Return to Indochina; Thailand: the domino that didn't fall
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* A crisis of participation, with more and more people demanding a say in political decisionmaking.Skip to next paragraph
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* A crisis of equity and justice, with both urban and rural workers demanding a more equitable distribution of the wealth.
* And a search for a new Thai identity in the face of traditions that no longer seem to be adequate.
The Communist Party of Thailand was taking advantage of the inequities in the system and expanding, albeit slowly, up until 1978. At that point, the crisis between its communist mentors, China and Vietnam, tore it apart. Because of that conflict and a reduction of support from China, the party's remnants now appear to be close to collapse. But the situation is still potentially explosive enough, in Dr. Morell's view, for new opposition movements to develop and for the Communist Party eventually to make a comeback.
There have been times in the past, in the midst of crises, when the tradition of tolerance in the Thai system broke down. In 1976, for example, left-wing student protesters were massacred. The country's unity -- based to a great extent on Buddhism and respect for the monarchy -- is now under strain.
The Thai generals, who often could be counted on in the past to help achieve a consensus, are far from united. The King and Queen have aligned themselves openly with one military faction.
Thailand seems to benefit, meanwhile, from a Kampuchea situation that ''bleeds'' Vietnam. But some Thais are uncomfortable about a policy that locks them so closely to China. Some say that in the long run, they fear China could once again become the main threat to this country.
But for the time being, the military rulers of Thailand seem to be fairly content with existing arrangements. Fortunately for them, things have not turned out in this part of the world the way a succession of American presidents warned they might.
American leaders had asserted repeatedly during the Vietnam war years that China was behind North Vietnam, urging it on. As Lyndon Johnson put it at Johns Hopkins University in 1965, if China and North Vietnam won in South Vietnam, ''The battle would be renewed in one country and then another.
''But 10 years later, when Vietnam and Kampuchea fell to Communist armies, what happened was the reverse of this domino theory. The communists turned against each other. The old animosity between Kampuchea and Vietnam was still alive. Asian history, of which so many Americans were so ignorant, defied Communist ideology - and American logic.
The victory North Vietnam won in South Vietnam has turned sour. The Vietnamese are heavily in debt to the Soviet Union.
Given widespread unemployment in Vietnam, it makes sense for Hanoi to be sending Vietnamese workers to the East-bloc countries. But that will only help to pay part of the debt, and the Soviet Union is an ally which drives hard bargains. The Vietnamese are, at the same time, bogged down in a seemingly endless war in Kampuchea.
The Americans are not forgotten in this part of the world. They are in business in Thailand. They help with food aid for Kampuchea. They are even remembered with fondness in some parts of Vietnam. But they are on the sidelines. Like the Japanese, they do business while others fight.
The Soviets, for their part, have clearly made gains from the decades-long conflict in Indochina. They have acquired a strategic foothold in Vietnam.
But what of those who actually fought and won the long wars of Indochina - the Vietnamese and Kampuchean Communists? Those who fought the hardest seem to profit the least.