The Communist Insurgency In Thailand
By Capt Merrill L. Bartlett - Originally Published March 1973
There soon may be so many grasshoppers in Thailand that an elephant won't be able to stamp them out.
In late January 1972, the largest reported Thai government combat operation against Communist insurgents began on a barren rocky ridge rising above the jungles of Northern Thailand. Over 12,000 Royal Thai Army troops were employed to search out and destroy an estimated 300-500 Communists led by a Thai known only as Nai Daeng (Boss Red). After nearly six weeks, the Thai government announced casualties of 30 killed and 100 wounded, while Communist deaths were "not less than two hundred." The multi-battalion size of that operation against the Communist guerrillas as well as the concomitant casualty figures suggests to some degree the stage of advancement of the Communist insurgency in Thailand.
The Communist movement in Thailand began four decades before Nai Daeng and his elusive band of guerrillas. This article traces the growth of Communism in Thailand from its simple origins in the 1920's to the present armed insurgency, and attempts to show that despite government repression in various forms, the Communist insurgency in Thailand has continued to gain strength and poses a serious threat to the government.
Origins of Communism in Thailand
International Communism's association with Thailand dates to the 1920's when Ho Chi Minh sent a political action group to Northeast Thailand from his Vietnam revolutionary group in Canton. Its goal was to organize small-scale Soviets among the Vietnamese population in Udornthani and Nakhan Phanom provinces. At the time, Ho was serving as secretary and interpreter to Michael Borodin's Soviet Far East Mission.
Ho Chi Minh himself arrived in Thailand in the fall of 1928 disguised as a monk and calling himself "old Chin." His mission was three-fold: set up party cells among the Vietnamese colonies, foment trouble for the French Colonial administration in Indo-China, and reorganize the Communist International in Southeast Asia. Ho Chi Minh was later appointed to head the Communist International's Southeast Asia branch and he served as Moscow's agent in this capacity from March 1930 to June 1931.
Also in the 1920's, Chinese Nationalist groups were known to exist among the Chinese population of Bangkok, and left-wing factions of these groups reportedly adhered to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1927, a Communist agent from Hankow, Han Minghuang, attempted to organize the leftist Bangkok Chinese, but was arrested by the Thai police and deported. The importance of this small event is that from the very outset of the fledgling Communist movement in Thailand, it was identified with an ethnic minority.
Marxism in the 1930's
The Singapore-based South Seas Communist Party, organized in 1928 and re-named the Malay Communist Party a year later, was concerned with establishing communism among the overseas Chinese, including those living in Thailand. Through its efforts, the first Communist Party in Thailand was formed in 1929. But until the mid-1930's, Communist activities were generally confined to discussions of ideology and organization.
A power struggle began in the Thai government in 1933 between Pridi Panomyong, the leader of the liberal faction of the 1932 revolutionary group which toppled the Thai monarchy, and Pya Manopakorn, the conservative prime minister. Amidst Pya labeling Pridi a Communist, and rumors of an attempted coup d'etat, a law was passed making it a crime punishable by 10 years imprisonment to be a Communist. Although this law slowed the advance of communism in Thailand, later activities in the 1930's gave evidence that communism had continued to grow. Three years after the passage of the anti-Communist law, the Communist Party of Thailand severed its ties with the Malay Communist Party and established its own relationship with the Communist International. In the same year, Vietnamese Communists clashed with Thai police in the Northeast province of Khon Kaen.
By the end of the 1930's and the eve of World War II, communism in Thailand was a viable, if covert collection of Marxist-oriented labor unions and study groups, still generally occupied with issuing manifestos and publishing pamphlets while avoiding the Thai police. A more active role for the Thai Communists was prevented by the Japanese incursion.
