Asia in Review Archive 2021


Date of AiR edition

News summary

12 January 2021

Thailand: Anti-migrant sentiment amid second Covid-19 wave

(nd) Following the latest spike in Covid-19 cases in a shrimp market southwest of Bangkok, the high number of migrant workers were blamed for the cause of a second wave in infections. The virus was able to spread quickly in tiny, congested quarters, comparable to ghetto-like living situations among migrant workers elsewhere in the region. The anti-Myanmar migrant sentiment was further pushed by social media postings, amounting to threats and calls not to treat them. Other, however, remind that the workers have been there before the virus outbreak and supported the already struggling Thai economy.

Another factor are Thai human smuggling gangs collaborating with authorities and facilitating illegal entrance. On December 9, the Thai police arrested three Thai human smugglers and nine illegal Chinese migrants in Chiang Rai province. Those gangs are also active in Myanmar and smuggle humans into illicit industries, like gambling, or under slavery-like conditions.

The exact number of Burmese migrant workers is unknown due to the lack of paper documentation, but estimated to about 3-4 million, with additional 1-2 million from Laos and Cambodia, many of whom lost their job and are now stranded in Thailand since their countries will not let them come back due to their possible Covid-19 danger. Official figures in Cambodia and Laos are low, with only Myanmar showing an upwards rising trend with 130,604 confirmed cases and 2,946 deaths as of January 11, with actual figures presumed to be much higher due to testing and treatment mostly happening in major urban centers like Yangon and Mandalay only. With more superior medical facilities than its neighbors, this also poses a risk to Thailand, and gives further fuel to discriminate against migrants and their ongoing victimization. [Asia Times]



12 January 2021

Thailand, China to notify of river flow hold back

(nd) The Mekong River Commission (MRC) and Thailand reported that China notified its downstream neighbors about its holding back of the Mekong River flow at a hydropower dam on the waterway’s upper reaches for 20 days. The water restriction started on December 31 and the newly introduced US-backed monitoring system already asserted that China had failed to notify downstream countries. The cited reason for the holding back was “maintenance of transmission lines” in its electricity grid, with the flow being gradually restored by January 25. Last October, China agreed to share such water data with the MRC. [Bangkok Post]


12 January 2021

Thailand: Red-shirt leader to file charges against online harassment

(nd) Following social media attacks, Jatuporn Promphan, chairman of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), asked the specialized Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) to charge those who posted or shared false information about him, which amounted to more than 200 cases.

During the Provincial Administrative Organisation (PAO) election in Chiang Mai, Jatuporn openly supported Boonlert Buranupakorn, who was defeated by Pichai Lertpongadisorn, who was backed by the Pheu Thai Party and former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. Mr Jatuporn said throughout his campaigning he was attacked with malicious comments and false information about him shared online. He was criticized for abandoning the red-shirt movement and siding with the military, as well as accused of switching sides in an attempt to serve the interest of the military . He insisted the UDD’s mission to fight elitism had been passed on to the youth, referencing the student-led protests, and vowed to bring more charges if the online attacks would not stop. [Bangkok Post]

12 January 2021

Thailand: Enforcement of lese majeste law continues

(nd) In conjunction with the march to the German Embassy Bangkok on October 26 to inquire in King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s legal status in Germany, a group of activists answered their summons over complains filed under the “Lese Majeste” law, which are now increasingly used against pro-democracy protesters. The law foresees a prison sentence of up to 15 years and was not used since 2018.

Once a taboo, the pro-democracy protesters have expanded their demands for a constitutional reform to seeking the resignation of the military-backed government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and curbing of King’s powers. A total of 41 people have now been charged under Article 112. The government stated protesters had “stirred up hatred” with divisive proposals containing inaccurate information, which was multiplied by the use of social media. [Reuters]

Additionally, officials started charging protesters for posting and providers for hosting content online, which might violate Article 112, according to the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (MDES). Under the MDES, the specialized Royal Thai Police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD) is tasked with identifying violators, which has in the last quarter of 2020 found 638 URLs violating the Computer Crime Act 2007, with 26 accounts responsible for the majority of them, and nine individuals as account holders. Likewise, the ministry pursued legal actions against social media platform providers such as Facebook and Twitter, with a total of 8,443 URLs considered hosting illegal content, with which the platforms only complied partially. The attorney-general already commented he will pursue the case against Facebook after the investigations conclude. [Bangkok Post]

The protests were put on hold over the holiday season, which is likely to remain due to the recent spike in Covid-19 cases. Political analysts commented that the 41 cases are the biggest use of Article 112 since 2017, when 64 were charged under the previous king’s reign, calling it “an unprecedented escalation of legal persecution” in a very short time. [Asia Times]

12 January 2021

Thailand: No-confidence vote initiation planned

(nd) On January 27 Thailand’s largest opposition party, Pheu Thai, plans to initiate the process for a no-confidence debate against Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha and his government due to the “the government’s mismanagement” of its Covid-19 response, causing “damage to the country”.  As a result of the recent Covid-19 outbreak, the Thai economy could lose 300 billion baht ($10 billion) in the first quarter, with the consumer confidence index dropping for the first time in three months to 50.1 in December. A record low of 39.2 was reached last April during the first wave of the pandemic.

