Editorial Notes

Thailand 'ceasefire' has not cleared the air, China's Uighurs: Illegal immigrants or refugees?

Some of the 14 Thai pro-democracy students, who were held last week for repeatedly protesting military rule, shout slogans after being released from detention at the Bangkok Remand Prison. PHOTO: EPA

Editorial Notes is a selection of editorials from newspapers in the Asia News Network (ANN).

1. Thai government-students "ceasefire" has not cleared the air

The Nation/ANN

In its editorial on July 13, 2015, The Nation calls for constructive dialogue following the activists' release.

Student activism and military autocracy or dictatorship are like oil and water.

Although the tension caused by the recent arrest of 14 anti-government student activists has subsided following their temporary release, all fingers have remained crossed. Such a confrontation was always dangerous in "black and white" times, and it's a lot more so when Thailand is badly divided, when either "black" or "white" can be seen as grey.

Society has treated the students' detention the same as other political issues.

Pro-government people have expressed strong suspicion about the students' motives and spoken about possible masterminds lurking behind the scenes, while supporters said the arrests simply underlined the lack of tolerance and understanding of democracy; cue foreign organisations, foreign governments and a combative prime minister.

The past two weeks were extremely tense and unpleasant.

It seems both sides have taken a step back.

The students' release served, at least for now, their demands that they must not be tried in a military court.

The activists have admitted, at least privately, that they were under social scrutiny themselves, so their continued campaign should not be perceived as being under certain political influences. In short, the government is getting careful and cautious, and so are the students.

Our divided society has been critical of both sides.

But in the end, both the government and the students must have received valuable messages.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who was belligerent at first, talking about masterminds and conspiracies, has failed to present credible evidence to back that up and started to describe student activism as "pure power".

The students were asked a lot of questions, one of them being, where were they when anti-government protesters died in explosions or other forms of violence when the country was under civil rules?

General Prayut will face more tests. He has always stated that he was not against democracy, and the coup was meant to prevent Thailand from slipping into a civil war.

But his critics have declared that they were "right all along".

As a proof, they point to the students' arrest, which took place when the political situation was calm compared with what is certain to come when charter reform gets into higher gears.

The critics are asking: "Why does Prayut think he has the credentials to establish true democracy now that he has flunked a relatively easy democratic exam?"

His opponents, however, face tough democratic questions, too.

Emerging from Thailand's political chaos is an acknowledgement that democracy is not just about elections.

Effective checks and balances and anti-graft mechanisms are equally important for a healthy and sustainable democracy. Pro-democracy activists campaigning against military rule must address this issue as well.

Many believe the showdown between Gen Prayut and student activists is a prelude to something worse. But if both sides are sincere, lessons learned from it can lead to something beneficial. Thailand's situation is crying out for constructive debate, with everybody engaged.

Optimistically speaking, constructive debate is sometimes the result of the realisation that a collision course is mutually detrimental.

We hope both sides understand their roles and will play them with integrity.

Thailand is rolling towards uncharted territory where everything could be unpredictable and fragile.

Patriotism can be misunderstood, or misguided, or pit those with the same goals against each other.

Truly understanding the other side, however, can bring about a solid first step.

2. Illegal immigrants are not refugees

China Daily/ANN

Han Chinese dancing in the central square in Hotan, in China's western Xinjiang region. PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on July 13, 2015, the China Daily questions Washington's description of people fleeing Xinjiang as refugees instead of illegal immigrants

Do the media or politicians in the United States call people refugees when they are smuggled from one country to another in an organised way for different purposes?

Of course, not, they call them illegal immigrants.

And they are indeed illegal immigrants.

Yet, when they are Uighurs from China's Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, then they are called "refugees".

A politicised transformation intended to smear mud on the face of China.

Washington's groundless accusations against Thailand for its recent repatriation of more than 100 illegal immigrants back to China once again shows that it looks at things through distorting spectacles when they are related to China.

The Thai government knows what it is doing. Its joint investigations with China identified these Uighurs as illegal immigrants.

As such, it is in complete accordance with related international laws and conventions that they be sent back to their own country.

It is unreasonable and unjustifiable for the US government and even the UN immigration agency to turn a blind eye to the fact they are illegal immigrants, especially since some of them are on the run having committed criminal offenses in China and some of them are deeply involved in terrorist activities, having been bewitched by extremist propaganda, while others have been coerced against their will and smuggled out of their own country.

The United States and some other countries and international organisations should first get to know the truth of the matter before they point accusing fingers at China and Thailand.

To call illegal immigrants "refugees" in the face of evidence that contradicts that claim will only militate against the international fight against the crime of illegal immigration.

To see those Uighurs who have been deeply involved in terrorist activities or even joined the Islamic State extremists as nationalists or political dissidents simply because they are Uighurs, who are trying to split Xinjiang from China for their own interests, only proves that the United States is using double standards in the fight against terrorism and extremism, which will prove to be detrimental to the concerted international efforts to combat these two evils.

It is also groundless for Washington and some other countries to assume that these illegal immigrants will suffer maltreatment in China.

Those proved to be terrorists will receive due punishment according to the law, as will those who have committed criminal offenses, but arrangements will be made for the others to return home.

This is how China will deal with these illegal immigrants.

To be clear about the facts first before wagging their tongues is the advice we give to those who make groundless accusations against China.

3. Spend on books instead of guns

The Dawn/ANN

Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai (centre), talks with Syrian refugees on her 18th birthday during the opening of the Malala Yousafzai All-Girls School. PHOTO: EPA

In its editorial on July 13, 2015, The Dawn newspaper urges the government to increase spending on girls' education

The challenge that Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has thrown down for us deserves to be taken seriously.

The young and courageous campaigner for education said at a United Nations-sponsored education summit in Oslo that US$39 billion (S$52.69billion) is all that is required to give 12 years of free education to every child in the world.

To put the number in context, she placed it next to global military expenditures, showing only eight days of military spending could pay for the education of every child in the world.

This is a staggering comparison, and becomes even more important when one considers the growing role of child soldiers in conflicts in Africa and many other parts of the world.

Global military expenditures have been showing very slight declines in the past three years, coming in at US$1.776 trillion last year, according to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute.

But these declines hide a fundamental reality: The centre of gravity of military expenditure is moving away from the Americas towards the Middle East and Asia.

Countries in our neighbourhood are arming themselves at an alarming rate.

The US remains the world's leading arms spender, but the list of the top 15 countries with the highest military expenditures today includes India, China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

It is heartening that Pakistan does not feature on this list - we can hardly afford to. But each of these countries has a special responsibility to ensure their growing military expenditures are matched by equally robust increases in their education spending.

Pakistan too, as a rival of one of these countries and a strategic partner of the remaining three, shares a special responsibility to ensure that the competition it chooses to pursue does not come at the cost of educating our future generations.

The young Malala took enormous risks to underline some very obvious facts: that education is necessary, that girls are as entitled to it as boys.

Now she is once again reminding us of our tragically misplaced priorities in which our hatred and thirst for power today trumps our investment in our children's future.

If even eight days of military spending sounds too much of a sacrifice for the sake of educating every child in the world for 12 years, then our grip on humanity has withered to a great extent.

The least we owe our children is to think about how we got to this point, and more importantly, how we might extricate ourselves from the situation.

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