Last Thursday, a tour boat carrying mostly Chinese visitors sank in a storm off Thailand’s southern resort island of Phuket. More than 40 people died and several people are still unaccounted for. On Monday, as the rescue efforts progressed, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwon blamed the tragedy on Chinese tour operators.
“The whole incident is basically Chinese people harming their fellows,” he stated, adding that had the operators listened to safety warnings before venturing out to sea, the tragedy could have been avoided. On the Chinese internet, people called him irresponsible and offensive.
- The boat, the Phoenix, sank on July 5 in high seas “off the west-coast island of Phuket with 101 people on board, including 89 tourists, all but two of them from China, and 12 crew, during an outing to a small island for snorkeling,” according to Reuters.
- On July 9, the Chinese foreign ministry urged Thailand’s government to expand its efforts to rescue any survivors.
- Yesterday, Thai Deputy PM Wongsuwan blamed Chinese tour operators “for not respecting Thai safety legislation,” according to the Reuters piece which quotes him: “Some Chinese use Thai nominees to bring Chinese tourists in… they did not heed warnings… which is why this incident happened. This needs to be remedied.” Reuters adds: “He did not elaborate.”
- By last night, large numbers of Weibo users had reacted (in Chinese) angrily to Wongsuwan’s remarks.
- By this morning, Wongsuwan issued an apology, as reported by Thailand’s The Nation: “Saying something wrong is one thing. Rescuing people is another. If my words offended some people, I would like to apologize,” he said in a press conference.
- But most Chinese internet users seem to find the apology “insincere” and “unprofessional.” One angry Weibo user wrote (in Chinese), “You call this apology? He shows no respect for people who died from the incident. I suggest we Chinese people boycott Thailand from now on.”
- “Despite accidents, political turmoil and even bomb attacks over the past decade, the tourism sector seems immune to bad headlines, earning it the nickname ‘Teflon Thailand,’” says Reuters in the article linked above, noting that “Chinese tourists accounted for nearly one-third of last year’s record 35 million arrivals.”