By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer
One of pressing challenges facing some of the foreign diplomats who’ve refused to forsake Thailand for Juntaland is how to effectively pressure the military government to respect human rights and promptly return the kingdom to democracy.
Should they stick to discreet, back-door diplomatic channels or publicly express concerns that risk bilateral frictions? They also wonder how frequently to issue such statements as the message is diluted by repetition and risks tipping the junta from resistant to indifferent.
These concerned ambassadors and senior diplomats representing their states, as well as some senior officials at international organizations, have been trying hard for nearly two years to exercise their diplomatic clout in hope of halting the free-fall in Thailand’s rights and liberties.
Foreign diplomats are here in Bangkok chiefly to advance their national interests and forge better ties. They could easily have shrugged off the coup and proceeded “business as usual” with the military regime as if current coup maker-cum-Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha was just another “normal” prime minister.
Indeed some countries and their ambassadors have done just that. This may disappoint those currently suffering under repression and limitation of their rights by the regime, but it’s understandable such countries consider their national interests as paramount and turn a blind eye. I’ve lost count of how many official visits dictator Prayuth has made to Japan, for example. Perhaps Japan, with deep economic interests and proximity to China simply believes she can’t afford to shun Thailand’s military regime, as it would give a stronger hand to China, itself a dictatorial nation.
Indeed diplomats to Thailand could simply enjoy the endless receptions, banquets and drinks. Once a year, pen stirring annual messages for their ambassador on their national day. Pick a good photo, pay the papers to publish it and pretend all is well in Juntaland.
Yet there are some still trying to balance national interests with genuine concern about the deteriorating political and human rights situations because it’s so different from the values they cherish. They see liberty, nascent democracy and the rule of law trampled by the threat of guns and detention in the name of national security by the self-styled National Council for Peace and Order.
These are the countries which have not abandoned Thailand, and their ambassadors do what they can when the military summons and detains people secretly without charge. They are the envoys of their countries’ ideals, values and goodwill. Personally, I thank the diplomats and organizations who reached out when it happened to me, twice.
I am grateful that, nearly two years on from the coup, some of these people have not forsaken Thailand and let the men with guns morph the kingdom into Juntaland without questioning them and reminding them it’s not acceptable, especially to the international community.
Good friends are like mirrors – they reflect and remind us of who we are, and what we risk becoming.
Their persistence reminds the junta and its Foreign Ministry that a norm of rights violations, arbitrary detention, strictly limited space for expression, bans on gatherings and arbitrary use of power are not kosher. It also serves to remind Thais who support the junta of the abnormality of the situation.
It’s worth noting that their counterparts, Thai diplomats posted abroad under taxpayer-paid salaries, ungratefully carry out Siamese diplomacy by defending and whitewashing the military regime oppressing its citizens back home.
These diplomats and their countries deserve the thanks of all who cherish liberty and democracy. Thank you, Danke, Dank U, Gracias, Tusen Tack, Merci, Kiitos, Obrigado … and in all the other tongues which have taken up our plight.
To express gratitude, Thais who care for democracy can buy more products and services from these countries as well as pay them a visit when and if they can, or support the international organizations that still care about the situation here, such as the various bodies of the United Nations.
Going back to the original question, as to how they can most effectively cajole Prayuth back in the right direction, there’s no definitive answer. But I believe acts of genuine concern and goodwill will be remembered by the many Thais struggling against military dictatorship long after Prayuth is a fading footnote in history.