Thailand: The Chinese Threat


July 22, 2015: The Islamic terrorist campaign in the south has been going on since 2004, leaving 6,400 dead and 11,000 wounded. Efforts to negotiate an end to the violence have failed so far because of disagreements among the many factions (separatists, Islamic terrorists, gangsters) making the violence possible. Because there is nothing to show for all the violence but a lot of dead and maimed civilians and an obvious impediment (all the violence) to badly needed economic growth some officials fear the attacks may go national. Local security officials point out that this is unlikely as there are not many active Islamic terrorists causing all the violence and most of these (at least according to those captured and seized documents) justify their actions as “defending their homeland” (the three largely Moslem southern provinces) and depend on some local support to keep at it. Attacks outside the south would be more difficult to carry out as the southerners look and sound differently and would be easier to spot. Moreover the Islamic terrorists would lose even more popular support in the south, where their violence has been increasingly unpopular, even though the Islamic terrorists have tried lately, with some success, to avoid hurting civilians. The continued attacks have made the economic situation worse, despite government efforts to spend more on developing the economy down there. The money is largely wasted as long as the violence persists and the local civilians know it and blame the Islamic terrorists.

Economic problems are not just a southern thing. Nationwide the regular survey of economic sentiment among businesses saw the sixth straight month of decline. This is the result of a drought this year, the worst in fifteen years. Thailand is a major food exporter (particularly rice) and a drought quickly hurts the entire economy. Businesses are also harmed by the political disorder and the military government. Without a functioning democracy most businesses don’t trust the government. The economic slowdown puts more pressure on the military government to hold elections but the generals are afraid that this time the retribution by an elected officials may be much more damaging than in the past. There have been eleven such military governments in the last four decades and 19 coups or attempts since 1932 (plus seven attempts that failed). Most Thais are tired of it and have demanded reforms to curb the ability of the military to take over. Trimming the power and influence of the military has not been easy and in early 2014 there was yet another military takeover “for the good of the country.” Now the generals are trying to destroy the Shinawatra clan, which has been a populist power in the country for over half a century. It is the relentless populism that the royalists are really up against and you can’t eliminate populism with guns and jails. Many generals realize that the Shinawatras are not the problem but more fundamental aspects of Thai culture are. But most of the senior military officers are still hoping for some other solution, if only they could come up with one.

July 20, 2015: In the south (Pattani) soldiers clashed with three Islamic terrorists, killing two and capturing one. Three assault rifles and three grenades were seized.

July 19, 2015:  In the south (Narathiwat) a local defense volunteer was shot dead while riding home on a motorbike.

July 16, 2015: In the south (Narathiwat) gunmen killed two soldiers and then set on fire the vehicle the two bodies were in. Islamic terrorists were believed responsible as this is the last day of Ramadan and that often means more Islamic terrorist activity. Nearby Islamic terrorists left banners accusing the army of disrupting Ramadan activities. The troops deliberately avoid that sort of thing but the Islamic terrorists are desperate to win back some public support and sometimes accusations like this work. The Islamic terrorists also planted a dummy bomb that delayed train traffic for five hours. That did not generate much goodwill.

Thailand suspended a plan to buy three submarines from China. The announced reason was American opposition. The United States has long (over half a century) been Thailand’s major military and diplomatic ally. Given that China is a growing regional military threat (but not so much to Thailand) the U.S. would be reluctant to continue military support for Thailand if Thailand had close military ties with China. The unspoken reason is American opposition to the military government and realization by the generals that they would need all the allies they could get once they hand power back to elected officials. The consensus is that it is better to have good relations with the Americans (who are pressing for new elections) than the Chinese (who are quite comfortable with a military dictatorship). Moreover a lot of Thais are uncomfortable with the growing military power and aggressiveness of China.

 July 15, 2015: China, Thailand and Burma have agreed to build a 7,000 megawatt hydroelectric dam on the Salween River in eastern Burma. China and Thailand were each cover 40 percent of the cost and Burma the other 20 percent. Burma will get ten percent of the electricity and Thailand will buy the rest. The dam and hydroelectric facilities will take five years to build but tribal opposition to such projects may delay or derail the project.  

July 14, 2015: In the south (Narathiwat) a roadside bomb killed one local defense volunteer and wounded six others. Later in the day two more such bombs went off in the area. One bomb damaged a truck but did not hurt any of the security personnel on board. A third bomb did wound four local defense volunteers.

July 12, 2015: In the south (Narathiwat) Islamic terrorists carried out eight bomb and arson attacks overnight leaving six dead, eleven wounded and several dozen buildings destroyed or damaged. This was believed part of the “Ramadan Offensive” Islamic terrorists in Narathiwat province were rumored to be planning. In one case a security camera got a good picture of one of the bombers and he was soon identified and is now being sought.

June 29, 2015: Thailand announced a plan to buy three diesel-electric submarines from China. German and South Korean subs were also considered but the lower Chinese price ($335 million each) and offers of technology transfer was considered the best deal. The Thai Navy has not operated subs since 1951. Thailand would be getting the 2,000 ton Type 41. These Song Class subs look a lot like the Russian Kilo class and that was apparently no accident. China began ordering Russian Kilo class subs, then one of the latest diesel-electric designs available, in the late 1990s and within a decade began building boats that were similar to the different models of the Kilo. Pakistan also ordered six Type 41s in early 2015. Thailand will not receive these subs until the early 2020s, assuming a new (elected) government does not cancel the deal. Aside from prestige, most Thais see no value in having subs.





Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close