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Expats should stand with the Thais during the pro-democracy movement – OPINION

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Expats should stand with the Thais during the pro-democracy movement – OPINION | Thaiger
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OPINION

The following article was written by an American who works as an English teacher in Bangkok. He regularly attends pro-democracy rallies in Bangkok and has volunteered with medical organisations at some of the protests. He asked to remain anonymous due to fears that openly speaking out about Thai politics could affect his legal status in Thailand. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Thaiger staff.

It’s a unique time to be an expat in Thailand. For many of us, the Covid-19 pandemic turned our lives upside down. Some of us were separated from family and loved ones for months. Venues that once were filled with familiar faces were empty. Jobs were lost, wages cut, and bureaucracies had to be navigated. In those times, we foreigners often turned to our Thai friends and family for assistance and support.

While the pandemic halted travel and shutdown business, basically putting the world as we knew it on pause, the cries among young Thais for democratic reforms continued. Since July, just as tight disease control measures were easing, pro-democracy demonstrations have been nearly constant. We expats have been inexcusably absent. You will see far more western faces during a casual stroll through the mall than at a pro-democracy rally. This has to change.

We have all benefitted greatly by having Thai people in our lives. They are our friends, wives, husbands, children, and family. We cannot idly stand by while they bravely march in the streets for democracy. They have been here for us and now it is time that we do the same for them.

We are not leaders in this fight, nor should we be, but we can lend our support to the movement. Make no mistake: this movement is a Thai movement. They do not need to be saved by western people. They don’t need us to educate them in the ways of democracy. They do not need our leadership. However, we can still modestly contribute by showing up and applauding our loved ones’ courage. We can then share their bravery with the larger world.

Of course, there is a fear that involvement in these rallies could lead to our work permits and visas being revoked. However, we, as “farangs,” are often aloof to the ongoings around us. Surely, we could not be held accountable for taking part in what we thought was a group gardening project, Hunger Games cosplay, early Songkran celebration, or free outdoor concert. Wait, officer, this isn’t Khao San road? How do I get there?

In all seriousness, any fear of legal repercussion pales in comparison to the personal sacrifices of leaders like Panusaya “Rung” Sithijirawattanakul. She is a hero not only for Thai people but to all people fighting against oppression. People outside of Thailand need to know Rung’s name. They also need to know the names of those that imprisoned her. We can help make that happen.

The coverage of the pro-democracy movement outside of Thailand has been disappointing. Yes, #whatshappeninginthailand was briefly trending, but continuous in-depth coverage has been lacking. While the western media still covers the protests, it has never really dominated the news cycle. Most of the western world still knows nothing about Thailand’s violent history of military coupes. Major historical events, such as Black May, or the 1976 massacre, are not common knowledge outside of Thailand. Worst still, western news outlet’s coverage of lese majeste law, which prohibits insulting the monarchy, is sometimes reduced to patronizing articles of Asian exoticism, basically “look at those eccentric Asians with their quirky laws!”

It is a sad and regrettable fact that western media outlets will care more about Thais’ fight for democracy if there are western faces in the crowd. More expatriates mean more international media coverage. Increased international media coverage creates a press nightmare for the current government and will increase calls from the international community for democratic reforms. Economic and political pressure from outside of Thailand could help force the Thai government to finally accept the reforms demanded by the protesters.

We, as foreigners, should strive to educate ourselves on the history and culture of Thailand. Not only does our presence at protests add to our own awareness, but it can also help increase awareness of what is happening in Thailand, in our home countries. We can help shine a light on the courageous and brave actions of our Thai friends. We can further amplify their voice to an audience outside of Thailand.

On a darker note, being present at protests helps protect our loved ones from an unimaginable, but historically relevant, concern. If there are westerners in the crowd, it is less likely that government forces will turn to deadly force. It is unlikely that live ammunition would ever be used on a demonstration that boasts a heavy foreign-national presence. Doing so would result in an international incident and swift condemnation. We can ensure that our loved ones are protected simply by standing beside them. It is a very simple, yet beautiful, way we can contribute.

Most rallies are a diverse affair. Grandmas march side by side with young students. LBTQ+ groups, Environmentalist, and feminist groups hand out flyers as robed monks gingerly stroll through the crowd. On stage, folk artists are followed by hip-hop groups. All of Thailand is represented at these events. It is a welcoming and inclusive space, and yet, we are largely missing in action. So, let’s support the people who love us. They march for a better Thailand, not just for Thais, but for us. Now is the time to join them in their march, milk tea and rubber duck in hand, toward a better future.

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47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Gosport

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 9:22 am

    American style of intervention into others domestic affairs.

  2. Avatar

    David Martel

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 9:57 am

    Western liberal media is not about to support a democracy movement anywhere. Democracy is under attack and it is losing. Then the part about “joining in” to show support. I get the concept, but I don’t like foreigners protesting in my country and don’t think I’ll be a visitor in Thailand and protest. If you don’t like it, leave it. Especially if you are a not a citizen.

