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Critical Asian Studies

ISSN: 1467-2715 (Print) 1472-6033 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rcra20

The Sino-Thais right turn towards China

Kasian Tejapira

To cite this article: Kasian Tejapira (2017): The Sino-Thais right turn towards China, Critical Asian
Studies

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14672715.2017.1380875

Published online: 04 Oct 2017.

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CRITICAL ASIAN STUDIES, 2017
https://doi.org/10.1080/14672715.2017.1380875

COMMENTARY

The Sino-Thais right turn towards China*


Kasian Tejapira
Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand

Staging protests in front of the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok is a familiar activity in Thailand. I
and hundreds of my fellow left-wing student activists used to do it frequently back in the
early 1970s to call for the withdrawal from the country of US troops and the closure of
American air bases built allegedly to ward off the communist threat from neighboring
Indochina. We opposed a US imperialist invasion and occupation of Thailand and the
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Third World in cahoots with the Thai military dictators, and felt solidarity with Maoist
China, our beacon and ally.1 However, recent protesters outside the Embassy and their
cause have been diametrically opposite from the past. They have been well dressed and
affluent right-wing royalist elite and middle-class Bangkok citizens led by Buddha Isara,
a reactionary wayward monk who, in defense of Thailands sovereignty and the Thai mon-
archy, has called for the expulsion of two successive American ambassadors for interven-
ing in the domestic affairs of Thailand because they opposed the military juntas coup and
urged the amendment of Thailands draconian lese majesty law.2
But where have all the former left-wing student protesters of yesteryear gone? One of
them is Mr Paisal Puechmongkol, alias Cai Bai-shan/, a Sino-Thai Hokkien lawyer
who has lately become the most hardline and vocal among the Thai military juntas close
advisers. It is he who usually calls for the harshest measures against the military govern-
ments critics (such as the wholesale dismissal of dissenting university academics) and was
also the first to push publicly for a re-orientation of the military governments foreign and
security policy away from the West and towards China and Russia. Since the 2014 coup, he
has served as an aide to the Deputy Prime Minister, General Prawit Wongsuwan, and
headed a lobbying outfit called the Thai-China Cultural and Economic Association.
And yet, it had been the same Paisal Puechmongkol, who, almost forty years earlier,
had valiantly defended eighteen leftist student activists accused of lese majesty and
armed rebellion in the aftermath of the October 6, 1976 massacre of scores of student pro-
testers and royalist coup dtat.3
In a way, the case of the turncoat Mr Paisal is symptomatic of many Sino-Thai
members of the elite and middle class in Thailand. Scholars and researchers of Southeast
Asia are familiar with the historical role of Chinese immigrants in Southeast Asia. They
functioned as agents or intermediaries of capitalist modernity who were imported into

CONTACT Kasian Tejapira kasian@tu.ac.th Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University, 2 Prachan Road,
Phra Nakorn, Bangkok 10200, Thailand
*This commentary is a revised version of a keynote speech delivered at the European Southeast Asian Studies Association
(EuroSEAS) 2017 Conference at the University of Oxford (UK), August 16, 2017.
1
Grossman 2009, 209.
2
See, for example, Janthong 2011; Mokkhasen 2015; Benar News 2015; Prachatai English 2016.
3
Matichon Online, April 8, 2015; Government of Thailand, Ministry of Culture 2017.
2017 BCAS, Inc.
2 K. TEJAPIRA

the colonies by Western colonial masters or by local elites in the case of Siam. Over time,
they turned into essential outsiders, i.e. essential to the normal functioning and prosper-
ity of the economy but still outsiders to the local society, culturally and politically.4 They
became economically privileged but politically impotent, so to speak. Yet in Thailand, a
significant portion of the Sino-Thai elite and middle classes have crossed over into the
polity and became part and parcel of the insider elite while the world at large is undergoing
a dramatic shift from US-led globalization to a China-led global order. This shift dates
from at least 2006. What will become of them, of the local power structure, and regional
political and economic developments?
One way to make sense of this political shift from essential outsider to reactionary
insider is to compare it with recent developments elsewhere in the world, particularly
the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump as Amer-
ican president. These events represent a right-wing nationalist reaction against the adverse
impact of economic, political, and human-rights globalization that has been advocated,
promoted, and led by the West in general and the United States in particular for the
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past three decades or so.5