The war years and later
While little is recorded of Communist activities in Thailand during the war years, it is known that they allied themselves with the Free Thai Movement, and worked in the resistance against the Japanese. The Free Thai Movement was organized by the Thai Minister to the United States, Seni Pramot, who refused to abide by Bangkok's decision to ally themselves with the Japanese. Pridi Panomyong, Prime Minister Pibun's rival for power, led the Free Thai Movement at home while Seni acted as the Movement's leader in Washington. By the end of WWII, the Free Thai Movement included some 50,000 resistance fighters supported and supplied by the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS).
After the armistice in 1945, the lot of the Thai Communists improved markedly with the slide of Prime Minister Songkhram from power. The undisputed political hero of post-war Thailand was the liberal leader of the Free Thai Movement, Pridi Panomyong, who became Prime Minister in April, 1946. One of the first acts of the new government was to repeal the Anti-Communist Act of 1933 and establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Although this diplomatic move was probably instigated to insure Soviet support for the admission of Thailand into the United Nations, the Communist Party of Thailand must have viewed the changes in policy with elation. Ensuing political events, however, made the Communists' good fortunes shortlived.
In the wake of the mysterious death of King Mahidol (Rama VIII) in 1947, Prime Minister Pridi Panomyong was removed in a coup d'etat led by former Prime Minister Pibun Songkhram. Although the new military junta was anti-Communist, the Communist movement in Thailand continued to grow and organize through the late 1940's. But except for the hopes buoyed by Pridi's attempted coup d'etat in 1949, it was not until the early 1950's that the Chinese Communist Party of Thailand, nurtured by the successes of Mao Tse-tung in China, came to loggerheads with the Thai government. Not only were the Thais fearful of a powerful Chinese People's Republic after Mao Tse-tung's victory in 1949, they were obsessed with the possibility of the Chinese minority in Thailand becoming enamored with communism, and thus becoming a powerful subversive force.
Communism and the Chinese minority
The Chinese minority had long been a thorn in the side of Thailand for both political and economic reasons. Almost 10 per cent of the population of Thailand (50 per cent of Bangkok) are of Chinese origin. The dynamic founder of the present-ruling Chakri Dynasty, Rama I (1782-1809) was part Chinese and both he and his successor, Rama II, encouraged Chinese immigration to manage Thailand's expanding trade. The Chinese were so successful that they quickly gained control of the economy. Immigration of the overseas Chinese continued, and until the death of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in 1910, the Thai government followed a policy of assimilation of the Chinese minority into the Thai community.
Despite much progress in assimilation, the secret societies in Bangkok's Chinese community organized a general strike in 1910. Although the strike was quickly put down by the Thai authorities, it highlighted the potential danger of the economic power of the country resting in the hands of an alien minority. King Wachirawut (Rama VI) embarked on an anti-Chinese campaign, and even published a pamphlet in 1914 entitled The Jews of the East which denounced the overseas Chinese in vitriolic terms. Immigration laws were later passed to sharply limit the growth of the Chinese population. In addition, a series of anti-Chinese measures were promulgated in 1939 which reduced the economic power and cultural separateness of the Chinese community. This repression of the overseas Chinese was deemed necessary because they supported the Nationalist Chinese in WWII, and their sentiments ran contrary to Thailand's desire to accommodate the rising power of Japan.
The Communist movement among the Chinese living in Thailand survived through the war, although suppressed by the Japanese and the Thai police. After the repeal of Thailand's anti-communist law in 1946, the Chinese Communist Party of Thailand emerged from hiding and began to expand.
In April 1948, however, the conservative anti-Communist Pibun again became Prime Minister, and a series of repressive measures were launched against the Chinese Communists in Thailand, and against the Chinese community in general. After the Communist take-over of China in 1949, Pibun warned the Chinese community not to participate in political activity for either the Chinese Communists or Nationalists.
In 1952, the Thai government began a series of assaults on the Chinese community in order to immobilize it as a subversive force. Later that year, it was alleged that a Communist plot to take over the government had been uncovered, and between November 1952 and January 1953, more than 250 Chinese were arrested, over 150 Chinese businesses closed, and many Chinese associations and schools prohibited. Additionally, the Un-Thai Activities Act of 1952 was passed. This measure gave the government wide powers to eradicate Communist subversion and was directed against the Chinese community.
