The Thai government has ruled out a proposal for Chinese police to be stationed at tourist hotspots around the kingdom amid a public backlash.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand, TAT, on Sunday said the country was in talks with China about introducing joint police patrols as a way to appease Chinese visitors’ fears about safety.
But the announcement sparked an outcry and earned pushback from the national police chief, Gen. Torsak Sukvimol, who said having Chinese officers on Thai soil was “a breach of sovereignty,” according to a report from BenarNews, an affiliate of Radio Free Asia.
Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who is in San Francisco for the APEC summit, said Monday there was no plan to station Chinese police in the country for joint patrols.
Thailand only wanted to exchange information with China on criminal gangs operating in the Southeast Asian nation, Srettha said, according to a report from Bloomberg News.
In Bangkok, Tourism Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol echoed the prime minister’s comments, saying there was “no policy to bring Chinese police” to Thailand.
“The Thai police are already adequate … and are working hard to ensure tourist confidence,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
TAT Gov. Thapanee Kiatphaibool apologized the same day for the “misunderstanding” and any “negative sentiment” stirred up by her comments.
Chinese tourists accounted for a quarter of nearly 40 million tourist arrivals in Thailand in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. But visitor numbers from the world’s No 2 economy have been slower to bounce back than anticipated after Beijing lifted its hardline pandemic rules in January.
Thailand expects between 4 million and 4.4 million Chinese visitors this year, the TAT said.
On Wednesday, Chinese Ambassador to Thailand Han Zhiqiang paid a courtesy visit to Sudawan to stress the importance of the bilateral relationship.
“China’s government supports Chinese tourists visiting Thailand,” he said in a video posted by the tourism ministry. “This helps stimulate the economy, the tourism industry and, moreover, brings the two countries closer together.”
The country’s image as a safe tourist destination for Chinese has been knocked by a spate of recent kidnap-for-ransom cases and reports of people being tricked into being trafficked as workers at scam call centers in nearby Myanmar.
A shooting spree that left three people dead, including one Chinese national, at a popular Bangkok shopping mall last month has also raised safety concerns.
The presence of Chinese police on foreign soil has become a sensitive issue worldwide after it was revealed by Spain-based Safeguard Defenders group in a September 2022 report that China was carrying out transnational policing operations across five continents, without the approval of the jurisdictions they were operating in.
The report said the operations “eschew official bilateral police and judicial cooperation and violate the international rule of law, and may violate the territorial integrity of third countries involved in setting up a parallel policing mechanism using illegal methods.”
BenarNews is an online news outlet affiliated with Radio Free Asia.