The growing international importance to endemic Southeast Asian corruption.
by Joel J. Barlow
Many places in Thailand, including Prachinburi, Pitsanulok, Ayudtaya, Petchabun, Muang Nong Bua Lam Phu and MaeSuay, ChiangRai, are “San” shrines (spirit residences) for King Naresuan the Great (Somdet Pra Naresuan Maharat; สมเด็จพระนเรศวรมหาราช or Somdet Phra Sanphet II, สมเด็จพระสรรเพชญ์ที่ 2). From the age of 20, Naresuan (then Pra Naret) participated in 29 military campaigns with major battles between large armies, and as King, busy conquering, spent only 2 years in his capital. A map at his MaeSuay shrine shows Naresuan to have controlled all of Cambodia and Laos, parts of Western Vietnam, southern Burma to the Irrawaddi and most of the Shan States, west past the Salween and north to Hsenwi, where the Shawbwa was a friend from childhood. This map is fanciful fabrication.
In a time of great martial instability, Pra Naret was able to quickly raise armies and defeat other armies. This had nothing to do with administering a country, but everything to do with re-establishing one of the greatest port-trading communities on the world. Trade made might, Lanna was no more, and mainland Southeast Asia was becoming a busier, more international area. The idea of a country had only started to take root; the idea of Siam, as opposed to Ayudtaya, was equally new. At the time, international borders simply did not exist (feudal obligations did). The idea of restoring some former Siamese glory from that time is but myth, wishful thinking, or delusion, but the existence of these shrines testifies to its active continuance.
At the shrines are hundreds of plaster-cast roosters, a symbol memorializing a story of Pra Naret beating the Burmese Crown Prince at a fighting cock contest: “Not only can this cock champion a money bet, it can also fight for kingdoms,” Pra Naret is said to have said.
Naresuan (the ‘Black Prince, พระองค์ดำ) started rebuilding recently destroyed Ayudtaya about 1580; with powerful Dutch and British traders joining Arab, Indian, Persian, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish and French ones, it had been, and would soon again be, the busiest port in Southeast Asia. Naresuan captured Siamreap, Battambang and other important Cambodian cities, as King Boromoraja of Cambodia had invaded Siam a year after Bayinnaung (Burengnong) sacked Ayudtaya. Burengnong had annexed ChiangMai and the rest of Lanna in 1556, invaded Ayudtaya in 1563, took most of it 1564, and finally sacked the city of over a million in 1569.
In 1594, and Cambodia became a vassal state of Siam, ruled by its own prince, Soryopor (who became Barom Reachea IV). Naresuan left a Siamese army there, but it was driven out by Rama Chungprey in 1595. Cambodia wasn’t annexed, only paralyzed - so that Naresuan could deal with his Burmese arch-enemies without danger at his back; Siam needed ports on the Indian Ocean, so in 1593, Naresuan took Tavoy and Tenasserim. He then aided a successful Mon rebellion from Moulmein, took Martaban, and marched on Toungoo. But his successes ended there. A pustule, most likely of smallpox, suppurated, and he died in 1605. For the brief period that Naresuan was master of much of Cambodia and some of southern Burma, his rule over Ayudtaya’s (Siam’s) north wasn’t yet established.
His successor Egatosrost (Ekat’otsarat, aka Ekathotsarot the White, Naret’s younger brother) abandoned Siamese efforts in the Shan States. In 1610 Ekat’otsarat was succeeded by Int’araja (“The Just”). Local Japanese sacked Ayudtaya, while the King of LuangPrabang attempted to come to their aid. Order was restored in 1612, but the Burmese soon recovered Moulmein and Tavoy. Laotian kings and continued to rule throughout. The empire of Naresuan as depicted by the MaeSuay map never existed.
Why is this ancient history of significance? Mostly because of the immense popularity of small computerized communication devices.
Once again there’s a glut of drugs in Thailand. Only this time, men in uniform who aren’t just the usual lowly hired mules (usually poor tribal folk) are getting caught. Whether any of them actually serve much in the way of time, or catch much else in the way of punishment, is hardly of importance. That once again, there are significantly armed competitors is (back in the 50s to early 60s, Thai military and police were that). Now, who is directing what is hardly clear.
A main reason for the new situation is the “opening up” of Myanmar (an euphemism, to be sure). In the northern areas, especially, is much untapped mineral wealth. But locals, with a long history of brutal, ruthless and completely conscience-free exploitation of jade, are wary (to put it mildly). The Kachin (not a tribe, but an amalgamation of peoples) know that they are hardly likely to benefit from mining. Others know that mining there could elevate them onto the map of real global wealth.
So, Chinese triads (from China, Thailand and perhaps elsewhere), corrupt governments of the region, corrupt men in uniform of high rank, secret agents for global mega-corps and a few significant others hardly wise to mention are vying for position, and position means control of private armies. Which demands lots of ready cash, arms and experienced men, in place to protect mining operations when they at last can begin. And active drug marketing as the best route to efficiently and effectively accomplish that.
Conspiracy theory? Sure. So what. To deny conspiracy is about as wise as to deny science. It is happening, with results of jails full of inexplicable varieties of folk: pretty young girls, middle-aged peasants with mysterious but ample financial backing, foreigners, and occasionally even the type of person hardly ever imprisoned around here before (except for reasons of political activism): the educated, connected and financially competent. Illegal casinos are booming, as is export of stolen vehicles from Thailand to Myanmar. Many were but “mules” transporting contraband to get some otherwise very difficult to obtain money, working for one uniformed faction or another then caught by a rival faction.
The Burmese regime continues to kill in Kachin State, while meanwhile adverts for novice business correspondents to write articles in English for Burmese periodicals appear on Facebook (wanna buy a bridge?). Daw Aung San Suu Chi has helped northerners fight some mining, but the potential money will clearly match what is there to fight it; looks to me a bit like the “Blood diamonds” thing.
Oh my but it is truly scary. The lust for wealth, power and serious involvement in international business eclipses all sense. In Laos, a government opposed to modern mercantile, materialistic greed has caused there to be no animal life left to be seen - all killed by a very hungry populace. By April, the air here in northern Thailand will be almost unbreathable again, due to burning fields and now even mountaintops, for increased corn crops. And the Thai government will be going broke from its populist rice pledging scheme (the warehouses are full of rotting rice, while businessmen buy rice from neighboring countries for export). Oh my but it is sad.
As long as the Western mad lust of gluttony, cheap WallMart crap and angry intoxication remains, the “Third World” will become an increasing danger to that Western society, so dependent on sweatshop labor, exploitation of our Earth’s underground (well, and above-ground) wealth, and the use of force.
There are those with power who dream of a Southeast Asian EU-type amalgamation, of Bangkok-centered control over all that Naresuan ever had power over, and even power and influence sufficient to rival that of China and the Chinese. But it is more fighting over a scrap-heap than planning for a viable future. As I write, trucks are carrying dirt from our Himalayan foothills to cover other dirt as just another real-estate bubble prepares to burst, when Bangkok people attempting to flee the dangers of that morass find out that there simply won’t be enough income here for them. The US and European economies may receive a short-term fix, but it simply can’t be sufficient for all the world’s people to have cars, refrigerators and rare-earth powered communication devices. Naresuan tried to grab more than he could keep or use; we’re doing it too.