Treading a fine line over China

Treading a fine line over China

Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong shows a picture of Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong with the removed image of Future Forward leader Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit at a
Army chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong shows a picture of Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong with the removed image of Future Forward leader Thanathorn Jungroongruangkit at a "lecture" on national security in Bangkok on Friday.CHANAT KATANYU

The statement in Thai which was issued last Friday by the Chinese embassy in Thailand, reprimanding an unnamed Thai politician for allegedly meddling in Hong Kong protests is quite unprecedented and very rare.

Nevertheless, the embassy had the decency not to name the politician despite the fact that the embassy, like many of us, is fully aware of his identity, his character, his obsession with democracy and freedom and his penchant for publicity.

Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit emerged a day afterwards with a statement on his Facebook page, denying the allegation of interference in Hong Kong's affairs and declaring his respect for China's Basic Law for the Special Administrative Region in Hong Kong and the principle of "one country, two systems".

Regarding the photo showing him, smiling, with Hong Kong's pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong and the related tweet in Chinese by Mr Wong under the caption of the same photo which read: "We stand together in solidarity", Mr Thanathorn claimed that he met Mr Wong for just five minutes at the Open Future Festival in Hong Kong on Oct 5, adding that such a photoshoot was normal practice at any social or political function.

In other words, he intended to clarify that taking a photo together with Mr Wong does not necessarily mean that he supports the cause of the protesters in Hong Kong.

However, a day after in Nakhon Pathom province on a campaign trail to help his party's candidate contesting the forthcoming by-election, Mr Thanathorn said he was not sure the unnamed politician mentioned by the Chinese embassy was him because the embassy did not give the name. See how fast the new politician has learned the art of being slippery like his veterans. No apology, of course, for any misunderstanding that he might have caused.

Joshua Wong, on the other hand, appears to have exploited the same photo in his pursuit of outside support for the Hong Kong protests with his own tweet in Chinese-language media in Hong Kong.

Mr Wong, in his interview with Germany's DW News in late September, claimed the Hong Kong protesters were not arguing for Hong Kong to be separated from China as alleged, but merely want free elections in the former British colony and their government instead of government from China.

Regarding the clashes with the police, Mr Wong claimed the protest leaders do not want violence, citing the fact the protest was peaceful until only recently. He blamed the police for provoking the violence further.

It should be noted that besides Mr Thanathorn, no politicians from either the government or opposition camps have come out to openly give moral support to the Hong Kong protests simply because they are aware of China's sensitivity over outside interference in its internal affairs and do not want to to put the long and friendly relations between Thailand and China at risk.

In a typical military mindset, Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong raised suspicion of a conspiracy between Mr Thanathorn and Mr Wong in his controversial speech, titled "Our Land from a Security Perspective", last Friday, apparently without any hard evidence to prove it.

His controversial statement about a "hybrid war" being waged by a collection of anti-establishment elements, die-hard communist remnants and ill-intentioned politicians to destroy the country was criticised as a revival of the obsolete Cold War gospel of the communist ghost.

Apart from reminding Thailand of the friendly relations between the two countries, the Chinese embassy has not made any threats against the kingdom which may harm our interests apparently, depending on whether its warning is heeded or not and whether there will be more perceived interference in China's affairs from Mr Thanathorn or other opposition politicians.

But as an ordinary citizen, I understand and support the yearning for greater freedom and the right of self-determination shared by new-generation Hong Kongers, and many other youngsters besides, who can advocate these things without going as far as wanting to separate Hong Kong from China.

Their protests today remind me of the struggle more than four decades ago of Thai students to free the country from the reign of the military dictatorship back then.

I only wish that the two opposing sides in Hong Kong sit down together for talks to reach a peaceful solution that will benefit Hong Kong and its people.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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