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05BANGKOK5791 PM THAKSIN’S TRIP TO WASHINGTON

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“40203”,”9/9/2005 4:16″,”05BANGKOK5791″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

 

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

 

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 BANGKOK 005791

 

SIPDIS

 

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP, EAP/MLS

NSC FOR MORROW

DEFENSE FOR OSD/ISA (POWERS)

PACOM FOR FPA HUSO

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/31/2015

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, MARR, OVIP, TH

SUBJECT: PM THAKSIN’S TRIP TO WASHINGTON

 

Classified By: Classified By: Alex Arvizu, Charge d,Affaires, a.i. Rea

son 1.4 (a and d)

 

1. (C) Summary: PM Thaksin Shinawatra’s September 19 meeting

with the President presents an opportunity to underscore our

deep and warm relations with Thailand and to build upon that

relationship to strengthen our links to the rest of

Southeast Asia. Thaksin is the strongest Prime Minister in

Thai history and retains a firm grip on power. That being

said, Thaksin,s political opponents have seized on recent

vulnerabilities, including government missteps in dealing

with separatist violence in Thailand,s restive southern

provinces, as well as a distinct economic downturn. Thaksin

has promised the Thai public that he will deliver an “Action

Plan” with the United States designed to enhance bilateral

relations and Thailand,s stature in the region. As for what

we want to achieve, the Prime Minister’s personal involvement

is vital to push forward a number of key bilateral issues,

including an Open Skies agreement, Thai endorsement of the

Proliferation Security Initiative, and a bilateral Free Trade

Agreement. We also encourage the President to speak candidly

about our concerns regarding the situation in southern

Thailand and the deplorable lack of political progress in

Burma. End Summary.

 

THE STRONGEST PRIME MINISTER IN THAI HISTORY

 

2. (C) Prime Minister Thaksin dominates politics in a way

never before seen in Thailand. His Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love

Thais) political party holds 377 of the 500 elected seats in

Parliament. His Cabinet Ministers are beholden to him for

their positions and tend not to make major decisions — or

often even minor ones — without Thaksin’s express approval.

A successful businessman, Thaksin turned his family’s

company, Shinawatra Corporation, into the largest

telecommunications concern in Southeast Asia, making himself

a billionaire in the process. His grasp of modern public

relations was evident in both of his national election

campaigns where he presented a polished, telegenic image to

the electorate and ran on a platform that promised a

twenty-first century economy coupled with a social welfare

program that included virtually free health care and

development grants to the nation’s villages. (The majority

of the Thai population still resides in rural areas.)

Thaksin,s power base, as a result, includes the captains of

Thai industry, many business owners, and poor rural voters.

Opposition Democratic Party leaders are in disarray, working

to rebuild from their crushing defeat at the polls in

February their support areas are now pretty much relegated to

the party’s traditional strongholds in the south and among

the intelligentsia in the capital. Thaksin displayed an iron

hand in imposing discipline within his party in June when he

beat back an attempt by the Democrats to censure the former

Transport Minister for corruption and, in so doing, made

clear that he would crush any Thai Rak Thai member or faction

that supported the censure motion.

 

THAKSIN,S AUTHORITARIAN TENDENCIES

 

3. (C) With justification, critics accuse Thaksin of having

little tolerance for dissenting views. Critics also point

out that Thaksin has curbed press freedom and filled key

government positions (including in the military) with family

members, Armed Forces Academy Prep School classmates and

other confidants, often seemingly regardless of

qualifications. Supremely self-confident, he frequently

makes snap decisions and rarely second-guesses himself. In

July, he pushed through the Cabinet an Emergency Decree in

response to the ongoing violence in southern Thailand. The

sweeping measure has been roundly criticized by activists and

scholars as giving security forces a virtual “license to

kill” in the Muslim south (although the edict seems to be

popular with the Thai public outside of the south and has yet

to be enforced, in any case).

 

THAKSIN’S VIEWS OF THE UNITED STATES, THE PRESIDENT, AND

HIMSELF

 

4. (C) A graduate of the Thai National Police Academy,

Thaksin also holds a master’s degree in Criminal Justice from

Eastern Kentucky University and a Ph.D. in Criminology from

Sam Houston State. With American visitors, he jokingly

refers to himself as an “honorary Texan.” Speaking

colloquial if heavily accented English, he is comfortable in

the presence of Americans. The Prime Minister is grateful

for American assistance after the December 26 tsunami; it’s

worth recalling that he rapidly approved our request to use a

Thai naval air base as the hub for U.S.-led international

relief efforts to Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Thaksin quickly

grasped the opportunities created by U.S.-Thai cooperation in

the tsunami aftermath and endorses our working together to

enhance security links with other countries in the region.

