International Relations

Thailand’s crackdown on Chinese dissidents reinforces the coming together of authoritarians

Since the Thai military grabbed power in 2014, it's been widely accepted that the country has moved closer to China.

On October 5, Thai authorities detained Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong at the airport and then deported him. Thailand’s premier, General Prayuth Chan-ocha confirmed that Wong’s deportation was at China’s request.

Wong had been invited to Bangkok to speak at events memorialising the victims of a murderous attack on students and their supporters at Thammasat University 40 years ago.

For many commentators, Wong’s deportation is further evidence of Thailand’s turn to China. Since the Thai military grabbed power in May 2014, it has been widely accepted that the country has moved closer to China, forsaking its decades-old position as a staunch political and economic ally of the West.

A meeting of minds

The junta has contributed to this perception. Both the European Union and the United States have been critical of the coup and of the junta’s awful human rights record. And the junta’s blunt rejection of such criticism has gone hand-in-glove with high-profile visits to China, along with announcements of trade, investment and military deals.

Yet for all of its huff and puff, in practical economic and strategic terms, the junta has done little more than advance relations with China under a momentum established under previous Thai governments. And what Wong’s deportation reveals about Thailand’s relationship with China is a convergence of authoritarian politics.

Undoubtedly, Thailand’s junta considers the deportation of the 19-year-old Wong a “friendly act” that curries favour with China. At the same time, it’s clear that the junta well understands China’s angst about dissidents overseas.

The junta has long expressed a desire to silence Thai dissidents overseas by having them returned to Thailand. It also understands the “need” for promoting political order through the repression of domestic opposition.

Following the coup, the military regime has trumpeted its deals and dealings with China. Yet the outcomes of much heralded deals have been limited.

High-profile infrastructure deals haven’t made much progress. A high-speed railway project between the two countries, that the junta considers central for its economic success, has gone nowhere. Rather, it has resulted in considerable friction with China and much public bickering.

Military exercises, considered indicative of the shift away from the West, have been relatively small and have been matched by usually larger exercises that have included the US.

Dissing the dissidents

The one area where there has been more significant change in the relationship between Thailand’s junta and China has been in the treatment of Chinese dissidents. Since the coup, the junta’s government has been far less accommodating of Chinese political dissidents in Thailand than previous regimes.

Wong’s case fits a pattern of cooperation in dealing with those Beijing considers oppositional.

As an authoritarian regime, Thailand’s junta certainly understands China’s intolerance of political and social opposition. General Prayuth’s regime is the most repressive since the extremist dictatorship ushered in by the violent events Wong was meant to be commemorating in his aborted Thailand visit.

This coming together of authoritarian regimes is evident in a string of actions against Chinese dissidents in Thailand.

In June 2015, after Turkey received 173 Uighurs from Thailand, the Chinese government made its displeasure public. Less than two weeks later, Thailand deported more than 100 Uighurs to China. The junta did not explain why some Uighurs had been selected for the forcible repatriation.

The deportation brought condemnation from various human rights groups, with the UN Refugee Agency declaring it an abuse of international law. General Prayuth acknowledged that this deportation took place because the junta did not want to damage its relationship with China.

In appeasing China, the junta was changing a policy of toleration of Uighurs transiting Thailand, usually resettling in Turkey. Some argued that one response to this change was a bombing in Bangkok in August 2015 that killed 20 people, including five Chinese tourists, and injured dozens. Two ethnic Uighur suspects were arrested and have been held since.

Around the same time, Chinese political and religious dissidents began being removed to China or disappeared from Thailand, turning up in China, held by the authorities. It is not known how many dissidents, including Christians and Falun Gong followers, have sought sanctuary in Thailand.

Likewise, it is unclear how many have been returned to China. Dissidents say it is “dozens”.

A nasty pattern

The first reported case was in late October 2015, when two political dissidents were arrested for alleged visa violations. Both men had already been assessed by the UNHCR and were scheduled for resettlement to a third country. Their fines were mysteriously paid and they were deported to China.

Only a month later, Gui Minhai, a Chinese man with Swedish citizenship involved with Hong Kong’s Sage Communications’ salacious anti-Beijing books, disappeared from his beachside apartment outside Bangkok. He reappeared in custody in China. And here was no record of him leaving Thailand.

In January 2016, another dissident disappeared from Thailand, later turning up in China.

It is not just dissidents who are at risk. In December 2015, Xinhua reported that Chinese police had arrested a company executive allegedly involved in a financial scam. The report stated that Jiangxi police arrested the executive in Thailand.

For dissidents fleeing China, this report is confirmation of their worst fears. Not only is the Thai government cooperating with Chinese authorities in deporting dissidents, but it appears that security assistance includes surveillance of dissidents. It is also possible that Chinese security agents are at work inside Thailand.

While Hong Kong activist Wong wasn’t sent to China, Thai police confirmed that following the request from China, immigration authorities blacklisted, held and then expelled him.

The condemnation of Wong’s treatment has been widespread but is unlikely to affect the junta. It is used to denunciations of its many domestic human rights abuses. In fact, Wong’s case demonstrates the authoritarian hue of the regime.

Wong was seen as a threat. As much as sending a fraternal message to China, by treating Wong as a political opponent, the regime is also warning its own citizens.

The Thai regime has a despicable record of repressing its dissidents, as well as censoring, harassing and jailing them. With the junta currently manoeuvring to stay in power for several more years, it clearly didn’t want Wong energising its opponents.

Kevin Hewison, Weldon E. Thornton Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Asian Studies, University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Transforming patient care by managing talent better

Active leadership roles by physicians, innovative human resource strategies and a strong organizational culture can bridge the talent gap in healthcare.

