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09BANGKOK1190 THAI MFA NOT SUSPICIOUS OF GROWING CHINESE POWER AND INFLUENCE – BUT SOUTH CHINA SEA DISPUTES HAVE IMPACT

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DE RUEHBK #1190/01 1341052
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O 141052Z MAY 09 ZDS
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7024
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C O N F I D E N T I A L BANGKOK 001190 

SIPDIS 

C O R R E C T E D COPY TEXT 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/14/2019 
TAGS: PARM PM PREL TH CH
SUBJECT: THAI MFA NOT SUSPICIOUS OF GROWING CHINESE POWER 
AND INFLUENCE - BUT SOUTH CHINA SEA DISPUTES HAVE IMPACT 

REF: STATE 28316 

Classified By: Political Counselor George P. Kent, 
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 

1. (C) Summary.  According to the Thai MFA Director of 
Chinese Affairs, Thailand agreed that increased transparency 
of Chinese military intentions would help regional stability, 
but Thailand had no reason to be concerned with growing 
Chinese military power and accepted as natural China's 
growing influence in Southeast Asia.  Due to an absence any 
territorial disputes to hold back relations, Thailand and 
China had grown closer in recent years.  Despite closer ties 
in all areas including between the two nations' militaries, 
however, the RTG was reluctant to expand rapidly joint 
exercises; the aggressive Chinese diplomatic response to the 
Philippines' filing under the UN Convention on the Law of the 
Sea (UNCLOS) and a sense of ASEAN solidarity did affect Thai 
thinking in this regard.  End Summary. 

2. (C) Comment.  MFA Director of Chinese Affairs Nathapol 
Khantahiran was pleasant but direct in describing the growing 
role for China in Southeast Asia and a decline in the United 
States' stature and influence in the region.  His comments in 
this regard are reminiscent of the bracing evaluation 2008 
Capstone participants heard at the Thai National Defense 
University.  In contrast, other Thai interlocutors, 
particularly in the military, have tended to be less open in 
discussing with U.S. officials Thailand's growing relations 
with China.  This reluctance may be attributed to a desire 
not to discuss directly what could be considered a sensitive 
issue with a close ally.  His comments regarding an NSC 
decision to defer a large scale maritime exercise with China 
at a time when China is using aggressive diplomacy against 
fellow ASEAN countries regarding claims in the South China 
Sea, specifically mentioning ASEAN solidarity, are 
intriguing, particularly given recent the joint 
Malaysian-Vietnamese UNCLOS filing. End comment. 

CHINESE MILITARY GROWTH NOT WORRISOME FOR THAI 
--------------------------------------------- - 

3. (C) We met May 6 with MFA Director of Chinese Affairs 
Nathapol Khantahiran to discuss reftel Defense Department 
report on China.  Nathapol acknowledged the fast growth in 
the military power of China but stated that the Thai 
government had no reason to be suspicious of Chinese military 
intentions and faced no territorial disputes (such as the 
South China Sea).  As the Chinese economy depended on natural 
resources from Africa and Asia, its military growth reflected 
the need to maintain secure sea transportation routes to 
Africa, primarily the Malacca Strait and the Sunda and Lombok 
Straits in Indonesia.  As such, the RTG was not suspicious. 

4. (C) With China's growing military strength, the Thai 
government was watching with great interest how the Chinese 
government would apply its greater capabilities, particularly 
in relation to piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the overlapping 
territorial claims in the South China Sea. 

CHINESE-THAI RELATIONSHIP DEVELOPING RAPIDLY 
-------------------------------------------- 

5. (C) The overall Thai-Chinese relationship had developed 
rapidly since official relations had been established in 
1975.  In contrast to many other ASEAN nations, territorial 
disputes did not negatively impact Thailand's relations with 
China, Nathapol said.  China had made many positive actions 
in Asia since establishing diplomatic relations with Thailand 
and other countries in the 1970s.  As such, Chinese influence 
in the region had significantly grown.  In contrast, Nathapol 
claimed that the U.S. government had since the end of the 
Cold War lagged in engaging Southeast Asia.  For example, the 
focus of U.S. military engagement had shifted to other 
regions, while China had made significant strides in gaining 
influence.  Nathapol said both U.S. "soft" and "hard" power 
had diminished and specifically described losses in economic, 
political, and cultural power. 

