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Cablegate: Thais Increasingly Suspicious of U.S.

VZCZCXRO8320
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #2790/01 1371138
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 171138Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7010
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 7143
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 1752
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 4235
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 9273
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 3119
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 3570
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JCS WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHHMUNA/USCINCPAC HONOLULU HI

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 002790

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM ECON EINV KDEM TH
SUBJECT: THAIS INCREASINGLY SUSPICIOUS OF U.S.


BANGKOK 00002790 001.2 OF 003


SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) America's image in Thailand has deteriorated in
recent months. Thais generally do not share the American
concerns prompted by the RTG's issuance of compulsory
licenses for prescription medicines. Not only do they
continue to believe that Thailand's placement on the USTR
Special 301 Priority Watch List represents retaliation for
the compulsory licenses, but they also suspect that a swath
of the American political class has been co-opted by deposed
Prime Minister Thaksin. Thaksin's employment of American
lobbyists and public relations specialists -- one of whom has
links to a pharmaceutical firm hurt by the compulsory license
decision -- has increased wariness of the USG. The situation
is exacerbated by Google Inc's slow decision to remove from
its YouTube website video clips disrespectful of the Thai
King, seemingly pitting Thai love for the monarch against
America's broad protection of free speech. The Ambassador
has used the media, and most recently a May 16 appearance
before a legislative committee, to try to dispel Thai
suspicions, but we may remain an easy target against which
the Thais can direct anxieties about their political and
economic course. End Summary.

IT STARTED WITH THE COUP...
---------------------------

2. (SBU) When the military launched its coup in September,
ensuring Thaksin would not soon return from his overseas
travels, many Thais expressed a sense of relief, feeling that
the country had been saved from a dire predicament. But many
urban and cosmopolitan Thais recognized there was something
distasteful about a military coup, even as they viewed it as
preferable to Thaksin perpetuating his rule. With defensive
edginess, Thai opinion-makers sought to rebut implied and
explicit foreign criticism, asserting that the coup was "a
Thai solution to a Thai problem" and consistent with a
distinctly Thai form of democracy that Westerners had trouble
understanding. Some Thais sounded an unhappy note when we
suspended millions of dollars of military aid, comparing
unfavorably our response with the more ingratiating approach
of the Chinese. Some Thais questioned whether we applied a
double standard, since we had waived sanctions against
Pakistan (albeit years after Musharraf's takeover, we pointed
out).

THE LOBBYISTS
-------------

3. (SBU) If sophisticated Thais worried about their country's
international image in the wake of the coup (e.g., the
possibility that Thailand would find itself lumped in with
Burma, while neighboring Indonesia won praise for its
transition to democracy), their anxiety was soon exacerbated
by news that globe-trotting deposed PM Thaksin retained
top-notch lobbying and public relations firms. These firms'
powerful, pin-striped images outclassed by an order of
magnitude that of the assorted bureaucrats pulled out of
retirement to populate the cabinet soon known collectively in
the press as "old ginger." Thais from throughout the
political class repeatedly sought reassurance from their
Embassy contacts that Thaksin's lobbyists would not skew U.S.
foreign policy in his favor.

COMPULSORY LICENSES
-------------------

4. (SBU) Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla was one of the
few cabinet members who appeared energized; unfortunately,
one of the efforts to which he devoted himself was the
issuance of compulsory licenses (CLs) to enable the RTG to
produce or import generic medicines that violated the patents
of large pharmaceutical firms. In December and January, the
RTG announced it had issued CLs for three medicines produced
by Merck, Abbott Labs, and Sanofi-Aventis. U.S.-based Abbott

BANGKOK 00002790 002.2 OF 003


retaliated by withdrawing its applications for registering
new products in Thailand; activists denounced the move and
held demonstrations outside Abbott's offices in Bangkok, and
the Embassy.

5. (SBU) Abbott also hired a public relations firm to focus
attention on the RTG's actions. This firm, connected to a
prominent former USG official who is also associated with one
of the U.S. companies hired by Thaksin, authored articles and
bought advertisements to convey its views. In emotionally
charged terms, the firm condemned the CLs as "theft," and
labeled Minister Mongkol's justifications for his actions as
"deceit." The firm did not limit its views narrowly to the
CLs, however; it decried the military's overthrow of Thaksin
and criticized a wide range of the RTG's economic and
financial policies while labeling the country as part of an
"axis of IP evil" for violating intellectual property rights.
This firm also threw in intellectually dishonest and
misleading assertions for good measure, e.g., that Thailand
is becoming another Burma, and that the interim government is
responsible for deterioration in the South.

