Thailand’s crown prince Maha Vajiralongkorn attends commemoration ceremony for his ancestor, late King Chulalongkorn, the fifth king of Chakri dynasty, who died in 1910.
AUSTRALIA’S supply of nice new Hiluxes could be in peril. But the reason is not one you might expect.
Toyota makes a lot of its Hiluxes in Thailand and they are not alone. In fact, Thailand’s car industry has rapidly become huge. It is the second biggest source for vehicles sold in Australia, only just behind Japan.
All those highly reliable cars — and Australia’s other trade with Thailand — might be at risk following the recent death of King.
The old king had been on the throne for over 70 years when he died. He was universally loved and had a calming influence on the country. His son, however, is world famous for making his pet poodle the commander of the Thai Air Force.
Foo Foo’s official role as Air Chief Marshall (Foo Foo is the poodle) was revealed via Wikileaks in 2011. This is a quote from a secret cable sent by the US ambassador:
“Foo Foo was present at the event, dressed in formal evening attire complete with paw mitts, and at one point during the band’s second number, he jumped up onto the head table and began lapping from the guests’ waterglasses, including my own. The Air Chief Marshal’s antics drew the full attention of the 600-plus audience members, and remains the talk of the town to this day.”
The Crown Prince recently moved on from his third wife and he lives in Germany for some of the year, where his mistress is a former flight attendant.
He was seen in Germany recently wearing a crop top and fake tattoos.
The ascendancy of the Crown Prince raises the question of whether he will be the same steady hand as his father, which is why Australia’s trade relationship could be at risk.
The political situation in Thailand has been complex for years without ruining it as a trade partner or travel destination. But this time could be different.
The late King had been very ill for about a decade and that decade has been especially messy. There was a coup in 2006 and another one in 2014.
In between them were many protests, bombings and killings. Without him, things could get worse.
Since 2014, democracy in Thailand is on hold and the military is ruling. Prime Ministers keep getting rolled by the military because they are perceived to be corrupt. The Crown Prince and one former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra are seen to be allies. If he becomes king after the period of mourning is over, Shinawatra or one of his allies might expect to return as PM, and Thai politics could change.
The military might come under pressure to let go control. That could to cause a large scale ruckus. Large parts of the community support the military (the yellow shirts), while many support Shinawatra (the red shirts). In 2009 and 2010, red shirts and the military clashed on the streets and people died.
If Thailand falls into even more turmoil, Australia has a lot at stake. Thailand is one of our top holiday destinations, for one thing. More Aussies go there than Fiji or Japan or China.
We depend on Thailand for far more than just cars and holidays. We signed a free-trade agreement with them in 2005 and since then trade has risen severalfold.
They buy our oil, gold and coal, while we buy from them cars and trucks, air conditioners and heaters.
The risks of are very real. In 2014, plenty of headlines said the country was on the brink of civil war. Without the beloved king, that risk may well be even higher.
The Australian government is already warning travellers of “civil unrest and the threat of terrorist attack” and says “large scale public gatherings … may turn violent.”
And that’s without even mentioning the south of Thailand where an ongoing insurgency has killed thousands of people. For now that is separate from the political turmoil, but as we’ve seen in Syria, things can get complicated fast.
The prince is supposed to become king in 2017. If Thailand can do that peacefully remains to be seen.