Friday, January 05, 2007

Rumors in Thailand: New Coup Could Be Near; Tourism, Stock Market Off Sharply

By John E. Carey
January 5, 2007

We have two logical choices on what to believe is going on in Thailand. Fist, we can accept the line offered by the military backed government, installed by a coup last year, the prior democratically elected government is seeding terror and disunity, maybe even a government takeover of its own.

Or we might choose to believe that Muslim separatist rebels, who have been actively fomenting terror in Southern Thailand, are to blame.

The government of Thailand insists that the New Year bombs that killed three people in the Thai capital of Bangkok were part of a concerted bid to undermine the post-coup government. The Thai army chief again reiterated this position on Friday.

Rumors of another military putsch swept the jittery city of Bangkok on Thursday and Friday.
"It is a movement to disrupt the national security, the society and the economy," Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who staged a September 19 coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said during an appearance on Thai army-run Channel 5 television.

Late on Thursday, rumors of major movements of about 2,000 troops at 300 locations around Bangkok sped through its 9 million inhabitants.

Sonthi denied any plots to unseat the post-coup administration and the Council for National Security (CNS), as the coup of 2006 plotters are now called.

Sonthi was pressed to name the bombing suspects from New Year’s Eve. "I can't identify who they are yet, but the main focus is on the people who have lost political benefits."

“Political benefits” sounds like corruption to many western newsmen and diplomats in Bangkok that we spoke to.

One western diplomat told us that, “One theory is that the CNS is staging a coup against itself to boost its prestige and status after a very difficult three months in charge. Just last week, the stock market dropped, tourism fell off and we have little evidence or answers about the New Year's Eve bombings.”

“There has been so much bad news there has been broad panic selling [in the stock ,arket]," said Chaiyaporn Nompitakcharoen of Bualuang Securities.

But the government in power is still blaming the group they threw out.

"These losers are doing everything they can to discredit the September 19 coup. They are doing everything to show that the country is in chaos and the CNS can't restore peace as we have promised," Sonthi said.

"They are trying to tell the people that the CNS and the government have no credibility," said Sonthi.

A Bangkok university poll released on Friday showed than many Thais, a large majority, believe there is an active effort to discredit the Thai government.

About half of 1,600 Bangkok residents polled this week said they wanted the military-appointed government to continue its work, down from 60 percent in December and 90 percent in October when it took office, Assumption University said in a statement.

"The masterminds of the bombs accomplished what they have aimed for," chief pollster Noppadon Kannika told Reuters.

“Despite the government's insistence that politicians "who have lost power" were behind the blasts, a claim most Thais take as implicating ousted prime minister Thaksin, it appears to have no concrete evidence,” Reuters reporter Nopporn Wong-Anan wrote.

Wantanee in Thailand contributed to this report for Peace and Freedom.

Freedom of the Press In China: Managers Urged to 'Serve the media, not manage them'

'Serve the media, not manage them'
The People's Daily, Beijing
January 5, 2007

Government officials are being urged to fully cooperate with foreign journalists, who are flooding in to quench the thirst for information on China with the Beijing Olympics round the corner.

Compared to the longstanding practice of "managing the media", governments at various levels are preparing to serve, instead of shying away from, journalists, following a new regulation which took effect on Monday.

The message was delivered by Wang Guoqing, vice-minister of the State Council Information Office, the chief information office of the Chinese Cabinet.

"In the relationship between government and the media, we are promoting a shift from managing the press to serving it, treating reporters as 'clients'," Wang told China Daily.

From this year, government information offices throughout the country are implementing a reporters' assistance project, designed to help international media by compiling information about the people and places they may want to cover, and providing logistics services, he said.
The idea is to have each region come up with a general handbook for overseas reporters and produce special pamphlets for any projects that are of interest to journalists, he said.

The project also requires foreign affairs departments at the provincial or local level to ease the way for the anticipated influx of overseas reporters by producing info DVDs, interpreters, travel tips and other logistical support, Wang said.

