Sunday, May 16, 2010
Ron Smith: Selective Outrage
Over these years there have also been military coups in Thailand, which have resulted in the overthrow of democratically-elected government and its replacement with a government more to the liking of the military-supported ruling cabal, which includes the King. Now we have an escalation of violence by security forces, including the use of snipers to pick off leaders of the protest movement. However, apart from a modest advisory to the effect that Bangkok may not be a desirable holiday destination, we have nothing to say.
Imagine the righteous clamour here if political assassination of the sort that appears to be going on in Thailand was going on Fiji. We should never hear the end of it, as government spokespersons and their media lackeys fell over each other to express their outrage. Why the difference?
Thucydides explained it more than two thousand years ago: ‘The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’. We are bullying Fiji (and Commodore Bainimarama) because we can. It makes us feel good and it doesn’t cost us anything. On the other hand, taking on a prominent member of ASEAN would entail certain political risks as, more generally, would offering official critical commentary on democratic arrangements (or lack thereof) in others of our international partners.
In the case of Fiji, it isn’t as if all the moral posturing of recent years has actually achieved anything. As is well understood in the more general context, sanctions rarely affect the regime in this sort of case. They can certainly obstruct family relationships in the case of persons connected in some way to the regime and they can, on occasion, obstruct the travel of more senior persons. They can also prevent the entry into New Zealand of the goal-keeper of the national soccer team and cause an international tournament to be replayed. On the other hand, they can’t obstruct rugby games because, well, that’s rugby! More seriously, continuing sanctions can progressively damage the commerce of the country and the livelihoods of ordinary citizens, whilst having only a marginal effect on the ostensible target. The Fijian leadership can detect hypocrisy when they see it.
So we should stop all the moral posturing and adopt a persistent and long term policy of engagement with the present Fijian regime, which would have the object of helping them to build up their infrastructure and economy. As far as political reform is concerned, we would rely largely on ‘soft power’ rather than coercion.
As for Thailand, we will need to continue with the advisories. Civil disturbance is likely to continue (on and off) until the present Thai elite resolves to support free elections and, particularly, resolves to stop overturning governments they don’t like, as well as contriving legal proceedings against leaders they do not favour. At the official level (and, at least, in public) we probably don’t need to tell them what the genesis of their problem is, or how enormously damaging these unsavoury episodes are to their tourist industry and their international reputation.
at 10:28 AM