Thai Street Vendors Could Be Jailed for Intimidating Tourists

Also: Philippine-US war games and Singapore’s Friendship Express are underway. Wednesday ASEAN links.

Thailand’s Office of the Attorney General has made an example of four unruly street vendors, sentencing them to over a year in prison each for extorting money from a customer near the King Rama V Statue at Bangkok’s Royal Plaza.

The men, who had initially sold three garlands to a woman hoping to pay her respects at the Royal Plaza, followed her to the statue and instructed her to light a candle. The men then handed her 18 cigars – which she assumed were included in the price of her initial offering. When the woman attempted to leave, the men demanded compensation for the cigars. After publicly harassing their target, the woman paid – then promptly phoned the authorities.

In an interview with The Bangkok Post, Prayuth P. Sattayarak, the executive director of Thailand’s Office of Criminal Litigation advised garland vendors at such locations to be aware of the sentencing and watch their behavior.

“Operators of services such as jet-ski or motorcycle rentals at beach resorts should also take heed, watch their behavior and refrain from threatening or extorting their customers,” he added.

Hoping to contain a threat more serious than street touts, the Philippines and the United States are preparing for war games that will take place near the fractious South China Sea. The exercises, which will begin later this week, seek to show the strengthening of military ties between the allies and are viewed as China containment, and as such are likely to draw negative criticism from Beijing.

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“The annual exercises, which involve 2,300 marines from both sides, will take place amid the backdrop of ongoing negotiations to further increase an American military presence and the deployment of its hardware in the former US colony,” wrote AFP. “Beijing, which insists it has sovereignty to nearly all of the South China Sea, has repeatedly railed at the Philippines for refusing to back down in the territorial dispute and seeking to draw the US closer.”

The war games will last for three weeks, but no specific location for the live-fire drills has been made public.

Meanwhile, in a softer effort, Singaporean students are embarking on a “peace mission” to Kualu Lumpur. A group of 50 local and international students boarded a train on Tuesday, dubbed the “Friendship Express,” for a two-week expedition across Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The project, hosted by the Singapore International Foundation, “aims to build relationships among student leaders of different nationalities and with communities in the region.” Channel NewsAsia also reports that the Friendship Express seeks to “nurture the spirit of social responsibility and encourage the application of knowledge to uplift lives.”

The 50 participants range in age from 17 to 23 and were nominated by their educational institutions as being top student leaders.

J.T. Quigley is assistant editor of The Diplomat.