The official said his office requires government spokespersons as well as other officials to release "timely, accurate and newsworthy" information to reporters, try their best to be accessible and not deny interview requests.

The number of overseas journalists is expected to rise sharply this year now that the new media regulation which gives unprecedented access to overseas media is in effect.

The rule prescribes that foreign journalists need only the consent of people or organizations for interviews in the run-up to, and during, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Estimates about the number of overseas journalists visiting the mainland this year are not immediately available, but Wang said at least 30,000 are expected during the Games next year.
However, Wang cautioned that while overseas reporters may not have any difficulty reporting in Beijing, he was "not quite optimistic" about the implementation of the rule outside major cities, where the news release and spokesperson system is just beginning to take shape.

The officials there are used to the management scheme set up 16 years ago, he said, referring to the Regulations on the Supervision of Foreign Journalists and Resident Foreign News Organs, enacted in 1990.

They are encouraged to discard the previous mentality, and face the media in an open and honest way, he said.

"I will not be surprised if foreign reporters encounter some difficulties in obtaining news," Wang said. "Their Chinese counterparts, too, have similar experiences in some regions.

"But changes will take place because we are pushing for them."

In fact, better serving the media has improved government accountability and governance, Wang said, adding his office had been pushing for the establishment of a government news release and spokesperson system for local government for the past three years.

"We want spokespersons to be true 'insiders' of government decision-making and other affairs so that they can better fulfil their duties," he said.

Wang, who was a reporter himself for 25 years, said he has instructed spokespersons mostly government officials never to treat reporters as subordinates or adversaries, but as partners who will often challenge with pointed questions.

There are perhaps "100 advantages and not a single disadvantage" in dealing with the press in a friendly and frank manner, meeting their demands by providing authoritative information, he said.

"Besides informing the public, the media act as a watchdog of government activities," he said.

"We sometimes complain that some Western reports about China lack objectivity, but at times I'm afraid our nonfeasance could be one of the factors," Vice-Minister Wang said.

"If in the course or wake of emergencies, relevant authorities refuse to give, or can't give, timely information, how can you expect objective and reliable reporting?"

Source: China Daily

Also From The People's Daily and China Daily

Chinese Misconceptions

About other countries

Chinese people frequently complain that the world has misunderstood their country, but Chinese media pointed out in Beijing Thursday that Chinese themselves have a lot of misconceptions about the big wide world.

"Many of the misconceptions stem from historical experiences, but others can be laid at the door of the media," the latest International Herald Leader said.

Apart from superpowers like the United States and Russia, Chinese have sought to know more about other countries that have historical connections with China or who play an important role on the world diplomatic stage, like India, Japan, Israel and Iran.

It used two full pages to list a series of major misconceptions, ranging from Iranian people's attitude toward the United States to dieting habits in Singapore.

The newspaper blamed domestic media for exaggerating the 'anti-America' sentiment in Iran, saying that such reports failed to reflect the real situation.

"U.S. brands like Nike and Coca Cola are popular among Iranian youth... Many of the young people hope to study in the United States," the newspaper said.

It also tried to correct Chinese people's ideas about India, saying that India is not the "aggressive", disaster-prone, underdeveloped neighbor depicted in many Chinese reports.

"Chinese people tend to judge others by their appearance," said the newspaper. "India's disorder and poverty are only on the surface...Under the surface is a young country full of vitality."

The newspaper said that most Chinese believe that India lags behind China in many areas apart from software. But the fact is that, besides the software industry, India also has a leading position in many other sectors including biology and pharmacy.

In addition, the newspaper said India has the world's youngest demographic structure, which means it will have abundant human resources for its economic development in the next 20 years.

It said many Chinese make unwarranted assumptions about foreign countries and their people's lives. For example, many Chinese believe that westerners are more sexually promiscuous.
"But the fact is that westerners tend to be open about sex education but are often conservative about sex," the newspaper said.

The newspaper said the world is changing quickly and it urged Chinese to beware of cliches when trying to understand other countries.

