Thai Army Stages Coup After Months of Political Unrest

Thailand’s army took control of the government in a coup on Thursday, two days after declaring martial law.

In a television statement, the country’s army chief, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, said talks between rival political factions to find a solution to six months of deadlock had failed, requiring the military to restore order and push through necessary reforms.

“In order for the situation to return to normal quickly and for society to love and be at peace again … and to reform the structure of the political, economic and social structure, the military needs to take control of power,” he said.

Soldiers ordered cabinet ministers to report to an army base in the north of Bangkok, the capital, by the end of the day and imposed a curfew.

The army’s intervention came two weeks after the country’s supreme court forced Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra of the Pheu Thai party to step down over her dismissal of her national-security chief, who was a supporter of the opposition party, three years ago. Read more “Thai Army Stages Coup After Months of Political Unrest”

Thai Supreme Court Ousts Prime Minister Shinawatra

Yingluck Shinawatra’s prime ministership abruptly ended on Wednesday when Thailand’s Constitutional Court ordered her and several of her cabinet ministers to step down. The court ruled that it had been unconstitutional for her to replace her national-security chief three years ago.

The decision has the potential to spark more violence witnessed over the last several months as deep economic and political divisions roil Thailand resulting in paralysis in government. Read more “Thai Supreme Court Ousts Prime Minister Shinawatra”

China, Vietnam Trade Blows Over South China Sea Oil

China’s state media and Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry traded harsh words this week. The exchange came after the Vietnamese issued a strong protest over Chinese plans to search for oil in a disputed area of the South China Sea.

It would be the first time that China has moved its massive and mobile deepwater drilling rig into the disputed area.

Both nations have claims over the islands in questions, which Vietnam calls the Paracel and China the Xisha Islands. They waters around them are believed to contain vast quantities of oil and natural gas deposits. Read more “China, Vietnam Trade Blows Over South China Sea Oil”

Philippines, United States Sign New Defense Agreement

Aerial view of the Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, August 28, 1981
Aerial view of the Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines, August 28, 1981 (US Navy/Larry Foster)

The United States and the Philippines signed a security agreement on Monday allowing for more American troops to be stationed in the country on a rotational basis. The deal gives the Americans greater access to many of the bases they used to maintain, including the Subic Bay Naval Base, for the next ten years.

The agreement marks a turnabout for American-Filipino relations after the United States withdrew most of their troops in 1992 in the face of local protests. It also reflects the new security environment in Asia.

On the final stop of his Asia trip, President Barak Obama appeared with his Filipino counterpart, Benigno S. Aquino III, at a news conference in Manila. Obama took pains to say the deal is not intended to contain China but to “make sure that international rules and norms are protected.”

China and the Philippines are locked in a dispute over claims to uninhabited islands and territorial waters in the South China Sea. In that light, the agreement with the United States is not unexpected. China’s military buildup is causing angst in the region. Its smaller neighbors are becoming increasingly alarmed that their security interests may be threatened without the Americans engaged in Asia. As a result, the Americans are courted by countries in Asia to be a hedge against China.

The Philippines understands it needs the United States military to protect its interest as its own navy was no match for China’s in a recent dispute.

In 2012, in Scarborough Shoal, Chinese maritime patrols had begun enforcing what they said was Chinese sovereign territory. It pushed local Filipino fishermen out of the area. With tensions rising and an armed clash likely to occur, the United States stepped in and persuaded both sides to pull back.

The agreement did not hold as Chinese ships eventually retook the area and continue to hold it today.

Against China’s large navy, the Filipino coast guard is largely helpless. Filipino fishermen for generations made their living off the Scarborough Shoal and are now no longer able to ply their trade.

In that context, it is no wonder that the United States Navy is back with a more visible presence in the Philippines 22 years after being evicted from its bases.

East Asia Nervously Watching Events in Crimea

When the Crimea was voting to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, President Vladimir Putin was said to be on his proverbial hands and knees offering cheap gas and other inducements to China for its support. But China decided in no uncertain terms that it would stay out of this dispute when it abstained from a resolution condemning the Crimean vote in the United Nations Security Council. China is walking a diplomatic tightrope. It wants to avoid antagonizing a key ally in Russia without siding with the West and causing repercussions in East Asia.