  3. Avatar

    Anthony BRady

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 10:23 am

    Either lock this idiot up or deport him.

  4. Avatar

    BJ

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 10:37 am

    Some Thais want democracy, some don’t. Who are you to decide who is right?

    Look at your own country, black are fighting white, white are fighting vegetarian, vegetarian are fighting Asian, Asian are fighting lgbt++

    America is on fire

  5. Avatar

    BJ

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 10:48 am

    Western, and specially Americans always think they know best.

    They killed Saddam, what did we get?

    They Killed Gaddafi, what did we get?

    They make bad relations to Saudi because their dictator killed a journalist! (WAU we never seen that before in history)

    Who is now going to help us against the worst terror regime in the world, Iran

  6. Avatar

    Maverick

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 11:24 am

    Not our business getting involved in protest movements in a foreign country naive at best, downright dangerous at worst, puts all of us at risk. Not even sure that Thais would welcome our involvement, as a guest there are certain rules I have learned over the last 40 years of visiting and living in Thailand, and the first advice most foreign embassies give is staying away from political protests.

  7. Avatar

    Denis

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 11:29 am

    Go ahead, buddy ! If you want to have a free stay in a thai jail or a return ticket to USA, this is your choice…

    This stupid american idiot should stay at home eating a good tom yum and enjoy the good sides of Thailand.
    Because of guys like him, all farangs will have problems.
    Never forget that we are just guests in Thailand : No politic and don’t create problems. This is the first rule.

  8. Avatar

    Sloopy

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    Agreed fully..Mr.Brady with U..,he is a half baked US Teacher….if he is really good…he is back home…getting better salary and Perks…why come here…get a miserable teaching salary…”No body works for Love…Money talks bullshit walk”…Only Scums or Morons will do it…poking nose into others affairs….especially Political…where he can’t tell the different between right from wrong..especially coming from a land of insurrection.. overturn legal election results.cheat..lies…making controversial theory..Sour grapes..Must be No.1 forever.Braking up family along the border.. biggest hate crime country against.black and Asian..Devil in him trying to be a DemiGod..Freaking shameless American.Big.B…Thats what they are….Send him back and go for the Food bank Queue is the best answer to the Scums or Morons..

  9. Avatar

    Olga

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    The controversial position of the author of this text. I don’t think farang should be in political protests. However, the author’s point of view is more respectful than those who look at Thailand as a country of only cheap food and entertainment. In the author’s position, there is respect for Thai culture and history.

  10. Avatar

    john2

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 4:03 pm

    I agree with the sentiment above – its not our country or our business to get involved. And this teacher sounds typically American (naive) he has no idea whats really going on or who is funding it…

  11. Avatar

    Denis

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 4:41 pm

    @Olga
    Thailand is certainly not just a country of “cheap food and entertainment”. This is not the subject.
    The point is that a foreigner, a temporary guest from the country, allows himself to incite other farangs to take a political and active position in the affairs of the country. This is unrealistic, stupid and dangerous advice …
    We can very well position ourselves for or against in many other ways and first of all through simple acts of everyday life. The example given has a much better impact than posturing in the street. All the more so when these protests are handled in secret by the USA.

  12. Avatar

    Issan John

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 4:55 pm

    Where’s the “respect for Thai culture and history”, Olga, apart from him saying that “we” need to educate ourselves about it then completely ignoring it?

    How respectful is it for him to claim that Thais “love us. They march for a better Thailand, not just for Thais, but for us”?

    It’s not just delusional and self-serving rubbish, but it’s counter productive and detracts from the real reason Thais protested and they’re not protesting any more – because the protests WERE about Thailand and Thais, but now they’ve been hijacked by extremists and egotists with a different agenda, like this clown.

  13. Avatar

    Kim

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 5:35 pm

    Foreigners should not voice their political opinion publicly. We are guests in this Country. I once heard a underbrit tell my buddy who lives down under to; fit in or fuck off.

  14. Avatar

    toby andrews

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 6:13 pm

    I will protest, but I will need to be supplied with a V for Vendetta mask, a building site hard hat, a loud speaker, a catapult, and some Nike trainers so I can run fast when they come after me.
    And you will have to smuggle me over the border from Cambodia.
    Too long have the proletariat been oppressed brothers!

  15. Avatar

    Mark

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 7:13 pm

    Who are the Thais? the yellows? the red? And why to be involved in the politics of a country which welcomes only our money but not us? they have the government they deserve. That Thailand is not ready for democracy we all have seen in the past many times. Why introduce western values in an country like this? I dont welcome any dictatorship but its up to the people of Thailand to find out which government they want to have.

