China & America Woo Thailand's Hearts & Minds

Credit: Original article can be found here

BANGKOK, Thailand — More than 3,800 U.S. troops led 30
countries’ forces and observers through Cobra Gold, the
Pentagon’s biggest Asian military exercise, trying to keep
Thailand’s coup-empowered army allied with Washington while
Beijing increases its political, economic, and cultural

“There has been resentment among Thai
military officers and conservative politicians because of
what is perceived as [Washington’s] high-handed, tutelary
policy about what Thailand should and should not do — with
regard to coups,” said Paul Chambers, a Southeast Asian
Studies lecturer at Naresuan University in

“The negative policy in Washington toward
coups [in 2006 and 2014]…contributed to some extent in
Bangkok moving toward a realist policy of ‘hedging’ whereby
a state creates balance between two great powers, in this
case China versus the U.S.,” Mr. Chambers said in an

“The Thai military establishment does not
like the United States for talking and pressing about
military non-intervention in politics, and for the need to
return democracy to the Thai people,” former foreign
minister Kasit Piromya said in an interview.

on the other hand, love to deal with authoritarian regimes,”
said Mr. Kasit, who is also an ASEAN (Association of
Southeast Asian Nations) Parliamentarians for Human Rights
(APHR) board member.

“Its [Beijing’s] not-interference
posture makes the Thai military establishment feel at ease
and comfortable. Once the Chinese side got hold of the Thai
military establishment, things got easier for them to

“One-party system has some currency in the
Thai conservative establishment, especially the military,
but the question of freedom and a democratic way of life is
quite widespread in Thai society,” Mr. Kasit

Another former foreign minister, Kantathi
Suphamongkhon, suggested in an interview:

“The U.S.
should increase its engagement with Thailand and the Thai
people in multidimensional ways — easier access for Thai
diplomats in Washington to high-level U.S. administration
officials, as well as members of Congress and Senate,” Mr.
Kantathi said.

Thailand meanwhile is trying to
purchase two U.S.-built F-35 fighter jets, awaiting
Washington’s approval.

Ten U.S.-made Stryker armored
personnel carriers purchased by the Thai Royal Army arrived
in August 2022, bringing the military’s total to 130
Strykers since 2019.

U.S.-based Chevron Offshore
Thailand, along with Thai and Japanese petroleum
corporations, are studying how to inexpensively exploit
possible oil and natural gas deposits off the southeastern
coast, under the shallow Gulf of Thailand.

off Thailand’s southwestern shores, “the U.S. eyes the areas
around the Bay of Bengal, particularly Myanmar (Burma) which
is strategically located and endowed with natural
resources,” said Piti Srisangham, director of Chulalongkorn
University’s ASEAN center in Bangkok.

Previous Cobra
Gold exercises included assaults against mock terrorists
occupying offshore oil and gas platforms.

The U.S.
Commerce Department brought representatives from more than
100 U.S. businesses to a Trade Winds ASEAN forum March 13-15
in Bangkok to schmooze counterparts and others from more
than 20 Asian countries.

More than 4,000 Chinese
business leaders from China, plus the Chinese diaspora in
other countries, are expected to flock to the 16th World
Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention (WCEC) in Bangkok June
24-26, according to the Thai-Chinese Chamber of

China’s great leap forward into Thailand’s
telecommunications includes installing high-tech Huawei
systems, Beijing-inspired firewalls, and other cyber

Huawei is frequently boosted by local media
and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s government which
evolved from then-Gen. Prayuth’s 2014 coup when he was the
army commander-in-chief.

A Huawei forum in Bangkok on
October 2022, led by current Huawei Chairman Ken Hu,
trumpeted its ultra-fast 5G telecommunication’s ability to
optimize TikTok and other video streams.

“We need to
work together to fully unleash the power of 5G networks and
expand into services like cloud and system integration,” Mr.
Hu said.

In August 2022, the Thai government’s
increasingly media-savvy Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)
inked a “Digital Transformation and Innovation Development
for Smart Tourism” memorandum of understanding to partner
with the Huawei Technologies Thailand unit.

“Huawei is
committed to leveraging advanced technologies to heighten
TAT’s position as the strategic leader driving Thailand
towards being a world-class tourism destination,” said
Huawei’s Chief Executive Officer for Thailand, Abel

During a Bangkok visit in 2022, Chinese Foreign
Minister Wang Yi said: “China and Thailand are not
strangers, but siblings.”

That traditional slogan is
based on Chinese immigrants, intermarriages, their shared
ancestors, plus geographic proximity, economic and cultural

“I think the people of the two countries will
believe in our attempt to develop closer ties,” Mr. Wang
said after meeting Prime Minister Prayuth.

In August
2022, China and Thailand conducted a 10-day Falcon Strike,
their fourth joint air warfare exercise above this Southeast
Asian nation since 2015, but tiny compared to Cobra

Since 1982, Cobra Gold has swollen from a U.S.
and Thai maritime drill to its current land, amphibious, and
airborne warfare including combined arms live-fire, command
staff instruction, public relief work and other

The 42nd iteration of Exercise Cobra Gold
is robust again after dwindling for three years during
COVID’s spread.

“New to the annual exercise is the
Combined Space Forces Coordination Center, where partner
nations come together to integrate space capabilities,” said
the U.S. Defense Department’s DVIDS (Defense VI)

Military from Japan, South Korea, Singapore,
Indonesia and Malaysia joined the co-hosts — 3,000 Royal
Thai Armed Forces personnel and more than 3,800 U.S.
Indo-Pacific Command troops — as full participants during
the two weeks of planning and field exercises.

partners and observers from 23 other countries bring the
total to more than 7,000 personnel on the land, sea, and in
the air for warfare and other scenarios.

Disaster and
other humanitarian exercises include China, India and
Australia, plus events involving Bangladesh, Brunei, Canada,
France, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, the Philippines, Fiji,
and the United Kingdom.

Brazil, Cambodia, Germany
Greece, Kuwait, Laos, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam are

“It brings together 30 countries from
around the world to solve complex challenges that no single
country can solve alone,” U.S. Ambassador to Thailand
Robert F. Godec said at Cobra Gold’s opening in eastern
Rayong province on Feb. 28. The drills ended March

“In 2003, President Bush designated Thailand as a
major non-NATO ally,” Mr. Kasit said. “Cobra Gold joint
military exercise is still a major event in the U.S.-Thai

Exercise Cobra Gold’s official 2023
uniform patch displays a drawing of a white American eagle,
with a stars-and-stripes breast shield, standing on a tiny
Earth’s North Pole.

A goldish-colored, hooded and
coiled cobra rises from under the South Pole — the head
touching southeast Australia.


Richard S.
Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based American foreign correspondent
reporting from Asia since 1978. Excerpts from his two new
nonfiction books, “Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. —
Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka
& New York” and “Apocalyptic Tribes, Smugglers &
Freaks” are available at

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