However, I do not argue that, because of their prescribed ethnicity or their culture, all
Sino-Thais among the Thai elite and established urban middle class have turned against
liberal democracy and human rights, and opted instead for military dictatorship and
authoritarian Thainess. Nor am I saying that, because of their ascribed ethnicity or
culture, all Sino-Thais have chosen to ally themselves with China and turn their back
on the United States and the West. What I am arguing is that in the two decades since
the end of the Cold War, a new politicalcultural opportunity structure has emerged in
Thailand, formed by three key political and economic conjunctures: the 1997 East
Asian economic crisis; the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra; and calls for electoral majoritarian
democracy. These have in turn made it possible to frame the ongoing decade-long conflict
(so-called Red vs. Yellow Color War) in ethnic terms, as partly the struggle of conservative
royal-nationalist patriotic lookjins (Thai-born Chinese) against Westernized/globalized
Others backed by Western powers. Hence, the appeal of China as a close, congenial,
powerful, and sympathetic regional ally towards which the Sino-Thais have been increas-
ingly oriented, both politically and economically.
The key point is the Thai military governments recent policy tilt towards China away
from the West does have a solid social base that may make it more than just an ad hoc,
short-term or opportunistic adjustment.6

Background
Due to world historical developments in East Asia and China between the late eighteenth
and the early twentieth centuries, hundreds of thousands of various dialect groups from
China settled in Siam, which was undergoing a process of monarchy-led modernization.
Over time, Chinese settlers came to dominate the modern urban commercial and indus-
trial sectors, penetrate and ensconce themselves in higher educational institutions and the
higher rungs of civil service, and intermarry with Thai royal and bureaucratic elites.
4
Chirot and Reid 1997.
5
Inglehart and Norris 2016.
6
Jory 2017; Ward 2017.
CRITICAL ASIAN STUDIES 3

Consequently, though accounting for only approximately eleven percent of Thailands


current population of 68.86 million, Sino-Thais dominate the countrys political and econ-
omic elite as well as constitute the plurality of its established urban middle classes.7
The Sino-Thais rise to power and established bourgeois status coincided with the
second power shift in modern Thai history from absolutist dictatorship of the military-
bureaucratic elite to semi-democracy under royal hegemony of the unelected business
technocraticbureaucratic elites. This shift took place from the 1970s until the early
1990s, when for the first time in modern Thai history it became ethno-ideologically per-
missible to openly be both Thai and Chinese (Table 1).8
A long historical view of modern Thai politics since the late nineteenth century reveals
a recurrent pattern of major power shifts. Its trajectory follows much the same logic. It
begins with the partly pressured, partly voluntary opening up of the economy to the
outside world, and leads to rapid economic growth. This is followed by significant
social changes, especially the emergence and upward mobility of new social groups and
classes in connection with the newly liberalized and expanding sector of the economy.
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These changes lead to a political contest between the old elites and their privileged
allies on the one hand, and the rising new groups and classes on the other. Eventually,
all this leads sooner or later to a regime change.
All in all, I reckon three such power shifts have occurred. The second power shift, when
Sino-Thais rose to established status and power, coincided with the period in which the
late King Bhumibol (19462016) came of age. It was during this second power shift
that a compromise formula was worked out in which the Western-instigated process of
modernization was edited and conjoined with Thai conservative political culture, result-
ing in what might be called the Bhumibol Consensus. This consists of an economic
regime of state-promoted, oligopolistic, unequal, and unbalanced capitalist development,
tempered by the Kings philosophy of sufficiency economy9 and a democratic government
with the King as head of the state, in which the principle of Thai-style democracy was
practiced (a government of the King, for the people, by the morally upright, intelligent,
and self-selected few). This is an ideological regime of the ethno-ideology of Thainess
under royal hegemony, that is, royal-nationalism.

