The Maldive Islands lie close to India and SriLanka but Maldivian society virtually unknown to the outside world. Maldivianhistory goes back to the 12th Century when the Islands, under theinfluence of Arabian traders, converted from Buddhism to become an Islamicsultanate. The Islands are distinct from other South Asian nations by having ahomogeneous population with its own language and script and a very high levelof literacy, as well as the absence of caste, and an open marriage structure,where having been married to a number of different partners is considerednormal for both women and men.
A present the islands are known as a “Paradisedestination” for tourists with luxury resorts and a yearly receipt of more thanhalf a million tourists. However, tourist resorts are exclusively found onuninhabited islands and as a consequence holiday visitors, diplomats,researchers and journalists only experience the capital and tourist islands – aminimal and atypical part of Maldivian society.
Presently the Maldives are threatened by a risein sea level due to expected global warming. More immediate threats are abreak-down of society caused by a growing economic and demographic imbalanceprecipitated by uncontrolled tourismgrowth and the influx of lowly-paid foreign workers, leading to socialinequality, unemployed youth, narcotics related criminality and growing Islamicfundamentalism.
Sivarak Chutipong is a name everyone, who follows South East Asian news, will recognize. From complete anonymousity just a few months ago, Sivarak Chutipong became famous over night. Why? He is a spy.
The Thai national was working in Cambodia for the company Cambodia Air Traffic, when Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s controversial ex-prime minister, was appointed economical adviser to Cambodia in November. Thailand demanded Thaksin handed over, as he is wanted in connection with a corruption case. Cambodia refused, arguing the warrant out for Thaksin was political and therefore illegal. Thailand’s government went into a red hot rage.
And froze all trade, talked of ending all bilateral trade, withdrew various key officials from different positions and in general escalated the conflict into a complete farce. The Cambodian response was – of course – every bit as fierce and non-diplomatic: They too withdrew diplomats and toughened up the language to the point where Prime Minister Hun Sen made it clear that he had nothing to lose in an eventual armed conflict. Repeatedly he emphasized his friendship with Thaksin, which is relevant, because the politics of the two countries are just that corrupt.
And in a matter of days, both the Thai and Cambodian government had taken the conflict so far, they had backed themselves into a corner. The only way of avoiding to lose face for either side was getting into armed conflict – or so it seemed to every expert, op-ed and commentator at the time.
And then, out of nowhere, Sivarak Chutipong shows up.
The engineer supposedly tried to get access to Thaksin’s flight details and sell them to the Thai government. He was caught and forgot was all the serious political discussions and – so it seems – all perspective. This whole political spat was about Sivarak Chutipong now.
Cambodia convicted him to seven years for spying. Which seems odd in itself – seven years for spying in a country where stealing a bike can land the thief in jail for a decade? Even odder was his pardon by the Cambodian King a few days later and Sivarak Chutipong’s return to Thailand, where he then proceeded to get himself ordained as a Buddhist monk. What happened?
Sivarak Chutipong was just what both Prime Ministers needed to emerge from the situation without losing face. Immediately, the tension had gone down and scattered news reports of random politicians accusing each other of this and that did not generate enough fuel for the stance to continue after all the commotion about the spy.
Having had his name and face plastered all over all news media in the region for two weeks straight after his unsuccessful debut as an undercover agent for the state, Sivarak Chutipong qualifies as the world’s absolute worst spy. Every bit of information about him was revealed and no matter, what he did, the press would cover him like a rock star. Indeed, Sivarak Chutipong is a famous man.
But what about the talks of the stopping the bilateral trade – what was the result of those? What about all the projects that were halted – how much money were lost and how many people lost their jobs? What about all the people living by the border, where the troops of both countries are still deployed – can they rest assured this disagreement will not suddenly flare up over their heads again? What happened with all that after Chutipong’s arrest?
That is not really clear and no one has made an attempt to make it so. The only thing that is very clear today is that however lousy a spy Sivarak Chutipong was, he sure was a very excellent distraction.
Anya Palm, free-lance journalist