 

5. (C) Thaksin also views himself as the man most qualified

to lead ASEAN in the coming years. He believes he has become

a more important player on the global stage and, like other

national leaders, responds favorably to suggestions or

proposals pitched personally by prominent leaders such as

Vladimir Putin or Hu Jintao. Drawing on his business

experience, in recent months Thaksin has kicked off a number

of “Action Plans” with other countries designed to strengthen

bilateral relations with China and others. In practice,

these plans seem to be virtually anything the two countries

want them to be. After meeting with Secretary Rice in Phuket

in July, Thaksin unveiled in a subsequent weekly radio

address his Action Plan with the United States; our upcoming

Strategic Dialogue with Thailand (see para. 7) should be

viewed as part of that plan. He has been preparing for his

meeting with the President for weeks and will probably

respond favorably to any suggestions the President offers to

strengthen the U.S.-Thai relationship that he can later pitch

to the Thai public as fulfilling his launch of an “Action

Plan with America.”

 

THE SECURITY RELATIONSHIP AND THE STRATEGIC DIALOGUE

 

6. (C) Nothing better illustrates the strength of our

security relationship than our bilateral cooperation in

response to the December 26 tsunami. Thanks to years of

working with the Thai military, the United States was able to

quickly deploy over one thousand American soldiers, marines,

sailors and airmen to Utapao Naval Air Base and set up a hub

to provide relief to tsunami victims in Thailand, Indonesia

and Sri Lanka. Thaksin and his senior military staff

recognize that the good will emanating from the tsunami

response affords both countries an opportunity to enhance the

military relationship and to work jointly with other

militaries in the region. For years, Thailand has hosted the

Cobra Gold annual exercise, our largest multilateral exercise

in Asia. Over time, that exercise has transformed from a

bilateral event designed to thwart a Vietnamese invasion of

Thailand to a multilateral exercise to train for peace

keeping and disaster relief operations. Recent exercises

have allowed American and Thai troops to train with

militaries from Singapore, Japan, the Philippines and others.

We are now planning for Cobra Gold 2006 which will include

participation by Indonesia in addition to Singapore and

Japan. We are convinced that we and the Thai can work with

other militaries to support key U.S. objectives in Asia such

as improving responses to terrorism, enhancing peace keeping,

promoting interoperability with U.S. forces, and improving

maritime security — while continuing to provide us a vital

platform in the region from which to respond to future

contingencies.

 

7. (C) To enhance more strategic thinking among Thai military

and civilian leaders, and as a way to shape Thaksin’s Action

Plan concept, we have agreed to send key officials from the

Departments of State and Defense, the National Security

Council, and the U.S. Pacific Command to hold a Strategic

Dialogue in Bangkok in November. This mechanism will also

allow us to explore other tangible means to demonstrate

America’s commitment to the region. We suggest the following

points be made in the President’s meeting:

 

— Our combined response to the December 26 tsunami

illustrates the importance of our strategic relationship. It

also demonstrates opportunities to reach out jointly to

other countries in the region through exercises like Cobra

Gold.

 

— We see the upcoming Strategic Dialogue as an integral part

of a U.S.-Thai Action Plan to explore ways to further enhance

our relationship.

 

THE SOUTH AND TERRORISM

 

8. (C) Thaksin’s preeminent policy concern is how to respond

to the unrest in southern Thailand. The current violence is

caused by separatist activity mixed with unfocused violence

by disaffected Muslims and criminal activity. All of this,

together with an often heavy-handed response by security

forces, has led to approximately 800 deaths since early 2004.

The ongoing violence has historic roots going back a century

and is aimed at driving Thai Buddhists out of the region.

While we are not aware of direct evidence of links between

Thai separatists and outside terrorist groups, we are

concerned that trans-national terrorist groups might attempt

to take advantage of the situation. Thaksin’s policy

missteps over time clearly have exacerbated the violence.

