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Living Dangerously
Thai Leader to Journos: Toe the Line or I’ll Kill You

Members of the press have been waiting for Thailand’s junta, which took power after ousting Yingluck Shinawatra last may, to make good on its promise to relax martial law in the divided kingdom. They probably shouldn’t hold their breath: Prayuth Chan-ocha, Thailand’s Prime Minister and head of the junta, said that if journalists did not report “the truth” according to the official state line, he might have them killed. Reuters reports:

“We’ll probably just execute them,” said Prayuth, without a trace of a smile, when asked by reporters how the government would deal with those that do not adhere to the official line.

“You don’t have to support the government, but you should report the truth,” the former army chief said, telling reporters to write in a way that bolsters national reconciliation in the kingdom. […]

In January the junta forced a German foundation to cancel a forum on press freedom saying Thailand was at a sensitive juncture. Since taking power, the junta has made full use of martial law, which also bans all political gatherings.

Prayuth was particularly critical of the Thai-language Matichon daily newspaper, accusing the paper of siding with ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies.

“Don’t think I don’t know that your writing is pro the previous administration,” he told a Matichon reporter shortly before boarding a plane to Brunei. “The previous Interior Ministry bought many advertising spaces from you.”

Chilling stuff.

But as the Financial Times writes today, the Thai PM’s eye-wateringly blunt remarks are just the most visible part of a broader trend in southeast Asia: the governments of Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar are all also various shades of authoritarian. Thus far, Washington has been in a holding pattern about how to deal with this broad situation, as the costs of having these strategically significant countries fall into China’s orbit is thus far largely (but not completely) trumping the desire of Wilsonians to speak out and condemn these regimes.

But with Prayuth’s remarks hitting new levels of menacing, one wonders how long this delicate balance in Washington will hold.

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  • Andrew Allison

    I don’t see the connection between governments becoming more authoritarian and the risk of their countries falling into China’s orbit. What I do see is that the USA’s efforts to force, er, encourage democratic institutions on countries to which they are ill-suited have been largely disasterous. Is the fear that China will encourage internal opposition to authoritarianism?

    • fastrackn1

      Having spent a lot of time in most of the SE Asian countries over the years, I can say that if they fall into China’s orbit it is because Chinese businesses have made a heavy capital investment in the countries there, and so has the Chinese government by building free roads and other infrastructure as a show of good faith.
      While the people of those countries love and follow american culture they still will look to who will do the most for them.

  • Richard T

    Standard Cold War fare. We prop up a tyranny that claims to be anti-Communist, and the Communists gain propaganda points. We forget that the reason to oppose Communism is because it is … tyrannical.

    Oh, wait, TAI is run by Christians. Should we oppose China simply because it isn’t run by Christians? I find that insufficient.

  • gabrielsyme

    Perhaps the King is now too elderly to take a firm rein on the government of his nation, but it seems to me that the most likely road out of this crisis would be for the monarchy to mediate between different factions by bringing those willing to work together into a national unity government of some sort.

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