institution.
Thais voted overwhelmingly in August to accept a junta-backed constitution that the government says is designed to heal more than a decade of divisive politics. Critics of the government, including major political parties, say the charter will enshrine the military’s role for years to come.
($1 = 34.8500 baht)
(Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by John Chalmers and Nick Macfie)
Thailand’s detention of Joshua Wong shows how deeply some Southeast Asian nations are in China’s orbit
By Isabella Steger
Thai authorities yesterday detained Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong at Bangkok’s airport and barred him from attending an event at a university, drawing attention once more to how Thailand and some neighboring countries are increasingly bowing to China’s demands.
In response, some Thai citizens have been circulating a drawing on social media showing Thailand as an extension of China. The artist highlighted Taiwan in the drawing, a nod to comments by Thai student Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, who noted that the 19-year-old Hong Kong activist had no problems entering Taiwan earlier.
This drawing doing the rounds on social media today following @joshuawongcf’s expulsion from Thailand yesterday. Jerome Taylor ✔ @JeromeTaylor
According to a statement by the Thai government, it received no direct order to arrest Wong, but the decision was taken to avoid an “escalation of political conflict” as Wong’s activism in other countries could “affect Thailand’s relations with other nations.”
The Nation, an English-language newspaper in Thailand, cited an official at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport as saying that the request to arrest Wong came from China. Thai prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Wong’s expulsion from Thailand was “China’s issue.”
The incident comes after Gui Minhai, a Hong Kong bookseller with Swedish citizenship, went missing last October in Thailand and later reappeared in China. In January, Chinese journalist Li Xin disappeared while traveling from China to Thailand via Laos.
Writing after Gui’s disappearance, Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese Studies at King’s College London, said that “we seem to be seeing a wholly new form of the Chinese state acting outside its borders in ways which are opaque, arbitrary, and worryingly predatory.”
As the Wall Street Journal notes in an editorial, what happened in Thailand fits a “global pattern.” China’s long arm of the law has extended as far as Kenya and Armenia, where authorities deported suspected Taiwanese suspects of fraud to China. Beijing claims Taiwan as a Chinese province.
Nicholas Bequelin, regional director for East Asia at Amnesty International, said that following violent protests in Tibet in 2008 and Xinjiang in 2009, after which many Tibetans and Uighurs fled China for neighboring Nepal, Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, China started to systematically put pressure on those countries.
It’s not illegitimate for China to demand the repatriation of people who have committed offences in that country, or who have committed crimes against Chinese citizens from abroad. The problem is the fact that the government systematically conflates criminal offences with the exercise of fundamental rights of freedom such as expression or assembly when it is critical of the Chinese government.
Thailand last year repatriated about 100 Uighurs from detention camps back to China. Laos and Cambodia had also sent Uighurs back to China in the past. Malaysia last year also barred pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong, including Wong, from entering the country.
Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, said that Southeast Asian countries are increasingly reliant on China’s aid and investment—which comes without criticism of human rights abuses, unlike that of the US or other Western countries. Cambodia, ruled by strongman Hun Sen, scuppered a statement critical of China’s position in the South China Sea at an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting this summer, for example. In Thailand, where the military junta is increasingly cracking down on any form dissent, China’s influence may be of secondary importance, said Connelly.
“Would Thailand under Yingluck Shinawatra’s government have returned Joshua Wong? I’m not so sure,” said Connelly, referring to Thailand’s previous prime minister who was ousted in a military coup in 2014.
“The key dynamic in Thailand isn’t so much China’s investment, but it’s first and foremost that it’s not a democratic government… but any ASEAN country would have been pretty receptive to banning Wong.”
Our Peace and Freedom eyes and ears in Thailand told us to “Tell the Filipino people to be careful what they wish for….”
Global sex trafficking ring targeting Thai women uncovered by U.S. authorities
Updated 7:16 AM ET, Thu October 6, 2016
(CNN) Seventeen alleged members of a global trafficking ring have been charged with transporting hundreds of women from Thailand to the United States for commercial sex purposes.
Tags: American Dream, Armenia, ASEAN, Association for the Protection of the Constitution, Atlanta, chartered flight, Chicago, China’s long arm of the law, coercion, commercial sex, construction of a $28 million park built to honor the monarchy, construction projects, corruption, Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, Duterte, Filipinos, forced labor, Georgia, global sex trafficking ring, Gui Minhai, Hong Kong bookseller, human rights, human trafficking, Illinois, Isabella Steger, Joshua Wong, Kenya, King’s College London, Las Vegas, Li Xin, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Minnesota, money laundering, National Council for Peace and Order, NCPO, nepotism, Office of the Auditor-General, Pathompol Chan-ocha, Philippines, Prayuth Chan-ocha, rule of law, sex slaves, sex trafficking, Singapore, Taiwan, Tell the Filipino people to be careful what they wish for, Thai government, U. S., U.S. Department of Justice, Uighurs, visa fraud