Patrolling Chinese police in Thailand “unthinkable” say critics

Uniformed Chinese police in Pattaya? These guys are still in Beijing.

The informal suggestion of premier Srettha Thavisin that joint patrols of Chinese and Thai police might appear in tourist areas has gone down like a lead balloon. Although the Tourist Authority of Thailand voiced support on the grounds that Chinese tourists would feel safer, the national police chief, police general Torsak Sukwimol, has now publicly condemned the notion arguing that there may be some confusion. That is certainly true.

The joint patrol idea is not entirely new and was adopted by a handful of countries, including Italy and Croatia, before the pandemic. It appears to have been welcomed by Chinese tourists as a safety measure for their benefit, but the Italian government cancelled the contract in 2019. The apparent fear was that cooperation was a cover for secret Chinese police stations, said to operate covertly in 54 countries, keeping watch on Chinese mafias and monitoring regime dissidents.

Thai social media, including sites favoured by foreigners, appear to be 99 percent against the idea. One British contributor pointed out that whilst there was a shortage of Chinese speakers in Italy, this was not so in Thailand. For example, the Thai tourist police volunteers have many Chinese language users who already act as translators. Other criticisms centered around Thailand loss of independence or even sovereignty, arguing that the proposal made Thailand look unable to direct its own affairs. Facebook users seemed unanimous that “you couldn’t make this stuff up”.

The prime minister’s initial enthusiasm was doubtless founded on hopes that more Chinese tourists will visit Thailand. The Tourist Authority of Thailand’s aspiration was a total of 4.4 million Chinese holidaymakers in the calendar year 2023, but only 2.8 million have so far arrived. The Thai government has, in a pilot scheme, removed the requirement for Chinese tourists to have a prior visa or visa on arrival, but response has been lukewarm so far. The Chinese economy is currently in slowdown mode and there have been reports of bad stories about Thailand circulating on Chinese media.

Although many countries have plain clothes police operating in Thailand, usually via embassies or Interpol or by invitation, joint patrols in uniform appear to be a step too far for public consumption. Some estimates even predict that Indian arrivals could outpace Chinese by 2025, with Russians not far behind, which raise the issue where the scheme might stop. But in view of the hostile reaction, you have likely heard the last of this particular marketing plan. The boys in brown won’t be accompanied by the men in black.