The proposal to allow the presence of Chinese police in Thailand will open up a hornet’s nest for Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin if it is allowed to go ahead, with the National Police Chief appearing stunned by the proposal on Monday.
The embattled government of Srettha Thavisin found itself embroiled in a sticky controversy over national sovereignty on Monday after reports emerged that the PM, at a meeting at Suvarnabhumi Airport, had approved the operational involvement of Chinese police on Thai soil to boost security for both Chinese interests and tourists in the kingdom. The report received a swift rebuff from both a House committee Chairman, MP Rangsiman Rome of the Move Forward Party and the Head of the Royal Thai Police, General Torsak Sukwimol, who was appearing before the parliamentary body on Monday. In the meantime, a clarification from government spokesman Chai Wacharonke that Chinese police will not be patrolling Thai streets has done little to assuage concern over the matter.
Controversy appears to have blown up between the government and the Royal Thai Police over a reported verbal agreement by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin on Sunday to allow Chinese police to operate in Thailand to improve the security situation for Chinese tourists.
On Monday, the news generated a robust response from the Move Forward MP Rangsiman Rome, the Chairman of the State Security Commission.
He was joined in his view by the Commissioner of the Royal Thai Police, General Torsak Sukwimol, who happened to be attending a meeting with the House of Representatives Committee when the news emerged, hours after a Sunday meeting held at Suvarnabhumi Airport between the PM, police officials and executives with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT).
Police Chief appeared taken aback and surprised when confronted by press reports on Monday of the extraordinary reports from Suvarnabhumi Airport
General Torsak clarified that he thought the reported news might be linked to some misunderstanding.
At the same time, Mr Rangsiman explained that such a development could not be pursued as it would be roundly opposed by all in Thailand.
The well-known MP said that if Chinese police were to be allowed to operate in Thailand, it would lead to calls from other nations to have similar access to the country and would severely undermine Thailand’s independence and sovereignty.
Speaking alongside the Police Commissioner, General Torsak, he said the goal of the Royal Thai Police is to be capable of caring for Thai citizens and all tourists.
Chairman of the Security Commission to write seeking clarification from the government in the reports as he voices his outright opposition
Accordingly, the Chairman of the Security Commission said that he would be drafting a letter to the government asking it to clarify the news reports on Monday.
At the same time, General Torsak made it clear that as the Head of the Royal Thai Police, he would not agree to allow Chinese police to operate in Thailand concerning the security of Chinese tourists.
General Torsak also said that such a move would violate Thailand’s sovereignty.
The news reports were followed by a statement from government spokesman Chai Wacharonke, who rejected initial press reports suggesting, as he described it, that Chinese police would patrol the streets with Thai police.
However, the government spokesman indicated that Chinese police would be involved in policing operations in Thailand.
Spokesman linked the reports to a meeting between the Prime Minister, police officials and executives of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)
He indicated that the idea arose on Sunday from a meeting of some Royal Thai Police representatives with the Prime Minister at Suvarnabhumi Airport before Mr Srettha departed for the APEC Summit in San Francisco, where he will be representing Thailand for the coming 4-5 days.
In brief, it is understood that the proposal arose from discussions on advancing Thailand’s tourism prospects this year with representatives of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, which has several offices in mainland China, taking part.
Thailand has been the subject of a virulent online campaign in the Communist country warning its population not to visit Thailand since they would automatically become the target of vicious Chinese criminals who appear to have access to extensive databases on Chinese citizens and seemingly can target Chinese visitors with access to liquid financial assets in order to extort money from them, often through kidnapping and with threats of violence.
Since the beginning of 2023, there have been dozens of such criminal cases which have seen Chinese people murdered, seriously injured and extorted for substantial sums.
Chinese police presence on Thai soil understood to be part of the plan for protecting tourists approved by the PM, which is causing rising consternation
The meeting between the Prime Minister, police officials and those with the Tourism Authority of Thailand is understood to have discussed the presence of Chinese police on Thai soil, working with the Royal Thai Police in such a way that it would give Chinese tourists more confidence in visiting Thailand.