  16. Avatar

    cw

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 7:35 pm

    wow, some pretty nasty remarks here in the Comments… the article is listed as an “Opinion” and he’s entitled to his. 🙂

    I love it here in Chiang Rai… into my 4th year – but, i did read something not too long ago from a reputable source that if you’re an expat and Thai immigration finds out you’ve participated in any of the demonstrations, your visa will become null and void and you’ll be deported. FYI.

  17. Avatar

    sam

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 9:12 pm

    Western democracy has shown its flaws with over-reaching free speech that incites hatred and racism,just like what is happening in America for decades.Gun violence has not ceased due to right of gun ownership and freedom.America cannot manage its own domestic chaos and mayhem,yet continues to preach democracy to other countries and imposes unilateral sanctions,if countries do not meet its demands.That is nothing but big bullying by the so-called most powerful country.Asian countries will not follow its democracy blindly.Expats in the country need to mind their words and actions.Many Americans shy away from admitting their country of origin for fear of backlash.

  18. Avatar

    sam

    Sunday, March 21, 2021 at 9:19 pm

    American democracy is no role model for any country,as the last 4 years had been chaos and mayhem.America should learn to better manage its own domestic issues than to poke into the affairs of other countries.Stop imposing on other countries on democracy and freedom and cut off unilateral sanctions that are counterproductive.Expats living in the host country should show more respect than than to interfere into its affairs that do not concern them.

  19. Avatar

    Richard

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 1:13 am

    I understand that Asians in general no longer support this kind of mentality.

    Thinking that democracy is a superior model and wanting to impose it on all other countries is an unbearable form of colonialism.

    The West is nothing more than a model of decadence.

    I am french.

  20. Avatar

    James R

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 1:20 am

    Farangs have no rights in Thailand, the long term visitors know they are (mostly) all on temporary one year visas and know about their lack of rights.

    So they should either except them and carry on as required or leave, the terms of the temporary visas are clear.

    So just enjoy Thailand as I do six or more months a year (pre virus) but remember where the airport is in order to do a quick runners if things turn bad.

    The good thing in Thailand is the general population know we can not scrounge off the system so we are not resented as we bring money into the country and that makes life easier for us.

  21. Avatar

    Jim

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 2:08 am

    Wow, what a bunch of cowards here commenting. What if your daughter was being raped in the street? I should stand back and do nothing as I am just a foreigner in the country? It is a human duty to stand with the oppressed.

  22. Avatar

    Jean-Pierre

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 4:33 am

    English is not my language and, probably, I misunderstood some of his points.
    But I have to respect the generosity of his thinking. It is always nice to see people trying to be helpful.
    However, to me, it is like an old “Mr Bean” I just saw (again) a couple of months ago.
    Bean sees an old woman standing next to a pedestrian zebra crossing.
    She seems to be overwhelmed by the heavy traffic. Without thinking twice, he takes the arm of the old woman and brings her to safety, on the other side of the road … just for discovering that she did not want to cross it !…
    It is what this gentleman does, unfortunately.

  23. Avatar

    Comicus

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 5:42 am

    This type of an “Opinion” column is risky for Thaiger. It is better not to have it anymore. Many governments around the world consider foreigners’ comments a threat to their authority, especially when made by Yankees.

    It would be a sad thing if Thaiger became a target practise by the powers that be. It is harder and harder to find a web site that has so many contributors who could make me laugh.

  24. Avatar

    Political Observer

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 6:06 am

    In my opinion it is not appropriate for foreigners to “meddle” in another countries politics. But I do believe democracy is a better system than all the rest. So I do hope the Thai people restore their democracy and restore freedom to the (former) “land of the free”

  25. Avatar

    dee lee

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 6:17 am

    hopefully Thai Immigration has pictures / videos of this moron and will deport him ASAP

  26. Avatar

    Geoff

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 6:20 am

    Just what we need, an American telling us what to do.
    Btw, that last paragraph is b******t.

  27. Avatar

    Antony

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 6:46 am

    A three finger salute to all with so much courage and determination –

  28. Avatar

    Ian

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 7:16 am

    What an ignorant fool. Who is to say which side is right? Not farangs, for sure. As many of the locals around here would say “mind your own hole”..

  29. Avatar

    Daniel

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 7:27 am

    The USA, like the UK, is a ‘pretend democracy’ where we all get to vote but nothing ever changes. The same people hold the real power. This guy needs to go back and fix his own broken country first!

  30. Avatar

    TC

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 8:00 am

    “Surely, we could not be held accountable for taking part in what we thought was a group gardening project,”
    Only the likes of a school teacher would actually think like this. If you trust an illegal Government then go for it. He will immediately be on a radar somewhere and if they thought for a second he was pushing this to his students then good luck.
    Many Thais make it blatantly obvious they don’t want farang in the country at all. Getting involved in their political Affairs only invites trouble.
    A go fund me page to contribute to the best legal defense for those arrested makes better sense. That would be a positive contribution to beat the trumped up charges and send a message.

