07.03.2019 Author: Joseph Thomas

Thai Elections: US Seeks Regime Change vs China


Heavily biased headlines emanating from US and European media should already make it abundantly clear which side of upcoming Thai elections in March Western special interests are on.

The current Thai government is led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a general of the Royal Thai Army and the leading figure of a 2014 coup that ousted the regime of now ex-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of also-ousted ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Both Shinawatras are now convicted criminals and live abroad as fugitives evading jail.

Despite these apparent complexities, the story is very simple.

The Shinawatras lead neo-liberal forces the US has been cultivating inside Thailand (as well as other nations around the globe through organisations like the National Endowment for Democracy) to eventually transform the nation into a client state.

Thailand’s military, a powerful and independent institution, along with the nation’s constitutional monarchy, have opposed these forces, or more accurately, have attempted to accommodate them without ceding too much of Thailand’s national sovereignty in the process.

Current Government’s Pivot Toward China

The current government has decisively pivoted toward Beijing and other emerging global powers. It has begun replacing aging Vietnam War-era US military hardware with modern Chinese, Russian and European defence systems. In addition to the Cold War-era “Cobra Gold” military exercises held annually with the US, Thailand is now taking part in joint exercises with China.

Thailand is also in the middle of negotiating large infrastructure deals with China regarding mass transit systems including a high speed rail network that will connect Thailand to China via neighbouring Laos. Thailand represents one of several key pillars to China’s global One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative.

It is clear then why the US seeks to not only remove the current government from power in upcoming elections, but also why it seeks to permanently reduce the Thai military’s role in politics to prevent such a dramatic pivot from ever taking place again.
The US goal in Thailand, as it is in every nation along China’s peripheries, is the creation of an obedient client state that serves US interests both economically and geopolitically. Failing that, the US would settle, as it has in Iraq, Syria, Libya or even neighbouring Myanmar, for a divided and weak nation that offers no benefit toward China’s regional and global rise.

The US Backs Shinawatra  

Thaksin Shinawatra currently runs multiple nominee parties competing in upcoming elections. He has spread out his political machine to guard against the obvious possibility of any one of these parties being disbanded on grounds they are openly run by a convicted criminal and fugitive.

These parties include Pheu Thai, Thai Raksa Chart, Pheu Chart, Pheu Thaam and Future Forward. Members of these parties are in regular contact with Shinawatra or his senior executives and in several cases, candidates have legally changed their first names to “Thaksin” and “Yingluck” to eliminate any doubt as to whom they serve.

Despite a fugitive openly running for office in Thailand, Western media organisations like the BBC, CNN, AP, AFP, Reuters and more consistently omit this fact, portraying efforts by the current Thai government to stop Shinawatra’s multiple parties as simply “oppressive.”

The policies of these parties are also just as predictably transparent. In addition to rudimentary vote-buying schemes, they seek to reverse all ties with China, including scrapping rail projects and cancelling arms deals as well as reducing the Thai military’s budget in an effort to reduce the military’s ability to intervene against them in future political crises.
Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, head of Future Forward, has openly expressed his desire to cancel Thai-Chinese infrastructure projects.

A Bloomberg article titled, “Thailand needs hyperloop, not China-built high-speed rail: Thanathorn,” would claim:

A tycoon turned politician who opposes Thailand’s military government has criticised its US$5.6 billion high-speed rail project with China because hyperloop technology offers a more modern alternative. 

An option such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop One — which is working on building networks of pods traveling at airplane-like speeds — is better for Thailand as it would help the nation to be a technological leader, according to Future Forward Party head Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

Of course, the “Hyperloop” is still an untested technology and will remain so for many years, with not even a single kilometer constructed for public use, while China’s high speed rail system is the most extensive network of its kind on earth. Shinawatra’s proxies prove how eager, if irrational, they are to serve US interests in crippling Thai-Chinese relations even at the expense of national development.

Shinawatra’s multitude of parties have also come out against Thai-Chinese arms deals and have jointly targeted the Thai military’s budget.