7
For a detailed account, see Skinner 1957. This account was updated by Benedict Anderson and then used as an optic to
view the current political conflict in Thailand exclusively in terms of an oligarchic contest for political power among differ-
ent overseas Chinese speech-group elites with other lower-class non-Chinese ethnic groups serving merely as rather
mute and passive foot soldiers. See Anderson 2016. According to Anderson, Sino-Thais constitute fourteen percent of
the total population of Thailand. A 2013 figure attributed to Taiwans Overseas Communities Council is 11.21 percent
(i.e. 7.51 million Sino-Thais out of a total population of 67.01 million). King and Peng 2017 estimate 7.51 million Sino-
Thais out of the total Thai population of 64.26 million as of 2011 or 11.68 percent. So, a figure of 11 percent seems
to be the current scholarly consensus. See also Poston and Wong 2016. As for official Thai government statistics, an official
at the Bureau of Registration Administration, Department of Provincial Administration, the Ministry of Interior, informed
me that the government no longer kept track of the number of Sino-Thais among the population since, regardless of their
respective spoken Chinese dialect(s), they all identified themselves as Thais. The Census Bureau only keeps track of
Chinese nationals residing in Thailand who at present number a little over 40,000.
8
The analysis of the pattern of power shifts in modern Thai political history including Table 1 is derived from Tejapira 2016.
My thanks to the editors of Southeast Asian Studies for granting permission to reproduce this table.
9
The meaning of this term in both Thai and the official English translation is deliberately vague. Sufficiency Economy
refers to an alleged universally applicable, peasant-based, and community-derived philosophy of moral economy. Follow-
ing the Buddhist precepts of cautious moderation, this avoids the worst excesses and risks associated with free-market
capitalism, consumerism, and materialism. Some scholars have translated this term into English as the economics of
enough-ness.
4 K. TEJAPIRA

Table 1. Three major power shifts in modern Thai history.


International system Economy Society Politics and regime change
Mid C/19-Early C/20 The country was opened up The rise of immigrant Chinese 1932 revolution against absolute
Colonialism to the West and free trade bourgeoisie and Western- monarchy constitutional
regime style educated state regime
bureaucrats
1960s1970s Cold World Bank-advised, market- The rise of big bankers and Mass risings against military
War led, state-promoted urban middle class, esp. in dictatorship in 1973 and 1992
economic development Bangkok and provincial parliamentary democracy
and Foreign Direct capitalists
Investment
1990sthe Present Economic Globalization and The rise of globalized big The rise of Thaksin Shinawatra
Post-Cold War and Financial Liberalization capitalist groups and lower and the TRT party vs.
Great Recession middle classes in the Democratic regime of
countryside and informal government with the King as
sector of the urban economy Head of the State ?

It was during this Bhumibol Consensus (roughly the early 1970s to the early 2000s) that
the Sino-Thai elite and middle class built up their wealth, status, and power.10 However, in
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the past two decades, as I have noted above, three major disruptions have threatened the
continuity of this social and political order: the 1997 East Asian economic crisis, Thaksin
Shinawatras political rise, and calls for electoral majoritarian democracy since 2001. This
last power shift has pitted an elected big-business hegemonic sector against the pre-exist-
ing royal hegemony, neoliberal economic policies against the prevailing philosophy of
economic sufficiency a la King Bhumibol, and populist policies favoring the grassroots
against the fiscal conservatism of technocrats. These challenges led to an unprecedented
popularly mobilized campaign to initiate amendments to the lse-majest law in 2012.
It was this series of critical political and economic conjunctures that has cumulatively
prompted the Sino-Thais current right turn towards China.

