Thailand’s Sondhi Wants Assets Back From Singapore

By Anuchit Nguyen and Beth Jinks

Feb. 16 (Bloomberg) — Thailand’s military leader said he wants to take back control of 140 billion baht ($3.9 billion) of assets sold to Singapore’s government, escalating a diplomatic spat between the Southeast Asian nations.

“Singapore is a very small country, but it is so rich that it can buy 140 billion baht of our national assets,” said Sondhi Boonyarataklin, who led a September coup that toppled the government of Thaksin Shinawatra. “I am thinking about whether we can take those assets back.”

Singapore’s Temasek Holdings Pte last year bought control of Thaksin’s mobile phone and satellite group, provoking an outcry against the sale of strategic companies to a foreign government. Sondhi last month accused Singapore of using those assets for spying, a charge the city-state has denied.

“I thought things had calmed down on the subject, but this does suggest that maybe things took a turn for the worse,” said David Cohen, a Singapore-based economist at Action Economics. “It is difficult to anticipate which direction the politics in Thailand would go right now.”

The sale of Shin Corp., the holding company founded by Thaksin, angered Thais because the billionaire businessman’s family didn’t pay tax on the proceeds. The deal exacerbated protests and a political stalemate in Thailand that led to Thaksin’s ouster in the Sept. 19 coup.

Business Decision

Many Thais were also concerned at Singapore’s involvement in the transaction, even though Temasek and its parent, the Ministry of Finance, said the 33-year old company made the investment as a pure business decision and not at the direction of the city- state’s government.

Temasek’s Chief Executive Officer, Ho Ching, is the wife of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

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Thai protestors burn effigy of Singapore’s deputy premier

Jan 29, 2007, 9:30 GMT

Bangkok – Hundreds of Thai protestors burned an effigy of Singapore’s deputy prime minister outside the Singapore embassy on Monday, after failing to receive an apology from the city-state over a recent diplomatic tiff.

The 200 to 300 protestors, coming from various groups such as Ramkhamhaeng University and Alliance for Northeastern People, burned an effigy of Singapore’s deputy premier S Jayakumar to protest his ‘private meeting’ with Thailand’s ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra earlier this month.

‘We are here to announce how stupid the Singapore government was to meet with Thaksin,’ said Sathorn Sinpru, deputy leader of the Alliance of Northeastern People, believed to be an offshoot of the People’s Alliance for Democracy that led the anti-Thaksin protests last year.

The protestors last week had demanded an apology from the Singapore embassy for the Jayakumar meeting but none was forthcoming.

‘If Singapore continues to deny us an apology we will take our protest to Udon Thani Airbase in North-east Thailand and chase their air force off the base,’ said Sathorn.

Thailand and Singapore have enjoyed close diplomatic and military ties for decades, and bilateral relationship became even closer under former premier Thaksin, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon who was prime minister between 2001 to 2006.

But things have changed since Thaksin was ousted by a military coup on September 19.

His high-profile activities in exile, including his meeting with Jayakumar and his use of Singapore to conduct interviews with CNN and the Wall Street Journal, drew protests from the Thai government.

The Thai foreign ministry has argued that Singapore’s stance towards Thaksin was inappropriate given the city-state’s close business relations with his family.

A year ago Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government’s investment arm, bought his family’s 49-per-cent stake in Shin Corp, Thaksin’s business empire, for 1.9 billion dollars in a tax-free deal.

Many Thais regarded the purchase as selling off sensitive national assets to a foreign company.

Shin Corp’s holdings include Advanced Info Service, Thailand’s largest mobile phone service, Shin-Sat, the national satellite network; and ITV television.

The sale sparked both anti-Thaksin and anti-Singapore protests in Bangkok last March and April.

© 2007 dpa – Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Thai protestors burn effigy of Singapore’s deputy premier

Jan 29, 2007, 9:30 GMT

Bangkok – Hundreds of Thai protestors burned an effigy of Singapore’s deputy prime minister outside the Singapore embassy on Monday, after failing to receive an apology from the city-state over a recent diplomatic tiff.

