A documentary that highlights the king of Thailand’s time in Australia has been met with some criticism. The documentary, made by the Australian government, showcases historical footage of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn's six-and-a-half years in Australia at a boarding school and with the military.
The documentary was shown to the Thai king and queen at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok last week.
It includes interviews with the monarch's classmates during his time in Australia, including the current governor-general of Australia, David Hurley.
The embassy said the film “highlights the shared history between the Thai royal family and Australia.” The king lived in Australia between 1970 and 1976. As crown prince, he attended school in Sydney and then trained with the military in Canberra.
But the timing of the release of the documentary has been questioned. It comes after months of calls for Thailand's monarchy to be reformed. Dozens of protesters face lengthy prison sentences for allegedly defaming the monarch.
Greg Raymond is a lecturer in the strategic and defense studies center at the Australian National University. He believes the film’s release should have been delayed.
“I do think the timing is slightly unusual and I would even add slightly amiss and that is because the place of the monarchy in Thai society is under debate in a way that it has not been for many decades," he said. "Right now, people in Thailand have different views about what the role of the monarchy should be. They are concerned that the monarchy does play too great a role in politics, they are concerned that it is reasonably unaccountable and above the law and above the constitution.”
Raymond says that Australia's relationship with Thailand is crucial given China’s growing influence in Southeast Asia. Thailand is Australia’s 10th largest goods and services trading partner.
Protests in Bangkok last year attracted large crowds calling for the monarchy to be reformed and for the government to resign.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the documentary was made before the recent demonstrations and was typical of the type of diplomacy undertaken by officials.