  31. Avatar

    Jeff

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 8:14 am

    Just another media anonymous source. We all know what that means…well, except for the commenters here that swallowed it hook, line and sinker. The give-away was in the first sentence. The supposed nationality has nothing to do with it, “expat teacher” would have sufficed just fine…555. suckers.

  32. Avatar

    Philip Walker

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 9:27 am

    Yet the author of this piece wont even publish his/her name………

  33. Avatar

    Panda

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 10:55 am

    How do these guys make it to a news page?
    How did the chef redactor allow such a misleading biased article be published.
    Aren’t we supposed to find such crap in “Mr Know it all” forums and scummy bars only?
    This is not journalism.
    What a pity, I use to enjoy this media.

    • Thaiger

      Thaiger

      Monday, March 22, 2021 at 11:31 am

      It’s clearly marked ‘OPINION’ and, whilst slightly left of centre, it IS an opinion and a train of thought to consider. It’s not journalism, it’s an opinion, and easily avoided if it aggrieves you.

  34. Avatar

    PomRak Thai

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 12:56 pm

    I am an American who loves to visit Thailand and loves the Thai people and culture.
    I have my occasional opinion/chats with my Thai friends one-on-one, and never in a group conversation, but since before day 1 of me ever visiting Thailand, as a foreigner I knew NOT to not engage or talk publicly about Thai affairs/government.
    As a foreigner, It is their country, their issues, their culture, their problems.
    On another note every time I do talk with a friend, we both agree on the big picture.
    I support my Thai friends and the Thai people…
    But I would tread wisely in this matter if I were you (another foreigner/farang)

  35. Avatar

    PomRak Thai

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    Also,
    Even as an expat, I would still tread lightly.
    However, If I lived here long term and ever got dual citizenship with a Thai passport, mark my words you bet I would be speaking loud and clear and even risk arrest.
    (Long Live the Untied States 1st Ammendment to Free Speech!)

  36. Avatar

    Craig

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 1:16 pm

    Everyone has an opinion, especially when writing or commenting. As an American, I consider myself a guest here. This is not my country. My opinion is it’s up to the Thais to decide what path they take, not my decision. I’m not sure why others brings their beliefs here but they do. Why??? If I were married to a Thai or had kids here, I am thinking I’d still let them decide what path to take. The wife and kids could protest if they wanted but I’d probably stay out of it.

  37. Avatar

    Stardust

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 1:19 pm

    My deepest respect and love to the Thais and young people who are fighting for their future and freedom. Actors like Issan Adolf/John and other supporters of these criminals gangster junta governments and dictatorships are low level identities and we could see in history all junta regimes and dictatorships in the world were failed states and destroyed their countries and made horrible crimes to the people. These people killed people, robbing the countries and destroy the economy. People who support a dictatorship shows his criminal mindset.These People only bring war, destruction and human rights abuse. They want their people as slaves wothout any rights to be able to abuse them and rob them this is their goal and shows they are just gangsters.

  38. Avatar

    Stardust

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    The supporters of the junta dictatorship are the real enemies of the Thaipeople and Thailand.Supporters of Thais and Thailand wish them a good future, freedom, democracy and prosperity instead of abuse people and power and destruction of the country.

  39. Avatar

    Olga

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 2:25 pm

    I read all the comments and wondered why people from democratic countries prefer to live under a dictatorship. Apparently, there are deep human values that are more valuable than any political system, otherwise why are there so many farangs in Thailand? On the other hand, whoever wants to fight for personal freedom and self-respect, it is all the more preferable to stay in the country of which they are citizens. Everyone makes their own choice.

  40. Avatar

    Peter Pope

    Monday, March 22, 2021 at 5:22 pm

    The “unwritten rules for foreigners” who live in any other country around the world that is not theirs is: STAY OUT OF LOCAL POLITICS ! First of all you don’t have the cultural background and sensitivities of the locals. Most of us carry their own prejudice against Governments, Polititians etc around with us, so SHUT UP. If you really want to make a change go back to your own folks and start there. The Thai’s will sort it out themself and my prediction on that matter is that Thailand will stay Thailand as we know it even if some don’t like it.

  41. Avatar

    Stardust

    Tuesday, March 23, 2021 at 1:25 am

    @peter pope there are expat living already here have Thaifamily and already grandchildren it us nonsense what you talk. And by the way what is with the Thais in Europe who have family there they should not have any rights there too and no opinion. The Expats who live in Thailand care for Thaifamilies pay tax and some have Companies and give Thai people work and a sallary. There over 2000 Companies from Germany around Bangkok and not small ones and some are since the 70s there. By the way Grimm , haegele Bosch ect ect are german companies. Skytrain is from Siemens ect ect. And you think their opinion is not allowed? Automotive Industry is all foreign European Japanese and Usa.

