Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Thailand’

Syria and R2P

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th April, 2013

Syria devastationBashar al-AssadToday at the Liberal International Executive in Beirut there was a special session on Syria, its title asking the provocative question whether the crisis and the international community’s failure to find a resolution to it signals an end to the Responsibility to Protect. Keynote speakers included former LI President John Alderdice, who I have often worked with, and former Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who I had dealings with when I was doing project evaluation and training for his Democrat Party in Bangkok a few years back. I not surprisingly agreed with almost everything John said though I argued that to call R2P a “doctrine”m as he did, was unfortunate as it is rather a principle of evolving International Law. Kasit, as a good Buddhist, argued that the lessons from Indonesia (Suharto) and Burma (the military junta) suggest that we should not seek revenge for what Bashar al-Assad and his family and cohorts have done, but rather show forgiveness. I countered that the Syrian regime’s crimes have been so heinous that for justice to be done he and his brother Maher should be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague (which got a gratifyingly hearty round of applause from the Lebanese present, in particular). I maintained that Western military intervention in Libya had been correct, under R2P, even if the outcome is not entirely smooth, whereas I fear any Western military intervention in Syria would only make things worse. Instead, the Arab League — possibly with the addition of Turkey — should take the lead and try to convene a workable peace conference, though in the meantime considerable diplomatic pressure needs to be brought to bear on Russia and China, two of Syria’s strongest allies.

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The Impossible

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th January, 2013

The ImpossibleEwan McGregorI was in Bahrain on Boxing Day 2004, when the tsunami hit the coast of Thailand. The TV was full of shocking footage over the next few days, but I found it hard to imagine what it must have been like to be caught up in the terrifying havoc. This evening I feel I can imagine that much more clearly, having watched Juan Antonio Bayona’s remarkable film, The Impossible. The special effects used in the recreation of the giant tidal wave and its destructive aftermath are stunning and the cast is quite simply brilliant. Ewan McGregor, as the young father of a family literally sewpt up in the disaster puts in what I consider to be his greatest performance to date. Naomi Watts is also fine as his wife and the three boys who play the children are totally credible. The film is based on the true story of what happened to a Spanish family, whose picture appears during the final credits: dark-haired and very Iberain, whereas the film family is very British and ginger/blond. I guess to raise the huge amount of money needed to make such a movie it was ncessary to shoot it in English, with international stars, but as so many of the people involved in its production are Spanish, I assume they were happy with that. Certainly, it is hard to fault the end result and there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema this evening.

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Jeremy Browne the Golf Club

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st March, 2012

Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne has increased his empire recently, adding India to East Asia and Latin America. But as he told a meeting of London Liberal Youth and others which I chaired at SOAS this evening, there is logic to this, in that he is now broadly responsible for emerging economies (outside the former Soviet Union). These are now ranked, reasonably, in FCO terms in three bands: the top one including China, India and Brazil; the second, countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and Colombia et al; the third, the Philippines and others. He used some inventive analogies in his talk and during the subsequent Q&A, saying that at Foreign Affairs question times in the House he often feels like that oddly-shaped golf club which a player almost never uses, but you are jolly glad to have with you when the need arises. Almost all questions tend to be about Europe, the Middle East (including Afghanistan) and North Africa, with the United States being a recurring point of reference. But he is on to a good thing (my editorialising) by concentrating on countries that are on their way up. Europe, including Britain, is shrinking both in its share of global population and in its share of the global economy. But the EU is still the world’s largest economic bloc, and Britain still maintains considerable influence over ideas (through the Financial Times, the Economist, the BBC, etc). So providing Jeremy remains a reasonably long time in his job, he’ll be performing at question time in the House not so much as a chipper but as a wood.