Peking, however, appeared to be pressing for a Communist insurgency in Thailand. In January 1953, the Chinese press announced the formation of a Thai Nationality Autonomous Area in Yunnan Province in Southern China, and the Thais viewed this administrative move as an attempt by Peking to foment a Pan-Thai movement in the northern and northeastern regions of Thailand. The Thai government was also disturbed when in July 1954, ex-Prime Minister Pridi Panomyong emerged from obscurity in China calling for the overthrow of the military dictatorship in Thailand and the removal of American influence.
From 1955 to 1958, Peking continued her propaganda barrage with the recurring themes of the disadvantages of a Thai-American alliance, and the advantages of friendly relations with the Chinese People's Republic. On 25 January 1957, Radio Peking broadcasted a Communist Party of Thailand message calling for the "establishment of a broad national front in order to triumph over the incursion of American imperialism." During the same time frame, leftist political elements began to be heard from in Thailand.
Between 1955 and 1956, a number of leftist political parties were formed, and their programs generally were orchestrated to themes of anti-Americanism, recognition of the Chinese People's Republic, and domestic reforms. In the February 1957 election, some of these parties joined forces to become the Socialist Unity Front, Led by Tep Chotinuchit, the Front became the nucleus of a leftist appeal for the return of former Thai Prime Minister Pridi from China to head a new government. The Thai government's position on the Socialist Unity Front and other leftist organizations was not long in coming.
The political events in Thailand between late 1957 and early 1958 put an end to any doubts as to the Thai government's position on communism. In September 1957, the Sarit-led coup threw out the government of Pibun, and began a new crackdown on subversive activities. A year later, in October 1958, Sarit led a coup against himself and put out the leftists. During the same period, the attitudes of the Thai Chinese community toward mainland China began to change.
Since 1957, more and more of the Thai Chinese community have become disillusioned with the People's Republic of China. A more astute appraisal of their economic position in Thailand has made the overseas Chinese recognize that support of a Communist regime is not in their best interests, and the tendency since the late 1950's has been toward neutrality and assimilation.
Thailand's other minorities
Early in 1962, the first signs of militant Communist activity began to appear in Thailand: Communist teams began to foment trouble among the Thai-Lao population of the northeast; Malaysian Communists were linked with the Thai-Malay separatist movement in the south; Communist cadres moved to polarize the Marxist-sympathies of Thailand's Vietnamese colonies; and a clandestine radio station located in northern Laos, "The Voice of the People of Thailand," began to broadcast invective against the Thai government. Later in the 1960's, communism also made inroads among the hill tribes of northern Thailand. The successes of Communist proselytizing among the ethnic minorities apparently stem from the political and economic disparity that exists between these minority peoples and the "Bangkok" Thais.
Communism found a receptive audience in northeast Thailand for both ethnic and economic reasons. Ethnically, the Thai-Lao population is more akin to its Laotian neighbors across the Mekong River than they are to the Thais. The Thai-Lao speak a dialect of Thai called Isan which is comprehended with difficulty by outsiders. Because of the difference in dialect, the Bangkok Thais tend to treat northeasterners as country cousins. Ethnic differences are easily exploitable by the Communists who infiltrate from neighboring Laos, and speak of a unity of all the Lao peoples in a greater Laos with freedom from the oppression of the Thai government.
Economically, northeast Thailand is an impoverished area ripe for a Communist-inspired insurgency. The per capita income of the northeasterner is less than one-half the national average of Thailand. The land is sandy and infertile, and there is insufficient water for agricultural production or even domestic needs. The Communists believe that these factors of longstanding economic and ethnic disparity will, with a revolutionary nudge, assist in delivering the villages of northeast Thailand into the Communist sphere.
The potential for a Communist insurgency in Southern Thailand also lies in the ethnic differences between the inhabitants of the four southern provinces and the Bangkok Thais. Eighty per cent of the population who live in this area are followers of Islam, and their first language is Malay. Opposition to Bangkok rule has been a matter of course for centuries in the Thai-Malay provinces, and the goal of the Thai-Malay minority seems to be a union with Malaysia.
