Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Laos: West's War on Asian Development

January 7, 2020 (Joseph Thomas - NEO) - At face value, the Financial Times' article, "Laos’s Belt and Road project sparks questions over China ambitions," reads like a politically-motivated attack on infrastructure development in Asia. Because it is.

The article's subheading, "High-speed train line in one of Asia’s poorest countries may benefit Beijing more than locals," alone contradicts the correlation between the development of infrastructure and the alleviation of poverty. It also reveals the article as indeed, a politically-motivated attack on China and Asian development couched behind flimsy concerns over the nation of Laos and its people.

The article reports:
 Near Bom Or, a village of dirt streets and shacks in northern Laos, Chinese construction crews have cut a tunnel through a mountainside to carry high-speed trains along a 400km rail line across the country, a section of a planned route from Kunming in south-west China to Singapore. 
The tunnel is part of a $6.7bn project through the rugged countryside around Luang Prabang, the ancient capital of Laos, one of the highest profile being built under China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The article also claims:
Beijing has used the programme to build roads, ports and power stations in some of the world’s poorest countries. But critics have raised concerns about the social and environmental impact of the projects, saying that many of them are white elephants that have left states heavily indebted to Beijing. 

The project in Laos, one of Asia’s poorest countries which has no independent media and limited civil society groups, has been carried out with little public consultation.
Of course, by "independent media" and "civil society groups," Financial Times means fronts funded by and for US and European interests.

The construction of massive infrastructure projects always incurs debt. The construction of nation-spanning or region-spanning mass transportation systems always displace locals living in their proposed paths and locals will always protest having to move from their homes. These are problems that mega-projects throughout history have always faced and are not unique to China's Belt and Road Initiative.

While these issues are noteworthy, the fact that the Financial Times (and other Western media outlets) omit the obvious benefits for Laos exposes the lopsided narrative of political propaganda dressed up as journalism.

Landlocked Laos is Finally Being Unlocked 

Anyone who has previously set foot in Laos would have immediately seen and felt its isolation from the rest of the world and the impact it had on Laos' economic prospects.

A little more than a decade ago, those travelling through Laos would have noticed a severe lack of modern highways and a complete lack of rail.

To move from one part of the country to another, tourists, cargo and business people would have to travel through narrow, winding mountain roads. To travel from Laos' northern border with China to its capital near Laos' border with Thailand required around 3 days of travel only if team driving was used and no stops were taken for sleep.

The isolation of Laos because of its geographical location, mountainous terrain and lack of transportation infrastructure was an obvious obstacle for economic progress. The obvious solution was developing transportation infrastructure.

Now that China is working with Laos to do just that, it has been met by concerted and constant condemnation from the West.

With the completion of Chinese-built highways alone, an influx of business and tourism has predictably followed. The movement of tourists and products is expected to expand even more with the completion of high-speed rail (expected to be completed in 2021).

The Financial Times even admits:
One likely source of business will be Chinese tourists visiting Laos, whose numbers have roughly doubled from 400,000 in 2014 to 800,000 last year. 

“It is Chinese tourists and products in, and raw materials out,” said Nadège Rolland, an expert on BRI with the National Bureau of Asian Research, a US think-tank. “But eventually the BRI is about much more than infrastructure — it is policy co-ordination that will align the claimed needs of the region with those of Beijing.” 
Not only will transportation infrastructure in Laos connect it with China, Chinese as well as Thai projects seek to extend road and rail projects being built in Laos into Thailand and onward to Malaysia and Singapore.

Laos will go from a mostly isolated, underdeveloped nation, to a key corridor linking China to 3 of the top 5 largest economies in Southeast Asia. Its location will go from hindering its development to being central to its future development, wealth and trade.

China is indeed benefiting by transforming Laos into a corridor it can reach the rest of Southeast Asia through. But it is connecting Laos, its people and economy with the rest of Southeast Asia as well.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Thanathorn' Mobs: Thaksin Noi, Trouble Yai

December 16, 2019 (Tony Cartalucci - ATN) - Corrupt nepotist, union-busting billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit recently organized a rally in downtown Bangkok. Without coincidence, it follows a court ruling against him over his transparent violation of election laws and his equally transparent attempts to lie about his violation of them.

He and his party - Future Forward - now face dissolution over his likewise transparent violation of election laws when he "loaned" over 100 million Thai Baht to his own political party ahead of the 2019 general elections.

Since his party has no means of ever repaying the "loan," it was clearly a donation made in complete violation of Thai election laws, poorly dressed up as a "loan."

While he used "pro-democracy" platitudes to explain why he is now organizing street mobs - it is abundantly clear that in reality - he is a corrupt billionaire hiding behind ordinary people in an attempt to circumvent justice and escape with impunity from his multiple - and still multiplying - violations of the very rule of law genuine democracy requires to exist.

To understand how detached from genuine democracy Thanathorn and Future Forward actually are, consider his party lost general elections coming in distant third, Thanathorn himself lost his bid to become prime minister, and his party has more recently suffered defeat in local elections. Despite having no genuine democratic mandate, he still insists on rewriting constitutions, changing laws, and ousting a government led by a party that received several million more votes than his own party received.

At face value - nothing Thanathorn says is rooted in genuine democracy - but rather in his, his party's, and his party's sponsors' transparently self-serving desire for power.

