As Thailand’s pro-democracy protesters rally, Wang Yi opens China’s arms to Prayuth’s embattled government
- On visit to Bangkok, Wang Yi offers investment and economic support, including integrating the Eastern Economic Corridor with the Belt and Road
- Beijing’s embrace comes at a crisis point for the kingdom, with thousands of pro-democracy protesters defying an emergency order to rally
Chinese foreign minister meets embattled Thai prime minister
“China will continue to encourage Chinese companies to invest in Thailand and expand cooperation in new economies and new business formats such as the digital economy,” Wang said, according to a report of the meeting in Chinese state media.
Work on the first stretch of line from Bangkok to the eastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima has been delayed for years with disagreements over the cost of Chinese financing.
Analysts say Thailand has used the train track – essential to China’s bigger plan to have a fast rail link through to Singapore – as leverage against its giant neighbour.
But last month the Thai cabinet agreed to stump up nearly US$400 million for Chinese bullet-trains and rail lines, potentially opening the way for work to be accelerated soon.
Thailand prime minister warns of national ‘collapse’ if protests keep rattling the country
With Chinese companies and workers needed for the EEC and rail projects and Thailand keen to get its farm produce into China, both countries agreed to establish a “fast channel” for personnel exchanges and a “green channel” for goods.
HELLO TO A KING
Beijing’s embrace of Thailand comes at a fresh crisis point in the kingdom’s recent political history.
Thousands – possibly tens of thousands – of demonstrators rallied for a second night in Bangkok, defying a new emergency order banning groups of more than five from gathering in the city. They massed in anger at the arrest of key leaders and despite the threat of state violence against them as the government reacted to the heckling after a royal motorcade at a pro-democracy rally on Wednesday.
Thai pro-democracy and monarchy supporters clash at Bangkok rally
China is renowned for its policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of its allies.
But Wang still carried a message of support for Prayuth – who is facing increasingly angry calls on the streets for him to resign.
“China firmly supports Thailand in taking a development path that suits its own national conditions and supports Thailand in maintaining social stability and achieving development and prosperity,” he said, according to Xinhua.
It was the highest level diplomatic visit to Thailand since the coronavirus outbreak. But there appeared to be no press conference and Thai media were muted on the outcomes of the meeting.
Thai police arrest 21 at pro-democracy rally, drawing chants against royal motorcade
“Wang Yi’s meeting with General Prayuth came at a sensitive moment for Thailand as the PM raised the state of emergency a notch,” said Pavida Pananond, associate professor of International Business at Thammasat Business School.
Prayuth, who seized power in a 2014 coup and has since reinvented himself as a civilian leader, would like to spin the visit “as a sorely needed nod of confidence by the region’s economic superpower”.
But it was far from “business-as-usual” on Bangkok’s streets, she said, adding any effort to show off the visit of Beijing’s top envoy could “risk being seen as following in China’s footsteps in using strong force against protesters”.
Anger bubbled in downtown Bangkok as protesters occupied a junction next to the Central World Mall and Erawan Shrine – popular with ethnic Chinese visitors.
In a noisy pro-democracy rally, speaker after speaker called for the government to resign but have added calls for the arrested leaders to be freed.
Thai police had earlier said they would enforce the “severe” emergency decree – but appeared overwhelmed by the number of demonstrators.
“I think the Thai state is turning into China … first they control the media then they’ll control the people,” said Pissinee, a 20-year-old student at Bangkok University.