  42. Avatar

    William

    Tuesday, March 23, 2021 at 5:26 pm

    Being accepted in Thailand is extraordinary enough for us westerners.
    When you referring to democracy, I hope you know what is happening in these democracies you are referring too! England? France and the USA?
    Expats have fled these so called democracies because they are unfree and stale to live in.
    Do we want Thailand to become like that? No
    Do I have the impression that I know something better? No
    Now if you do have the impression that you know better, may be it a time for you to go back wherever you are coming from and help there. Idiot journalist like 95%

  43. Avatar

    Jack Reynolds

    Tuesday, March 23, 2021 at 7:10 pm

    Good god I love all of these diverse opinions. Absolutely love it. So indeed living in a racist discriminatory Thailand against expats, and this dipstick wants us to protest with the Thais!? Now I love living in Thailand but I suffer no illusions. I know where I Iive, I know the risks of which there are many. I also like the Freedoms long lost in Democracies, I left one for this. And no I do not believe this is a democracy as much as they claim it to be. A doctered manipulated militariistic democracy perhaps, but all democracies are manipulated by elites.

  44. Avatar

    Richard

    Tuesday, March 23, 2021 at 8:44 pm

    Deport all who protest against a Country in which your a guest.

  45. Avatar

    J West

    Thursday, March 25, 2021 at 2:01 pm

    If ” Anonymous American” insists on remaining ‘ anonymous’ but urges others to ” get into the fight” then can anyone take anything he ( she? ) says seriously? Is ‘ Anon’ something of a cowardly hypocrite?

    My read: ‘ Anon American’ is a typical example of Far Leftist American ” Woke Extremism” where under todays Marxist zealotry anyone who might not agree with their progressively narrowing POV is instantly ‘cancelled’depending on the time of day or mood of a maddening crowd.

    Additionally, Dr Carl Jung elucidates the potential for significant effect of Asian culture on a Western mindset. I suggest “Anon American'” remember where he is and why he has no place at the table, nor will he ever be mistaken for Thai and should therefore STFU.

  46. Avatar

    Dreqo

    Monday, March 29, 2021 at 2:10 pm

    Anyone without Thai citizenship, would be wise to keep their opinions to themselves. You have no vested interest in Thai politics, none, let the Thai citizens handle their affairs as they see fit, true majority rules. Your superiority complex driven white-savior western self righteous involvement isn’t needed nor appreciated.
    Quite frankly, if you dont like it then pack up your laptop and Twitter account, and grab a 1 way flight back from which you came.

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Opinion

Tourism developments threaten Cambodia’s forests and coastline

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Tourism developments threaten Cambodia’s forests and coastline | Thaiger
Chinese developer Yeejia has cleared large areas of once-forested land in Cambodia’s Ream National Park for its tourist resorts / Photo by Roun Ry for China Dialogue

The following story is by Danielle Keeton Olsen and Roun Ry for China Dialogue, a nonprofit focused on environmental news related to China and Asia.

“Before when we wanted to eat, we just went and caught some fish, but now it’s nothing like before, as all the natural resources have disappeared,” says 68 year old Sen Chantha who lives in a coastal hamlet within Ream National Park in southwest Cambodia. His house faces the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Thailand.

The mangrove forests, wetlands and rocky coasts that supported abundant wildlife in the park have also attracted opportunistic developers. Cambodia’s government has granted development rights for mass tourism resorts leading to deforestation and the drainage of ecologically vital mangroves.

“On the way out, you will see many big trucks clearing land all over the place… They’ve started clearing about four kilometres away, and they’ll probably come here,” says Chantha, who has lived in Prek Trabek village since the early 1990s. As forest cover has disappeared, Chantha has become a campaigner, keen to defend his community against a Chinese developer backed by the Cambodian elite.

Rights threatened

Chantha’s family is one of more than 100 in his village engaged in a years-old conflict over land with the Chinese company Yeejia Tourism Development, whose concession surrounds their homes. The company has allowed them to remain in the area, but severely restricted their space to live and work.

55 year old Choeun Trop says Yeejia has taken part of her land and stopped her from collecting rattan from the forest.

Over the past 2 or 3 years, officials from the company have monitored her community tightly, at one point requiring members to carry identification cards and barring outside visitors, she says.

Trop’s son, then 16, is now in jail after joining a protest against Yeejia during which some protestors dismantled a guardhouse at the entrance to the company’s concession.

“We’re poor. It’s been very difficult, and we couldn’t ask anyone to help,” she says. She tried to enlist the support of 2 Cambodian human rights organisations, but both told her they could not intervene. “I cry and cry, and if I cry too much, I’m afraid I will faint again, and no one will take care of my son. My son cries because the situation inside the prison is terrible, and he has a very small space to sleep.”

Forests and wetlands

Ream National Park covers 34,000 hectares of diverse landscapes that include the Prek Toek Sap estuary, low-lying mountains, miles of mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs and parts of two islands.