The 200 to 300 protestors, coming from various groups such as Ramkhamhaeng University and Alliance for Northeastern People, burned an effigy of Singapore’s deputy premier S Jayakumar to protest his ‘private meeting’ with Thailand’s ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra earlier this month.

‘We are here to announce how stupid the Singapore government was to meet with Thaksin,’ said Sathorn Sinpru, deputy leader of the Alliance of Northeastern People, believed to be an offshoot of the People’s Alliance for Democracy that led the anti-Thaksin protests last year.

The protestors last week had demanded an apology from the Singapore embassy for the Jayakumar meeting but none was forthcoming.

‘If Singapore continues to deny us an apology we will take our protest to Udon Thani Airbase in North-east Thailand and chase their air force off the base,’ said Sathorn.

Thailand and Singapore have enjoyed close diplomatic and military ties for decades, and bilateral relationship became even closer under former premier Thaksin, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon who was prime minister between 2001 to 2006.

But things have changed since Thaksin was ousted by a military coup on September 19.

His high-profile activities in exile, including his meeting with Jayakumar and his use of Singapore to conduct interviews with CNN and the Wall Street Journal, drew protests from the Thai government.

The Thai foreign ministry has argued that Singapore’s stance towards Thaksin was inappropriate given the city-state’s close business relations with his family.

A year ago Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government’s investment arm, bought his family’s 49-per-cent stake in Shin Corp, Thaksin’s business empire, for 1.9 billion dollars in a tax-free deal.

Many Thais regarded the purchase as selling off sensitive national assets to a foreign company.

Shin Corp’s holdings include Advanced Info Service, Thailand’s largest mobile phone service, Shin-Sat, the national satellite network; and ITV television.

The sale sparked both anti-Thaksin and anti-Singapore protests in Bangkok last March and April.

© 2007 dpa – Deutsche Presse-Agentur

Singapore feels heat on economic agenda

By John Burton in Singapore

Published: January 24 2007 00:10

As Singapore has prospered as a trading centre in a region with its fair share of economic laggards, the city-state has often stood accused of economic imperialism. Especially as Temasek, its investment arm, has acquired a growing list of assets in often strategic industries in neighbouring countries.

In what Singapore’s officials say are purely commercial investments by Temasek, local opponents have long seen “dollar diplomacy” at work and a political as well as an economic agenda.

But mounting efforts by Thailand’s government to reduce Temasek’s stake in Shin Corp, the telecoms group, have raised the regional political pressure on Singapore and Temasek to a new level. The stake was bought last year from the family of Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister ousted by Thailand’s current military rulers.

Together with other emerging issues – such as a threatened anti-competition probe into telecoms ventures in Indonesia – Temasek’s problems in Thailand have raised questions over whether it might be forced to focus its investments outside the region to where it provokes less controversy.

Chua Hak Bin, a regional economist at Citigroup in Singapore, said: “Recent events show that Singapore has to be cautious in investing abroad and not go into areas that are politically sensitive.”

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Thai sale of mobile firm to Singapore ‘a mistake’

Jim Pollard, Bangkok
January 24, 2007

THE sale of Thailand’s national satellite and mobile phone company to Singapore was a tragic mistake that had compromised the Thai military because Singapore would abuse their access to the communications infrastructure, a top Australian defence analyst said yesterday.

Des Ball, from the Australian National University, said Thailand’s new military Government should shoot down the sale of the national satellite to Singapore and not trust the city-state when it comes to defence communications.

Professor Ball said the sale of the ShinSat satellite to Singaporean state investment firm Temasek Holdings – part of a highly controversial deal negotiated last year by deposed Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra – was a tragedy for the Thai military that could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars.

Professor Ball said Bangkok should launch a new satellite to ensure the Thai military’s signals could not be intercepted.

“It’s not in Thailand’s interests to allow Singapore control of such a critically important communications system, through the satellite and mobile phone company,” he said.

The sale had “given Singapore direct access to the Royal Thai Army’s satellite communications”. He added: “They are going to have to have their own independent system, otherwise they hand their military and very sensitive (data) traffic to Singapore on a plate.

