Thai officials through the Royal Thai Embassy in Beijing were forced this week to issue a reassurance to potential Chinese visitors to the country regarding their safety and security following a damaging viral campaign which reached millions of online readers behind China’s Great Firewall in which spurious, fearful and outlandish claims were made aimed at putting netizens off visiting the kingdom as tourists.

Thai officials in Bangkok and Beijing were scrambling on Thursday and Friday to contain a highly damaging viral campaign on Chinese social media actively discouraging people from visiting the kingdom. The sensational and outright false claims targeted potential Chinese holidaymakers. They were warned of scams and being extorted by criminal gangs preying on unsuspecting visitors with the widely debunked conspiracy theories of tourists being captured and subjected to organ harvesting being raised to scare off potential travellers to the kingdom which has emerged as China’s favourite holiday destination now that the pandemic has finally ended there.

A negative and ignorant campaign has gone viral on Chinese social media sites this week warning off people holidaying or travelling to Thailand by raising fears of kidnapping, extortion and even outlandish claims raising proven fake news reports about organ harvesting at the hands of criminal gangs. Counter efforts undertaken by the Ministry of Tourism and Sports in Bangkok led to the Director-general of the Department of Tourism Mr Chaturon Phakdeewanich (right) reaching out to Chinese officials and a statement being issued by the Thai Embassy in Beijing on the blogging site Weibo.

A series of viral videos and communications on Chinese social media networks painting a negative picture of Thailand as a dangerous place for Chinese tourists has caused alarm within the Ministry of Tourism and Sports with key officials making contact with their Chinese counterparts to counteract the developing situation behind China’s great firewall.

Reports of the campaign come from Chinese and Thai officials who have been monitoring the viral phenomenon.

The online claims have been made in short videos uploaded on social media sites such as Douyin which is the Chinese version of Tik Tok.

Disproved trope of human organ harvesting raised by Chinese netizens shocks Thai officials who have responded urgently to the online viral campaign

The video clips include messages suggesting that Chinese visitors to Thailand can become the prey of illegal gangs and raise previously debunked fake news tropes such as the danger of victims being kidnapped and suffering the theft of their kidneys.

However, at least one of the messages referred to organ harvesting at an official level. This is a particular talking point in China as it is the only country in the world which practises organised official organ harvesting using executed prisoners.

The China Tribunal, a non-government, independent tribunal, headquartered in London and chaired by human rights lawyer, Sir Geoffrey Nice, in March 2020, issued its final report in which it ‘confirmed beyond a reasonable doubt’ that China had for many years been using the organs of executed prisoners of conscience as a source for organ transplants.

It concluded that the country had committed a range of crimes against humanity, a conclusion also reached in 2022 by former UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet. 

This followed damning allegations made by human rights lawyers, activists and Nobel Peace Prize nominees David Kilgour and David Matas in 2006 and 2007.

Warning in viral clips to Chinese visitors in Thailand to beware of scams and the threat of kidnapping and extortion at the hands of criminal gangs

The viral campaign and messaging also alluded to the prospect of Chinese visitors being exposed to a range of scams and potential pitfalls lying in wait of potential travellers who can afford to visit the kingdom which in recent months has been acknowledged as the favoured destination for Chinese tourists seeking a relaxing holiday as the communist country emerges from its pandemic nightmare and life has returned to normal.

Evidence of the fears being raised about the danger of tourists being kidnapped and the chilling threat of kidney theft were confirmed by officials on Thursday who highlighted the search term 泰国旅游需谨慎 on Chinese search engines which means ‘Be cautious when travelling in Thailand’.

One search term alone had received up to 150 million views and was still trending upwards.

In response to the development, Thai officials through the Royal Thai Embassy in Beijing put out a message on the popular Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo.

Counter-statement issued through the Royal Thai Embassy in Beijing on blogging site Weibo addressing claims that ‘may result in misunderstanding’

The statement, issued by a senior official at the mission read: ‘Thailand attaches great importance to the quality and safety of Chinese tourists. Regarding content or opinions on tourism safety that may result in misunderstanding, I would like to clarify that since the People’s Republic of China has allowed Chinese tourists to travel abroad, Thailand has prepared to accommodate Chinese tourists as well as increased communication channels for Chinese tourists. They are able to access information and report any emergency to the tourist police who are ready to facilitate and maintain the safety of tourists who will travel to Thailand.’

However, Thai officials have been dismayed to note that the negative messages and reviews of Thailand have received millions of views on the Douyin (Thai Tik Tok) site alone with huge amounts of shared messages, meaning the extended reach of this campaign may be very damaging for Thailand’s reputation in the short term.

One particular disturbing message read: ‘Be careful, Thailand, you will be arrested, they’ll take organs and steal kidneys.’

Chinese nationals living in Thailand instinctively take to social media to defend the kingdom and reject the untrue and far-fetched claims being made

In response to the tsunami of negative and ill-founded commentary by enthusiastic Chinese netizens, in a country where xenophobia has been rising sharply over the last decade, many Chinese nationals already living in the kingdom have instinctively responded to the trending campaign explaining that the rumours and hysterical claims are simply untrue and completely far fetched.