General forests cover 55% of the land, while mangroves take about 7%. A vital ecosystem for biodiversity, mangroves support many plants, fish and crustaceans, and the fisheries they nurture feed local people.

Elsewhere in the park, remote areas of dry forest, covering 13%, could still conceal one of the last populations of rare wild cattle known as kouprey, according to a 2006 report by University of Copenhagen ecologist Robert Schmidt.

When Ream was established in 1995, it faced significant levels of commercial logging and fishing – at least one-third of its area had already been heavily changed as a result of resource extraction.

Finding ways to stop this was one of the new park’s main concerns, and international organisations, including the Asia Development Bank and the United Nations, were deployed to help find solutions.

Internationally funded projects concentrated on developing a management plan for the park and on training park rangers. Opening the park’s headquarters in late 1998, the then-environment minister, Mok Mareth, promised Ream would be a “role model” for protected areas in the country.

But although the funded projects did manage to end commercial resource extraction, illegal logging and fishing continued to flourish, with corrupt police, navy officers and fishermen combining forces to plunder the park. Then, when international funding ended in 2000, the park was left with very little financial support.

Several reports at the time recommended ecotourism as a way to fund the park. In one from the Economy and Environment Program for Southeast Asia, published in 2001, academic Thanakvaro Thyl de Lopez outlined a “dream park” scenario, in which revenue would be generated through nature-driven tourism, allowing local people living inside the park to continue using its resources in a sustainable way.

But the report warned that this scenario would require the support of international donors, at a time when their programmes had not been renewed due to “lack of interest”.

Developers descend

With the promise of sustainable tourism starting to fade, commercial tourism stepped in.

In June 2008, Prime Minister Hun Sen signed decrees granting concessions to two companies – Yeejia, and Evergreen Success & Asia Resort Development.

Yeejia was given rights over 3,300 hectares of the park, an area they named Golden Silver Bay. When reporters visited the concession in January 2021, they found around a dozen half-built hotel-sized structures, most flanked by Cambodian guards. Outside one of them, a sign reads Qin Yue Ream National Coast in both Khmer and Chinese characters. Further in, patches of newly-paved road led to clearings where rows of identical off-white cottages stood out against the raw, red earth. Another road opened out onto a fresh construction site, where excavators were levelling a hillside, the roots of the remaining trees dangling over the manmade cliffs.

The other company, Evergreen Success & Asia Resort Development, was given a concession of 2,377 hectares.

Evergreen Success is tied to Hun To, a nephew of the prime minister, who has been investigated by the Australian authorities in connection with drug smuggling and money laundering. According to a 2012 report in The Age newspaper, To was of interest to Operation Illipango, an Australian investigation into heroin concealed in Cambodian timber shipments. Plans to arrest To were derailed when the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh cancelled his travel visa.

Powerful connections

To has since become a co-director of the Lixin Group, a Taiwanese construction and property company that has already developed a hotel in Sihanoukville under the US-based brand Wyndham.

Lixin is heavily promoting its “New City” development in Ream National Park. An advertisement on the resort’s WeChat channel from September emphasised the eco-tourism side of the project. But plans for the resort include massive developments inside the park, from a golf resort and a horse racing track to casinos and hotels, all flanked by mangroves.

Yeejia’s rise in Cambodia has also depended on elite contacts. Company chair Fu Xianting’s resumé includes time in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and then in state-owned companies, one of which brought him to Cambodia for a conference on agricultural machinery and light manufacturing.

According to a 2016 Financial Times investigation, Cambodia’s Council of Ministers revoked Fu’s concession in Ream after concerns about forest clearance from environmental groups. But Fu, who has close personal ties to Hun Sen, met with the Cambodian leader and obtained his support for continued development.

Yeejia’s development plans for Golden Silver Bay range from casinos and luxury hotels to a conference centre and medical rehabilitation facilities. Its WeChat social media presence shows it is advertising to Chinese developers seeking a slice of Cambodia, as well as to tourists. In November, Yeejia held a small ground-breaking ceremony with Zhonghai Tianhong Real Estate (Cambodia), which has leased 4 hectares of land from the developer on a 99-year lease – the same timespan as Yeejia’s 2008 concession within the park. This is despite the fact that, according to Cambodian law, concessions cannot be sold to another company without a new contract being drawn up with the government.

Neither Yeejia nor Lixin would respond to requests for comment from China Dialogue.

Ongoing destruction

Beyond the bulldozers currently clearing land in the name of tourism, illegal logging for timber has continued in Ream. Chantha, the community activist, says the state-employed park rangers conduct frequent patrols, but will release loggers who pay them. Chantha has accompanied the patrols and claims to have witnessed bribe-taking.

According to the 2001 de Lopez report, about half of rural households inside the park engaged in illegal logging in the past. Chantha and other villagers admit to cutting trees for their own use before Yeejia officials stopped them.

But things are different now. “The Ministry of Environment officials blame the community for deforestation, but it’s not us,” he says. “It’s someone outside and hired by some oknha (tycoons) or rich businessman to come clear land here.”