Malaysian Communists, the remnants of the Malayan Races Liberation Army which were defeated by the British in the 10-year guerrilla war with the British, are also found in Southern Thailand, and have operated along both sides of the Thai-Malaysian border for years. Both Thai and Malaysian authorities believe that the Malaysian Communists are led by Chin Peng, the legendary leader of the Communist insurgency against the British. The presence of the Malaysian Communists along with the Communist-oriented Thai-Malay separatists is exacerbated by the presence of apolitical bandits.
Several hundred Thai bandits are known to operate in the southern provinces and these thieves, smugglers, and extortionists are used by the Communists when it suits their purpose. The bandits add further to the problems already generated by the Thai-Malay separatists and the Malaysian Communists with which the Thai government must cope. Thai-Malay separatism has the general support of the population and both the Malaysian Communists and their bandit pawns take advantage of it.
Communist insurgency in the 1960's
North Vietnam contributed to the Communist insurgency in Thailand by establishing a school for Communist guerrillas in Hoa Binh province, 50 miles southwest of Hanoi. The course was designed to produce Communist cadres who would return to Thailand and Laos to advance the cause of communism and lead the guerrilla bands. More than 400 Thai and Lao trainees attended the initial course in 1960-61, and a year later, these cadres were proselytizing the Thai-Lao villagers and organizing guerrilla units.
On 8 December 1964, the clandestine radio station, "The Voice of the People of Thailand," broadcasted a manifesto penned by the Thailand Independence Movement, a Communist front group that had come into being in November of that year in Peking. The program of the Thailand Independence Movement called for overthrow of the dictatorial Thai government, establishment of a neutralist regime, and withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Thailand. This manifesto was distributed by the New China News Agency and re-broadcast by Radio Peking. This reproduction of the Thailand Independence Movement program was noted as the first overt support by the People's Republic of China for the Communist insurgency in Thailand.
On 1 January 1965, the Communist Chinese Foreign Minister, Ch'en Yi, was quoted as telling the French Ambassador to Peking, "We should have a guerrilla war going in Thailand within a year." Led by an obscure southern Thai named Mon Kon Nonakon, the Thailand Independence Movement, now obviously operating out of Communist China, was joined on 1 January 1965, by another Thai Communist front organization, the Thai Patriotic Front.
The Thai Patriotic Front was led by LtCol Phayon Chulanont, a former Thai Army officer and member of parliament. Escaping to Burma after the abortive coup d'etat of 1948 and then to China, Phayon has been feted along with Thailand Independence Movement leader Mon at various Communist International conferences in Cuba, Ghana, and North Vietnam. On 15 December 1965, "The Voice of the People of Thailand" announced that the Thai Patriotic Front and the Thailand Independence Movement had united to form the Thai United Patriotic Front. The formation of this new Communist front organization coincided with two other important changes in organization and strategy: the start of armed conflicts in northeast Thailand, and an alignment of the Communist-oriented Thai-Malay separatists with the Thai Patriotic Front.
The ambush of a Thai police patrol near Mukdahan in Nakhorn Phanom province in November 1965, probably signaled the start of the armed insurgency of the Communist movement in northeast Thailand. The Chinese acknowledged this attack as the start of guerrilla warfare in the Peking Review in 1969.
Prior to 1965, the relationship between the Thai-Malay separatists and the Communist insurgents in Northeast Thailand was not clear. It was originally thought that the Communists in Southern Thailand took their orders directly from Peking. But in the summer of 1965, Radio Peking announced that the insurgents in Southern Thailand were being merged with the guerrillas in the northeast. This change in the chain of command was later confirmed by documents captured in a raid by Thai police on a Communist base camp in Southern Thailand. 1965 also saw a reorganization of the Communist movement in Thailand along with significant new political organizations operating as front groups in Peking as previously noted. However, it was not until 1966 that the Communist insurgency in Thailand became a "people's war."
