Opinion: Growing Anxiety About the Rise of China in Thailand

Police inspect cash and luxury items during a raid of a house in Samut Prakan province belonging to the grey business ring on Nov. 29, 2022.
Police inspect cash and luxury items during a raid of a house in Samut Prakan province belonging to the grey business ring on Nov. 29, 2022.

The prosecution of naturalized Thai businessman Tu Hao, aka Chainat Kornchananand, who is charged with drugs dealing, and multiple raids of his glitzy real estate and other assets estimated at 5 billion baht at various parts of Thailand over the past ten days have made many Thai anxious again that Chinese businessmen, particularly the grey business type (and China) are swallowing up Thailand, reducing the kingdom into a mere economic vassal state of China.

Many wonder how Tu Hao could have managed to stay off the radar for so long and amass such wealth which includes a private jet and 50 luxury houses in the Samut Prakan province, just south of Bangkok.

Confirmations that he married to a niece of a former police chief, Pol. Gen. Pracha Promnok, who also a former deputy PM, and the luxury housing estate where Tu Hao bought 50 houses was developed by SC Asset, which Shinawatra family members hold majority shares and a major shareholder includes opposition Pheu Thai Party’s likely PM candidate Paethongtarn Shinawatra, only added to the anxiety that people like Tu Hao have a very deep network of connections in high places.

While he must be presumed innocent until proven guilty and people should wait for the justice process to take its course, many Thais have already passed their own judgement due to their inadequate level of trust in the Thai justice system.

Tu Hao’s case is just one example of a growing anxiety about China and Mainland Chinese taking over Thailand. No amount of Xanax will help reduce this collective anxiety that Thailand is gradually turning into a vassal state of China.

What Thais need to do is to stay calm and not aid criminals, Thai or foreign, to own lands through a proxy or to engage in criminal activities. Okay, I must admit that this is much easier said than done because there will always be rotten apples who will have total disregard to Thai national interest. It is precisely because some Thais are in cahoots with criminals that the country is at risk of being overrun by foreigners through Thai proxies.

Increasingly, some super-wealthy Thai-Chinese tycoons are being branded as agents of Chinese economic conquest. Without naming names of some of these richest Thai Chinese, it must be noted that they are now being routinely attacked and demonized by some Thais and even fellow Thai-Chinese on social media.

“[Thais] are becoming cheap labor with long working hours. I only have one word [to the Thai-Chinese tycoon]: “fuck”,” wrote one Facebook user, a lawyer and activist on Thursday as the Tu Hai saga unravels. People start attacking and demonizing some very rich Thai-Chinese tycoons seen as “collaborators” and too subservient to China or openly support foreign ownership of Thai land.

Some are now insinuating that some of these Thai-Chinese tycoons are not really Thai because they cannot even speak Thai without an accent or that deep down they are still Chinese and alien. This is a very dangerous road to take if enough people subscribe to such thinking.

Recently, PM Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha was also accused of appearing too servile to Chinese President Xi Jinping during last month’s APEC Summit in Bangkok. Prayut’s mannerism, fair or not, was described by some as akin to a security guard greeting his employer.

The collective anxiety will likely not diminish but exacerbate in the months and years ahead as more Chinese are investing in Thailand. Already, Chinese businesspeople have carved out an area around Bangkok’s Sutthisan MRT Station, which is near the Chinese Embassy, into New Chinatown with little or no Thai-language signs – a stark reminder that Thais will have to adapt to the new reality.

While COVID-19 has slowed down the rising tide of Chinese influence somewhat as Chinese tourists were kept at home, the latest information by the Board of Investment (BOI) shows that China continues to be the largest foreign direct investor in Thailand in the third quarter of 2022.

Both Thais and Thai-Chinese must be careful and empathetic to the concerns, real or imagined, that China is taking over Thailand. Thailand must boost its trade and relations with other countries so as not to end up dependent, or too dependent, on China.

Thais must handle the rise of China in a calm and tactful manner, without overgeneralizing and demonizing that all Chinese are corrupt, criminals, or engage in racial profiling to the point where we even doubt the allegiance of our own brothers and sisters who are Thai-Chinese, born and bred in Thailand, who have been integrated as part of this society for generations.