Depending on either a hard or soft lockdown as response, the economy might contract by 11.3% respectively 4%. Prayuth and five other ministers survived a no-confidence vote last year after weeks of debates. [Chiangrai Times]

12 January 2021

Thailand: Tracking app highly recommended

(nd) In an effort to curb the recent hike in Covid-19 cases, five provinces must use the MorChana position-tracking app, stipulated under regulation number 17 of the executive decree for public administration in emergency situations. Consequently, the intentional concealing of information by not using the app could then be seen as obstructing this effort, which foresees a maximum penalty of two years in prison and/or fine of 40,000 baht. The threat, however, was abandoned shortly after the announcement, which prompted an outcry from civil rights and privacy activists. The app requires the user to allow access to GPS locations, camera, microphone, photo gallery, and WIFI usage data, demonstrating, according to activists, how broad the powers of the Emergency Decree can be interpreted. [Bangkok Post] [Khaosod]

5 January 2021

Thailand: Mother of Thanathorn charged 

(nd) The mother of Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit – leader of the Future Forward Party until its dissolution in February – was charged by the Royal Forest Department for unlawfully owning at least 77 plots of forest land in Ratchaburi including 450 rai in reserved forests.

The case was brought by a Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) MP for Ratchaburi and local people who had applied for community forest land rights documents. Following receipts of payments between 2010 and 2013, the department has evidence to prove the 90-rai plot of land that is in a reserved forest. [Bangkok Post]

5 January 2021

Thailand: Further arrests under section 112

(nd) On January 1, the 38th pro-democracy activist was arrested under the country’s lèse majesté law, charged with selling a calendar using the protest movement’s satirical rubber duck symbol to allegedly mock the monarchy. The arrested was a Facebook administrator of a protest group and was bailed out a day later.  

The arrest is widely seen as part of a growing crackdown on protesters by the authorities in an effort to contain the unprecedented protests. [Voice of America]


5 January 2021

Thailand: Music video “Reform” blocked

(nd) A music video, which featured pro-democracy movement band Rap against Dictatorship and their song “Reform” was blocked on YouTube following a legal complaint from the government.

All band members are active participants of the ongoing student-led protests, which are depicted in the video. The video, dealing with current problems in Thailand, including politics, social inequality and the right of protesters to seek justice, was first released in November and has about 9 million views.

In 2019 the band was among the three winners of Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. [The Thaiger]

5 January 2021

Thailand: Pheu Thai members to resign 

(nd) In an effort to avoid any fallouts of the Election Commission’s (EC) probe into the role of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in the local elections in December last year, at least four Pheu Thai Party executives announced their resignation from the party’s board.

Thaksin had sent messages and letter in support of Pheu Thai Party members running in the local elections in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Local election rules require the candidate to submit a list of all campaign staff members to poll officials prior to election day. A person who writes a letter vouching for a candidate is considered as part of the campaign team. Thaksin was reportedly not listed as campaign staff of at least the candidate for Chiang Rai. [Bangkok Post]

5 January 2021

Thailand: Special unit stepping up Legal Action Against Social Media Providers

(nd) In light of the once-tabooed voicing of criticism of the monarchy, Thailand’s Digital Economy and Society Minister has promised to speed up legal action against social media providers in case they do not remove deemed illegal posts timely.  The Digital Economy and Society (DES) Ministry obtained court orders to block 8,440 URLs featuring said content in the last quarter of 2020, mostly on Facebook, with some on YouTube, Twitter and other pages, with 5,025 URLs blocked so far.

Meanwhile, the Cybercrime Investigation Bureau (CCIB) was formed as new part of the Royal Thai Police to specifically deal with cybercrimes [Chiangrai Times]

5 January 2021

ASEAN countries, US to seek last minute deals

(nd) Only weeks before the official end of the Trump administration, countries across Southeast Asia seem to pursue last minute security and economic agreements with the US in light of president Donald Trump’s transactional approach to diplomacy. During the Trump presidency, trade with the US increased despite of his relative lack of interest in the region, while the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden is widely associated with a stricter emphasis on human rights and democratic values. In early December, the Philippines received $29 million in military equipment during a visit, with an announcement of additional $18 million worth of military equipment and training.

For Indonesia’s planned sovereign wealth fund, the US International Development Finance Corp. signed a letter of interest for a $2 billion as one of the first countries to sign up, with an aimed estimated total of about $15 billion from around the world. The US also extend tariff exemptions for Indonesia, possibly with an eye on cooperation against Chinese maritime actions in the South China Sea. Due to its geographic position, the region will play a pivotal role in geopolitics in the coming years, to stand strong against Chinese aggression and growing influence, but still, in the region, democratic governance is deteriorating, and left unaddressed.

Economically, the region has benefitted from the Trump administration, with ASEAN having received about $24.5 billion in direct investment from the US in 2019, with exports from Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia on the rise since 2017. Additionally, US-based power company AES announced to join a development project for a liquefied natural gas terminal in Vietnam, which also agreed to import up to $500 million in American pork over the next three years. This was seen as a reaction to mitigate the trade imbalance, still US accused Vietnam of currency manipulation after. [Nikkei Asia]