The third ethnic minority in which a Communist insurgency is smoldering is the hill tribes of northern Thailand. Numbering over 250,000 people, these hill tribes live in small villages in six provinces of northern Thailand. Most of the tribesmen have mixed with the Thais only in minor trading, and it is estimated that less than half of the population speak Thai. The dialect spoken by one hill tribe is unintelligible to another tribe and few Thais or outsiders have bothered to learn these difficult tongues. This linguistic isolation has generated an ignorance of the modern world among the hill tribes that is easily exploitable by the Communists.
Playing on the naivete of the hill tribes, the Communist cadres have reportedly told them such pathetically appealing tales as, "In America, they turn wood into eggs, but in Red China, we turn wood into eggs into chickens," and "In Red China, women make forty meters of cloth per day from stones collected near their village." The hill tribes are easily fascinated by such stories, not only because of their cultural backwardness, but also because of their economic plight.
The primary cash crop of the hill tribes is opium. Opium growing or selling is illegal in Thailand, and the Thai government is attempting to turn the agrarian energies of the hill tribes toward another crop. Thus far they have experienced limited success, partly because of the lucrative opium trade across the border in Laos, and also because of the presence of an estimated 1,500 former Chinese Nationalist soldiers who profit in the opium trade across the borders of China, Thailand, Burma, and Laos. The Communists have told the hill tribes that they would prevent the suppression of opium growing. Also, the hill tribes practice "slash and burn" agriculture which the Thai government is attempting to curtail because it destroys the hardwood forests. Thus, ethnically and economically, the hill tribes of northern Thailand offer another area in which the Communist insurgency has found fertile ground.
The last ethnic minority that contributes to the Communist movement in Thailand, albeit indirectly, is the Vietnamese colony in northeast Thailand. Fleeing from the Japanese in WWII, and later the French in the Indo-China conflict, the Vietnamese refugees crossed the mountains and settled along the Thai banks of the Mekong. The Vietnamese are unwelcome immigrants to Thailand, and between 1959 and 1969, approximately 40,000 of these refugees were returned to North Vietnam. However, an estimated 60,000 Vietnamese still remain in northeast Thailand, unassimilated into Thai society and with apparent loyalties to the Communist cause in the Indo-China conflict.
The Vietnamese in Thailand continue to wear Vietnamese dress and their children are taught Vietnamese in clandestine schools. Many homes proudly display pictures of Ho Chi Minh, and Communist propaganda meetings are known to be held. Vietnamese Communist cadres from North Vietnam are working among the Vietnamese colonies, and it is thought that they are used to facilitate the infiltration of North Vietnamese and Laotian subversive elements into Thailand.
Thus, in the 1960's, the Communist influence in Thailand altered its course from the Chinese community to the other ethnic minorities in Thailand: the Thai-Lao, Thai-Malay, hill tribes, and Vietnamese. During this same period, the Communist movement was reorganized both politically and ideologically, and it became apparent that both Communist China and North Vietnam were asserting themselves in the fomentation of the Communist insurgency in Thailand.
On 14 January 1966, a Thai Patriotic Front spokesman on Radio Peking called for the "people's armed struggle" to be elevated to a "people's war" in Thailand. This call for a "people's war" was coupled with a general increase in violence.
In early April 1966, Thai government forces suffered severe losses (16 killed and 13 wounded) in a clash with Communist guerrillas in Chiengrai province in Northern Thailand, Forty-five police and security officials and 65 civilian officials lost their lives to Communist terrorist attacks during the first half of that year.
Responding to the increase in subversive activities and Communist terrorism, the Thai government launched several raids to ferret out Thai Communists in Bangkok and Thonburi. In February and August of 1967, 30 members of the Communist Party of Thailand were arrested including several leaders, the most important of whom was Thong Chaemsri, the Peking-trained secretary-general of the Party. Lesser Party figures that escaped this round-up were captured in subsequent anti-Communist sweeps in October and November of 1968. Direct confrontation with the Communists was not limited to encounters on Thai soil, however.