USE OF THE INTERNET
-------------------

6. (SBU) The aforementioned firm placed full-page ads, using
more moderate but still highly contentious language, in Thai
newspapers; it also established a website: thailies.com,
which now directs one to a site labeled thaimyths.com. In
late April, the firm posted a video message on Google Inc's
YouTube video-sharing site. The choice of YouTube seemed
designed to highlight the RTG's decision earlier that month
to block access to the YouTube site, after clips
disrespectful of revered King Bhumibol were posted there.
The sense of outrage over the clips prompted public discourse
over the limits of free speech. While few Thais expressed
qualms about blocking the negative depictions of the King,
they did demonstrate awareness of differences in Thai and
American values, with reverence for the King and respect for
authority and politeness paramount in the former, and freedom
of speech (even if offensive or insensitive) prominent in the
latter. Some commentators highlighted Google Inc's supposed
willingness to adhere to Chinese government censorship
standards in order to operate in the PRC, while they claimed
the corporation failed to respond with appropriate speed and
deference when Thai sensitivities were at stake. Thais
humbly acknowledged the difference in Google Inc's response
likely stemmed from Thailand's relatively low level of
international influence.

7. (SBU) While the creators of the disrespectful clips remain
unknown, the Thai press reported rumors of Thaksin's or his
sympathizers' involvement. It has long been suspected that
Thaksin considered the King as his main rival for influence,
and the monarchy as an institution that should be diminished
in stature. Some have previously claimed that Thaksin
supported an anti-royalist website maintained in Europe,
manusia.com -- although the preeminent pro-Thaksin site,
hi-Thaksin.net, highlights Thai adoration for the King, even
as it provides material to promote Thaksin's political
agenda. The Council for National Security (CNS) -- composed
of the coup leaders -- recently set up its own website, to
counter Thaksin's propaganda. Clearly, though, in political
terms the Internet provides the current regime with more
nuisances (in the form of unwanted foreign intrusion) than
benefits or opportunities.

PRIORITY WATCH LIST
-------------------

8. (SBU) By May, Thais had demonstrated they were sensitive
and insecure about their international standing; they worried
that their wealthy deposed PM was buying influence in
Washington; and both known and unknown figures were using the
Internet and other means to get exposure for hostile views.
In this context, our announcement of Thailand's placement on

BANGKOK 00002790 003.2 OF 003


the Special 301 Priority Watch List (PWL) appeared to the
conspiracy-minded as another in a series of foreign jabs. It
was easy for some to paint the PWL decision as retaliation
for the compulsory licensing decision; an upcoming
determination that certain Thai exports will no longer be
eligible for preferential duty treatment under the
Generalized System of Preferences will likely be seen in a
similar light, characterized as another vindictive U.S.
action placing the health of U.S. corporate profits above
that of "poor Thais."

GETTING OUR MESSAGE OUT
-----------------------

9. (SBU) We have generally avoided publicly addressing the
suspicions surrounding Thaksin's hiring of U.S. lobbyists;
any explanation, no matter how clear, would simply encourage
further discourse on the topic and enable critics to smirk
that we protest too much. We have taken an active approach
on PWL, however, arranging numerous interviews with the
Ambassador so he could explain to the local media our
standards and the importance of IPR protection. On May 16,
the Ambassador went to the parliament for a two-hour meeting
with nine members of the National Legislative Assembly's
Committee on Foreign Affairs, to discuss these issues. The
legislators were predisposed to believe that the PWL
determination was driven by resentment over the RTG's
issuance of compulsory licenses. However, they took on board
the Ambassador's explanation that PWL determination was based
principally on the widespread, open availability of
counterfeit brand-name apparel and illegal copies of software
and video and music discs. The upcoming visit of EAP A/S
Hill should provide another opportunity to clarify that our
actions are driven by objective criteria, not political
grudges.

COMMENT
-------

10. (SBU) The post-coup government has made its fair share of
political and economic blunders, and the Thais are the first
to acknowledge (and criticize) their own failings. This has
created an environment of heightened sensitivities, however
-- and these are exacerbated by an understanding that
Thailand's beloved King is in ill health, and a traumatic
succession process lies in the not-too-distant future. As
has happened here in the past, in times of national
difficulty, an increased sense of nationalism is engendered
and often encouraged. Current RTG efforts to change laws on
foreign investment are indicative of this mood. We will
continue working to preserve a friendly bilateral
relationship, even as American entities and mechanisms
outside of our control complicate U.S. Government efforts.
BOYCE

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