Meanwhile, the coast of Ream and the rest of Preah Sihanouk province is also under threat. Ouk Vibol, director of conservation in Cambodia’s Fisheries Administration, says overfishing is a significant challenge, with trawlers scooping up whatever fish they can find, destroying seagrass beds in the process. The loss of mangroves due to the park’s tourism developments is also having a big impact on fish stocks, says Ouk.

“If you destroy one habitat, there are real negative impacts on the species that move from one habitat to another.”

Just outside the national park, a little-known Chinese–Cambodian company, Canopy Sands Development, has undertaken a massive coastal reclamation project on 427 hectares granted by the Cambodian government. The company was formed one month before it received the land. Its shareholders also chair powerful companies in Cambodia, including Prince Group, whose China-born director, Chen Zhi, has obtained Cambodian citizenship through his investments.

This and other developments along the coast, which once boasted waters teeming with lucrative squid, crab and fish, have changed local fishers’ lives.

Docking just north of the Canopy Sands development, 27 year old Chan Ra says he has to be very careful where he drops his fishing lines. The traditional gear he uses to catch squid is made with large shells strung out along a line. The squid nestle into the shells for shelter without the need for bait. The shells are durable but expensive and are often damaged by the sand-dredging boats filling the Canopy Sands area, says Ra. There are still some squid to be found close to the shore, but the fisher says he has to travel further to catch crabs.

Ra lives mostly on his boat these days, because another company has been reclaiming land from the sea on the bay where he used to live. “Before we could reach home by boat, but now they’re filling it with land,” he says.

Ra has had to move three times due to development projects. Like many local people, he built a home without procuring an official land title – a requirement that was seldom enforced until land prices began to climb.

Nowhere is safe

32 year old Nam Then runs a small shop selling sundries on a hillside a couple of kilometres from the entrance to Yeejia’s concession. He has not been directly impacted by the long-running dispute between local people and the Chinese company, whose concession overlaps their customary land. But he shares his neighbours’ concerns and attends meetings about the issue at the Ream commune office.

“We share information around the community,” he says. “We are the same people who have the same affections. I am also living in one part of the community, just in a different area.”

In June last year, the government finally allocated land and promised titles to the three communities in the park affected by Yeejia’s concession. Details have yet to be worked out, however. Then keeps a plastic folder full of documents showing the outlines of plots. Some families are missing out, he says, but he and others are watching the process closely.

Then moved to his current home and shop in 2007 after Ream Naval Academy – part of a military branch that is caught up in controversies over Chinese versus US access – decided to expand into the land near where his family lived.

“Looking back at 2007, we didn’t have anything, the people were weak, information systems didn’t exist, and we were living in a military zone, so when you’re trying to protest, there was big pressure (on us),” he says.

The family’s current home is on the other side of the same mountain. They have remained relatively undisturbed since they moved, but, on a morning in late January, Then told reporters that much of the land facing his house had been cleared. He was not sure what for. When reporters passed his house again at dusk, a digger was forging a new road around the mountain, leading back to the naval academy.

When he first moved in, Then recalls: “It was all forest, huge forest, there wasn’t any road yet.” Now, for the villagers of Ream “it’s very difficult, because the houses are all on company land.”

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Tourism

We took a poll in Phuket… re-opening the island in July

Tim Newton

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We took a poll in Phuket… re-opening the island in July | Thaiger

The Thaiger put up a poll on our YouTube channel yesterday. Completely unscientific, but trying to guage some of the viewers opinions about the latest plan, Phuket Sandbox, to open up Phuket, in July this year, as a pilot for future re-openings around Thailand for travellers, without quarantine.

With the government claiming that the plan won’t go ahead unless 70% of the island’s population are already vaccinated against Covid-19, there remains as many questions as there are answers to this plan. What about the expats? What vaccinations will be used? How will the residents be alerted? Who will be the 30% who won’t be vaccinated before July? Where will the vaccinations take place? Which department will manage all the additional ‘vaccination’ paperwork for arrivals? Will passengers still have to apply for visas at the Thai embassy in their country? Will they still have to buy specific insurance policies against Covid-19 before their journey?

At this stage, as a Phuket resident, I have heard NOTHING, nada, zip, zero about this plan. Even searching for information and contacting the Provincial Authority, no additional information is forthcoming. Basically “we haven’t been told yet” was the answer. You’re welcome to add your comments as well HERE.

Obviously it will be great to have some sort of schedule to get ready for re-opening Phuket but vaccinations are only a part of what will be required to make Phuket a viable tourist destination again. But to walk a mile you have to start with a single step, etc, etc.

Here are some of the other responses, out of 280 comments, to our quick poll…

We took a poll in Phuket... re-opening the island in July | News by ThaigerJames
I doubt enough of the folks on Phuket will be willing and able to get vaccinated by July to reach that target.

