China to help Thais build arms 

US-Thai military cooperation is unlikely to be as close again. Source: Wikimedia 

Thailand’s junta is in talks with the Chinese military about developing the Thai arms industry, according to Bangkok’s defence ministry.

The government is also passing legislation to further tighten its grip on online content.

Ties with Thailand’s traditional ally, the US, cooled after the May 2014 coup deposed the democratically elected government and Washington has said relations cannot return to normal until democracy is restored.

China is increasingly filling the vacuum and Thai Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Chang Wanquan, in Beijing last week.

The Thai and Chinese air forces held their first joint exercise last year. Thailand also last year bought tanks from Beijing and signed a multibillion-dollar contract to buy Chinese submarines.

Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravanich told Reuters: “The defence minister told his Chinese counterpart that we are interested in setting up facilities to repair and maintain the Chinese equipment we currently have in our arsenal. We will also look to their expertise in producing small arms and other security-related equipment like drones.”

Bangkok had also held talks with Russia about setting up similar manufacturing centres, said Kongcheep.

The US has frozen security and defence aid to Thailand since 2014 and cut back its opulent annual military drills.

“If the US is unable to back up its regional role … the regional states have no other choice but to accommodate Beijing,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University.

Kongcheep said military relations with the US were expected to get back on track after the generals hold their long-promised elections, due next year.

“Once Thailand returns to democracy, I expect the relationship to return to normal.”

Any return to a recognisable “normal” for citizens appears unlikely, as the junta increasingly deepens control of the political process.

An amendment to the Computer Crime Act approved last week will increase censorship by limiting freedom of expression and silence criticism, argued Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“The adoption of the Computer-Related Crime Act drastically tightens the chokehold on online expression in Thailand,” said HRW’s Asia director Brad Adams.

“Hundreds of activists have been prosecuted since the May 2014 coup for exercising their freedom of expression online, and these latest amendments will make it even easier for the junta to punish its critics,” Adams argued.

HRW said 300,000 people had signed a petition asking the Thai parliament to reject the amendments.

HRW says the law will enable the junta to arrest anyone voicing opposition or censor content using ambiguous definitions, including “false or partially false” or “national security”.

HRW quotes the legislation saying that “content online that is not illegal” can be banned at the request of a special committee, appointed by the minister of digital economy and society, if it was against “public order or good morals of the people”.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said this month that the new regulation would block “disinformation” from abroad, particularly that which defamed the monarchy.