The 1997 economic crisis


The 1997 economic crisis sparked off an unprecedented currency free-fall, financial collapse,
severe economic contraction and recession, widespread bankruptcies and unemployment,
rising poverty, and fire sales of assets to foreign financial investors. Thai GDP contracted
by a massive 10.8 percent in 1998. One hundred (more than a quarter) of all firms listed
on the Stock Exchange of Thailand were delisted, half due to bankruptcy or collapse. Seven
of the top thirty business groups in pre-crisis Thailand (and fifty of the top 220) either van-
ished altogether or drastically shrank. Nearly two-thirds of big Sino-Thai capitalists went
bankrupt, thousands of companies folded, and two-thirds of the pre-crisis private commercial
banks went under or changed hands. One million Thai workers lost their jobs and three
million Thais fell below the poverty line.11 And, of course, the Sino-Thais blamed this all
on the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The US-led, IMF-imposed loan conditionality
terms of further liberalization, privatization, fiscal austerity, and high interest rates led to
severe deflation, aggravated the economic contraction, and inflicted painful adjustment and
creative destruction on many Sino-Thai businesses, whether big, medium, or small.12
10
Tejapira 2006.
11
These figures are based on the research of Professor Akira Suehiro, the top specialist on Thai political economy at Tokyo
University, cited in Baker 1997.
12
See Tejapira 2002.
CRITICAL ASIAN STUDIES 5

Symptomatic of this historic episode of national humiliation in the face of high-handed


Western arrogance is the personal account of an encounter between Dr Veerapong
Ramangkura, the then-Thai Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs, and
Dr Stanley Fischer, at the time the IMF First Deputy Managing Director. According to
Dr Veerapong, sometime in late 1997, Fischer invited him and the Bank of Thailand Gov-
ernor to a working breakfast at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. Dr Veerapong suggested
that he and Fischer together review the deal being worked out by the Thai Government
and IMF teams. Fischer brushed aside this suggestion on the grounds that he had to
look after many countries around the world. He said Veerapong should trust Hubert
Neisss (the IMF Director for Asia and Pacific) economic policy prescriptions. Dr Veera-
pong argued that each country had its own peculiar economic structure and culture, so a
single formula could not be universally applied. Fischer simply replied: Dont worry. The
single formula can be applied all over, leaving Veerapong saddened and dismayed.13
Meanwhile, China came to Thailands aid by magnanimously contributing US$ one
billion to the IMF rescue plan and promising not to lower its yuan exchange rate to
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take advantage of Thailands difficulties in terms of trade competitiveness. Even though


Thailand made a full economic recovery from the crisis and paid off the IMF loan in
2003, the experience left a bitter taste in many Sino-Thais mouths. On the other hand,
China won from Thailand its gratitude and the endearing image of a sympathetic
friend in dire need, in contrast to the haughty and avaricious United States and a clairvoy-
ant but pushed aside and thwarted Japan.14

The rise of Thaksin vs. Old Elite Backlash


The so-called Political Reform Constitution of 1997 was designed to establish a safe and
stable royalist-guided electoral democracy in which the power of the popularly elected
institutions (the House of Representatives, the Senate, political parties, and local admin-
istrative organizations) was balanced and circumscribed by unelected non-majoritarian
institutions (the judiciary, constitutional independent organs, privy council, bureaucracy,
and armed forces) to insure a smooth royal succession.15 But the great unexpected political
outcome was the unprecedented landslide electoral victory and overwhelming majoritar-
ian dominance of the populist billionaire tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra and his Thai Rak
Thai party in 2001.16
With the seemingly unstoppable rise of Thaksin Shinawatra and his party in the name
of electoral majoritarian (if not authoritarian) democracy since 2001, one can view the past
decade of political crisis in Thailand as a series of desperate, costly, incoherent, and con-
flicting attempts by unelected elite networks to solve the Thaksin Problem by various
means, be it judicial rule, mass protests, military coups, constitutional re-engineering,
13
Ramangkura 2004, 2.
14
Santasombat 2014, 410411. At the time of the East Asian financial crisis in 1997, Japans vice finance minister for inter-
national affairs, Eisuke Sakakibara, strongly opposed the IMFs contractionary fiscal and monetary policy prescriptions for
Thailand, criticizing the IMF cure as even worse than the disease. As an alternative, he proposed the establishment of an
Asian Monetary Fund (AMF). However, his proposal was swiftly and vehemently shot down by the United States for fear
that it would undermine the IMF and challenge US hegemony. Besides, he failed to seek the support of countries such as
China for the AMF proposal in advance. See Sakakibara 2017 and Rowley 2017.
15
McCargo 1998.
16
McCargo 2002.
6 K. TEJAPIRA
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Figure 1. PAD demonstration against Thaksin Shinawatra at Government House in Bangkok, April 4,
2006. CREDIT: 2T [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia
Commons.