"A country which is striving to achieve a positive image in the world, should first learn to get along with the world in a positive way," the newspaper said.

Getting the Middle East Back on Our Side

By Brent Scowcroft
The New York Times
January 4, 2007


THE Iraq Study Group report was released into a sea of unrealistic expectations. Inevitably, it disappointed hopes for a clear path through the morass of Iraq, because there is no “silver bullet” solution to the difficulties in which we find ourselves.

But the report accomplished a great deal. It brought together some of America’s best minds across party lines, and it outlined with clarity and precision the key factors at issue in Iraq. In doing so, it helped catalyze the debate about our Iraq policy and crystallize the choices we face. Above all, it emphasized the importance of focusing on American national interests, not only in Iraq but in the region.

However, the report, which calls the situation in Iraq “grave and deteriorating,” does not focus on what could be the most likely outcome of its analysis. Should the Iraqis be unable or unwilling to play the role required of them, the report implies that we would have no choice but to withdraw, and then blame our withdrawal on Iraqi failures. But here the report essentially stops.

An American withdrawal before Iraq can, in the words of the president, “govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself” would be a strategic defeat for American interests, with potentially catastrophic consequences both in the region and beyond. Our opponents would be hugely emboldened, our friends deeply demoralized.

Iran, heady with the withdrawal of its principal adversary, would expand its influence through Hezbollah and Hamas more deeply into Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Jordan.

Our Arab friends would rightly feel we had abandoned them to face alone a radicalism that has been greatly inflamed by American actions in the region and which could pose a serious threat to their own governments.

The effects would not be confined to Iraq and the Middle East. Energy resources and transit choke points vital to the global economy would be subjected to greatly increased risk. Terrorists and extremists elsewhere would be emboldened. And the perception, worldwide, would be that the American colossus had stumbled, was losing its resolve and could no longer be considered a reliable ally or friend — or the guarantor of peace and stability in this critical region.

To avoid these dire consequences, we need to secure the support of the countries of the region themselves. It is greatly in their self-interest to give that support, just as they did in the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict. Unfortunately, in recent years they have come to see it as dangerous to identify with the United States, and so they have largely stood on the sidelines.

A vigorously renewed effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict could fundamentally change both the dynamics in the region and the strategic calculus of key leaders. Real progress would push Iran into a more defensive posture. Hezbollah and Hamas would lose their rallying principle. American allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the gulf states would be liberated to assist in stabilizing Iraq. And Iraq would finally be seen by all as a key country that had to be set right in the pursuit of regional security.

Arab leaders are now keen to resolve the 50-year-old dispute. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel may be as well. His nation’s long-term security can only be assured by resolving this issue once and for all. However, only the American president can bring them to the same table.

Resuming the Arab-Israeli peace process is not a matter of forcing concessions from Israel or dragooning the Palestinians into surrender. Most of the elements of a settlement are already agreed as a result of the negotiations of 2000 and the “road map” of 2002. What is required is to summon the will of Arab and Israeli leaders, led by a determined American president, to forge the various elements into a conclusion that all parties have already publicly accepted in principle.

As for Syria and Iran, we should not be afraid of opening channels of communication, but neither should we rush to engage them as negotiating “partners.” Moreover, these two countries have differing interests, expectations and points of leverage and should not be treated as though they are indistinguishable.

Syria cannot be comfortable clutched solely in the embrace of Iran, and thus prying it away may be possible. Syria also has much to gain from a settlement with Israel and internal problems that such a deal might greatly ease. If we can make progress on the Palestinian front before adding Syria to the mix, it would both avoid overloading Israel’s negotiating capacity and increase the incentives for Damascus to negotiate seriously.

Iran is different. It may not be wise to make Iran integral to the regional strategy at the outset. And the nuclear issue should be dealt with on a separate track. In its present state of euphoria, Iran has little interest in making things easier for us. If, however, we make clear our determination, and if the other regional states become more engaged in stabilizing Iraq, the Iranians might grow more inclined to negotiate seriously.