What is certain is that East Asians are watching China’s actions closely for indications of its future policy in regards to the disputes it has in the East and South China Seas with its smaller neighbors. Read more “East Asia Nervously Watching Events in Crimea”

Top North Korean Party Official Reportedly Arrested

Just two months after North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un had his uncle Jang Sung-taek, a top official in the secretive communist regime, executed for treason, South Korean media report that Choe Ryong-hae, the ruling party’s military chief, has been arrested.

Choe is the vice chairman of the Central Military Commission that Kim leads and was believed to be one of this closest advisors. He is also one of the few members of the executive body of the Workers’ Party Politburo which previously included Jang. If Choe is removed, this presidium would only count Choe Yong-rim and Kim Yong-nam, both octogenarian figureheads, besides Kim Jong-un himself.

The news of Choe’s arrest was first reported on Friday by Free North Korea Radio, which is run by defectors in the South. One of its sources speculated that Choe had been arrested for failing to instill sufficient loyalty in the army ranks. Read more “Top North Korean Party Official Reportedly Arrested”

Snap Elections Fail to Put Thailand’s Political Crisis to Rest

Despite snap elections on Sunday, Thailand’s two largest political forces remain at a stalemate and with class and ethnic divisions deepening, tensions remain high across the country.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s ruling Pheu Thai party was almost guaranteed to win a majority with the opposition Democrats boycotting the vote. They insist on constitutional reforms before participating in any more elections, knowing that otherwise Pheu Thai, which is most popular in the rural north of the country, will stay in power.

Opposition protesters have occupied large parts of Bangkok, the capital, surrounding key government buildings and virtually shutting down the government. Last week, thousands of police forces were deployed in and around Bangkok and a state of emergency was declared after violence had prevented some early voting. Read more “Snap Elections Fail to Put Thailand’s Political Crisis to Rest”

South Korea Should Study Its Past to Deal with North’s Future

North Korea is known for its exaggerated and bellicose proclamations against South Korea. Recently, it declared that strikes “without warning” would occur if protests in Seoul marking the anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il continued. But the recent execution of Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Sung-taek, demonstrates a far deeper issue that North Korea wants contained: the internal desire for reform or revolution. If South Korea reflects on its previously successful and not so successful engagements with North Korea and learns from them, it is possible for a reunification or positive reform to eventually occur without war or destruction.

Despite losing many of its allies and supporters following the Cold War, North Korea has persisted in rebelling against international etiquette and refuses to collapse. South Korea is experienced in the rogue state’s belligerent attitude and has actively spent the last fifteen years dedicating policy experts and analysts to the task of avoiding war and establishing a peacefully feasible reunification. Some have been historically progressive whereas others have led to armed confrontation. These precedential dealings are the best platform to successfully move forward regarding a rogue state that cannot be understood through standard rational analysis. Read more “South Korea Should Study Its Past to Deal with North’s Future”

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un Has Uncle Executed for Treason

North Korea’s state media reported on Friday that Jang Sung-taek, its leader’s Kim Jong-un’s uncle, had been executed for treason. If true, it caps the spectacular downfall of a man who had long been considered a power behind the throne of the secretive communist regime.

Describing Jang as a “traitor to the nation for all ages,” KCNA, the primary source of information on the impoverished Asian country for outsiders, quoted him as confessing to plotting a coup d’état. “I thought the army might join in the coup if the living conditions of the people and services personnel further deteriorated in the future,” he allegedly said.

KCNA also said Jang had stolen €4.6 million and spent much of it in foreign casinos. “He led a dissolute, depraved life, squandering money wherever he went,” according to the news agency which is seen as a mouthpiece for the regime. Read more “North Korea’s Kim Jong-un Has Uncle Executed for Treason”

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un Dismisses Powerful Uncle

Two South Korean lawmakers said on Tuesday that North Korea’s ruler, Kim Jong-un, had dismissed his uncle, Jang Sung-taek, a man who was widely seen as the power behind the throne of the authoritarian communist regime.

Two members of the South Korean parliament’s intelligence committee told separate news briefings that close aides to Jang in the North’s ruling Workers’ Party had been executed for corruption.

Jang, who is married to Kim Jong-un’s aunt, Kyong-hui, herself a high party official, was previously purged in 2004 when his father Kim Jong-il ruled the country. But he reappeared at the leader’s side two years later, suggesting that he had been reinstated. He became vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, the body Kim Jong-il used to rule the country, a year before the leader’s death in 2011. Read more “North Korea’s Kim Jong-un Dismisses Powerful Uncle”