Royal Cremation Ceremony

The Thai Foreign Ministry has recently shifted its orientation from promoting good relations with foreign countries to defending the monarchy at all cost. Since the military coup of 2006 that removed the elected government of Thaksin Shinawatra, almost all Thai state agencies have been immensely politicised. The Foreign Ministry is no exception. The situation worsened following the advent of a new Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya, former ambassador and a known anti-Thaksin figure. Kasit embarked on prioritising the need to protect the monarchy from criticisms among those who lived outside Thailand. It was not surprising considering the alliance Kasit had forged with the royal establishment. However, what is more startling is the fact that the Yingluck Shinawatra government has also endorsed a pro-monarchy policy. This has reflected in the current foreign policy which targets those criticising the monarchy, Thais or foreigners, abroad.

For a while now, the Foreign Ministry has set up a unit within the Information Department designed to monitor those who live outside Thailand who may violate the lèse-majesté law. The Foreign Ministry has created its own “blacklist” in which the supposed violators of lèse-majesté law shall be charged once they set foot in Thailand. Possibly once a month, the unit, led by the Deputy Permanent Secretary, holds an internal meeting with the army in order to discuss strategies in the protection of the monarchy, compare their blacklists, and most importantly, determine who to be charged and how. The process of identifying enemies of the monarchy is somewhat confidential–they will not know that they are put in the list until they arrive in Thailand. Quite often, the army’s representatives are more anxious to press charges against any enemies abroad. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry is a little more cautious about the process, recognising that “once it ties the knot, it will have to explain this to the outside world.”

Typically, the meeting between the Foreign Ministry and the army covers discussions on any upcoming events overseas which are related to the monarchy and following the movements of the so-called enemies of monarchy abroad. On many opportunities, representatives of the National Security Council (NSC) are invited to participate in the discussions. Their presence is important, not only in providing intelligence information (which are most of the time unintelligent) but also in creating “myths” about anti-monarchy movements outside Thailand. For example, the Foreign Ministry and the army relied heavily on information from the NSC regarding anti-monarchy movements in the United States.

On the occasion that Professor Thongchai Winichakul at the Wisconsin-Madison University became the first Thai to head the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), the NSC produced a public article in Thai to connect the existence of such anti-monarchy movements in the US with Thongchai’s presidency of the AAS. It also claimed that the American anti-monarchy lobbyists worked intimately with the AAS in turning this academic platform into an organisation that aims at overthrowing the Thai monarchy. On top of this, the NSC also linked a particular panel at the previous AAS Meeting in San Diego on “The Monarchy in Post-Bhumibol Thailand” with the supposedly ongoing conspiracy in the United States. Accordingly, the Foreign Ministry instructed its Embassy in Washington DC and Consulate in Los Angeles to provide more information and to monitor the AAS closely. A representative from the Thai Consulate in Los Angeles was obviously among the attendees at the San Diego panel and took a lot of photos of panellists. A report on the result of the panel discussion was written and sent back to the Foreign Ministry headquarters on Sri Ayutthaya Road. Some panellists have been put on the list. One may never know when any charges are to be made against them.

At this critical juncture in Thailand which witnessed a deep political polarisation, instead of de-politicising issues related to the monarchy, state agencies have done the opposite. Thai diplomats have been told to defend the royal institution fiercely, even when they have to lie, cover up and twist facts. The battle against critics of the monarchy is likely to become more brutal as Thailand is approaching the end of the current reign.

Pavin Chachavalpongpun is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University