6. (C) Despite Thailand and China not having territorial 

disputes, Nathapol raised the South China Sea as a potential 
area of concern for Thailand.  PTT, the Thai state-owned oil 
and gas company, had received a concession from the 
Philippine government in the South China Sea.   It was 
unclear how disputes regarding overlapping claims there would 
affect the concession and Chinese-Thai relations. 

CHINESE-THAI MILITARY ENGAGEMENT GROWING 
---------------------------------------- 

7. (C) Nathapol said that ASEAN as whole had turned down a 
Chinese proposal to conduct joint training but that 
Thai-Chinese military engagement was expanding.  Thailand and 
China had conducted their first joint exercise in 2005 with a 
humanitarian exercise focused on naval search and rescue 
techniques.  This exercise commemorated the thirtieth 
anniversary of the establishment of Thai-Chinese relations. 
In recent years, the mil-mil relationship had expanded via a 
joint counter-terrorism exercise called "Strike" held in 
Guangzhou, China in 2007 with approximately twenty Thai 
special forces troops, Nathapol said.  The exercise was 
repeated in 2008 when China sent special forces troops to 
Chiang Mai, Thailand to practice counter-terrorism 
operations.  Nathapol said the Thai contingent in 2008 was of 
similar scale to that in 2007. 

8. (C) Reiterating comments we had heard from military 
sources, Nathapol said the Chinese military was pressing for 
larger scale exercises with the Thai that would expand beyond 
special forces.  One Chinese proposal had been to conduct a 
joint Marine exercise along Thailand's eastern seaboard in 
May this year.  The Thai government, however, was unsure of 
the appropriate path to take in regard to this proposal.  The 
Thai National Security Council on May 1 convened a meeting to 
determine the RTG response to the Chinese initiative.  The 
aggressive Chinese diplomatic response to the Philippines' 
UNCLOS declaration weighed on the minds of the Thai 
officials, Nathapol noted, and there was concern of a 
negative reaction from other ASEAN members were Thailand to 
proceed with a large-scale maritime exercise at the same time 
fellow ASEAN members were pressured by China over maritime 
claims.  Nathapol told us it was likely that the RTG would go 
slow in expanding the mil-mil relationship and would postpone 
the Marine exercise to 2010.  Thailand would also limit the 
scale of the event. 

9. (C) Nathapol told us that Thailand was reluctant to 
increase quickly the scale of its military relationship with 
China because the RTG did not want to be seen as out in front 
of other ASEAN nations in expanding relations with China. 

CHINA MAIN ACTOR FOR REGION IN FINANCIAL CRISIS 
--------------------------------------------- -- 

10. (C) Turning to economics, Nathapol described China as the 
"main actor" in leading efforts to try to buffer Asia from 
the effects of the current economic downturn.  We replied 
that the drop in Chinese imports, including from Thailand, 
over the past six months had disproven this early hope.  As 
it turned out, Thailand's exports to China dropped in concert 
with lower exports to the U.S., in part because many Thai 
exports are intermediate goods intended for re-export to the 
U.S. Nathapol said Beijing would definitely approach Asian 
nations for support on issues of concern to China, as the 
Chinese would certainly want something back for their efforts 
now to deal with the crisis.  Nathapol acknowledged this 
could lead to difficulty for the Thai government, possibly 
concerning the question of Taiwan, but exclaimed, "What can 
Thailand do?" 

11. (C) In recognition of the importance that China played in 
the region, Nathapol said that Prime Minister Abhisit 
Vejjajiva planned to visit Hong Kong in May and hoped to make 
an official visit to Beijing at the end of June. 
JOHN

 

Written by thaicables

April 11, 2011 at 11:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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