Chinese social media influencer, Zi Yu Wang, who entered Thailand on an exclusive Thai Privilege visa, faced possible deportation after being summoned over a Tik Tok video that distorted the facts about Bangkok’s vibrant Soi Nana nightlife area. In the end, Immigration Bureau officers charged and fined her for breaching a Royal decree on labour by carrying on a business in Thailand without a licence or work permit. It came after authorities cracked down on her alleged defamation, stirring debate on the balance between personal freedom of expression and protecting the country’s image.

A Chinese social media influencer who came to Thailand to do a hatchet job on the kingdom’s foreign tourism industry, particularly Bangkok’s Nana nightlife district, has found herself summoned, charged, fined and warned off by Immigration Bureau police who informed her she could be facing potential deportation for breaching the kingdom’s strict labour laws.

Tourist police on Thursday night in the Nana area of Bangkok interacting with happy and smiling foreign tourists, including many women, who felt safe and secure in the famous, although somewhat notorious nightlife district, which is considered very safe and well policed. (Inset top left) Chinese social media influencer Zi Yu Wang from her video posted on Tuesday the 5th of December, which presented a distorted view of Nana.

In the last 48 hours, smiling tourist police have been seen mingling with happy tourists, many of them grinning and cheerful Western women in the city’s somewhat notorious Nana nightlife area rebuffing distorted claims made by 28-year-old Ms Zi Yu Wang, a successful Tik Tok influencer, who entered Thailand on an exclusive and very expensive Thai Privilege long term visa.

In what is being seen as a draconian move, Thai authorities moved this week to summon, charge and possibly blacklist the Chinese social media influencer on Tik Tok, Ms Zi Yu Wang, who arrived in the country on November 2nd last using the exclusive ‘Thai Privilege’ long term visa and was in the country legally.

The TikTok influencer was found to be in breach of Sections 8 and 101 of the Royal Decree on the Management of Foreigners’ Work. The provision provides for a fine of between ฿5,000 to ฿50,000 while leaving the visa holder facing cancellation and potential deportation as well as being blacklisted from holding a Thai work permit for two years.

Tik Tok video in which a young Chinese woman tried to make a distorted and frightening picture of the famous nightlife strip, provoked decisive action 

The crackdown and warning to other foreigners in Thailand using social media to criticise the kingdom and damage its reputation is a stark one and sends a chilling message.

However, the police action to snuff out the once-off case of sabotage, in the meantime, also raises disturbing questions for foreigners. It comes after a further stiff warning, on Friday, from the senior Immigration Bureau officer handling the case that those publishing content harmful to the kingdom may face similar legal action.

It all stems from a video posted on the popular Chinese TikTok platform on Tuesday, December 5th, where the 28-year-old female social media influencer, wearing a skimpy dress, walked through the bustling Soi Nana, a vibrant area in the capital known for its nightlife and entertainment venues, including Go-Go bars.

Soi Nana, situated off Sukhumvit Road, has garnered notoriety for its lively atmosphere, diverse offerings, and as a haven for both tourists and locals.

Nana has a criminal element but it is well policed with regular security sweeps and friendly atmosphere

However, recent years have seen concerns regarding illegal activities, such as the presence of sex workers from Africa operating outside the law and occasional arrests related to the sale of illegal narcotics which have come to light in regular police crackdowns.

Nevertheless, the area is seen as particularly safe with a friendly atmosphere. It is a leading tourist attraction, especially at night time with its bars, night traders and the nearby neon-lit scenes of sprawling nightlife centres.

The video, posted on December 5th, attempting to portray Soi Nana as a dangerous area, particularly for women, sparked outrage and concern among Chinese viewers.

Clearly over the top video, the influencer attempted to translate a friendly greeting from a man into a potential abduction off the streets of Bangkok

Ms Wang, in her over-the-top recording, went as far as to claim that the area was unsafe for Chinese women after a seemingly innocuous interaction with a man passing by who greeted her with a casual ‘How are you today?’

The influencer warned her audience that such encounters could easily lead to potential abductions.

Clearly, this was a distorted portrayal of the relatively safe atmosphere that has long been associated with the exciting and colourful Nana area which is, in fact, one of the most heavily policed areas in Thailand and near several key police stations.

At length, the intentions of the video maker were therefore questionable, especially from the point of view of Thai authorities and officials who are struggling to boost the foreign tourism industry, a key engine of the kingdom’s economy.

Negative news emanating from China since the start of 2023 linked to an intentional and highly sinister campaign being organised in the Communist country

Instead, these efforts, so far this year, seem to be thwarted at every turn by negative news particularly related to Chinese visitors to Thailand.

Significantly, this includes the mass shooting at the nearby Siam Paragon Centre in October in which a 34-year-old Chinese mother of twins, 34-year-old Ms Zhao Jinnan was gunned down by a teenage killer with mental health issues.

Fear-mongering, fake news and disinformation being stoked in China against visiting Thailand

Before this, Thai authorities through the kingdom’s embassy in Beijing and in liaison with senior Chinese officials, attempted to counter a huge social media campaign across Chinese media platforms, which since the beginning of 2023, set out to damage the kingdom’s foreign tourism prospects.

