ver the weekend, an altercation between a Chinese tourist and a Bangkok airport security guard blew up into an international incident, prompting apologies from Thai officials and evoking concern from the country’s prime minister.
In cell phone video footage, the Thai security guard can be seen taking a wild swing at the Chinese visitor. The tourist appears to back up in time to save his head from the haymaker. Another guard steps in to intervene and the two sides quarrel verbally for the next few minutes with the traveler daring the guard to take another swing by presenting his cheek.
The incident occurred on Thursday at Bangkok’s Don Mueang International Airport. The circumstances surrounding the altercation differ somewhat depending upon the source of information.
The Thai side has said that the Chinese tourist, identified as a man named Mei Ji, was refused entry to Thailand because he could not show proof of onward travel, hotel accommodation, or sufficient funds to support his stay in the country, adding that Mei had refused to be taken to the detention room after being rejected.
Meanwhile, Mei has told Chinese media that upon arriving in Thailand he was unable to get online to retrieve his hotel booking information and so stood in the express visa line at the airport where he was asked to pay 2,300 baht ($71).
A visa on arrival in Thailand costs 2,000 baht and the express service adds an extra 200 baht to the cost. Mei claims that the 100 baht difference was a “tip” and that his refusal to pay was what got him into trouble.
After managing to get online, Mei says that he then tried to return to the regular service line, but was stopped by security. Eventually, an immigration official rejected his entry into Thailand, arguing that he could not show evidence that he has enough money to support his stay in the country. After hearing this reasoning, Mei claims that he took out $1,000 in cash.
It was while being escorted away after being refused entry that Mei had to dodge the punch from the security guard. On Friday, he flew back to China. At the same time, video of the security guard’s swing was making waves on Chinese social media.
At a press conference on Saturday, the airport’s general manager Suteerawat Suwnnawat expressed his regret and apologized to Mei, while also announcing that the security guard had been suspended, vowing to strengthen staff management, and blaming the incident on “miscommunication.”
The following day, a spokesman for Thailand’s prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha announced that Suteerawat and the airport’s director of security had each been suspended for 30 days, while the security guard will likely soon be sacked.
“The PM thought that although the tourist could not produce documents to confirm his accommodation in Thailand, refused to go to a detention room, and acted inappropriately with officials, still the guard should have controlled his emotion and treated him in keeping with international practices,” said Prayut’s spokesman.
The spokesman added that Prayut was “upset” by the incident and concerned about the damage it could do to his country’s image, ordering relevant agencies to quickly restore confidence among Chinese tourists.
Chinese tourist confidence is already low following the capsizing of a tour boat in bad weather in the waters off the resort island of Phuket in July. The tragedy, which claimed the lives of 47 Chinese visitors, resulted in thousands of Chinese travelers canceling their hotel reservations.
In August, Thailand saw a 12 percent decline in the number of mainland Chinese visitors compared with last year. Hoping to win back these economically-important travelers, the Thai government responded by opening up VIP lanes for Chinese visitors at five major airports in the country.