Although his recent Emergency Decree is controversial, there

are some positive signs. Earlier this year, Thaksin

appointed a National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) led by

respected former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun to make

policy recommendations. The NCR’s work to date has received

generally good marks from most objective Thai observers.

Partially in response to NRC recommendations, Thaksin has

committed to implementing much needed education and economic

reforms to benefit southerners. No one in Thailand,

including Thaksin, seeks a U.S. military presence in the

south, and we must constantly deal with nefarious rumors that

the U.S. is somehow behind the violence. Nonetheless, there

are areas where we can help. We have stepped up human rights

training of Thai troops rotating into the south to improve

their ability to control crowds and conduct other operations

in ways consistent with international norms. We are also

working with the Thais to improve their intelligence sharing

and gathering capabilities.

 

9. (C) The Prime Minister told the Ambassador that he is

eager to discuss his southern policy with the President and

address concerns that his policies are counterproductive. We

suggest the President consider making the following points:

 

— We recognize the situation in the south is an internal

Thai affair. We stand prepared to help to the extent we can

by sharing intelligence, improving human rights training and

assisting with educational reform, if Thailand so desires.

 

— We appreciate Thailand’s assurances that the Emergency

Decree will not be used to justify human rights abuses in the

south.

 

— We are encouraged by the work of the National

Reconciliation Commission. This distinguished group seems to

have come up with some good recommendations. We hope that

your government will be able to work with them on

implementation.

 

BURMA

 

10. (C) Under Thaksin, Thailand has maintained a strategy of

engagement with Burma. Pointing to the 1,400 mile long

border the two countries share, Thaksin tells Americans that

he has little choice but to engage the regime in Rangoon in

order to address narcotics trafficking, refugees, and

trafficking in Persons. He maintains that Thailand does

press Burma behind-the-scenes. Thaksin often likens

Thailand’s problem with illegal Burmese immigrants to

America’s concern with illegal workers from Mexico.

Recently, we have detected some positive movement from

Thaksin on Burma. He told Secretary Rice in July that if the

regime did not take some positive steps soon, he would be

willing to call more openly for political progress. We

suggest that the President call him on this pledge:

 

— We both recognize that the regime in Rangoon is abhorrent.

You indicated to Secretary Rice in July that you would

consider calling more openly for reform in Burma.

 

— We suggest that now is the time for you to join us in

publicly calling on Rangoon to release all political

prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and to engage in a

meaningful dialogue with the democratic opposition.

 

OPEN SKIES

 

11. (C) The United States and Thailand have been discussing a

passenger Open Skies arrangement since 2003. Until recently,

impediments laid by the Thai Ministry of Transport in support

of Thai Airlines, which has long feared that an agreement

would hurt its business, effectively blocked any chance for a

deal. But Thaksin personally endorsed an Open Skies

agreement following Secretary Mineta,s visit earlier this

year. Thaksin dispatched an experienced government

delegation to Washington for negotiations September 7-8 with

an eye toward concluding an agreement. If agreement is

reached prior to the September 19 White House meeting, we

suggest the President make the following point:

 

— Thank you for your personal attention to achieving an Open

Skies agreement. Successful implementation can help make

Thailand a regional aviation hub and help boost tourism.

 

If a deal is not reached, we suggest the President make the

following point:

 

— Your personal attention is important in order for our

sides to conclude a successful Open Skies agreement.

 

PROLIFERATION SECURITY INITIATIVE (PSI)

 

12. (C) Under Thaksin, Thailand has been supportive of our

efforts to combat proliferation. Despite our efforts since

2003, however, Thaksin has not yet formally endorsed PSI. He

recently told Ambassador Boyce of his concern that endorsing

PSI now risks aggravating Muslim separatist sentiment in the

south. Singapore is the only ASEAN nation that has endorsed

PSI to date; Thaksin has told us private that if another

ASEAN country were to endorse PSI (the Philippines is one

possibility), that would give him sufficient political cover

to bring Thailand on board. We suggest the President make

the following point:

 

— We appreciate Thailand’s commitment to combat the

proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their

precursors. PSI is a meaningful way for the international

community to show unity in combating this threat.

 

— Thailand can demonstrate regional leadership by offering

your endorsement of the PSI Statement of Principles.

 

— We will keep you appraised of our efforts to enlist

support for PSI from within ASEAN and elsewhere.

