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Q&A with Ian Asvakovith: Thai-Americans React to the Coup

Thai soldiers guard during a protest against the coup in Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, May 24, 2014.

Thai soldiers guard during a protest against the coup in Bangkok, Thailand Saturday, May 24, 2014.

One of the oldest Thai organizations in the United States says the Thai military's May 22 coup does not appear to have affected U.S. tourism to the country in recent days, but warns that U.S.-Thai economic links could suffer in the long run.

Ian Asvakovith, the Washington-based president of the Thai Alliance in America, spoke about the Thai-American community's reaction to the coup in a Sunday interview with VOA's Michael Lipin. The organization was founded in 1927 by the father of the current king of Thailand and has a mission to unite and empower Thai-Americans. The U.S. census bureau reported 237,000 Americans of Thai origin in 2010.

LIPIN: What has been the general reaction of Thai-Americans to the coup?

ASVAKOVITH: I believe that everyone was somewhat caught by surprise. We did hear about the martial law that was enacted a few days ago, and then two days later we had a coup. So we didn't expect the army leader to actually come out and stage a coup so abruptly.

Like most Thai-Americans here in the United States, we are very concerned about our family and friends in Thailand and we hope that everyone will be doing fine.

Regardless of what side [of Thailand's political divide] you are on, at least for the people I'm talking to, they are hopeful that violence will be contained and there will be no bloodshed on the street.

[Thailand's situation] is still very hot, and there is a lot of censorship. We hope that [censorship] will be lifted and that [the military] will allow the foreign media and press to broadcast information to people in Thailand again.

To the extent that I know, there has been no interruption in terms of communication, whether through a regular phone or Skype or any other form. For the most part, we are still able to reach our family and loved ones in Thailand.

LIPIN: Are there any signs that the coup is affecting travel between the United States and Thailand? What about business and cultural ties between the two countries?

ASVAKOVITH: Suspension of travel - I don't think so. In fact, I heard the statement that the army group had made to say that they want to preserve the rights of the foreign tourists. There has been a coup, and there has been martial law. But it's a not-so-strict martial law. So if you have been caught on the street after a certain time, I believe it is 10 pm, and you show [the security forces] a passport, you still can get to where you need to go, if you are a foreigner. So I think they understand that tourism is a big part of the Thai economy, and they want to make sure that people that have come to visit Thailand still feel safe, and they are not going to be restricted [in movement]. So for the travel side, at least for the moment, we don't see any issues with that.

Now for the economic side, in the long run, certainly there will be some impact. People who are planning a trip to Thailand are certainly going to be concerned about what is going on there. So we are hoping that this situation will get resolved and there will be an elected government in Thailand again soon.

LIPIN: What do you think is going to happen in Thailand next?

ASVAKOVITH: We have seen a coup before, in 2006. What happened last time is the military coup [leadership] appointed a government to run the country and then followed that with a general election. I suspect that they will follow [that pattern] again. There will be some sort of appointment of an interim government, and there may be some reforms that are done during that time.

One of the things that does not get covered a lot is the stories of the people who have lost their lives during these protests and conflicts [in Thailand]. Obviously, [Thai people] are very passionate about their ideology and opinions, and I think everyone is entitled to their opinions. But I don't believe that they should use any force or violence as a way of resolving their differences.

I believe that the Thai people should learn how to resolve their conflicts in a peaceful way. Here in the United States, we obviously have a lot of conflicts and a lot of differences in our opinion in regards to politics or law. But we learn how to live through that in a harmonious way. We hope that Thailand will find a way to be able to do that one day.