 

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Abhisit Urges Closer ASEAN Integration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 20th December, 2009

The Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has been busy this week at the climate conference in Copenhagen and like many leaders of developing countries, he has expressed disappointment at the low-level outcome. But not all his criticism or advice has been targetted at the United States and other industrialised nations, or even China. He has stressed that the 10-nation Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) really needs to press ahead with regional integration more decisively if South East Asia is not only going to protect the environment but also cope adequately with the challenges of the post-economic crisis world. Of course, the task is made more complicated by the fact that ASEAN, unlike the European Union, has no economic or political homogeneity, grouping everything from mature democracies to a military dictatorship, an absolute monarchy and Communist states. Nonetheless, in an increasingly regionalised world, South East Asia needs to get its act together if it is to prosper and compete, something the Oxford-educated Thai Prime Minister clearly understands.

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Thailand’s Sporting Lift

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th December, 2009

Thais are celebrating coming out top in the medal tables in the South East Asian Games, which were held in Vientiane, Laos (for the first time). Thailand just pipped Vietnam in the gold medal tally (over 80 each), as well as overall. In honourable eleventh and bottom place came tiny East Timor, with three bronzes; though it is not a member of ASEAN, East Timor is increasingly cooperating with its larger neighbours. The Games’ triumph has given a fillip to Thai morale at a time when people have been unsettled by officially denied rumours about the octogenarian King Bhumibol’s health. Though there was an impressive fireworks display to celebrate the monarch’s 82nd birthday on 5 December, and he is deeply revered by the population at large, underlying concerns have not gone away. The economy (including tourism) took quite a battering following last year’s street demonstrations and the closure of Bangkok’s main airports. But what is impressive to someone like myself, who was also here last December when a new government took over, is how Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has defied pessimistic predictions and adverse press comments about some of his coalition partners and has managed still to be in power one year on.

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Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Pungent Birthday Bouquet

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th August, 2009

Abhisit VejjajivaThe UK-born Thai Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, turned 45 yesterday and as is the custom in these parts, he received presents from his political colleagues as well as from friends and family. The latter were comparatively modest: an iPod from his wife and a panda doll (sic) from one of his children. A rather embarrassed-looking fellow minister handed over a large bouquet of flowers, in which blue hydrangeas were prominent. This gesture seemed almost as much a tribute to the fact that the PM is still in office eight months after his controversial accession to power, following the political unrest in Thailand last December. I was in Bangkok then as well, and at the time many pundits doubted whether he would manage to keep his Democrat-led coalition’s act together.

As it is, supporters of the disgraced and exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — known as the Red Shirts, for their distinctive apparel — are keeping up the pressure against the government. According to a report in the Bangkok Post, their birthday gift to Abhisit was a candle set in human excrement. Subtle, or what? Meanwhile, they have been collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures on a petition to get Thaksin pardoned for past irregularities, which would enable him to return safely. All of which the political mission I am on for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in the Thai capital this week particularly timely and interesting.

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Thaksin Calls for Revolution

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 13th April, 2009

thaksin-shinawatraThe exiled, ousted Thai politician Thaksin Shinawatra has declared that now the Thai army has tanks on the streets of Bangkok, ‘it is time for people to come out in revolution.’  Thousands of his red-shirted supporters brought chaos to the Thai capital over the weekend and forced the cancellation of a planned summit of leaders from the 10 ASEAN (South East Asian) countries in the coastal resort of Pattaya. They are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who was voted into power by the parliament in December, and has now imposed a state of emergency. Thaksin was removed from the premiership in 2006.

The Red Shirts have become increasingly violent in their anti-government protests, setting fire to buses, attacking government cars and throwing missiles, including petrol bombs, at police. But in return, the army has gone out onto the streets, firing live rounds into the crowds, as well as into the air, causing dozens of injuries. Fatalities are certain if the confrontation does not stop and there must be a likelihood of the military making a coup d’etat, as they have done on various occasions in Thailand’s recent history, unless some semblance of calm is restored. For the time being, Abhisit says he is hanging on in there, but his political position is perilous. And he can hardly complain about the Red Shirts taking to the streets, as the rival, conservative Yellow Shirts, who brought Bangkok’s airports to a standstill four months ago, as well as camping out in the capital’s administrative area, were larely responsible for the chain of events that brought him to power.