Raiding deep into North Vietnam, Thai Special Forces conducted unsuccessful attempts to destroy the Communist insurgents school at Hoa Binh. The Thai government also acknowledged this school as the source of the Communist cadres operating in Thailand. These same cadres continued their proselytizing efforts in 1968, and also markedly increased the number of incidents of terrorism.
Guerrilla operations spread in 1968 to the hill tribes of northern Thailand and terrorism continued to increase in the northeast and south. The number of clashes with the police and the frequency of armed propaganda meetings rose sharply in the northeast. The strength of the Communist insurgents in the Northeast was now estimated to be 2,500 to 3,000. Communist guerrillas in the south also became more bold as they attacked government units on both sides of the Thai-Malaysian border. It was estimated that Malaysian Communist leader Chin Peng's band now numbered 800, with a support force of some 3,000 local villagers.
New Year's Day, 1969, was heralded with an announcement of the formation of the Thai People's Liberation Armed Forces. This "Voice of the People of Thailand" broadcast further stated that a "supreme command" was to be established to unify and coordinate the fighting in Thailand. Most importantly, this news release revealed that the Communist insurgents would be under the absolute command of the Communist Party of Thailand. Ensuing events would reveal that these changes in organization were the start of a new stage in the development of the "people's war" in Thailand.
Following on the heels of the New Year's Day broadcast, Peking Review reported that a new stage in the Thai "people's war" had come about because the Communist Party of Thailand had integrated Mao Tse-tung thought and Marxism-Leninism with the revolutionary practice of. its own country. Also in January 1969, the Communist Party of Thailand issued a ten-point policy statement which included a call for a "people's government" and the abolishment of the Thai feudal system. This manifesto also demanded a "weeding out of the corrosive American imperialist and feudalist culture which poisons the spirit of the people." The importance of this Communist Party of Thailand policy statement was that it seemed to establish the supremacy of the Communist Party of Thailand leadership.
The Thai Communist Party continued to assert itself in 1969 by issuing policy statements, usually through "The Voice of the People of Thailand" (VPT). The ethnic minorities received increased attention in propaganda broadcasts, and for the first time, propaganda was directed at the workers and peasants of Thailand. Late in the year, the VPT declared, "Only the Communist Party of Thailand is genuinely fighting for the interests of the oppressed and exploited people of Thailand." While these changes in political strategy went on, the guerrilla war continued its themes of violence and terrorism.
The armed insurgency expanded in 1969-70, especially in the northern provinces and along the Thai-Malaysian border. Acts of terrorism increased and a Chinese-supplied base was discovered near Dong Luong in Nakon Phanom province. By the end of 1970, it was estimated that there were 300 to 500 Thai and 400 to 500 Vietnamese Communist cadres along with approximately 1,000 Thai guerrillas operating in northern and northeastern Thailand. The Thai government also believed that some 10,000 villagers supported the Communist insurgency. In the south, more than a thousand Communist terrorists were believed to be following the Malaysian Communist, Chin Peng. By the dawn of the 1970's, acts of Communist terrorism and armed conflicts seemed to peak, and with the political and ideological reorganization of the Communist movement in Thailand, its personalities became known and the organization and chain of command became more clear.
Communist insurgency in 1973
The Thai Patriotic Front continues to be touted by the Chinese People's Republic as the spokesman for the Communist insurgency in Thailand. The other Thai Communist front organizations in Peking, the Thailand Independence Movement and the Thai United Patriotic Front, seem to have disappeared or been absorbed by the Thai Patriotic Front. LtCo Phayon Chulanont is still identified as the leader of the Thai Patriotic Front, and has been featured at various Chinese Communist functions.
The forward command post for the Communist insurgency in Thailand is reportedly located in northern Laos and is operated by Son Nophakun Son, a member of the Central Committee of the Thai Communist Party who spent an apprenticeship in the fledgling Thai Communist organization in China after WWII and later supervised the Communist cadre training school in North Vietnam.
