Whenever there’s conflict, racism rears its ugly head.
If you’re Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, many Royalists will curse you out as a traitorous Chinese.
Royalist Thais of Chinese descent would remind you of the generosity shown by His Majesty King Rama 9 in allowing the Chinese immigrants the economic opportunities to prosper in the Thai Kingdom.
The economic opportunities that saw wealthy Thai-Chinese become the so-called “hi-so” class and the pale Northeast Asian complexion valued over the darker Southeast Asian complexion.
Walk into a typical fancy restaurant and see Thailand’s skin-tone divide in a nutshell. The diners sipping on wine and speaking in the mixture of English and Thai are light skin and Chinese descendants. The servers with a darker complexion and squared jaws are natives of the land.
The Bangkok-centric arrogance plays out similarly. The Thai-Chinese middle and wealthy classes dominate the capital, while the provinces are like colonies, populated by darker ethnicities. But they are the majority, not the minority.
Such is the fact of the socio-economic makeup of Bangkok and Thailand.
The race card is a tried and true weapon in any society.
During the 1997 economic crisis, there were race riots in Southeast Asian countries where the Chinese ethnic minority dominates the economy.
Nationalist politicians fanned racism’s fury by rousing the populace to make the ethnic Chinese community the scapegoat for the economic downfalls. (Not dissimilar to in European history.)
The purpose? Misdirection. Blame it on someone else. Otherwise, people might find out that the rulers’ corruption and incompetence are to blame.
In Thailand, there were no race riots. But there was the blame game. Following neighboring countries’ lead, the embattled then prime minister, General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, also pointed to the “greed” of the Thai-Chinese economic class.
Fortunately, the people didn’t bite on the bait.
The good Chinese VS the bad Chinese
The race card is also played in the current political-social conflict.
Media tycoon, ex-prisoner, and leader of the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) Sondhi Limthongkul is considered the good Chinese. He led the protest against Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai government that resulted in the 2006 military coup by General Sonthi Boonyaratkalin.
Sondhi called himself “the Chinese son who loves the king/monarchy.”
On the other hand, Thanathorn is called “the traitorous Chinese.”
The logic behind it is the belief that Chinese immigrants prosper due to the kindness and generosity of Thai kings. Therefore, gratitude and loyalty are owed. However, Thanathorn, who’s a billionaire, speaks of changes and reforms. As such, he’s a traitor, ungrateful and disloyal.
And no one sings this song louder than Sondhi himself.
His Facebook Page, Sondhi Talk, has 1,659,379 followers. He’s an accomplished speaker and storyteller. For older generation Thai traditionalists, their preferred media channels are either The Nation or Sondhi Talk.
They remember well, long before Suthep Thuagsuban came along, Sondhi (along with Chamlong Srimuang) was the first to hit the streets carrying the banner of “defending the monarchy.”
They watch him. They believe him.
On the other hand, many supporters of the Ratsadon Movement have no kind words for the 15-year-old Koshayothin, the young face and voice of the royalist Thai Pakdee Movement.
They spew racial slurs at him and mock his dark skin, ethnicity, and heavily accented speech.
In a time of crisis, racism becomes a favorite weapon of hate.
Thailand’s political divide is played by the royal card, the democracy card, the military card, and of course, as with any human conflict, the race card.