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Richard S. Ehrlich: "Implanted Communist Chips"

Brains With "Implanted Communist Chips"

By Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Army Chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong has announced a communist conspiracy is plotting to seize power in Thailand, led by elderly politicians and academics who had "implanted communist chips" in their brains.

These secretive Thai communists have allied with Hong Kong's new generation of protesters and could lure Thai youths to unleash an insurrection in Bangkok, he warned.

Gen. Apirat's speech came after the military spent more than $480 million in recent purchases of U.S. weaponry including eight attack reconnaissance helicopters, 50 Hellfire missiles, 60 Stryker infantry carrier vehicles, 200 Advance Precision Kill Weapon System rockets, plus .50 caliber machine guns, grenade launchers and other arms and ammunition.

The general's 90-minute speech at the Royal Thai Army Headquarters on October 11 was titled "Our Land From a Security Perspective." The audience of 500 included university students, academics, local leaders and the media.

While speaking, Gen. Apirat -- who trained in the U.S. -- appeared on the verge of tears.

He projected photos of the army fighting battles during ancient and modern times, and displayed an ominous warning in Thai and English which stated in all-capital letters:

Gen. Apirat blamed Thailand's dangerously polarized politics on "communist elements who have refused to turn over a new leaf" after a tiny, relatively ineffectual Communist Party surrendered in 1988 and received amnesty.

"They are very old now, lurking behind the scenes, but are actually the masterminds. They are working with some foreign-educated and far-left academics to plant wrong ideas into the minds of students," Gen. Apirat said.

"The old [communist] members who became politicians and academics still have their implanted communist chips," he said.

An editorial in the conservative Bangkok Post said: "This is similar to the dangerous propaganda tactic used by the state in the lead-up to the October 6, 1976 massacre of student activists."

On that day, security forces and supporters killed up to 100 university students, leaving lynched and mutilated corpses in Bangkok's streets, for allegedly harboring communist ideas.

During the mid-20th century, the U.S.-backed military also battled a scattered, shallow insurgency by Thais suspected of being allied to China's Communist Party.

"As we've seen during the Cold War, people labeled as communists became enemies of the state, marked for elimination by any means," said opposition Future Forward party secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul.

"You're trying to evoke another Cold War in this country when there isn't one," said Mr. Piyabutr, responding to Gen. Apirat.

Gen. Apirat, 59, was also mocked and denounced by others among Thailand's analysts, media, and the public for trying to intimidate and smear critics without evidence.

They said Gen. Apirat's stance threatened Thailand's fragile evolution toward democracy, based on partial parliamentary elections in March after a 2014 military coup installed a junta for five years.

Prayuth Chan-ocha was army chief when he led the putsch, and retained his position as prime minister through the ballot box.

China meanwhile supported Gen. Apirat's conspiracy allegations against Thailand's opposition politician, multi-millionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

He leads Future Forward, the third-biggest party in parliament, especially popular among young voters.

Mr. Thanathorn, 40, is already facing serious charges of "sedition" and other crimes for his anti-military politics.

Without mentioning Mr. Thanathorn's name, the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok said, "A Thai politician has contacted the group that wants to separate Hong Kong from China, showing gestures of support. This is wrong and irresponsible."

Bangkok and Beijing are close diplomatic, economic and military partners, perceived by some analysts as rivaling U.S. influence in this Buddhist-majority country.

Mr. Thanathorn appeared cheerfully posing shoulder-to-shoulder with Hong Kong's protest leader Joshua Wong in a photo posted on October 6 to Mr. Wong's Facebook site.

"Under the hard-line authoritarian suppression, we stand in solidarity," Mr. Wong reportedly said in the photo's caption.

"Now, there is unrest in Hong Kong," Gen. Apirat said in his speech. "A visit [by Mr. Thanathorn] can be viewed as giving encouragement and support."

Focusing on Thailand's university students, Gen. Apirat said, "Hong Kong protesters are mostly youths. I ask, 'If one day you feel disappointed and someone brainwashed you to take the streets, would you come out?'"

Gen. Apirat projected the color photograph of the two men but self-censored it to display Mr. Thanathorn as a gray silhouette next to a clearly visible, smiling Mr. Wong.

Responding to Gen. Apirat's speech, Mr. Thanathorn said he was invited to Hong Kong by The Economist, a conservative British magazine, to speak at an Open Future Festival on October 5.

"That was the first and only time I met Joshua Wong. I have never had any involvement with any political group in Hong Kong, and I have no intention to do so in the future," Mr. Thanathorn wrote on his Facebook site.

"A single photograph of me and Joshua Wong was exaggerated out of proportion without any evidence. Some media and people, including a commander in the armed forces, tried to link me with unrest in Hong Kong in order to spread hatred in Thai society."

During his victorious House of Representatives election campaign earlier this year, Mr. Thanathorn promised to slash the military's budget, end army conscription, and rewrite the junta's 2017 constitution.

That charter empowered the junta to appoint a loyal 250-member Senate to blunt an elected 500-member House.

In 1992, Gen. Apirat's father Gen. Sunthorn Kongsompong who was then supreme commander, and Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon, then army commander-in-chief, seized power in a military coup.


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978 and winner of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He co-authored three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "'Hello My Big Big Honey!' Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews," "60 Stories of Royal Lineage," and "Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946." Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the chapter "Ceremonies and Regalia" in a book published in English and Thai titled, "King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective." Mr. Ehrlich's newest book, "Sheila Carfenders, Doctor Mask & President Akimbo" portrays a 22-year-old American female mental patient who is abducted to Asia by her abusive San Francisco psychiatrist.

His online sites are:

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