News / Asia

    Thai Junta Asks Diplomats to Soften Coup’s Image Abroad

    FILE - Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks at the start of his first press conference since Thursday's coup, May 26, 2014.
    FILE - Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha speaks at the start of his first press conference since Thursday's coup, May 26, 2014.
    The leader of Thailand’s junta gave instructions Wednesday to some of the country’s top diplomats to seek international understanding for the coup he carried out last month. Meanwhile, a delegation of military commanders has been dispatched to Beijing for a conference with high-level Chinese army officials.

    General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who now holds all executive and legislative power in Thailand, met at army headquarters Wednesday with 23 of the country’s ambassadors and general consuls deployed in 21 countries.

    The General, according to spokespersons for the junta and the foreign ministry, told the diplomats that they have a duty to create international understanding about the May 22 coup and he “would like ambassadors and government officials to help explain formally and informally.”

    Kyoto University associate professor Pavin Chachavalpongpun asserts Thailand’s diplomats also have been given more ominous orders from the military.

    “There is a conflicting policy of using these ambassadors, consul generals to put pressure on the host countries to try to shut up critics of the coup who live overseas, be they political activists or academics like myself, even to the point of trying to use their influence to force the host country to deport these people,” Pavin said.

    Pavin calls the decrees targeting freedom of academic and other types of expression a violation of “basic human rights.”

    Since the May 22 coup and the establishment of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to run the country, several hundred people have been detained. They include politicians, activists, academics and journalists. Many have been released after being interrogated and held incommunicado for a week or two in military camps.

    Some have defied summons, which continue to be issued, to turn themselves in. Among them are some Thais living outside the country, including Pavin in Japan.

    As the general met with the country’s diplomats, a delegation of Thai military commanders were on their way to China. They are to discuss with top-level Chinese army officials regional security and future joint training exercises.

    The two countries have conducted joint exercises in the past.

    The top representative at the conference for China is expected to be Lt. Gen. Wang Guanzhong, deputy chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

    The Thai junta says China has been supportive of the coup carried out by the army chief.
    Thailand’s deputy permanent secretary for defense, General Surasak Kanjanarat, said the meetings in Beijing will map out "future plans of action" with the PLA.

    A move to strengthen ties between Bangkok and Beijing comes after Western nations, including the United States, a long-time ally of Thailand, have been critical of the May 22 coup. The U.S. military ceased training maneuvers with Thailand’s forces in response to the coup.

    Professor Pavin in Japan says due to their geographical proximity and burgeoning economic ties, the post-coup mutual embrace between Thailand and China is pragmatic and a win-win situation.

    “The pressure from Western countries - (especially) the United States and Australia - could have played a role in pushing Thailand a little bit closer to China and knowing that there would be a lot of interest in doing so, anyway,” Pavin said.

    Bilateral trade is expected to top 100 billion dollars next year, with China already Thailand’s largest trading partner.

    The junta in Bangkok says China is among several countries which have expressed understanding of the reasons for last month’s military takeover.
    General Prayuth has expressed a need to return "happiness" to the Thai people after a long and unsettling period of political chaos.

    A junta spokesman, in a VOA interview subsequent to the coup, said a primary goal for the overthrow of the civilian caretaker government is to permanently eradicate the influence from politics of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He was deposed in a 2006 coup but the party he backed won the 2011 election and Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, later became prime minister.

    Parties backed by the wealthy family have won every national election in Thailand since 2001, primarily due to support at the ballot box from the northern rural poor.

    Steve Herman

    Steve Herman is VOA's Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, based at the State Department.

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