TOKYO – A week, it is said, is a long time in politics. But events in Asia over the past week may define the region for decades to come.
Thailand, one of Asia’s most prosperous countries, seems determined to render itself a basket case. A military coup, imposed following the Thai constitutional court’s ouster of an elected government on spurious legal grounds, can lead only to an artificial peace. Unless Thailand’s military is prepared to serve as a truly honest broker between deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (and her supporters) and the anti-democratic Bangkok elite, which has sought a right to permanent minority rule, today’s calm may give way to a new and more dangerous storm.
To Thailand’s east, Vietnam is the latest Asian country to feel pinched by China’s policy of creating facts on the ground, or in this case at sea, to enhance its sovereignty claims on disputed territory. Vietnam’s government reacted vigorously to China’s placement of a huge, exploratory oilrig near the disputed Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Ordinary Vietnamese, taking matters into their own hands, reacted even more vigorously, by rioting and targeting Chinese industrial investments for attack.
China’s unilateral behavior has exposed a strain of virulent anti-Chinese sentiment bubbling beneath the surface in many Asian countries. Renewed protests over China’s mining investments in Myanmar this week confirmed this trend, one that China’s leaders seem either to dismiss as trivial, or to regard as somehow unrelated to their bullying. Indeed, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, who faces widespread public antipathy in Ukraine, China’s leaders appear to believe that popular protests against them can only be the product of an American plot.