By SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE
DEPUTY Prime Minister and Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan has been proven to be a novice in international relations. His foreign policy toward China is always wrong and counterproductive.
The decision to repatriate “refugees” to please China over the past months has brought repercussions and worsened the reputation of this government, bringing general condemnation rather than applause.
In July, Prawit decided to deport to China more than 100 Turkic Muslims believed to be Uighurs. The move prompted attacks on a Thai consulate office in Turkey and the bombing of the Erawan Shine in Bangkok. Timing of the latter might have been coincidental, but the government has failed to clearly prove that the violence was not connected to deportation of the Uighurs.
The two incidents caused human casualties and damaged property, and it still remains unclear how Thailand could have benefited from the repatriation of more than 100 Muslims.
Four months later, the government deported to China two Chinese activists who were recognised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Dong Guangping and Jiang Yefei were quietly repatriated from a Thai detention centre to China on November 14-15. Prawit claimed the two were wanted in Beijing on human trafficking charges and he was not aware the Chinese activists had UN “person of concern” status as refugees.
Although Thailand is not a contracted party to the 1951 Convention on refugees, it is international practice not to repatriate people who face the threat of prosecution, torture or execution just because they have different political ideas from their government.
Furthermore, those who want to handle international relations should understand the principle of non-refoulement – which forbids the return of a persecuted victim to his or her persecutor. This is not only a cornerstone of refugee law but also exists in many international laws, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The principle includes the right to life, to freedom from torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, and to liberty and personal security.
If he really wanted to administer good foreign policy for this country, Prawit and his crew should have known that activists Dong and Jiang were dissidents. They were detained by Chinese authorities for activities commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown and challenged the government response to the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
Dong is a human rights defender and former political prisoner. He served three years in jail between 2001 and 2004 for promoting democracy in China. He was detained for eight months in July last year for his activities to commemorate the Tiananmen bloodshed.
Jiang, who is the leader of the Thai branch of the Chinese democratic movement, fled to Thailand seven years ago after giving an interview to foreign media criticising the government’s handling of the 2008 earthquake. He published satirical cartoons on social media during his exile in Thailand.
The decision on their deportation was not made hastily. Prawit had plenty of time to seek information and consult with all agencies on the consequences of the decision. The two Chinese were arrested in October 28 for not having valid visas.
The visa is no big deal in this case. Dong and his family arrived in Thailand in late September and received a UN letter of “protection” while their application for resettlement in a third country was underway. Jiang lived in Thailand for years before being granted refugee status in April this year. Both had no connection with human trafficking as claimed by Prawit.
Unless this government wants to ‘kow-tow’ to China, Prawit has a lot of legal instruments to help deal with this case. International law and good practice on human rights are a priority. They could shield the military government from Beijing’s pressure.
If the Chinese mounted more pressure for extradition, proceedings still have to be conducted in accordance with Thai extradition law. It requires all concerned parties to go through a judicial process, not a decision by one man.