or election manipulation. The upshot of these multiple, chaotic, and under-coordinated


conspiracies has inclined towards a backward-looking, unstable non-democracy: an
increasingly repressive authoritarian regime which holds a faade of elections but is domi-
nated and controlled by non-majoritarian institutions, especially the military and the judi-
ciary, in accordance with the principle of Thai-style Democracy, that is a government of
the King, for the people, with power held by the morally upright and intelligent self-
selected few (Figure 1).17
It was in this context that Sondhi Limthongkul ( ln mng d), a multimillionaire
media tycoon who had been bankrupted in the 1997 financial meltdown, Thaksins once
ally, and now his bitterest opponent, spearheaded and led the anti-Thaksin Peoples Alliance
for Democracy (PAD) beginning in 2006. And it was Sondhi who blatantly, aggressively, and
successfully invoked and politicized Sino-Thai identity in 2008 when he called upon fellow
patriotic lookjins, especially those from the Yaowaraj Chinatown area in Bangkok, to come
to his aid in occupying the Government House and toppling the Thaksin Regime with the
slogan, Sino-Thais Love Thailand (, tai hua yi ai tai guo) in 2008,18 even
though, I would add, it had been the same Sondhi and his lookjin cohorts who actively sup-
ported and voted Thaksin into power in the 2001 general elections to spite the previous
Democrat Party government under the IMFs thumb.19

17
Merieau 2016.
18
Tejapira 2009.
19
Phongpaichit and Baker 2009, 8898.
CRITICAL ASIAN STUDIES 7

The same ethnicizing mantra was invoked to great effect again in the later PDRC
(Peoples Democratic Reform Committee) movement to topple the Yingluck Shinawatra
(Thaksins younger sister) Government under the leadership of Suthep Thaugsuban, a
former leader of the opposition Democrat Party, in 2014.20 And in both the PAD-provoked
2006 coup by the Council of Democratic Reform that toppled the Thaksin Government and
the PDRC-instigated 2014 coup by the NCPO that toppled the Yingluck Government,
whereas the West in general and the U.S. in particular denounced the coups and suspended
military aid to and economic cooperation with Thailand, China consistently took the pos-
ition that these matters were Thailands internal affairs. This was then followed by various
friendly gestures by China towards the new military governments, an offer of military aid,
and a continuation and strengthening of economic cooperation.21

Sino-Thais under royal hegemony and the proposed amendments to the


lese majesty law
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Traditionally venerated as Lord of Life and the Land who is accessible to his subjects
regardless of their ethnicity, the Thai monarch has played a crucial role in palliating the
Sino-Thais lingering Thainess deficiency syndrome under the ethno-ideology of Thai-
ness, thus conferring a proper royal-nationalist Thai identity on affluent non-Thai subjects
and incorporating them into his burgeoning monarchical network since the 1960s.22
In addition, at critical moments in modern Thai history when Thai capitalism faced
life-and-death threats such as Pridi Banomyongs proposal for a post-revolution socialist
economic plan in 193323 or the rise of the post-Vietnam War urban radical student move-
ment in 1976, the Monarchy always acted as the ultimate bulwark against left-wing extre-
mism and around which the Sino-Thai elite and middle class devoutly rallied.24 Thus,
when over 100 liberal academics and intellectuals proposed amendments to the draconian
lese majesty law (criminal penal code section 112) in 2012 so as to prevent its abuses by
right-wing elements and the old elite to prosecute and intimidate political dissidents,
especially among the pro-Thaksin Redshirts, various conservative groups and the elite
establishment came out in force to oppose the proposal in defense of the monarchy.25
Even though the proposed amendments were rejected by the House of Representatives
on legal and technical grounds,26 the controversy still lingers on, with the United States,
European Union, and United Nations human-rights agencies time and again deploring the
laws illiberal nature and heavy punishment, and calling for its amendment.27 Meanwhile,
China has expressed no opinion and focused instead on strengthening ties with members
of the Thai royal family. For example, Crown Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, who has
visited the Peoples Republic of China twenty-eight times since 1981, was ranked ninth
with 2,247,707 votes among the Ten Best International Friends of China, according to
a cyber-selection event organized by China Radio International, the Chinese Peoples
20
Manager Online 2014.
21
Santasombat 2014, 414415; Nanuam 2014, Nanuam et al. 2014.
22
Tejapira in Chirot and Reid 1997, 8688; Tejapira 2006, 1820.
23
Tejapira 2001, 3541.
24
Anderson 2014, 6676.
25
Prachatai, May 27, 2012; McCargo and Tanruangporn 2015, 811.
26
Prachatai, November 1, 2012.
27
Corben 2015; European Parliament 2015; Head 2017.
8 K. TEJAPIRA

Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, and the PRCs State Administration of
Foreign Experts Affairs in 2009. The high-profile awards ceremony, which the Princess
attended, was held in Beijings Great Hall of the People in December 2009.28

A cacophony of cheering and possible adjustment


In conclusion, I would like to present various arguments and interpretations made by pro-
junta public intellectuals, policymakers, and political leaders regarding the Thai military
governments diplomatic shift away from the United States and the West towards
China that is related to Thailands domestic political conflict. These range from anti-
Western nationalism to Sinocentric globalism, unashamed parasitic opportunism to
simple-minded copycat authoritarianism.
First is that of Professor Anek Laothamatas, a former left-wing student activist and
guerrilla fighter against the military dictatorship in the 1970s who has turned into a
well-known American educated reformist political scientist-cum-commentator and aspir-
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ing politician. Appointed by the NCPO as a leading member of the National Reform
Council and the National Strategy Committee, he professes a fairly balanced and cautious
view regarding Thailands relations with China, the U.S., and other major powers with a
slight tilt towards Asia:
Chinas OBOR strategy and the US pivoting to Asia policy together have provided a great
opportunity for Thailand with its key geopolitical location to play the role of a mediating,
profiting, logistical frontline state among China, the US, India, and ASEAN along the historic
trajectory of the current rise of Asia. In this endeavor, Thailand needs to maintain a good
balance in its relationships with China and the US.29

Next is Professor Srisak Walliphodom, an independent-minded and self-taught, interna-


tionally recognized archaeologist and anthropologist, who ventured beyond his scholarly
elds of expertise to ght the Thaksin problem in 2006. His political views are solidly
conservative royal-nationalist, in an extremist, militant, and uncompromising manner.
As his outspoken comments below indicate, he considers China as no less an evil for Thai-
land than the U.S., albeit a necessary one:
Historically, Siam has slavishly fallen prey to intellectual Westernization and political and
economic Americanization, particularly predatory capitalism and anti-monarchist democ-
racy that have ravaged our natural resources, community culture, and local autonomy. To
balance the power of the US, the UN, and the West in general, the Thai military government
has veered towards China and its allies in the East, thus making Siam willy-nilly a joint pro-
tectorate of the US and China. However, China, though not particularly choosy when it
comes to the political regime of Thailand, is in fact no better than the US in its economic
rapaciousness and immigrant infiltration and racial occupation. The military government
needs to become fully and unabashedly dictatorial in dealing with its Westernized opponents,
shut the country off from the outside world for five years or more, and practice the philos-
ophy of sufficiency economy.30

As far as the Western-derived democratic bane of Thai politics is concerned, the view of
Professor Khien Teerawit of Chulalongkorn University can be considered typical among
28
Zhou 2016.
29
Laothamatas 2016.
30
Walliphodom 2016.
CRITICAL ASIAN STUDIES 9

