Opposition Attacks Prayut’s Ties to China in Debate Day 2

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha raises a toast to Chinese premier Li Keqiang on Nov. 5, 2019, at Government House in Bangkok.

BANGKOK — The second day of the no-confidence debate saw PM Prayut Chan-o-cha coming under accusations that he risks giving up Thailand’s sovereignty to China.

Two MPs, one from Pheu Thai and the other from the now-disbanded Future Forward party, said the Prime Minister placed national interests at a disadvantage by kowtowing to China in a variety of issues, from railway to real estate to e-commerce.

“People are saying that Thailand has already become a province of China,” Future Forward MP Ekkapob Pianpises told the House.

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Ekkapob pointed to a lack of control over Chinese capital snapping up condominiums in Bangkok, which he said led to a surge in real estate prices and makes them unaffordable to ordinary Thais. According to the MP, some condominiums are now in the hands of Chinese investors who in turn rent them out to Chinese tourists, thus “sending” the money back to China.

“The condominium price index went up 17 percent,” he said. “Allowing condo prices to go up like this turns potential Thai buyers into renters instead.”

บรรยากาศการอภิปรายไม่ไว้วางใจรัฐมนตรีเป็นรายบุคคล 25
PM Prayut Chan-o-cha chats with his deputy Prawit Wongsuwan during a no-confidence debate on Feb. 25, 2020.

Opposition Pheu Thai MP Saratsanun Unnopporn accused Prayut of allowing Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba to gain its foothold in Thailand, showering the firm with tax breaks and other privileges, at the expense of small local online businesses.

“Alibaba behaves like a representative of Chinese government. It is seeking an economic colony,” Saratsanun said. “I don’t know if the Prime Minister had good intentions towards Thai people, but it’s impossible that [Alibaba] is helping to revive the Thai economy.”

Thailand’s growing ties with China in recent years alarmed some observers and members of the opposition, who fear the kingdom may end up in vassalage under China’s ever-expanding economic and military might.

Ekkapob, the Future Forward MP, also said Prayut allowed China to bypass competing bids from other nations and snap up the lucrative high-speed rail project even before its environmental impact was fully assessed.

Opposition MPs talk to each other during a no-confidence debate on Feb. 25, 2020.

He then accused the government of having to beg China to increase the waterflow at Chinese-operated dams along the Mekong River in order to lessen the drought situation in provinces along the river.

“Prayut knows what’s happening, but he doesn’t dare do anything because as he said, we are like an ant compared to the lion,” he said, referring to Prayut’s remark to Chinese premier Li Keqiang in November.

Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai denied the allegation. He said he visited China in January to discuss the water situation as “friends of equal standing,” and there was “no begging involved.” The minister said China agreed to increase the water volume in the Mekong just a day after the discussion.

“The Thai and Chinese foreign affairs ministries have cordial relations,” Don said. “We made previous requests concerning the Mekong River to each other, and we honored those requests.”


Additional reporting Teeranai Charuvastra

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