Snubbing junta leaders seen as a clear political message from Washington
Diplomatic receptions are usually very boring for journalists, but the 4th of July celebration on Thursday night held by the United States Embassy in Bangkok was quite different.
In a way, the list of invitees at the celebration could be interpreted by some as clear communication between Washington and the Thai ruling junta.
This event was also a bit different because the number of journalists present was unusually large. In fact, the number of reporters was so high, an embassy official suggested that members of the media might outnumber guests. Then again, the news-hounds were there because they wanted to see for themselves who was attending and what would be said.
Earlier, news reports suggested the embassy had chosen not to invite the five top leaders of the junta, though the media expected somebody from the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO) to show up as an indication that bilateral ties remained normal.
Sadly, there were no such surprises. NCPO spokesman Colonel Werachon Sukhondhapatipak did show up but he clarified that he was attending in a personal capacity and that he was keeping a very low profile.
The only other senior civil servants present at the celebration were Panadda Diskul, acting permanent secretary for the PM’s Office, and somebody from the Foreign Ministry.
As for ordinary folk, people with anti-coup sentiments outnumbered those who support the coup. Several members of Yingluck Shinawatra’s Cabinet, including former deputy PM Kittiratt Na-Ranong, former education minister Chaturon Chaisang and former transport minister Chadchart Sittipunt, were present, as was red-shirt leader Veerakarn Musikapong.
A few NCPO supporters were also there such as yellow-shirt Somsak Kosaisuk. However, members of the Democrat Party were conspicuously absent, even though several embassy officials said invitations should have been sent out to them.
When asked why no senior military officers were present, US Ambassador Kristie Kenney said she had invited thousands of people to the party in Bangkok and hundreds more at the celebration in Chiang Mai. She went on to say that people from across Thailand, including businesses, officials, diplomats and civil society, had been invited, though she chose not to mention the military.
Yet, she insisted that “relations between Thailand and the US were long and historic”.
“We expressed our thoughts on the coup, but we are also still continuing to work together on so many things that are important to Thais and Americans, such as education, the environment, culture and business. We are friends now and forever. We know it is a critical time for Thailand and we will keep working with Thailand. We hope Thais will be back as leaders of democracy.
“Thailand will return to democracy, but I hope that in the meantime the reform process is inclusive enabling all people of Thailand to participate. We call on the NCPO to stop detaining people and allow freedom of speech,” Kenney told reporters.
The celebration this year was very simple, starting off with the royal anthem, a toast to His Majesty the King, the US national anthem and a toast to the US president before guests began mingling and enjoying the food, drinks and music. Notably, mini hamburgers and sandwiches were included in the menu.