The U.S. Senate will weigh sending “a clear message of solidarity” with Thailand’s democracy movement under a resolution drafted yesterday by a group of nine senators.
In what would be the strongest sign of support from Washington for restoring democracy in its longtime treaty ally, the draft resolution cites the “repressive” response to recent protests to declare “solidarity with the people of Thailand in their quest for a democratically elected government.” It says the use of state violence and repression against pro-democracy protesters threatens both nations’ 202-year relationship.
“Thailand’s reformers are not seeking a revolution. They are simply yearning for democratic changes to their country’s political system, for freedom of speech and assembly,” Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said in a statement. “At a time when democracy is under assault from so many quarters it is critical that the United States Senate stand with the democracy movement in Thailand.”
Her state’s senior senator, Dick Durbin, said young Thai protesters should be heard and afforded respect through peaceful dialogue rather than being met with violence, harassment and persecution.
Introducing a resolution is just a preliminary step before it goes to committee for review, and there’s no guarantee it will ever reach the full body for a vote. The U.S. Congress is currently preoccupied with a number of pressing matters including avoiding a government funding shutdown and coming up with coronavirus relief. If passed, they are nonbinding and do not dictate policy.
Since February, more than 170 peaceful protesters have been arrested and many charged with serious crime such as sedition and insulting the royal family. Smoke bombs, tear gas grenades and chemical-laced water cannons have been used on peaceful protesters in recent weeks by the police. At least 55 people have been injured and seven protesters shot by unknown assailants.
Supporting democracy in Thailand has proved damned-if-you do, damned-if-you don’t for the Americans, who have faced embassy protests driven by disinformation campaigns, and top military commanders parroting unfounded conspiracy theories promoted by Russian-paid trolls.
After the embassy was mobbed by ultranationalist protesters in the run-up to the 2014 coup, it has avoided making what had once been routine statements of concern. Despite that, polls found an overwhelming majority maintain a favorable view of the United States.
Then came Donald Trump, whose embrace of foreign strongmen saw him formally invite Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to an unprecedented White House visit in 2017. Two years later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared Thailand had returned to democracy after the flawed 2019 election – and an arms deal that committed Bangkok to US$175 million (THB5.4 billion) worth of U.S.-made armored vehicles.
The draft resolution strikes a different tone, describing the election as “deeply flawed” and referencing the disappearances and killings of Thai exiles and dissolution of the Future Forward Party. It urges the Thai government to immediately and unconditionally release activists, and warns that another coup would risk a rupture in bilateral relations.
“The United States need to make clear to the Thai people and the international community that our alliance and long-term partnership with Thailand will continue to be based on shared interests and values, and mutual respect for democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law,” Menendez said.
The change in direction was telegraphed earlier this year when the Democratic Party vowed in its 2020 policy platform “to ensure that our alliances with Thailand and the Philippines live up to the values that our peoples share.”