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Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Woes

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th April, 2009

Protesting outside summits is the flavour of the month. Barely have the G20 demonstrators been pushed out of the City of London than police in the Thai resort of Pattaya are trying to keep red-shirted supporters of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra away from the hotel where leaders from the 10 South East Asian countries are due to gather for an ASEAN summit. In this case, though, the protest and associated anger are essentially domestic, as the demonstrators are calling for the current PM, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to resign. The protest leader, Arismun Pongreungrong, said the Redshirts do not intend to damage anything, but ‘we have to show the world that this government is not democratic.’

It would be a shame if the protests did disrupt the summit, as ASEAN needs a meeting to discuss the region’s approach to the current global economic and financial crisis. Mr Abhisit and the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, were both at the G20 summit in London, but the Pattaya meeting should be more than a report-back from that. As I wrote in an article for the next issue of Diplomat magazine, the situation of the different ASEAN member states varies enomously. Indonesia, for example, still expects to enjoy around four per cent growth this year, whereas Singapore — which is heavily dependent on trade — has seen a sharp contraction. It will be interesting to see if ASEAN can come up with a more united front than the EU has managed to do.

In the meantime, Abhisit has to figure out how to deal with the wave of pro-Thaksin protests that has been sweeping the country for months, as well as the polarisation in Thailand between the Redshirts and the yellow-shirted campaigners of the conservative People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), which is close to some members of Abhisit’s government yet also keeping a close eye on the Prime Minister’s performance.

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Freedom of Expression in Thailand

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 19th January, 2009

king-bhumibol-1    One doesn’t normally think of Thailand as a repressive society, especially not in comparison with some of its neighbours, particularly Burma. But there is one striking feature of the Thai legal framework that sticks out like a sore thumb: its laws on lese majesté. Criticism of the monarchy is illegal and can land the unwary into deep trouble, as the  young Australian writer, Harry Nicolaides, has discovered to his cost. He has just had a three-year jail sentence confirmed for writing a few lines about a dissolute fictional Thai Crown Prince in his novel, Verisimilitude. He has already been in detention for five months and had originsally been sentenced to six years. No wonder he has described the whole affair as an Alice in Wonderland experience — especially as his novel sold precisely seven copies.

According to the BBC’s correspondent in Bangkok, Jonathan Head (who is facing lesser, unrelated charges of lese majesté himself), it is not clear why the authorities have dealt so severely with Harry Nicolaides, who says he has suffered severely in prison, but there has been a rise in similar cases taken out against Thai nationals as well, as the military (amongst others) seek to protect the image of octogenarian King Bhumibol and his family. The King is genuinely revered by most Thais, which makes the current laws and their stringent appplication somewhat unnecessary. Moreover, sending people to prison for expressing views about the monarchy — even in fiction — is only going to heighten the debate about the Thai succession and the future role of the monarchy, which has been one of the side-effects of recent political turmoil in Thailand. As far as the international community is concerned, the new Liberal-led (Democrat Party) government in Bangkok will now come under scrutiny regarding its response to this situation.

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When Will Thailand Recover?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 15th December, 2008

At the LI/FNS conference in Bangkok over the weekend, our Thai hosts were confident that recent events will not have a lasting knock-on effect on the country’s economy and international reputation, but as I made clear in my own presentation to the gathering, I am not so sure. The televised scenes of the airport occupation earlier this month have proved to be a serious disincentive for tourism. Hotels and travel agents around Thailand report mass cancellations and unusually low occupation rates for what should now be the peak season. I suspect that it will take months before that situation improves, if then. And if there is any repeat of airport occupations or mass street sit-ins by the PAD (or indeed by former PM Thaksin’s red shirts), the consequences could be catastrophic for the Thai economy.

Foreign investors were already becoming cautious before the airport invasion, not just because of the global financial system but also because of the slowing of Thailand’s own economy, which is no longer as tigerish as it was. The Democrat Party politicians have every motive to be upbeat. But the new government that is due to take over today has a massive task ahead to rebuild confidence abroad, let alone with its own people.

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