It is not clear what has caused or is driving these videos and claims but over the last five months, Thailand has been at the centre of a colossal exposé of corruption centred on Chinese triad gangs numbering in the thousands who have been able to obtain extended student visas while laundering money, often the proceeds of international drug trafficking, into semi-legitimate business concerns in the country and property.

Chinese mafia case taken over by police chief with top officers assigned to different key roles in the probe
Chinese tourists arrested on kidnapping and extortion charges insist they are innocent

At the end of last week, two Chinese tourists were arrested and held on remand after appearing before Bangkok South Municipal Court charged with kidnapping a compatriot, a Chinese student in the kingdom, and extorting upwards of ฿3.2 million from her.

Chinese nationals making the news in Thailand for the wrong reasons in recent months linked with thousands of triad gang members and corrupt police

The accused trio, two men and a woman, vehemently denied the charges claiming to be innocent Chinese tourists in Thailand.

They demanded to speak to the Chinese Embassy and later made curious remarks to reporters in Chinese, claiming they were the victims of Cambodian crime gangs.

Also this week, four senior police officers with the Immigration Bureau of the Royal Thai Police were arrested after a Chinese businessman and his 38-year-old interpreter, Mr Namsee Sae Lee, lodged a police complaint with Din Daeng Police Station, on Monday, in Bangkok.

They told police that the officers detained them on March 10th last and extorted $30,000 worth of cryptocurrency from the businessman.

Even at the outset of the resumption of the vital Chinese tourist trade into Thailand, back in January, a controversy almost immediately erupted over the provision of VIP packages to Chinese arrivals including what had all the appearances of a genuine police motorcycle escort provided by an off-duty police motorcyclist who used to work with a detail assigned to Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Police admit bribe was paid by Taiwanese actress in Bangkok but say she should have been arrested
Confidence and trust in Thailand damaged by Chinese VIP tourist services advertised online

Following this, there was further negative coverage of the kingdom when Thai police were forced to admit that rogue police at a checkpoint in Bangkok, at the end of January, had forced well-known Taiwanese actress Charlene An to pay a bribe to secure her release after she was found to be in possession of vaping devices.

Prime Minister’s Office office reveals that the Minister of Tourism and Sports is taking steps to counter the damaging negative online campaign

Responding to the emerging crisis on Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office spokesman Mr Anucha Burapachaisri revealed the Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn was moving to address and counter the fake news reports.

He was quoted as determined to get the country’s message through to the media highlighting that the fear-mongering and claims made against Thailand are baseless and nothing but fake news.

The Director-general of the Department of Tourism Mr Chaturon Phakdeewanich told reporters that since China opened up its borders to Thailand as a tourism destination ahead of other countries this year, the kingdom has laid special emphasis on ensuring the comfort, convenience and safety of Chinese tourists visiting here.

He said that he had discussed the matter with Mrs Pan Jin, the Counselor for the Consular Section of the People’s Republic of China and both countries had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a view to moving forward towards this goal.

Top Ministry of Tourism and Sports officials working with China to promote the safety of Chinese tourists and the best possible experience for them

Mr Chaturon also said that the Ministry of Tourism and Sports had urged authorities in China to ensure that only legitimate and responsible travel agencies be allowed to organise travel to Thailand while Chinese tourists are being urged to use certified Thai hotels and tourist services so that they may receive a uniform and reliable customer experience in areas such as hotels and accommodation, restaurants, tour buses, tour boats and other services.

The certification programme ensures that only licensed operators are allowed to come into contact with visiting Chinese tourists and this may be of particular importance for tourists buying gems and jewellery to avoid being deceived.

Thai officials have communicated to China the ongoing campaign in the kingdom to root out unlicensed tourism operators, particularly those involving foreigners using Thai nominees as a front.

Similar to the certified hotels and services, Thai authorities have disseminated a list of approved travel agents and tour operators for use by Chinese holiday planners and commercial concerns as well as state officials.

At least 5 to 6 million Chinese tourists, expected in Thailand this year, are vital to the kingdom’s economic progress as export prospects are dimmed

The ministry is working in a concerted effort to have Chinese visitors who have visited Thailand tell their stories in China as part of a campaign to promote the kingdom and to counteract the damaging publicity over the past week in the communist country which has again become Thailand’s number one point of origin for foreign tourists.

A key goal will be to highlight Thailand’s law enforcement efforts for the protection of visitors and the need for a good understanding of Thai laws before visiting the kingdom.

Thailand is struggling to achieve up to 4% GDP growth for the year with figures just published suggesting that exports, 60% of the kingdom’s output, will be retarded by at least 1% in 2023 due to a challenging global environment. 

Hope for economic progress in 2023 comes against a background of only 2.6% growth in 2022 after a revision of figures.

Economic growth is therefore predicated on the kingdom attracting 28 million foreign tourists with at least 20% of these coming from China.

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