the Sino-Thai middle class. As a veteran doyen of Chinese studies in Thailand since the
1970s whose scholarly specialization used to draw the uninvited interest of state security
agencies during the Cold War, Khien has inclined in recent years, especially since the
emergence of the Thaksin problem, to a wholesale denigration of electoral democracy
on the grounds of American political hypocrisy and utilitarian criteria. Hence, his prag-
matic Dengist judgement that so long as it can catch mice, Thai people should not
bother whether the ruling cat is white or black, civilian or military, elected or unelected:
Thai academics, journalists, political activists, and politicians should not fall into the democ-
racy trap of Western dogmatism. Given the unscrupulous Thai voting behavior and result-
ing electoral frauds, democracy has led to the government of the corrupted rich like Thaksin
which violated the rule of law and the Constitution for the interests of himself and his
cronies. Besides, the aggressive and warlike action of the self-proclaimed champion of
democracy like the US should remind us of the danger of vulgar and fake democracy. So,
instead of pinning false hopes on fake democracy and an underachieving elected/insider
PM like Thaksin and Yingluck, one should opt for an overachieving unelected/outsider
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PM like General Prem Tinsulanonda, Anand Panyarachun, and General Prayut Chan-o-
cha. After all, he is a patriotic soldier and a Thai, isnt he?31

Even though one expects a bona de technocrat to be politically pragmatic and economi-
cally opportunistic, one could hardly anticipate him displaying these qualities in such an
outright blatant and outrageously unashamed manner, especially if the technocrat in
question is the top-ranking ofcial at a key economic ministry. So, I cannot help but
read with hilarity and relish the vivid metaphor for Thailands relations with China
used by the outspoken Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance, Dr Somchai
Sujjapongse:
The Ministry of Finance has been thinking of introducing the Siamese Tick Model to drive
our international economic relations forward by stressing the building of trade and invest-
ment alliance with various countries, especially those with continuing growth potential, so
as to jointly energize the economic expansion of both Thailand and her allies e.g. China,
India, and African and ASEAN countries. This is because an emphasis on competition
with other countries wont do any good to Thailands overall economy in the context of
global economic slowdown.

The Siamese Tick Model will help us grow along with those expanding economies. We need
not grow alone since we can depend on our allies. For example, if China grows, we will also
become fattened. But if China stops growing, we can leave it for India or South Africa instead.
This is our growth strategy, that is, whoever grows, we will simply get a ride with it.32

Finally, we have the Prime Minister and Head of the NCPO junta, General Prayut Chan-o-
cha, notorious for his off-the-cuff remarks, and whose recommendation to his Cabinet
colleagues was cited by one of them as follows:
12 April (2016): 2PM at the Government House. Mrs. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Minister
of Tourism and Sports, has stated that during the Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister and Head
of the NCPO, General Prayut Chan-o-cha, recommended that the Cabinet members should
read The Governance of China, a book written by the Chinese leader, whose approach was
relevant to Thailand since both countries were in a similar period of reform.33

31
Teerawit 2016.
32
Prachatai 2016.
33
Matichon Online, April 12, 2016.
10 K. TEJAPIRA

I should add a word of caution; although the anti-U.S., anti-democratic views I provide
above were generally well received by the elite and middle-class public when they appeared
in print and on social media, a degree of doublethink and opportunism is also present.
Thus, while members of the elite and middle class might deantly and publicly
condemn the West and the U.S. for interfering in Thailands domestic affairs when it cri-
ticizes the recent coups, they could also boast almost in the same breath that they were
planning to send their kids to the U.S. or U.K. for further education.34
Be that as it may, having gone through three years under the learning-on-the-job rule
and amateurish mismanagement of the NCPOs Sinophile military dictatorship, the state
of Thailand in general and the fortunes of the average Sino-Thais in particular are far from
hopeful. Given the dismal underperformance of the economy relative to those of regional
neighbors as well as in comparison with the economic conditions under the previous
elected government,35 the pride of place and support that government policy has munifi-
cently bestowed upon big businesses at the expense of agriculture and SMEs,36 the ascen-
sion to the throne of the new monarch who has yet to win the deep-rooted popularity and
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enduring hegemony of his late predecessor if ever,37 and the glaring disadvantages and
cost-ineffectiveness of the many big-ticket arms-procurement and joint infrastructure
construction deals the Prayut Government has made with China,38 it is likely that the
Sino-Thais hitherto political proclivity will shift somewhat in an opposite direction and
a policy adjustment of sort is possible, especially in the aftermath of the scheduled
general elections in 2018.39

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

Notes on contributor
Kasian Tejapira is a professor of political science at Thammasat University in Bangkok. A noted
columnist and burgeoning poet, he was formerly a radical activist in northeastern Thailand.

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