Reports of the meeting suggest that some of the police representatives indicated to the Prime Minister that this would be an approach to improving security for Chinese tourists and more effectively dealing with Chinese criminality, which appears to be able to access Thailand at will.
In addition, the government spokesman, Mr Chai, said the police present at the meeting had suggested that the Chinese police could provide critical intelligence and understanding of Chinese criminals to the Royal Thai Police in making operational decisions against Chinese criminality in the kingdom more effective and so preserve the confidence of Chinese tourists.
On Monday, the police chief acknowledged that in the past, the Royal Thai Police had liaised with a representative of the Chinese Embassy on police matters to access Chinese data and other cooperation.
Mr Chai said that the proposal involved the presence of Chinese police officers in Thailand together with access to their databases in the communist country.
Spokesman for Srettha Thavisin, now in the United States, calls for the issue not to be politicised as he briefed a questioning media posse on Monday
‘Please do not exploit this matter for political gain. It would be better if all sides concentrated on working for the benefit of the country and the people,’ Mr Chai warned.
Dealing with the shock and surprise that was being expressed at the development on Sunday, after the meeting on Monday at the House of Representatives with the Police Commissioner, Mr Rangsiman Rome said any such proposal would have significant implications in many dimensions and could undermine the stability of Thailand, therefore its sovereignty.
He said he needed help understanding the basis for the proposal as the Royal Thai Police has sufficient capacity to deal with the security situation.
In dealing with reporters’ questions on the situation, General Torsak referred to reports of Chinese police operating in Italy and said it was his understanding that such a situation came about because of language difficulties between the Italian police and Chinese tourists.
However, the situation in Europe and the Western world is more severe than that.
Growing problems worldwide with unofficial Chinese police activities targeting dissidents reported in 53 countries by a leading human rights group
In 2022, Safeguard Defenders, established to protect human rights worldwide, revealed that 102 unofficial overseas Chinese police stations are operating in 53 countries.
The group highlighted Italy as hosting the most significant number of such police stations, which Chinese authorities are using to target political dissidents and those involved in fraud and cybercrime offences to convince them to return home and face justice in China.
Human rights advocates also believe that the network of unofficial Chinese police stations is being used by Chinese authorities to crush dissident activity linked to those who have escaped the Communist country.
It points out that such operations began in 2016, four years after President Xi Jinping took power in Beijing, leading to a more authoritarian government in China and undermining its capitalist revolution and economic progress.
Property market collapse in China and a Chinese economic recession are a critical threat to Thailand
In April this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in New York arrested two US citizens of Chinese origin, Lu Jianwang and Chen Jinping, who were operating a non-official Chinese Police Station from Chinatown out of a Fujianese community centre.
Investigations commenced in Western countries despite Chinese denials that Communist Party authorities are operating overseas police missions
These arrests led to reports that the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada have opened urgent investigations into similar operations in their countries. At the time, Chris Philp, a UK Home Office Minister, described such reports as credible and of ‘great concern’.
The Chinese government has strenuously denied that such policing operations even exist.
At the same time, Wang Wenbin, the Foreign Ministry spokesman in Beijing, in April said: ‘There is no such thing as an overseas police station’ in response to a reporter’s question.
Dissidents are disappeared or kidnapped by China
Nonetheless, concern over the operations of the extensive and murky security apparatus attached to the Chinese state and the Chinese Communist Party is growing in Western countries, with the US Justice Department earlier in the year announcing charges against 40 officers of China’s Ministry of Public Security and other officials for running internet troll operations against its citizens targeting dissident activity and fraud.
There is also growing concern about the ability of the Chinese government to kidnap or cause the disappearance of its enemies and dissidents from overseas locations.
Human rights groups are increasingly concerned that countries which are close to China or have found themselves indebted to the Communist nation may be forced to turn a blind eye to various activities by Chinese agents in overseas countries where political enemies of the communist regime are either murdered or repatriated back to China where they often appear before Chinese courts.
Laura Hart is the campaign director of Safeguard Defenders.
She says that the news emerging concerning China’s activities abroad is only the ‘tip of the iceberg in a much wider transnational campaign of repression. Police stations or no police stations, this is happening everywhere.’