Attracting and retaining talent is a challenge for many industries – however for the healthcare industry, the problem is compounded by acute shortage of skilled professionals. India has a ratio of 0.7 doctors and 1.5 nurses per 1,000 people as against the WHO ideal average of 2.5 each of doctors and nurses per 1,000 people. This reflects the immense human resource challenge in the Indian healthcare industry.

So, what can hospitals do to retain and groom the existing talent? How can a clear leadership vision motivate healthcare professionals to perform better? These were among the questions addressed at the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. The panel focused on three key aspects: leadership, talent retention and organisational culture.

Role of leadership

Dr. Robert Pearl, Executive Director and CEO of The Permanente Medical Group and Faculty at Stanford Business School, spoke at length about the role of strong leadership in human resource and talent management. He began by defining the role of a leader. In this video, Dr. Pearl describes a leader as someone who motivates others by setting a strong vision.

Play

According to Dr. Pearl, for a leader to craft such a vision and motivate others to work towards it, he or she would require certain qualities. These include empathy, good communication and ability to make quick decisions, stay calm under stress, multitask, and take responsibility - qualities that physicians typically possess by virtue of their profession. He thus urged doctors and physicians to play a greater role in leading their institutions.

His view is supported by research - a report in a Harvard Business Review says that physician-run hospitals scored 25% higher in quality rankings across geographies over hospitals run by professionals from non-medical backgrounds.

Dr. Pearl says, a leader who is also a physician is in a better position to set benchmarks for other professionals. Setting benchmarks would also mean setting an example for organizational behavior, culture and thought process. Many studies have examined the influence of a leader on his organization’s culture. This is expressed well by Dr Larry Senn’s concept ‘Shadow of the leader’ which emphasizes that the kind of ‘shadow’ a leader casts across the organization impacts how the employees think, behave and work. Thus, it is all the more important for physicians to get involved in hospital leadership.

Managing and retaining talent

One of the key responsibilities of leadership is to also manage and retain good talent. According to Dr. Pearl, one way of optimizing talent is by making efficient use of human resources.

A study by Tuck’s Centre for Global Leadership of nine Indian hospitals reiterates this. It shows that the strategy of ‘task shifting’ or the transfer of routine tasks to lower-skilled workers left specialists free to handle more complicated procedures. The result – more productive doctors performing five to six surgeries per hour.

Attracting and retaining talent was also a major topic of discussion in the panel discussion on ‘Transforming the talent ecosystem’ at the HLS summit. Some of the panelists believed that exposing professionals to areas that go beyond their core skills, such as strategy and analytics, could play a significant role in retaining talent. This would ensure constant opportunities for learning and growth and also answer the hospitals’ growing need for professionals from management backgrounds.

Dr Nandakumar Jairam, Group Director – Columbia Asia pointed out that hospitals need to look at people with soft skills such as empathy, ability to listen well, etc. So, while hospitals expand their recruitment pool and look to other industries for recruiting people, they should also train their existing staff in these skills.

Play

The NYC Health + Hospitals in the U.S, a winner of the ‘Training Top 125’ 2017, is an example of how effective employee training can help achieve corporate goals. Its training programs span a range of skills - from medical simulations to language interpretation, leadership development and managing public health threats, thus giving its employees the opportunity to learn and grow within and outside their disciplines.

Reaching out to premier medical institutes in various ways also helps attract and retain talented professionals. Sir Gangaram Hospital in New Delhi, has emerged to be an attractive employer due its credibility in the medical research space. Their Department of Research aims to facilitate high quality, patient centric research and promotes laboratory based investigations across various disciplines, also assisting clinicians in pursuing projects.

Organizational culture and progressive HR policies

Rajit Mehta, CEO, Max Healthcare, also talked about the importance of having a conducive organizational culture that keeps the workforce together and motivates them to perform better. Every aspect of the organizational functioning reflects its culture – whether it’s staff behavior or communication – and culture stems from alignment with a strong leadership vision.

Organizational culture is also about incentivizing the workforce through performance rewards and employee-friendly HR policies. For example, at a popular healthcare facility in the US, all the 3,600 employees are actively encouraged to stay fit – they can buy fresh fruits and vegetables while at work, get healthy cooking tips from demonstrations in the office kitchen and enjoy free massages at their office chairs.

A report also talks about how some hospitals in the US inducted their employees into therapeutic activities like knitting, meditation etc., as part of their efforts to help them cope with stress. Some hospitals also have designated areas with amenities for staff members to relax and recoup.

Back home, Sir Gangaram Hospital recently helped its employees during the cash-crunched phase following demonetization by distributing currency notes to all. Such initiatives help establish trust and goodwill among the workforce.

Fostering a good culture is crucial for employee engagement. An engaged employee is one who is committed to the organisation’s goals and values and is motivated to give his or her best to the organisation’s success. Employee engagement has direct impact on hospital system health outcomes. According to a review of engagement and clinical outcomes at the National Health Service (NHS) in England, for every 10% increase in engagement there was a reduction in MRSA, a life-threatening skin infection, by .057 cases per 10,000 bed days. Additionally, a one standard deviation improvement in engagement reduced mortality by 2.4 percentage points.

It is however tough to gauge employee engagement and implement policies to improve it. As per an HRsoft study, more than 90% of managers or CEOs believe an engagement strategy is important for the organisation’s success but only 30% actually have one. The infographic below provides a useful starting point for managers to develop a strategy of their own.

These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services. Additionally, in more than 25 countries Abbott is recognized as a leading employer in country and a great place to work.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.