Thailand’s new Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin has moved to reassure visitors to the country.
“From now on, the Thai government will implement the highest safety measures for the safety of all tourists,” he said in a post on X (formerly Twitter), adding he had called the Chinese embassy late on Tuesday to offer condolences.
Meanwhile, Thai Tourism Minister Sudawan Wangsuphakijkosol described the shooting as “an isolated incident”, adding that weapons screening at shopping centres and other tourist spots would be tightened.
The incident coincides with the Chinese “golden week” holiday, a crucial period for Thai tourism, which Srettha had targeted as the reset point for the kingdom’s sluggish visitor arrivals.
The Thai government had earlier announced a five-month visa exemption to Chinese – and Kazakh – tourists from the end of September to February next year, hoping to spur a surge in tourist numbers to hit a total of 30 million tourists by year-end.
‘Worried about tourism’
Tuesday’s shooting is likely to aggravate the kingdom’s reputational damage across its Chinese market, which has already been worried by high-profile cases of kidnap, trafficking, extortion and even murder of Chinese citizens on Thai soil, albeit mainly committed by their compatriots.
As the shooting began, the shopping centre was packed with Chinese citizens, including the 34-year-old Chinese victim, shoppers and influencers who made social media posts from hiding places in the vast shopping centre, in Bangkok’s commercial heart.
Zhu Zhu, a 26-year-old visitor from Shenzhen, who was in the mall, said she did not immediately realise a gun attack was going on, but as shots echoed from the first floor, people started to run.
“We couldn’t even think straight, we just ran upstairs as fast as we could,” she told This Week in Asia.
Zhu and her boyfriend hid in a store on the third floor for a “torturous” 90 minutes with no idea of what was going on outside in the mall concourses.
She added that “ordinary people in Bangkok are kind … but after this, I am worried about Thailand’s tourism”.
There was no immediate dip in bookings to Thailand, according to two travel agencies in China reached by This Week in Asia.
“We have not seen any major fluctuations in the data as a result of this incident,” one Shenzhen-based travel agency said.
Thailand welcomed 1.83 million Chinese travellers in the first seven months of this year, according to Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports, many pulled to its shopping centres, markets and street food. The arrivals were far lower than the 9.05 million recorded over the same period before the pandemic.
Joining a minute’s silence at the mall on Wednesday, Premier Srettha said: “Let this be the only time this happens. My government insists we will give priority to preventive measures.”
Yet concerns are mounting over how a 14-year-old had access to a firearm, as another social media video – as yet unverified – went viral of the alleged shooter practising his aim at a firing range.
The gun used in the shooting fired blanks but “the barrel was modified for live-shooting”, Assistant National Police Chief Samran Nuanma told reporters on Wednesday.
Questions are likely to also be asked over what the new government would do to take illegal guns off the streets, that differs from previous crackdowns after mass shootings.
Gun ownership is high in Thailand, at around 10 million registered guns, according to available data. Gun enthusiasts run Facebook pages with tens of thousands of followers in a country where legally registered and imported weapons are more expensive than in the United States, but where a thriving online black market provides cheap alternatives.
Authorities regularly make high-profile gun seizures, revealing arsenals of military-grade assault weapons hidden in the homes of gangsters or stockpiled by weapons dealers for criminals, political protests or onward sale to conflict-torn Myanmar.
Tuesday’s shooting came nearly a year after Thailand’s worst mass killing in recent history when a former police officer attacked a nursery in the northeast of the country, claiming 36 lives, including 22 children, many of them as they slept.
The horror of that rampage prompted soul-searching, but critics expect little action, in a country where enforcement is often easily bent by corruption or influence.
Thailand’s opposition urged tougher gun laws, including a mental health assessment when someone purchases weapons.
“The fact that Thailand’s gun deaths rank at third in Asia is a sign that we must review our gun controls,” Parit Waharasindhu, a spokesman for the Move Forward Party, told parliament.