Thailand’s next king, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, carries a son’s burden of living up to a great father.
Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on Thursday last week at the age of 88, reigned for 70 years with almost legendary rectitude and devotion to his country’s development.
However, the 64-year-old Vajiralongkorn, the second child and only son of Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit is dogged by a reputation that some fear could weaken respect for the monarchy.
Bhumibol designated Vajiralongkorn to be his successor more than 40 years ago. There were other possible candidates for succession — including his older sister — and there had been speculation one might be chosen.
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha put such talk to rest on Thursday last week when he said, without specifically naming the crown prince, that the king had designated his successor on Dec. 28, 1972.
“We the government must proceed with the next steps in accordance with the law,” he said.
The public at large has long traded rumors about Vajiralongkorn’s finances, hot temper and other matters. Three stormy marriages are a matter of public record.
“When you are born into this position you have to accept it,” he told the women’s magazine Dichan in a rare interview in 1987. “Some people like me, some people don’t like me. It’s their right... Wherever you go there is gossip. If you are busy with gossip you don’t have to work.”
Although he attends the requisite royal ceremonies and in recent years filled in for his father for some ceremonial and diplomatic duties, the prince is generally a private figure, visibly ill at ease in most public settings.
His three sisters and first wife often appear on the nightly television broadcasts of royal news, attending social functions and carrying out good works that burnish the monarchy’s reputation.
Vajiralongkorn’s appearances are less frequent. While all the siblings travel abroad frequently, his sisters are usually promoting their homeland in one manner or another. The prince’s activities are usually personal and unpublicized, outside of the occasional tabloid story in the country he is visiting.
However, last year he made two high-profile public appearances in Thailand, leading thousands of people in mass bicycling events to mark the birthdays of his mother and his father. Many saw the events as an attempt to raise his profile in preparation for his eventual installation as king.
Some analysts have likened Vajiralongkorn’s situation to that of Britain’s Prince Charles, forced to tread water while Queen Elizabeth reigns for a seventh decade.
A crucial difference is that while Charles and his family can be held to public account, particularly by the media, Thailand’s royal family is protected by an Asian tradition of reverence as well as harsh laws that mandate a prison term of three to 15 years for anyone found guilty of the loosely defined crime of insulting the monarchy.
Born on July 28, 1952, the prince was accorded the kind of smothering attention one would expect from growing up in a palace — in later life he told an interviewer that even at the age of 12 he was unable to tie his own shoes because courtiers had always done it for him.
“My parents tried to raise me normally, but around us there were too many people trying to gain favor,” he told Dichan.
Efforts to prepare the prince for the throne began in earnest in his early teens.
He was commissioned as an officer in the three branches of Thailand’s armed forces and by age 14 was sent to boarding school in England.
He continued his studies at a school in Sydney in preparation for Australia’s Royal Military College at Duntroon, which he entered in 1972 and graduated from in 1975, shortly after Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam fell to communist forces.
The prince took part in some military actions against Thailand’s homegrown communist insurgency, but began facing greater challenges on the personal front. In 1977, reportedly bowing to his mother’s wishes, he married a maternal first cousin, Soamsawali Kitiyakara.
Their daughter, Princess Bajrakitiyabha, was born in 1978, even as the marriage was falling apart. When just nine months later the prince had a son by Yuvadhida Polpraserth, a commoner who was to become his second wife, it was clear that Vajiralongkorn felt free to steer his own course socially, regardless of royal propriety.
His own mother alluded to his reputation with women, telling reporters in 1982 when she traveled to the US: “My son the crown prince is a little bit of a Don Juan. He is a good student, a good boy, but women find him interesting and he finds women even more interesting.”
Speaking at a news conference in Dallas, but clearly addressing her son, she delivered a harsh warning.
“If the people of Thailand do not approve of the behavior of my son, then he would either have to change his behavior or resign from the royal family,” she said.
Palace elders tried to encourage Vajiralongkorn’s enthusiasm for military duties with training stints abroad. A 1980 course of advanced military training in the US whetted his appetite for flying, a passion carried on to this day, sometimes in the wide-bodied jets of national carrier Thai Airways.
Critics said his pastime was expensive, citing for example, a US$20 million F-16 jet the military presented to him in 1992 for his personal use.
Unsavory rumors continued to follow him. In 1992, he said his reputation was “upsetting” to him, especially because he felt unable to defend himself because of his royal position.
Speaking to reporters specially invited to his residence, he denied some long-standing rumors: That he owned nightclubs and discotheques that were profiting by flouting legal closing hours because of links to him, that he was a godfather of various financial scams, that he rigged the national lottery.
“The money I spend is acquired honestly. I don’t want to touch money earned illegally and through the suffering of others,” he told them.
Over time, some of the more outrageous allegations have faded. However, the rumor mill has continued to feed on his personal life. All five of the children with the woman who became his second wife were born years before he was divorced from his first spouse.
After winning grudging acceptance from the palace to treat his second wife as a royal, they had a spectacular bust-up in 1996 which saw her flee to England with their four sons and one daughter. The prince then flew there to grab his daughter back.
In 2001, he married another commoner, Srirasmi Koet-amphaeng, with whom he had a son, Prince Dipangkorn Rasmijoti, in 2005. The prince then had the royal status of his sons by his second wife withdrawn.
However, Srirasmi also fell out of favor. Some of her close relatives were arrested in November 2014 on charges of abusing the crown prince’s name in collusion with corrupt police to run a massive extortion scheme. She was stripped of her royal title and the couple are divorced.
Also widely discussed — albeit privately — in Thailand is Vajiralongkorn’s relationship with former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed by a military coup in 2006 after being accused of corruption and disrespect for the king.
Thaksin, a billionaire, was believed to have sought the prince’s favor with lavish gifts of cash and property. Thaksin — who lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid a jail term for corruption — also employed some awkward flattery.
Asked about the crown prince in an interview published online in 2009 by the London Times, Thaksin said: “He’s not the king yet. He may not be shining [now]... but after he becomes the king I’m confident he can be shining... it’s not his time yet, but when the time comes I think he will be able to perform.”
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian. What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia? The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as
There are worrying signs that China is on the brink of a major food shortage, which might trigger a strategic contest over food security and push Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), already under intense pressure, toward drastic measures, potentially spelling trouble for Taiwan and the rest of the world. China has encountered a perfect storm of disasters this year. On top of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, torrential rains have caused catastrophic flooding in the Yangtze River basin, China’s largest agricultural region. Floodwaters are estimated to have already destroyed the crops on 6 million hectares of farmland. The situation has been
In 1955, US general Benjamin Davis Jr, then-commander of the US’ 13th Air Force, drew a maritime demarcation line in the middle of the Taiwan Strait, known as the median line. Under pressure from the US, Taiwan and China entered into a tacit agreement not to cross the line. On July 9, 1999, then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) described cross-strait relations as a “special state-to-state” relationship. In response, Beijing dispatched People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft into the Taiwan Strait, crossing the median line for the first time since 1955. The PLA has begun to regularly traverse the line. On Sept. 18 and 19, it
Midday in Manhattan on Wednesday, September 16, was sunny and mild. Even with the pandemic’s “social distancing” it was a perfect day for “al fresco” dining with linen tablecloths and sidewalk potted palms outside one of New York City’s elegant restaurants. Two members of the press, outfitted with digital SLR cameras and voice recorders, were dispatched by The Associated Press to cover a rare outdoor diplomatic meeting on one of these New York streets. American diplomat Kelly Craft, Chief of the United States Mission to the United Nations, lunched in the open air with Taiwan’s ambassador-ranked representative in New York, James