DaGr8
I have kept in contact with many Thais , some living in the province of Phuket and has not heard anything about this plan, even though the vaccine is being planned for distribution.

Martyn
Doing 70% of residents not good enough. What about everyone else? Most people working there are registered elsewhere. And of course the expats?

Oliver
Will Open Just when the Rain Starts

Lightning
I just don’t see it being sustainable for businesses if you still require to social distance, wear masks and limit the amount of people you are travelling with. More than 70% of Phuket tourists are group travellers. It won’t bring enough numbers in to sustain a business. Open up fully with no quarantine, no social distancing, no masks, no limits on groups, no testing. If these rules are not applied then you can kiss Patong beach and Phuket businesses goodbye forever. But I guess thats what the globalists want right? World longevity? Sustainable environment? Every political move seems based around the World Economic Forum. There is a plan for most countries. Covid is just the gateway to the end goal

Alana
I have not heard anything about where we can get vaccinated here in Phuket. I got an email from Bangkok Hospital to guage interest in the vaccine and the brand you would like to take (last week) but if they are only at that stage of gathering data and ordering vaccines then I don’t think we will reach 70% within 3 months.

Paul
The problem here is other countries are well in front of Thailand on vaccine rollout. And that Burmese undocumented persons problem.. And many older Thais with no ID card. Expect chaos corruption.. and delay. And ideas changing every 14 days. Phuket is finished as a tourist destinations for the foreseeable future. Mal-administration is Thailand’s problem.

Trader
I can’t see that there will be free and open travel until 2022 at the earliest, I hope I’m proven incorrect but at this point I don’t see it.

Shahbaz
Just another ‘plan’/ ‘model’ made out of desperation as a result of missing tourist dollars, the Thai government should implement measures that are genuinely meant for the safety of the Thais and the tourists, not just act out of desperation to get the go go bars rolling again, any step they take should be credible and long term, not one that is going to jeopardise peoples health just to make money 🤔 so no point rushing ✌

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Opinion

Phuket to open on July 1 – first in Thailand

Thaiger

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Phuket to open on July 1 – first in Thailand | Thaiger

by Andrew J. Wood

In a move largely expected after intense lobbying from the huge Travel and Tourism industry here in Thailand, the government approved the waiving of quarantine requirements for vaccinated visitors arriving on Phuket from July 1, the first significant reopening for the popular tourism destination.

An economic panel chaired by PM Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday approved the proposal by Phuket’s private sector and business groups to inoculate at least 70% of the island’s residents to reopen for vaccinated tourists, said Tourism and Sports Minister Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn.

Thai tourism and airline businesses, with the support of the Tourism Council of Thailand (TCT), Thai Chamber of Commerce, Thai Hotels Association (THA), Association of Thai Travel Agents (ATTA), SKAL THAILAND, PATA TH, International Air Transport Association (IATA), #OpenThailandSafely campaign, Board of Airline Representatives Business Association (BAR), Airlines Association of Thailand (AAT), all commended the government on its success in containing the Covid-19 pandemic in Thailand, however expressed their wish to now restart tourism from overseas for vaccinated travellers.

Phuket has been without any new Covid-19 cases for 89 days. Phuket authorities have approved plans to welcome visitors without quarantine on July 1 to stimulate the local economy, and will have one million Covid-19 vaccine doses before that. There is an urgent need for foreign tourists here, to stimulate both the economy and tourism sector. Before, a local resident earned about 40,000 baht per month on average.* In February this fell to about 8,000 baht. Without some change, this will fall to 1,964 baht in July, which is below the poverty line.

A survey revealed that foreigners are interested in visiting Phuket but without undergoing quarantines. Local official says those foreigners who visit without undergoing quarantine, will be tracked using the Covid-19 tracing mobile app.

The government plans to test the reopening plan in Phuket before other key tourist hot spots, such as Koh Samui, to help restart the tourism industry battered by a year without its millions of tourists who contributed to one-fifth of the economy before the pandemic. Koh Samui, following Phuket, is also asking for approval to allow foreign travellers to skip quarantine requirements. Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, the president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, says he is hopeful for Samui to receive approval.

The approval for Phuket means it will reopen three months earlier than the rest of the country, which is expected to reopen for those who are fully vaccinated only in October.

*The Thaiger would disagree with this assertion, suggesting that the average monthly earnings for a Phuket citizen would be more like 10,000 – 20,000 baht.

Andrew J. Wood was born in Yorkshire England, he is a professional hotelier, Skalleague and travel writer. Andrew has over 40 years of hospitality and travel experience. He is a hotel graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh. Andrew is a past Director of Skal International (SI), National President SI Thailand and is currently President of SI Bangkok and a VP of both SI Thailand and SI Asia. He is a regular guest lecturer at various Universities in Thailand including Assumption University’s Hospitality School and the Japan Hotel School in Tokyo.

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