The Royal Thai Police has launched a campaign to root out dangerous criminal elements from among the growing number of Chinese visitors with the screening of incoming travellers for prior criminal histories and the more extensive monitoring of Chinese arrivals in tourist hotspots such as Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. At the same time, a crackdown against Chinese mafia networks in Bangkok was also launched in April.
Thailand has begun to crack down on criminal elements entering the country from China at the same time as the Metropolitan Police Bureau has begun to suppress illegal activities by Chinese underworld operators in the capital. The move comes as the ongoing growth of Chinese incoming tourists has slowed in response to a negative perception of the kingdom on the Chinese mainland driven by overblown social media reports, disinformation and including a negative portrayal of the country’s perceived new cannabis free for all culture.
The legalisation of cannabis in Thailand is only one of the problems that have beset the reopening of foreign tourism to the Chinese market since the start of the year with the recent imposition of stricter screening for visa applicants having already put the brakes on the rate of rise in numbers as Thailand puts the security and safety of foreign tourist first.
This came after a rash of criminal activity perpetrated by Chinese visitors who entered the country, many of them since the current reopening this year.
The Metropolitan Police Bureau in Bangkok, at the same time, launched a crackdown on Chinese gangster activities linked to an influx of criminality from mainland China to Thailand in recent years by undesirables from the People’s Republic.
Cannabis is one of several concerns linked with the image of Thailand online as a destination for Chinese visitors as well as deliberate disinformation
There is also concern over the corruption of the tourism market itself caused by ‘zero dollar tours’ which is undermining local enterprise while also further tarnishing the country’s image in China.
Thai officials, in March, were shocked to discover a viral online campaign within China which negatively portrayed the country.
It has now emerged that one of the reasons for this has been the effective legalisation of cannabis across the kingdom for recreational use.
A paper published by researchers at Chulalongkorn University suggests this.
The paper titled ‘The Chinese media narrative of Thailand as a tourist destination after the Legalisation of Cannabis’ details how legalised cannabis has tarnished Thailand’s image as a tourist destination in China.
Outgoing Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) boss says Thailand should not rely on cannabis use generally to attract foreign visitors to the country
The current situation has even drawn an admission from outgoing Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) Chief Yuthasak Supasorn that something may have to change while certainly ruling out using the current cannabis free for all to advertise the kingdom to prospective visitors except in the context of its use for medical purposes.
The Metropolitan Police Bureau, last week, rolled out its campaign to proactively combat the current trend in crime arising from Chinese nationals in Thailand.
The move comes in response to a growing number of abductions and kidnappings for ransom over the past few months, in Bangkok in particular.
Crackdown on Chinese criminality announced in April by the Metropolitan Police Bureau Head of Investigation Major General Teeradej Thumsutee
The initiative was announced last week by Police Major General Teeradej Thumsutee, the Head of Investigation for the capital’s police force when speaking with the Bangkok Post.
The appalling case of the murder of Chinese student Jin Can in March whose body was found by a park worker in early April has been a particular misfortune for Thailand and its image in China where the country has been targeted by an online social media campaign against it.
At the start of 2023, it was on a list of 20 approved holiday destinations for Chinese tourists when outbound travel was again permitted by Chinese authorities.
Part of the reason for this may be hostility in China to authorities in Beijing caused by the communist country’s overreach on control of the public during the pandemic crisis and violent public reaction against it which led to the sudden reopening earlier this year with Thailand touted as an approved destination
Chinese student here only 20 days kidnapped, tortured and murdered by evil gang from China here as tourists
The murder of the 22-year-old music student who was enrolled at Bangkok Thonburi University was subsequently found to have been carried out by three young Chinese men who came to Thailand specifically to target the young woman who had spurned one of them while in China.
Correlation between Chinese visitor numbers entering Thailand and levels of crime being seen in Bangkok according to the capital’s police force
The trio were arrested in China and are being prosecuted by Chinese authorities while a young Thai woman is understood to be facing charges here for assisting the young men who rented an upmarket residence in Nonthaburi.
An analysis undertaken by Metropolitan Police Bureau investigators suggests that the spiral of crime associated with Chinese tourist arrivals is in direct correlation to the numbers arriving.
