Saturday, April 18, 2009

View from South East Asia - Repercussions of the recent unrest in Thailand

Asia Times Online continues to produce quality reporting on Thailand. The editor, Shawn Crispin is based there and really has his finger on the pulse. His latest article is ‘Shooting the messenger in Thailand’ (

It a good read about the recent shooting of People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest group leader Sondhi Limthongkul. He ends the article with the sombre warning, “The fear now is that Friday's assassination attempt could indicate that the UDD and Thaksin's supporters aim to bypass the courts and mete out justice as they see fit on Thailand's increasingly mean streets.”

Another good article from Asia Times is ‘ASEAN's Pattaya problem' ( by Donald K Emmerson. He reminds us that in the last seven months, Thailand has had four different prime ministers, including one interim premier.

He comments that “ASEAN has long insisted on occupying the driver's seat in vehicles for cooperation between Southeast Asia and countries outside the region. One of these formats is ASEAN Plus Three (APT), the Three being China, Japan, and South Korea. Another is the East Asia Summit, which adds Australia, India, and New Zealand to the APT.

When Thai strife stymied summitry in Pattaya, both of these vehicles were derailed. ASEAN may or may not be outmoded as a vehicle for beneficial comity among Southeast Asians alone. But a second effect of the Thai debacle is to throw into serious doubt the right of ASEAN to drive the larger regional car.“

He continues, “But it is unlikely that many of ASEAN's disappointed leaders, as they were evacuated from Pattaya or turned back en route, blamed the waste of their time on Thailand's failure to handle the demonstrators more democratically. More likely was the opposite conclusion: that the Thai government should have cracked down harder on the protests to stop them from getting out of hand.“

What does the future hold?

Donald K Emmerson ends his article with this comment, “Who will lead ASEAN? On present evidence, for the next four to five years, it will be one authoritarian government after another. What is the future of democracy in Southeast Asia? As of now, and for the same near term, not as bright as might be hoped. “

In rotation, Vietnam will be the next Chair of ASEAN in 2010. The protests that forced the cancellation of the Asean summit in Thailand last weekend will likely lead Vietnam to move slower on political liberalisation, experts said Monday.

"Thailand used to be one of the democratic models for Vietnam, but these incidents in Thailand certainly will make Vietnamese leaders more cautious about democracy," said Professor Trinh Duy Luan, director of Vietnam's Institute for Social Studies.

Officially, Vietnam's government expressed "regret" over the postponement of the Asean summit. " In our view, this is a regrettable event, affecting not only Thailand's image but Asean's process of cooperation," said Nguyen Hong Cuong, director of the Asean Department at Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Cuong noted that several agreements on Asean cooperation scheduled to be adopted at the summit had been postponed.

The state-run newspaper Vietnam News reported Monday that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung hoped that "political stability" would soon return to Thailand, for the sake of its national development its responsibilities as rotating chair of Asean.

But some analysts said the repercussions of Thailand's demonstrations were likely to slow moves in Communist Vietnam to allow greater freedom of organisation and more room for civil society groups.

For several years, the country's National Assembly has debated reforms to the national Law on Associations, which regulates the formation of any kind of civic group. Under current law, all such groups must be affiliated with a government agency or government-chartered "mass organisation," such as the Women's Union or the Union of Science and Technology Associations.

Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam specialist at the Australian Defence Force Academy, said Vietnamese leaders opposed to liberalisation would use the Thai unrest to support strong single-party rule.

"Like any instability in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, Vietnamese television will show that violence extensively," Thayer said. "The subtext is 'This is what you get when you have a multiparty democracy.'"

Vietnamese television news has been running footage of the protests in Thailand since they began over the weekend.

Nguyen Tran Bat, chair of the Vietnamese consulting firm InvestConsult, agreed that moves to broaden civil society in Vietnam would be limited.

"Vietnam will allow people to have more rights, but in order to facilitate leadership, it will not consider them as natural rights," Bat said. "The concept of what democracy is will certainly be considered more cautiously by Vietnamese leaders."

Being a member of the United Nation Security Council, Vietnam has already chaired the Council for one month and will do so again later this year. It is hope that this experience will bode well when Vietnam chairs ASEAN next year.

We need understanding

Asia is a region in turmoil, from the troubles in Thailand to massacres in Mumbai and threats in Korea. If ever there was a crying need for Global Understanding, now is the time and Asia is the place. In future blogs, we will explore the situation in the other hotspots around Asia.

For now, let us try to live together in harmony, which is the motto of the Global Understanding Institute (GUI). The Global Understanding movement was formed in 2006 and launched on Valentine's Day of that year (14 February 2006).

It was formed by a group of like-minded individuals who wish to see a peaceful world, where children can be brought up in a safe and clean environment. Where children learn the difference between right and wrong; between hate and love; war and peace; moral and immoral behaviour; honesty and dishonest intentions; legal and illegal actions; ethical and unethical activities.

We seek to share understanding of the world around us through provision of global and local forums to exchange and express views for all interested and concerned citizens of the world. We owe it to each other to communicate in a polite, logical and rational manner that takes into consideration racial, religious and political sensitivities.

We seek to foster multicultural, pluralistic communities and to create peace between neighbors. This is based on the fundamental principles of human and humanitarian rights. Our goal is to aid any interested and concerned citizen of the world to understand others, to be understood themselves especially during times of crisis or conflict, and to bring peace and reconciliation where there are differences.

GUI is now on Twitter ( where you can catch up on the real-time updates. If you would like to play a role in promoting global understanding, please contact Peter Corless at 650-906-3134 (mobile); or by email at You can also find Peter on Facebook and on LinkedIn:

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