The central committee for the Communist Party of Thailand is most likely located near Bangkok. The secretary-general of the party is Wirat Anghathawon, a former manager of the VPT. Wirat is regarded as the leader most likely to adapt Marxist-Leninism to fit the situation in Thailand.
Three fighting fronts now exist. The first is in the north and is centered around Communist cadres organizing the hill tribes. Leaders identified in this region include the previously-mentioned Son Nophakun and Nai Daeng. The second front among the Thai-Lao and Vietnamese of the northeast is led by Udom Sisiwan. Udom has trained in the Soviet Union and China, and speaks English, Russian, and Chinese. The third area of insurgency in southern Thailand contains two factions: the Thai-Malay separatists, led by Prasit Tiensri of whom little is known; and the Malaysian Communists led by Chin Peng.
In the period of over four decades between the proselytizing efforts of Ho Chi Minh and the Marxist-oriented faction of Bangkok's Chinese community to the armed insurgency in the jungles of Thailand, communism in Thailand has steadily grown from the issuance of ideological pamphlets and proclamations to armed guerrilla conflicts. The fortunes of the Communist movement have often dimmed with the change in pulse of an anti-Communist government. Nevertheless, communism in Thailand has continued to progress, ever hard on the heels of the economically and politically dissatisfied.
During the period of 1961-72, the Communist insurgency in Thailand followed a path of ideological and political reorganization with its Peking-sponsored front groups. By the early 1970's, it was clear that the Communist Party of Thailand was in command at home while the Thai Patriotic Front acted as Peking's spokesman for the "people's war" in Thailand.
Proselytizing efforts among Thailand's ethnic minorities were initiated by the Communists in the 1960's and, preying on economic and political disparities of long standing among these socially nonviable segments of the Thai population, they made successful inroads. An armed insurgency now exists among the Thai-Lao, Thai-Malay, and the hill tribes. In addition, the sentiments of the Vietnamese minority are clearly pro-Communist.
Both the People's Republic of China and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam have supported the Communist insurgency in Thailand, the former unofficially and the latter officially. Peking has leveled a barrage of anti-Thai government, anti-American, and pro-Communist propaganda at the Thais for years, and although no one at the official level in China has endorsed the "people's war" in Thailand, they have been generous indeed in providing moral support for the insurgency. Hanoi, however, has had a heavy hand in training Communist cadres which infiltrate into Thailand and organize the Communist insurgents. North Vietnam has also endorsed the guerrilla war in Thailand at the official level, viza-viz their Ambassador to Peking.
In 1973, the Communist insurgency in Thailand is a major crisis facing the government. The seriousness of the situation is mirrored in both the size and scope of the combat operations being conducted against the Communist guerrillas, and in the suspension of the constitution between 17 November 1971, and 15 December 1972; the latter measure being described as necessary to eliminate subversive elements in the government.
The solution by authorities to reduce and eventually eliminate the Communist insurgency in their midst would seem in part to be to effectively politicize the ethnic minorities and move them into the mainstream of Thai society. By sharply reducing the economic and political disparity that exists between these minorities and the Bangkok Thais, communism will have little ground with which to sow seeds of discontent. The Communist guerrilla activity among these same minorities must also be contained. The insurgency may be growing faster than the Thai military response to the threat. During the three-year period of 1969-71, 1,450 government troops and officials were killed by Communist terrorists while Communist losses were approximately one-fourth that figure. Worse, at the official level, the rising tide of terrorist activity is apparently taken lightly. Air Chief Marshal Dawee Chullasapya was recently quoted in reference to the Communist insurgency, "No results can be obtained if one rides on an elephant when trying to catch grasshoppers. It is better to let grasshoppers fight each other."
Unfortunately, the Communist insurgency in Thailand is growing so rapidly, that unless communism is brought to heel and the armed insurgency contained, there may be so many grasshoppers that even elephants won't be able to stamp them out.