Thai officials this week were acting against a deliberate attempt to defame the kingdom with a false and distorted video report from Nana in Bangkok

Subsequently, Ms Zhao’s 16-year-old niece, Chloe, while still in Thailand with her family including the dead woman’s 5-year-old twins, took to Chinese social network giant Weibo to describe the circumstances of her aunt’s brutal death in Thailand while staying in Bangkok.

Harrowing and chilling tale of how the 34-year-old tourist met her end on the second floor of the Siam Paragon Shopping Centre told to Chinese audiences
Tourism fee fund to be fast-tracked after payouts to families in the Siam Paragon mass shooting

However, this week, Thai authorities swiftly responded to what they deemed a deliberate and false portrayal of Soi Nana which intentionally set out to smear the country’s image. 

The repercussions for Ms Wang were immediate – called in for questioning by Immigration Bureau officers for working without a permit.

This legal action goes beyond the ordinary, as it raises questions about the potential impact on the influx of social media influencers and tourists who frequently visit Thailand and document their experiences on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.

Response from authorities in Thailand this week to negative news impact on foreign tourism has been a bit disturbing and involved state censorship

Ms Wang’s case adds to a recent wave of challenges for Thailand’s reputation in the global sphere.

Just days before this incident, Thailand blocked a Deutsche Welle TV documentary on YouTube, exposing police corruption and the sexual exploitation of minors in Pattaya, claims which have since been confirmed by an investigation led by Deputy National Police Chief General Surachate Hakparn.

Now, the spotlight is on Thailand’s arcane immigration and labour laws, as the authorities used them, in this instance, to curb content perceived as harmful to the country’s image.

Undeniably, the fact that the senior Immigration Bureau officer did not proceed with more serious charges and sanctions against the social media star must be taken into account particularly considering the extraordinary damage that negative coverage and in this case, false or distorted coverage, inflicts on Thailand’s vital foreign tourism economy.

Immigration Bureau commissioner Police Lieutenant General Itthipol Itthisanronnachai led the investigation, revealing that Ms Wang entered Thailand using an exclusive and expensive Thai Privilege Card visa which can cost millions of baht. 

During questioning, she admitted to creating and sharing the video but denied any intention to damage Thailand’s reputation. Instead, she claimed her motive was to caution foreigners, especially women, about potentially unsafe areas for nighttime strolls.

Immigration Bureau officers claim TikTok influencer made videos while staying in Thailand for commercial purposes and therefore breached labour laws

However, the investigation uncovered that Ms Wang had engaged in live streaming to sell goods online during her stay, a clear violation of Thailand’s strict foreign employment regulations.

Consequently, she faced charges of working illegally in the country without the required permit and was fined. The severity of this could see her visa cancelled, and she could even face detention before being deported to China.

The legal action against Ms Wang has stirred controversy, especially as it appears to signal a departure from the typical response to negative portrayals of the country. 

Senior police officials explicitly stated that the cause for the legal action was the production and distribution of content deemed harmful to Thailand’s image abroad.

Happy scenes at night time on Soi Nana after Chinese influencer was charged, with smiling tourism police interacting with grinning and happy Western women

In the aftermath of Ms Wang’s video, Soi Nana has witnessed an increased presence of Thailand’s popular tourist police. They have been actively engaging with and assuring foreign tourists, particularly young Western women, who continue to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of the area without feeling threatened.

Acting Police Colonel Kornruwit Thongsriwanich, a superintendent, emphasised that Soi Nana remains a popular and safe tourist destination. 

He highlighted the ongoing efforts of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) patrols to ensure the safety of tourists in the area. These patrols are part of the Strong Tourism Community (STC) project initiated by Police Lieutenant General Saksira Phueakam, aiming to enhance security for tourists.

Nevertheless, the incident and week’s developments raise troubling questions about Thailand’s shift towards Western-style human rights and a digital age

The controversy surrounding Ms Wang’s video serves as a cautionary tale for social media influencers and tourists alike. 

While the Thai government is keen on maintaining a positive image globally, the case prompts an examination of the balance between freedom of expression and the protection of a nation’s reputation. 

Recent cases decided by the Thai courts, particularly during street protests in Bangkok some years ago, when the government of General Prayut Chan-Ocha attempted to muzzle online TV and news media for damaging the nation and the government, suggested that defamation cannot apply either to the government or the nation, in a general way, under the 2017 Constitution.

As Thailand grapples with these challenges, it raises broader questions about the intersection of social media, tourism, and the legal boundaries linked to the Kingdom’s labour laws which were formulated before the digital age and internet mobility.

Business groups and progressive thinkers have urged the government to reform them in the context of economic development and attracting foreigners to come to live, work and invest in Thailand.

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Further reading:

Tourism fee fund to be fast-tracked after payouts to families in the Siam Paragon mass shooting

Killer’s parents did not appear in court as Chinese niece recalls the terror of her aunt being executed

Big Joke probes Pattaya sex scandal with high stakes not only for ‘Sin City’ but Thailand itself

Big Joke probes Pattaya sex scandal with high stakes not only for ‘Sin City’ but Thailand itself

New visa-free regime plan for Chinese tourists will see more criminal elements entering Thailand

Crackdown on crime wave against Chinese tourists in Bangkok as concerns also raised on cannabis

Incoming tourism growth slows amid visas, airfares and attacks on Chinese nationals which have caused jitters