The political situation has deteriorated for months in this Southeast Asia tourist haven, with the government and its opposition mired in a stalemate that now appears irresolvable. The military imposed martial law on Tuesday, and today announced that it was dispensing with any remaining illusions of civilian control, at least for the next few months. The army has already started rounding up the usual suspects in their second coup over the last seven years:
The Thai military has taken control of the government in a coup, the country’s military chief announced in a national address Thursday.
The move came after rival factions were unable to come up with a suitable agreement to govern, the military chief said.
Hours earlier, members of the military and opposition parties met for a second day to try to find a solution to the crisis in Thailand, which has been under martial law since Tuesday.
During the meetings this week, Thai election officials said the country’s caretaker prime minister and his Cabinet should resign and a new interim government should be named ahead of elections to be held in six to nine months.
But interim Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan said there’s no chance that the caretaker government will resign.
This coup takes place as other military clashes in the Pacific Rim have begun to light up. China and Vietnam went to the brink of military action over disputed territory, which resulted in riots in Vietnam’s cities that drove out Chinese merchants (but left Americans alone, interestingly). This morning, the two Koreas exchanged artillery fire over a longstanding dispute over territorial waters:
North Korea fired into disputed waters near a South Korean warship Thursday, a Joint Chiefs of Staff officer said, in the latest sign of tension rising between the bitter rivals in recent weeks.
The officer said North Korea fired artillery toward a South Korean navy ship engaged in a routine patrol mission near the countries’ disputed maritime boundary in the Yellow Sea. The South Korean ship was not hit, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of office rules.
The official could not confirm a report from Yonhap news agency that South Korea’s military returned fire at waters near a North Korean warship. South Korean television network YTN said South Korea fired two rounds of artillery shells at the North, but other details were unknown, including whether artillery was fired from sea or land.
YTN reported that residents on the frontline Yeonpyeong Island were being evacuated. In 2010, North Korea fired artillery at the island, killing two civilians and two marines.
In the long run, this kind of unrest throughout the Pacific Rim area will boost China, which wants to dominate the region both economically and militarily, at the expense of the US and Japan. The less stable these nations are, the more likely their factions will apply to Beijing for patronage in settling accounts. That will give China a lever by which to keep these nations firmly in its orbit of influence. Whether or not that works out well for China in the short run — which it certainly didn’t in Vietnam — is beside the point. That may be why the Vietnamese authorities took care to protect American interests in the recent unrest, realizing 40 years after the Vietnam War that the US might be a better choice of ally.
For now, though, the coup presents some difficulty for the US. Martial law and military coups are antithetical to the American mission of democratization, but Thai attempts to hold an election in February to settle the matter turned into a disaster. The opposition wants a “people’s council” government instead of an election, which sounds a lot like a Communist takeover, which would be worse than the coup, as long as the military handed over power after a valid election. Expect the US to cluck its tongue at the coup in public, but don’t expect a lot of sanctions over it — like we saw when Egypt overthrew Morsi.