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Thailand In Turmoil
China Lurking in Background of Thailand's Crisis

Earlier today protestors were marching through central Bangkok toward the opposition leaders’ main rabble-rousing stage when a grenade exploded in their midst, injuring 36. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban was in the crowd but was unhurt. On stage minutes later, Suthep railed against the government agents he says were responsible for the attack: “We are not afraid and we will fight on,” he thundered.

Thailand’s opposition protestors, numbering in the tens of thousands, have increased pressure on the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra over the past few days, hoping to head off snap elections scheduled for February 2. Shinawatra has refused to give into the protestors’ demands to resign. As the stalemate drags on, the conflict grows increasingly nasty, spiteful, and violent.

Writing at Project Syndicate, Yuriko Koike, Japan’s former Defense Minister and still a member of parliament, says that the instability in Thailand is giving China a geopolitical opening and requires a response from the West:

The biggest reason that Thailand matters for Asia’s democracies is fierce competition for influence between a rising China and the democratic world. Until now, Thailand has been a firm member of the democratic camp….

By standing aside as Thailand’s opposition and traditional elite seek to undermine the country’s democracy in the name of a permanent right to rule, Asia’s democracies risk driving some elements of the Thaksin camp into the arms of China, which would happily accept the role of patron to so potent a political force.

Coming from a sitting member of the Japanese government, this sort of fretting about China expanding its influence in Southeast Asia must be taken with a grain of salt. But she nevertheless makes a good point. Just as important as anything she says is the fact that significant voices in Japan are now publicly espousing realist geopolitical analysis. It’s yet another sign that Japan is developing a much more active and engaged foreign policy than in the past—an evolution driven by a perceived need to counter China before it is too late.

Koike’s comments also highlight a dimension of the Thai situation that often gets scant coverage in the daily press: This is potentially a major story in what is fast becoming the most important theater of world politics. The prospect that China and the United States and its allies could end up backing opposite sides in Thailand is dangerous. Oh, and by the way, the widely respected and influential 86-year old King of Thailand is reportedly in very poor health…

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  • Anthony

    If you read former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike “Who Lost Thailand” article, be sure to read comment section to get on the ground (perhaps) perspective from South East Asians (by no means expansive). Operative viewpoints can be tendrils for intelligence sifting.

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