 

FREE TRADE AGREEMENT (FTA)

 

13. (C) Our FTA talks with Thailand languish in part because

few senior leaders in Thailand other than Thaksin himself

fully endorse an agreement. Recently, Thailand concluded an

FTA with Japan only after Thaksin himself intervened at a key

moment. It will probably take the same personal touch from

Thaksin to make progress in our talks. Thaksin will likely

tell the President that he fully endorses an FTA and that he

does not envision any serious problems in eventually reaching

a deal. We suggest that the following points be made:

 

— An FTA is one of the most tangible ways to show the world

how seriously we both are about enhancing our relationship.

 

— Your leadership is vital. You are the greatest proponent

of an FTA within your government. We hope that you will

instruct your key ministers that we need to begin making

concrete progress soon.

 

— Ours must be a comprehensive agreement, covering all

economic sectors, although we are willing to discuss phase-in

periods.

 

–Time is of the essence, if we are going to conclude an FTA,

we have to reach agreement in the next few months.

 

F-16

 

14. (C) Thailand has been considering a purchase of 18

fighter aircraft to replace aging F-5s in its fleet. Up

until several months ago, it appeared that Russian SU-30s or

Swedish Saab Gripens would win the contract. Since that

time, we have worked closely with Lockheed Martin to ensure

that F-16 receives serious consideration. The Thai Air Force

already has 59 F-16s and, by purchasing new F-16s, or

upgrading its existing aircraft, Thailand would maintain

interoperability with the U.S. military and enhance the

likelihood that the Thai Air Force could buy the Joint Strike

Fighter in the future. Secretary Rice and Secretary Rumsfeld

have both raised this issue with Thaksin. Thaksin recently

indicated to Ambassador Boyce that he may be willing to spend

400 million dollars on Lockheed Martin upgrades to existing

F-16s, but in part due to the personal intervention of

President Putin, he might be compelled to also buy new

Russian SU-30s. Thaksin seemed open to the idea, however, of

forgoing buying any new aircraft and instead using his budget

to upgrade existing F-16s. This alternative would also

benefit our security relationship and Lockheed Martin. We

suggest the President make the following points:

 

— If Thailand decides to purchase new fighter aircraft, F-16

is the best option available. It will be cheaper to

maintain, more capable and interoperable with the United

States — your treaty ally.

 

— However, a less expensive way to improve your fleet would

be mid-life upgrades of your fleet of F-16s — thereby making

them airworthy for years to come.

 

CHINA

 

15. (C) Thaksin maintains excellent relations with China. He

went to Beijing in July and will meet PRC Vice Premier Wu Yi

in September upon his return from Washington. Thai

government and economic leaders subscribe to the maxim that

“a rich China will lead to a prosperous Asia” and encourage

further expansion of trade links between the two countries

building on a limited FTA covering some agricultural goods.

Thaksin is dismissive of suggestions that Taiwan and the

Mainland might someday come to blows, citing the PRC’s

paramount desire not to disturb economic growth. PRC

state-run media and cultural centers saturate the Thai

market, reaching not only the 15 percent of Thai who are

ethnic Chinese, but a growing number of the population in

general. Although the Thai military tends to have far more

links with Americans than with Chinese, PLA ties with the

Thai military are on the upswing through bargain-priced arms

sales, officer exchange programs, and offers to hold joint

exercises. Some Thai analysts are concerned that their

leaders are too nonchalant about possible friction points

Bangkok might have with Beijing in the future and call for

greater discussions about China between Thai and U.S.

representatives. In the White House meeting, we suggest the

President make the following point:

 

— We share a desire to see China become an engaged, mature

member of the international community. China’s growing

influence would be a good topic for discussion during our

upcoming Strategic Dialogue.

 

IN CLOSING AND HURRICANE KATRINA

 

16. (C) Thaksin is eager to make a good impression in

Washington and wants to show his constituencies that he is

close to the President. He has been personally involved in

Thailand,s offers of assistance to those affected by

Hurricane Katrina. Thaksin,s personal involvement is

essential to advance a number of key U.S. objectives and

address our concerns, including terrorism, the violence in

southern Thailand, Burma, PSI, an FTA, an Open Skies

Agreement, and F-16s.

ARVIZU

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Written by thaicables

June 24, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Posted in Confidential, Thaksin

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