Thai­land to host US mil­i­tary ex­er­cises

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY MARISA CHIMPRABHA AND NOPHAKHUN LIMSAMARNPHUN

The Thai gov­ern­ment Fri­day wel­comed the U.S.’ de­ci­sion to hold its an­nual Co­bra Gold mil­i­tary ex­er­cise in Thai­land next year, say­ing it is a “pos­i­tive sign” that re­flects the coun­tries’ long and close re­la­tion­ship.

“We re­gard it as a pos­i­tive sign that shows that the U.S. still gives im­por­tance to the se­cu­rity al­liance with Thai­land and the re­gion,” said Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice Min­is­ter Suwaphan Tanyu­vard­hana, who also su­per­vises the Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Agency.

Se­nior U.S. State Depart­ment of­fi­cial Scot Mar­ciel told a con­gres­sional hear­ing on Thurs­day that the an­nual Co­bra Gold ex­er­cise was im­por­tant to the U.S. and the re­gion. The ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cided this week to go ahead with prepa­ra­tions for the 2016 edi­tion.

“How­ever the ex­er­cise would be scaled down again be­cause of the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in Thai­land,” Mar­ciel added.

The U.S. scaled down the ma­jor mul­ti­lat­eral train­ing ex­er­cise, which has run since 1982, last year fol­low­ing the coup led by then Army chief Gen­eral Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is now prime min­is­ter.

Mar­ciel was one of three ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials who tes­ti­fied on the state of democ­racy in Asia be­fore the House sub­com­mit­tee that over­sees U.S. for­eign pol­icy in the re­gion. The of­fi­cials ex­pressed con­cern that the Prayuth gov­ern­ment has not es­tab­lished a clear timeline for a pos­si­ble ref­er­en­dum on the new con­sti­tu­tion.

“There are signs that par­lia­men­tary elec­tions — once ten­ta­tively sched­uled for fall 2015, then early 2016 — could slip even fur­ther. We are con­cerned that with­out a timely, trans­par­ent, and in­clu­sive re­form process, the Thai gov­ern­ment will never en­joy the public buy-in nec­es­sary to build last­ing in­sti­tu­tions,” the of­fi­cials said tes­ti­mony.

Mean­while Pan­i­tan Wat­tanayagorn, an ad­viser to the de­fence min­is­ter, said that the U.S.’ de­ci­sion to hold Co­bra Gold again showed that it was sep­a­rat­ing its diplo­matic ap­proach to Thai­land with mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion.

“I be­lieve that the U.S. will try to read­just its mil­i­tary ties with Thai­land while still main­tain­ing its pres­sure on the diplo­matic ties be­cause of Thai pol­i­tics,” said Pan­i­tan, who is a se­cu­rity ex­pert.

in

joint pre­pared

‘US wants meet­ings in

1 to 2 months’

Pan­i­tan be­lieves that the U.S. has shown a pos­i­tive sig­nal as it asked to move for­ward the prepara­tory meet­ings with the Thai mil­i­tary con­cern­ing the Co­bra Gold ex­er­cise next year.

“I have learnt that the U.S. wants to quicken the meet­ings to pre­pare for the ex­er­cise. They there­fore will be held ten­ta­tively within one or two months. Nor- mally the meet­ings are held later than that,” he said.

He said next year the ex­er­cise would fo­cus more on hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sues, as well as as­sis­tance to mi­grants, no­tably Ro­hingya.

He added that the U.S. may have de­cided to hold the mil­i­tary ex­er­cise be­cause it wanted to send a sig­nal to China about its role in Thai­land and in the re­gion. “The U.S. also wishes to show that it is still giv­ing im­por­tance to se­cu­rity mat­ters in the re­gion,” he said.

Suwaphan, re­fer­ring to U. S. crit­i­cism over the Prayuth gov­ern­ment de­lay­ing the elec­tion, said that the poll date had to be changed to al­low time for prepa­ra­tion of a ref­er­en­dum on the new char­ter.

“In the be­gin­ning, there was no is­sue about (hold­ing) a ref­er­en­dum in the road map of the Prayuth gov­ern­ment. To or­ga­nize a ref­er­en­dum, more enough time is re­quired, so it af­fects the date of the elec­tion,” he said.

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