The honeymoon between the Land of Smiles and the Red Dragon doesn’t suit everyone.
For almost 70 years, during the entire Cold War and even after, the United States was sure of one thing in Southeast Asia: Thailand was its ally in the region. Between coups and democratic interludes, the friendship with Washington was behind the development of the ‘Land of Smiles’. But the mood is very different in Bangkok today. The US – and the West in general – is accused of arrogance and not understanding Thailand. And there has been so much of talk of following the ‘China model’ that many are asking if this represents an actual change of sides.
The catalyst was the Thai coup against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014. Coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha is now Thailand’s prime minister and he has concentrated all power in his own hands, crushing any signs of dissent. Experts and diplomats agree that the country has turned back the clock by decades, and the word ‘dictatorship’ is being increasingly used. The US condemned the coup, irritating the Thais. And China – known for not coupling its diplomatic ties with scruples over human rights – found that America’s friend was served up on a silver platter.