Many of us know that politics in Asia can be a rough-and-tumble affair. Criticisms against China have been documented and continue to make the news. The nuclear threat from North Korea still hovers over much of the world also. Unfortunately, we now have to add Thailand to this list.
In recent months, more stories and examples of democratic and human rights abuses taking place in Thailand have made the news. This includes writers jailed and prominent international magazines banned for criticizing the Thai monarchy, and perhaps most disturbing of all as my colleague Andrew Lam reports, the Thai military directly responsible for the drowning of refugees:
For a country steeped in Buddhism, Thailand is accruing terrible karmic debts. News reports, including those by the Thai press itself, indicate systematic abuse of refugees fleeing from its neighbor, Myanmar.
Tourists have seen and photographed Thai troops abusing members of a Muslim minority group who were fleeing Myanmar by boat to Thailand’s southern shores. . . . CNN recently confirmed with a Thai military source that Thailand is practicing a dump-at-sea policy: towing boats back to the sea, often without giving refugees food or water.
UN refugee agency spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey expressed the gravity of the situation: “The reports that we are hearing are very alarming. That the [boat people] were detained in Thailand and then towed out to sea on unseaworthy boats and left to die basically.” . . .
Thailand’s long antipathy toward its neighbors is notorious. UN records are full of documents, describing how Thai pirates used hammers, machetes, and guns to massacre entire boats of refugees, including children and women [in the wake of the Viet Nam War]. . . . Despite international protest, the Thai government made few attempts to prosecute those accused.
During the Cold War, Thailand also supported the Khmer Rouge, the genocidal regime responsible for the death of more than 2 million Cambodians. . . . Last year, when the world condemned Myanmar for its inaction after the cyclone Nargis devastated half of its country, Thailand spoke in favor of the junta.
I must admit that I had not heard of these developments until now. Like most everybody else, I presume, much of my attention regarding news and current events in Asia center around China, Japan, and/or North Korea and the mainstream media doesn’t seem to mention much about Thailand, besides the occasional reports of popular uprisings and political instability.
If anything, the picture that many Americans have of Thailand is of a tourist vacation hotspot with warm, sunny beaches and a teeming nightlife in its large cities such as Bangkok. But news like this is a wake-up call for us to look beneath the surface and to examine Thailand’s history in more detail. In doing so, we see that Thailand is not always the tropical paradise we had imagined.
In fact, the incidents described are rather disturbing and prompts me to drastically alter my idea of Thailand as a true democracy. On top of that, as Andrew Lam points out in his article quoted above, as Buddhism is the official state religion, the Thai government and military seem to be failing miserably in living up to their Buddhist ideals of compassion and non-violence.
I hope its leaders find their way out of this karmic jungle soon, for everybody’s sake.