Update: Future Forward chairman Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has responded to the criticism.
BANGKOK — Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s recent appearance with Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong drew fierce backlash on Friday from the army commander and China’s mission in Bangkok.
Though neither named Thanathorn in their criticism, Wong posted a photo of himself with the billionaire-turned-politician on Oct. 6 when the two met in Hong Kong, where a protest against perceived Chinese influence entered its fourth month.
In its statement released last night, the Chinese Embassy warned Thai politicians not to associate themselves with what it called “separatists” in the China-ruled city.
“Some Thai politicians have contacted the group, which advocates separatism of Hong Kong from China, in a way which is deemed to be a serious offence and irresponsible,” the statement said.
“China hopes that these people are aware of the facts about the Hong Kong problem and exercise caution over getting involved in matters which are detrimental to Chinese-Thai friendship,” it added.
But Thanathorn said he had no intention to intrude on political situations in Hong Kong. Writing on Facebook, the politician said he chatted with the activist for five minutes and took a picture together after attending a forum in Hong Kong on Oct. 5.
“It was the first and only time I met Joshua Wong,” Thanathorn wrote. “I have never been involved in any political group in Hong Kong, and I have no intention to do so in the future. The mission of mine and the Future Forward Party is to build democracy and progress in Thai society.”
Thanathorn went on to say that he is committed to “one country, two systems” principle regarding Hong Kong. He also said he hopes expression of opinion in Hong Kong takes place on a non-violent basis, and he does not wish to see violence being committed against either the civilians or security officers.
The embassy’s remark was followed by a condemnation from army chief Apirat Kongsompong, who questioned whether the pair had engaged in some form of collusion.
“Hong Kong is an island [sic] and is part of China, but some Thai took a photo with Joshua Wong,” Apirat said while showing an image published by Wong – though with Thanathorn blacked out. “Wong came to Thailand several times. I don’t know what they were discussing or conspiring about, but they seem to be supporting each other.”
Apirat also raised concerns that Thai youngsters may be lured into political violence like what happened in the 2010 Redshirt protests.
“Hong Kong protesters are mostly youths. I ask, if one day you feel disappointed and someone brainwashed you to take the streets, would you come out?” Apirat asked. “Our city and country were burnt down in 2010, but they seem to forget about it because the truth has been systematically erased.”
In his Facebook post, Thanathorn rejected Apirat’s allegation that he was somehow related to the protests in Hong Kong.
“A single photograph of me and Joshua Wong was exaggerated out of proportion without any evidence. Some media and people, including a commander in the armed forces, tried to link me with unrest in Hong Kong in order to spread hatred in Thai society,” he said.
When questioned by reporters today, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said he believes relations between Thailand and China won’t be affected, because the matter only involves “one person.”
“But if there is indeed an impact [on relations], then his party must bear responsibility,” Prawit said, without naming anyone.
Thanathorn was in Hong Kong to participate in a forum organized by the Economist magazine. At the event, Thanathorn said he was partly inspired by Hong Kong democracy movement to form his own party to fight in parliament.
Additional reporting Tappanai Boonbandit