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Thai protests turn a darker color

By       Message Pepe Escobar     Permalink
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Even forced into exile after the 2006 military coup -- but virtually back in the saddle after Yingluck became prime minister in 2011 -- Thaksin can always count on the finest PR money can buy. And all those crucial friends in Washington. 

As prime minister, in 2003, he offered Thai troops to the occupation of Iraq (the Thai Army, by the way, was totally against it). He also offered Thailand as a base for the CIA's extraordinary renditions. As for the widespread perception that Yingluck is Thaksin's puppet, that was in fact configured by the man himself when he described his sister, on the record, as his "clone."  

So all these elements are not going away: personality politics seducing a loyal clientele; Thaksin as a quasi-feudal family patriarch; the "red shirt" popular base fascinated by Thaksin's charisma; the autocratic, family-run operation trying to bypass the courts and deploying "red shirts" to do the dirty work. 

Yet there are no good guys/bad guys in this script. Everyone -- including the opposition and the military -- is tainted. 

Then there's the calendar. The celebrations of King Bhumibol's birthday on Thursday will go on until Sunday; traditionally in Thailand dirty political squabbles are off-limits during this period. On Tuesday, there were indications of a suspension of the theater performance, probably to be reopened next week. 

The current mess is extremely bad for business; no wonder the Thai Chamber of Commerce has desperately offered whatever mediation necessary. It's bad for the tourism industry (over 7% of GDP); Hong Kong travel agencies are already canceling package tours. The stalemate does nothing to improve Thailand's exports (60% of the economy), already down due to recession in the West and China's slightly slower growth. 
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Dwindling exports are compressing the Yingluck administration's budget -- already in trouble because of a failing rice subsidy, a credit bubble, and the need of massive investments in infrastructure. Just two months ago, the government put forward a 2 trillion baht (US$64 billion) infrastructure development bill to parliament covering high-speed rail, port and other projects, but even upgrades can highlight all-too-evident problems, as in the derailment of a train on Monday with the country's railways chief on board

On the other hand, some very interesting developments may lie ahead in the whole US "pivoting to Asia" drama. With Thailand polarized and the government in Bangkok paralyzed, Washington is paying more attention to the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, not to mention the spectacular strategic opening of Myanmar, just as the Yingluck administration was turbo-charging its ties with China. Thaksin, by the way, is a Hakka ethnic Chinese. 

Beijing is characteristically silent about all the mess in Bangkok. Yet there's no question Beijing will keep betting on Bangkok as a key node in the larger Southern Silk Road. After all, the Chinese want to build a high-speed rail line north from Bangkok to Nong Khai, and there's plenty of extra investment as well. 

So Beijing bets on continuity and stability -- as most of Southeast Asia carefully positions itself to reap tangible benefits from either the US or China, and preferably both. Yet much to the chagrin of those who love Thailand, all the main actors in the current incendiary thriller seem to care is to blindly plunge the country into further paralysis and irrelevance.
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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)
 

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