Thailand to host US military exercises
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.
‘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.