BANGKOK — Deputy junta chairman Prawit Wongsuwan was criticized Monday for casually handling a firearm and seeming to forget a universal tenet of military training: trigger discipline.
In a photo that has gone viral, Gen. Prawit is seen pointing an assault rifle playfully at his Cambodian counterpart, Tea Banh, at an international arms trade show in Bangkok, where officials insist Prawit was not shopping for more arms deals.
The photo showed the junta’s second-in-command and defense minister holding the weapon in an untrained manner.
“Didn’t your family ever teach you not to point a weapon at other people like this?” Gunn Yutthapoom Peun wrote in a thread.
“It can really show the difference between people who went through training and stupid people who became big because of good fortune,” user Pattanachat Boat Puttavong chimed in.
Another user, Krit Yaemthipkul, wrote, “He doesn’t even respect basic rules. What will he do with the rules of law?”
The photo was snapped while Gen. Prawit and other military attaches were touring the Defense & Security fair today in northern Bangkok, where international arms manufacturers touted armored vehicles, rifles and other armaments.
Defense spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich dismissed complaints about the incident.
“They were just picking up guns and teasing each other,” Maj. Gen. Kongcheep said. “They weren’t loaded. They were just on display; they were show guns. They were like mobile phones for sale – you pick them up.”
The spokesman also suggested those who seize on the photo to attack Prawit should lighten up.
“Was Mr. Tea Banh frightened? No, he was laughing, too,” Kongcheep said. “The media are all grown-ups. They should know not to blow things out of proportion.”
The fair is held by the Defense Ministry every two years, according to Kongcheep. Military reps who toured Monday’s exhibition include those from Singapore, Cambodia, South Africa and Ukraine, he said.
Since the 2014 coup, the military government has approved a raft of big-ticket arms buys. The purchases which got the most attention this year – submarines, battle tanks and combat aircraft – added up to nearly 50 billion baht.
The deals angered critics of the junta, who say the unaccountable military government is plundering the public coffers at the expense of social services, such as underfunded public hospitals which are going bankrupt nationwide.
The government maintains that newer equipment is needed to replace aging hardware.
While Prawit was seen beaming at assault rifles, armored vehicles and other advanced weapons systems, defense spokesman Kongcheep said the 72 year old was there to preside over the opening ceremony, escort foreign military attaches and not to seal any further deals.
Kongcheep also criticized the media for speculating on arms deals every time Prawit or other high-ranking official make a trip. Each branch of the armed forces, not the military-led government, proposes weapon purchases through acquisition committees. Officials like Prawit cannot initiate deals on their own, Kongcheep said.
“They can’t simply show up and buy something. The Ministry of Defense has no duty to buy,” Kongcheep said. “The media always talk about shopping. When the deputy prime minister goes overseas, they say he’s gone shopping. It’s impossible.”