A Bangkok Post article titled, “Apirat attacks Pheu Thai’s call to cut defence budget,” would claim:

On Monday, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, a Pheu Thai candidate for prime minister who posted the Facebook statement that triggered Gen Apirat, said Pheu Thai has only proposed a 10% cut in the budget set aside for weapons purchases.

“We do not deem it necessary to buy weapons in such large amounts amid our economic woes,” she said. 

Of course, intentionally missing from both domestic and foreign analysis of the military budget debate is any mention of the fact that the military remains the only institution strong enough to prevent Thaksin Shinawatra’s return to power, a return to power Pheu Thai’s Sudarat Keyuraphan is campaigning for, and thus the central motivation for Pheu Thai’s budget cuts.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED)

Reducing arms deals will also prevent Thailand from updating its aging arsenal and set back planned deals with China, Russia and other defence partners it seeks to grow ties with. With the military’s power reduced, the US and its political proxies hope to implement policies with little contest.

In addition to policies obviously in line with Washington’s desire to disrupt or reverse Thai-Chinese relations, the US is also directly funding and supporting protests against the current government.

Street protests depicted by the Western media as being “pro-democracy” are admittedly led by figures such as Anon Nampa of the US NED-funded front, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR) and Nuttaa Mahattana who was recently revealed to be literally in bed with an executive of Thaksin Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party.

These protests are “filled up” with Thaksin Shinawatra’s “red shirt” street front, an ultra-violent bloc that has been repeatedly used by Shinawatra to coerce his opponents through the use of violence including armed militancy, bombings and arson. In 2009 Shinawatra’s “red shirts” rioted across Bangkok, looting and burning sections of the city. In 2010, riots were augmented by between 300-500 heavily armed militants in a miniature version of the violence the US backed in nations like Libya and Syria a year later.

Media fronts funded by the US NED including Prachatai, iLaw, Isaan Record and Benar News all openly promote anti-government protests and supposed “activists” challenging the current Thai government as well as attacking the Thai military. Their collective criticism of the 2014 coup omit any mention of the violence and corruption carried out by the Shinawatras precipitating the coup in the first place.

While those defending anti-government protesters and their US funding have claimed the NED is a benign organisation simply promoting “democracy” in Thailand, a look at NED’s board of directors, sponsors and past activities tells an entirely different, and alarming story.

NED board members including pro-war Neo-Conservatives like Francis Fukuyama, Vin Weber, Will Marshall and Zalmay Khalilzad all openly promoted the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Victoria Nuland openly played a role in the overthrow of the elected Ukrainian government in 2014 by opposition groups led by militant Neo-Nazis. Elliot Abrams is currently “on leave” from the NED after being appointed by US President Donald Trump to lead the overthrow of the Venezuelan government, Politico would report.

It is clear that, just as the US “Operation Iraqi Freedom” promoted by NED directors had nothing to do with bringing freedom to Iraq, the National Endowment for Democracy has nothing to do with promoting actual democracy. It is also clear that those among the NED openly involved in the violent overthrow of other nations around the globe, are cultivating and promoting similar division and violence ahead of Thailand’s elections in March.

Noting which groups in Thailand are eagerly taking US cash via the NED and its many subsidiaries (and who have been taking this money for many years) further illustrates both the scale of US interference in Thailand’s internal political affairs and which side US interference benefits.

As the US and China appear to be working toward an agreement regarding an ongoing trade war, it should be noted that US interference both in China and all along its peripheries has been ongoing and relentless for years. Thailand’s current political crisis stretches back to 2001 and similar NED-funded destabilisation efforts have been underway in neighbouring Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia for nearly as long or longer.

While Thailand and even the rest of Southeast Asia may be an obscure topic for many readers, researchers and analysts, US success in regime change there will have large implications for China and regarding the general balance of global power between Washington’s unipolar international order and competing multipolarism.

Joseph Thomas is chief editor of Thailand-based geopolitical journal, The New Atlas and contributor to the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.