“It’s a tragedy they’ve handed that away with the Shin deal and will now have to redesign their own system. If they could get out of this, there are national security reasons why they should … Launching a new satellite could cost $US250 million ($316million).”

Professor Ball said Australia went through a similar debate five years ago when Singtel purchased the Optus mobile phone company. He was one of a series of analysts who publicly opposed the takeover.

The federal Government eventually allowed the sale to go through, partly to ensure continued close co-operation with the island state, but Australia had to spend a huge sum on fibre-optic cables between its defence bases to ensure its military communications were secure.

Part of the problem, Professor Ball said, was “Singapore has a track record of taking advantage of information for commercial and political purposes”.

Singapore had “listened to and photographed Australian military facilities”, which had created diplomatic rifts with Canberra, he said.

“They have a history of abusing their access to training in other facilities abroad. That is not what friends are supposed to do – they abused their friendship,” Professor Ball said.

Thais Back Government Stance on Singapore

As polls go it is rather basic, with simply one question being dessiminated. Sampling measure used, demographics, weighting…

Methodological concerns – what are they?
January 23, 2007

(Angus Reid Global Monitor) – Many adults in Thailand’s capital support the retaliatory measures taken by their new government against Singapore, according to a poll by ABAC. 64 per cent of respondents in Bangkok agree with the administration’s reaction.

In April 2006, a general election was held after prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra of the Thai Love Thais Party – Phak Thai Rak Thai (TRT) decided to dissolve the House of Representatives. The prime minister faced a series of public demonstrations after the Shinawatra and Dhamapong families sold their combined 49.6 per cent shares in the SHIN telecommunications empire to Singapore’s Temasek Holdings, in a transaction estimated at $1.88 billion U.S.

The deal—conveniently designed to be tax-free—infuriated many Thais, who accused Thaksin of being greedy and selling out Thai independence to the neighbouring country.

In September 2006, the Thai Armed Forces enacted a military coup as Thaksin was in New York for the United Nations (UN) general assembly. The group declared martial law, suspended the constitution, affirmed their loyalty to the King, and released a statement, which read: “We ask for the cooperation of the public and ask your pardon for the inconvenience.” Surayud Chulanont was later appointed as the new head of government.

Earlier this month, strained relations turned sour again when Singapore allowed Thaksin to meet with several government officials there and grant interviews to Western media outlets in which he criticized Thailand’s current military junta. The Thai government reacted by blocking access to certain cable channels and websites, and complained publicly to Singapore.

Polling Data

Do you agree or disagree with the government’s reaction against Singapore?

Agree
64%

Disagree
18%

Source: Assumption University of Thailand (ABAC)
Methodology: Interviews with 1,572 Thai adults in Bangkok, conducted on Jan. 16 and Jan. 17, 2007. Margin of error is 3 per cent.

Student protesters call for Singapore apology, threaten boycott

Student protesters call for Singapore apology, threaten boycott
BANGKOK, Jan 22 (TNA
) – Student activists have urged the Singaporean government to apologise for what they called a breach of diplomatic etiquette which the island republic had allegedly committed by allowing Thailand’s deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra to meet with its deputy prime minister on January 14.

About 100 students, led by the so-called Students Network for Democracy, the National Students Federation, the People’s Assembly from 19 Northeastern provinces and the Anti-Corruption Network, demonstrated at the Singapore embassy on Bangkok’s Sathorn Road, protesting and denouncing the alleged Singaporean mishandling of diplomatic relations between Thailand and Singapore.

The activists charged that the occasion last week in which Mr. Thaksin was interviewed by CNN International and the Wall Street Journal in Singapore had in fact jeopardised the ”delicate” relations between the two countries.

They said that the Thai people would immediately stop buying Singaporean products and boycott the use of Singaporean services, should the island republic fail to apologise as demanded, according to the student activists.

Thailand withdrew an invitation to Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo, suspended an exchange programme of civil servants last week as a response to the city-state’s hospitality towards ousted Thai leader.

Singapore defended the visit as a private meeting between old friends but Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman said Thailand considered it very insensitive to Thailand’s position.(TNA)-E008