Thailand welcomed 2 million Chinese visitors in the first quarter of the year amid concern that the negative publicity associated with the country and lately, visa snags linked with police action, are causing the rate of growth in the number of arrivals to taper off.
The country is projected currently to welcome 24.2 million visits this year based on arrivals to April 18th 2023 with a target of 5 million Chinese visitors.
Return of zero-dollar tour schemes organised by well-funded groups who undermine the country’s reputation and the income of local business concerns
There are also growing reports about criminal exploits within the tourism industry itself with the return of zero-dollar tours and what the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has called ‘closed networks’ of service providers catering for Chinese nationals which fail to benefit the Thai economy.
In April, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)’s outgoing governor Mr Yuthasak said that this must be addressed as only a small proportion of such tours leave revenue in Thai hands.
The government introduced legal and administrative reforms in 2016 to try to address the problem but these groups who are often well-capitalised and backed by criminal organisations with deep pockets are able to circumvent the law and even manage to fully comply with all legal provisions according to Mr Yuthasak but the financial outcome is just the same.
The tourism chief said that when such operators are capable of legally registering Thai firms then the task is very difficult to combat
He accepted, at the same time, that something must be done to assist local tourism operators.
Ministry of Tourism and Sports working with Chinese authorities to find a way forward but this too has pitfalls as it interferes with the free market
An initiative is currently underway within the Ministry of Tourism and Sports in liaison with Chinese authorities to try to limit the problem by ring-fencing already approved Thai business operators and forensically examining all others but this may also run into difficulty and interfere with the open and free conduct of commerce and the market.
Meanwhile, police forces in key tourist hotspots are reporting that this problem is not just limited to China with similar operations now being seen managing imported and controlled tourism from Eastern Europe and South America.
Asked about the headline criminal exploits seen so far in Bangkok and also Pattaya, Police Major General Teeradej said that many of the criminals involved in these activities appear somehow to be able to access Thailand without tourist visas.
Gangs behind kidnappings appear to have accurate information on the funds available in the bank accounts of those targeted and their daily routines
He said that the kidnapping operations appear very well planned with the target carefully monitored for their routines beforehand.
Another key aspect was that the targets were befriended on social media networks and applications used by Chinese people such as WeChat and others.
It is often how criminal gangs learn their daily routines and habits.
The gangs also seem to have knowledge of the wealth controlled by their victims and will target those with wealth and large cash balances as well as easily transferable cryptocurrency assets.
Many of the exploits had seen substantial amounts paid to the gang before police were even advised of the crime.
Thai nationals act as accomplices to Chinese gangs
The gangs were also assisted by Thai nationals who helped them find accommodation, rental cars or even mount surveillance on their prey. This was a notable pattern in recent cases.
‘For accomplices who are Thai, they work as assistants who facilitate and provide accommodation such as hotels, vehicles or a spot to hide the abductee. The Thai offenders also provide criminal routes, as well as escape routes out of Thailand,’ the top city police officer revealed.
In addition, the Chinese crooks benefited from the assistance of government officials and employees who in some cases had provided them with fake identification documents and other official cooperation.
Thailand can screen the criminal profiles in China of visa applicants, this is reported to have already impeded many undesirable visitors just recently
A key response from Thailand and the National Police Chief General Damrongsak Kittiprapas has been arranging for the kingdom’s police to have access to Chinese criminal databases so that visa applications from China can be blocked in respect of known criminals attempting to gain access to the country and other potential high-risk groups.
This has already led to reported delays and a fall-off in the issuance of visas according to other sources.
In addition, Thailand’s police forces in tourist hotspots and the Immigration Bureau have been ordered to keep up-to-date records on the movement of Chinese visitors particularly in high-risk areas such as Bangkok and Pattaya.
The campaign currently underway includes more digital surveillance cameras in Bangkok and more police patrols of busy tourist areas while investigative departments have been ordered to crack down hard on any potential mafia or organised criminal networks linked to Chinese nationals.
‘There will be a big crackdown on Chinese criminals in areas that are known to be their neighbourhoods such as Huai Kwang, Thong Lor orMakkasan,’ said the top cop last month.