Happy Hmong

Thailand’s “voluntary” deportation of 4,700 Hmong at the end of last year drew a lot of flak internationally and seriously affected Thailand’s (and possibly Abhisit’s) image. Human rights groups were outraged. Almost immediately there were reports of torture and imprisonment.

It was all bollocks.

As Nation’s Supalak reports from Vientiane all refugees have been treated well and decided to stay in Laos instead of hoping that some Western country takes them in. By now only less than two hundred remain in clearing center, the rest have been given some money, land, a year supply of rice.

Their leader, Blia Shoua Her, has changed his mind and decided to join his family. He was the one who was reportedly jailed and about to be tortured.

Lao government even let one US Congressman to come and see things for himself: “There is no indication of discrimination or harassment or mistreatment of the people in Pha Lak village.”

While it’s a good news overall there are potential implications for the future.

First, Thai military and Thai government appear to be more trustworthy then a brigade of human rightists.

Second, solutions to refugee problems lie with the governments, not with activists.

Third, international framework for dealing with refugees seems to be failing miserably, it was put there for a good reason and without it there’s a potential for abuse.

Human rights groups, in Asean governments eyes (forget myself), have lost credibility. They appear to be part of the problem rather than a solution. Last year Thailand tried to establish channels of communication within Asean between governments and human right representatives. What does Lao government think of this? After being accused of political persecution and even torture? Will Vietnam, the next Asean chair, even bother?

What are these people doing? They are severely undermining their own cause, nothing else.

Another aspect – Thailand’s attitude towards western governments. I don’t think they are going to pay any attention to “righteous condemnation” anymore. First they disagreed on Rohingya, rightly or wrongly, and now Hmong, that’s two strikes. No one will bother with the the next “wolf” cry. It’s just noise, however annoying.

Credibility goes a long way in Asia, and the West is losing it.

Hun Sen

I guess everybody has seen these excerpts from Hun Sen’s press conference in The Nation, along with Cambodia’s official response to extradition request.

It’s a clear case that it’s better to be quiet and appear stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubts. Hun Sen might have raised a few points worth a discussion, but he also said a few things simply unacceptable in international relations. What is he going to do to take them back? Apologize? Not likely. Sit it out and hope for a mood change? There will be serious Asean pressure to normalize the relationships ASAP.

The reality is that Thailand doesn’t really need Cambodia in any particular way, not politically, nor economically. It can just shut the diplomatic ties, leave the border open and ignore Hun Sen, even refuse to attend meetings held in the same room. Thaksin did that once when Asean wanted to talk about Tak Bai and it worked.

If Thailand suspends diplomatic relations, Abhisit will have a legal reason not to attend, the pressure is all on Hun Sen – it’s a lot easier for Thailand to reopen the embassy than for Hun Sen to apologize to Abhisit.

So the question is – what is Hun Sen going to do when it comes to taking responsibility for his words?

If he hopes that Thaksin proxy will come back to power and relations will be restored, he is seriously mistaken.

The interview was given three days ago and it appeared in Thai papers yesterday, though there were references to it in the English media, too.

Right now both sides moved past those accusations. Abhisit basically ignored them and focused on official channels – request extradition, resubmit the request, and so on.

There are no clues as to what will be included in the second request but I hope they focus no this interesting wording in official Cambodian letter – that at the time of the coup Thaksin was overwhelmingly and democratically elected by Thai people.

They could simply state that it is factually untrue – Thaksin relinquished his democratic mandate when he dissolved the parliament in February that year. He failed to regain it after April elections, and he promised not to resume premiership on the national TV. All of that happened half a year before the coup, so he didn’t have any electoral mandate at that time.

Let’s see how Cambodians would try to correct this obvious mistake.

Thailand could also point that downgrade in relationships is not connected to Thaksin’s role as an advisor but to Thaksin’s extradition matter.

There’s also a question of a rumor about a hundred opposition MPs meeting with Thaksin in Siem Reap. For now there’s a picture of one coming for the lecture in Phnom Phenh, and reports of some red shirts moving there overland. Cambodian excuses that they are paying personal visits that have nothing to do with Thai politics would sound really lame when the news reaches other Asean members.

Abhisit also said he doesn’t want to involve Asean in this bilateral spat. This is actually cool, because they will come knocking and begging anyway, and he’d send them to talk to Hun Sen first, as he is the one in the attack mode.

It’s hard to see how the situation can backfire on Abhisit domestically, all he has to do is to up the ante once in a while to be seen as strong, in the meantime he can just go on with governing the country, playing the part of the elephant that doesn’t respond to barking dogs, and that’s how it will play out in the end. Hun Sen’s talk doesn’t really hurt, only makes him look like barking mad, for saying these kind of things.

Emotions will subside, trade will not be affected, business will go on as usual, internationally Thailand would look like a victim of an unprovoked and unwarranted attack, and domestic opposition will be all but destroyed.