Opinion: Thailand Doesn’t Need Chinese Embassy Preaching About Press Freedom

Chancery of the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok. Photo: Chinese Embassy Bangkok / Facebook
Chancery of the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok. Photo: Chinese Embassy Bangkok / Facebook

The Chinese Embassy has committed a diplomatic faux pas in its recent Facebook post in Thai and English last week admonishing a Thai media interview with Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu.

Wu was named by Beijing in 2021 as first on the list of “diehard supporters of Taiwan independence” and the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok was outraged to the point where they have abandoned any pretense of being a diplomatic outpost by preaching the Thai press about the supposed role of the press and press freedom itself.

“This media provided a platform for ‘Taiwan Independence’ separatists to propagate fallacies, which has harmed China’s interests and hurt the Chinese people’s feelings. We strongly deplore and reject this … Any practice that hurts other country [sic] and its people under the pretext of the freedom of press is merely an abuse of freedom of press,” part of the statement in English read.

Abuse of freedom of press? The last time I picked up China Daily newspaper, the English-language mouthpiece of the Chinese state, [for free] at a local coffee shop in Bangkok, I recalled it is not hard to find news or commentaries criticizing the United States. It is apparently not kosher if a Thai media which is independent from the control of the Thai government ends up “hurting Chinese people feelings,” but alright if Chinese state-controlled media hurt the American people’s feelings? Where is the single standard?

Without naming the media outlet by name, the Chinese Embassy also called for public broadcaster Thai PBS to “correct the mistakes and prevent actions that hurt the Chinese people’s sentiments from happening again.”

The truth is, China, according to the Paris-based Reporters Without Border (RSF), is ranked this year next to the bottom of press freedom level at Number 179 out of 180 countries around the world – only better than North Korea, which was at Number 180. What is more, RSF said in its report this year that China is “the world’s biggest jailer of journalists” with more than 100 detained and “one of the biggest exporters of propaganda content.”

“The Chinese regime uses surveillance, coercion, intimidation, and harassment to keep independent journalists from reporting on issues it deems “sensitive,” RSF stated. (Disclosure: I am one of the responders to RSF press freedom index for Thailand over the years.)

Now it is clear the Chinese Embassy in Thailand is taking up such a role to expand its operation in instilling fears among Thai journalists. Given such a stance one wonders if in the future the Thai press should just submit its article or news item for the approval of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Kingdom of Thailand for approval prior to even thinking about publishing or broadcasting? Or should the Thai press stop reporting and interviewing anyone from Taiwan altogether?

Following the tactless Facebook posts by the embassy, many Thai netizens posted pro-Taiwan messages in Thai and English on the comment section of the embassy’s Facebook post.

Such blunder made by the Chinese Embassy is counterproductive to Chinese interests itself because it makes the Thai public perceive China negatively as a bully and germinates a negative impression of the country. Diplomacy should be about winning hearts and minds, but what the Chinese embassy did earlier this month was the opposite.

It is ironic that at a time when western embassies in Bangkok are wary of preaching Thailand about human rights and democracy as it slowly recognized the limits of preaching, the Chinese Embassy is now assuming the role of Big Brother preaching the Thai press on how it should conduct itself to the detriment of the reputation of China itself.

Any purported respect for the U.S. is low due to its foreign policy hypocrisy where human rights and democracy come second and third to their national interest. Now it is time for Chinese hypocrisy about press freedom.

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