Thaksin Noi 

What is most worrying is that Thanathorn's strategy of bringing mobs into the streets in an attempt to extrajudicially fight his and his party's legal troubles is not new.

It echos Thaksin Shinawatra's attempts to do likewise regarding his own serial, transparent crimes.

The mobs Thaksin organized would end in extreme violence - leading objective observers to conclude that the ultimate end game of Thanathorn is to likewise use the specter of violence and instability to pressure courts to decide in Thanathorn's favor.

In 2009 Thanksin's mobs would lead to arson and rioting. Two people were killed when they attempted to protect their property from Thaksin's "red shirt" mobs.

In 2010, Thaksin would augment his mobs with "black shirt" militants - 300-500 heavily armed terrorists employing M-16s, AK-47's, M-79 grenade launchers, hand grenades, and other assorted small arms.

The violence would claim nearly 100 lives including soldiers, police, counter-protesters, journalists, and bystanders. It also led to widespread arson not only in Bangkok but in provinces beyond.

While disingenuous commentators and supporters of Thaksin across the Western corporate media claimed the mobs were part of a "class struggle," honest and accurate accounts will recall that the 2010 mobs were organized just ahead of a court ruling on the seizure of billions of Thaksin Shinawatra's ill-gotten wealth. Thaksin attempted to fed thousands of his own supporters into violent conflict in an attempt to leverage the resulting mayhem as pressure against Thai courts in his favor.

Thanathorn's aping of Thaksin's strategy is not only troubling because of how transparent his motivations are - but also because Thanathorn is little more than a nominee of Thaksin's still-ongoing efforts to return himself and his political machine to power in Thailand.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

US Seeks Thai Opposition for Anti-China Alliance at ASEAN Summit

Why is the US talking "democracy, human rights and justice" with an opposition who lost recent elections, abuses human rights and works daily to undermine and evade justice?

November 2, 2019 (Joseph Thomas - NEO) - Time was precious at the 35th ASEAN Summit. Leaders from across Southeast Asia converged on Bangkok, Thailand to discuss economics, diplomacy, defence and a whole host of other issues.

With so much to discuss and do, it was particularly surprising to see the US spend much of its time coercing local leaders to take up its flagship regional crisis centred on stirring up trouble in the South China Sea as well as meet with and promote unpopular opposition parties.

One meeting in particularly, headed by US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) David Stilwell, was held with members of Thailand's opposition party, Future Forward.

The EAP in a social media post would claim:
Assistant Secretary Stilwell appreciated the opportunity to meet with Members of Parliament in [Thailand] to learn more about their efforts to promote democracy, justice, and human rights.
No mention was made of who these Members of Parliament (MPs) were, what party they came from or anything at all about why they were chosen for the meeting from among Thailand's 500 MPs.

First, Does the US Even Stand for "Democracy, Justice and Human Rights?"  

At face value the US would appear to be upholding noble values; democracy, justice and human rights. That is until even the most rudimentary observation skills are employed in considering Washington's own contempt and abuse of all three of these principles not only domestically, but worldwide.

The US regularly interferes in the democratic processes of nations around the globe, with entire organisations like the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its many subsidiaries dedicated solely to the purpose of manipulating the internal political affairs of targeted nations, including elections.

The notion of the US standing for or upholding "justice" is also dubious at best, with the US the world leader in both its incarceration rate and the total number of people imprisoned in jails. The US, guilty of serial wars of aggression and all abuses generally related to war, has escaped justice both from within its own justice system and from the so-called "international community."

Of course, both the US' industrialised prison system and its global wars of aggression bury any notion at all that the US stands for human rights, rather than merely hides behind them.

With even average people around the globe aware of these facts and the hypocrisy the US would bring to any meeting discussing "democracy, justice and human rights," why would any member of Thailand's parliament meet in good faith with the US regarding these matters? What business of Washington's in the first place is "democracy, justice and human rights" in Thailand?

Why did Future Forward eagerly attend this meeting?

US and Future Forward: Birds of a Feather 

Future Forward, like the US, merely hides behind principles like democracy, justice and human rights.

The party is also the eager recipient of US backing in order to do so. Several of the party's founding members belong to US NED-funded fronts including Prachatai whose director is literally an NED fellow.

When members of the party are summoned by Thai police for their various criminal activities, US embassy staff often accompany them.

In the 2019 general election, the party came in distant third, with it and its political allies losing the popular vote to the military-aligned Palang Pracharath Party. Despite having no mandate, it continues seeking the rewriting of Thailand's constitution and justifies its disruptive activities under the pretext of representing the Thai people despite being rejected by them at the polls.

More recent by-elections have suggest the party is even more unpopular now than when it lost the general elections earlier in the year.

The party is led by nepotist billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who before entering politics, busted unions at his family's Thai Summit autoparts factory. The abuses involved even attracted the attention of international rights watchdogs, including IndustriALL Global Union who reported in 2007 that:
Thai Summit Eastern Seaboard Auto Parts Company, owned and controlled by Thai Summit Group has drawn fire from the International Metalworkers’ Federation, IMF affiliates, and the National Human Rights Commission in Thailand for committing trade union and human rights violations at their Rayong auto parts plant.
Thanathorn and his Future Forward Party are currently partners with Pheu Thai Party (PTP), another opposition party, run by another corrupt billionaire and also fugitive, Thaksin Shinawatra. PTP would even nominate Thanathorn as their candidate for prime minister following the 2019 general elections.