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04BANGKOK7313 THAI VIEWS OF A MORE ASSERTIVE CHINA

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“21824”,”10/20/2004 11:19″,”04BANGKOK7313″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”04BANGKOK4085″,

 

“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 08 BANGKOK 007313

 

SIPDIS

 

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP, EAP/BCLTV AND EAP/CM

DEFENSE FOR OSD/ISA

PACOM FOR FPA HUSO

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/01/2014

TAGS: PREL, MASS, PGOV, TH, CH, China, ASEAN, BURMA

SUBJECT: THAI VIEWS OF A MORE ASSERTIVE CHINA

 

REF: BANGKOK 4085

 

Classified By: Ambassador Darryl N. Johnson. Reasons 1.4 (a and d)

 

1. (C) Summary. When analyzing China\’s growing influence

in the region, Thai experts tend to: accept China\’s growing

power as inevitable; hope that problems associated with

China\’s growing strength will either fix themselves or be

mitigated by other powers like the United States or India;

and, keep their fingers crossed that trade deals with China

lead to growth in Thailand without destroying domestic

enterprises. Thai analysts note that China is deftly

building up good will in the region to assuage any concerns

about hegemony. Perhaps naively, they tend to discount

notions that China will jeopardize its generally good

relations in the region in the near future by pressuring

ASEAN nations to support Beijing on political or strategic

issues.

 

2. (C) Thai experts tend to view China\’s growing role as

either not affecting the influence of other countries or as

coming at the expense of Taiwan and Japan rather than the

United States. Nonetheless, some warn that China\’s growing

role in the region comes at a time when the United States

appears preoccupied in the Middle East and with the War on

Terror. The MFA believes that it will be 15 years before

China could pose a security threat to the region and expects

the U.S.-Thai security alliance to counter any future threat.

While almost all experts note the generally positive nature

of Sino-Thai links — pointing to China\’s help during

conflicts with Laos and Cambodia, China\’s positive role

during the Asian financial crisis and China\’s signing with

ASEAN the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea — they also

point to the growing possibility of contention in several

fields: trade, Burma, energy, and Chinese development in the

upper Mekong River region. Undermining their analysis, Thai

government analysts notably tend to discount the possibility

of internal unrest, demographic problems or economic upheaval

upsetting current growth patterns inside China. Similarly,

they tend not to focus on the possibility of conflict between

Taiwan and the Mainland — an attitude criticized by some in

academia and the media as overly optimistic. Thai Government

experts would benefit from opportunities to share views on

China\’s role in the region with U.S. delegations. End

Summary.

 

PALPABLE INTEREST IN THINGS CHINESE

 

3. (SBU) China\’s cultural influence continues to expand in

Thailand in obvious ways. In 2003, according to the Thai

National Statistical Office, 624,214 PRC citizens visited

Thailand, making it the 6th largest source of tourists to the

country (after Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and

Singapore). The 15 percent of Thais who are ethnic Chinese

seem to take a greater pride in their heritage — notably,

some now use their Chinese surnames along with their Thai

ones. The number of Mandarin language schools is growing at

the same time Japanese language studies are declining. Thai

sports fans openly pulled for Chinese athletes in the

Olympics in ways they\’ve never supported Japanese or other

Asian competitors in the past. PRC-owned English-language

CCTV Channel 9 is very popular in Thailand and Mandarin

broadcasts on CCTV Channel 4 are readily available. The

foreign news editor for the national television network

Channel 9 reported that his station has signed a cooperative

agreement with CCTV. According to the editor, Channel 9 airs

around four direct feeds from CCTV at the top of its

international news every morning. The English-language

newspaper The China Daily plans to open a publishing

operation in Bangkok in 2005. The Xinhua news agency is

quite active and regularly places stories about \”progress\” in

Tibet and Han-Uighur \”cooperation\” in Xinjiang. Beijing

sponsors cultural and educational programs throughout the

country and has invested heavily in subsidizing Mandarin

training centers. Thai journalists are regular beneficiaries

of Beijing-funded junkets to China. A recent trip to Tibet

for ten Thai journalists resulted in a number of glowing

stories in Thai papers about the benevolence of Chinese rule

in Lhasa. Chinese and Thai diplomats express solidarity

openly.

 

CHINA\’S RISE IS INEVITABLE

 

4. (C) Thai military, intelligence and foreign policy

analysts at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), National

Defense Studies Institute (NDSI) and MFA tend to view China\’s

growing influence in Southeast Asia as inevitable. This

attitude was probably best described by XXXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXX for the MFA\’s XXXXXXXXXXXXXX, who recently

said \”everyone is scared of the China threat, but if you

can\’t fight it, you must accept it and become its friend.

Build ties with that threat so that if they ever do hit you,

they hit their own interests.\” XXXXXXXXXX of the NIA

said \”we have no other option but to accept China\’s offer for

closer economic links — the opportunity is too great.

Nonetheless, we have to be cognizant that China is also a

competitor. Our challenge during the next few years as we

use our Free Trade Agreement with China to export our

agricultural goods, is to improve our competitiveness in

other areas.\” XXXXXXXXXXXXX of the military\’s

Strategic Research Institute (SRI), said that \”the concept of

the \’China Threat\’ in traditional strategic terms is gone, to

be replaced by the concept of China as trading partner and

economic engine.\” Several contacts hope that risks to

Thailand posed by a rising China can be offset by continuing

strong links with the United States and, to a lesser extent,

with India.

 

WINNING GOODWILL BY GOOD BEHAVIOR

 

5. (C) Most Thai experts acknowledge the deft diplomacy

China recently has used to help reassure ASEAN countries in

general and Thailand in particular that China is a peaceful

neighbor. They cite China signing the ASEAN Treaty of Amity

and Cooperation (TAC), ASEAN Code of Conduct in the South

China Sea, China\’s leadership role in the Six-Party Talks on

Korea, the China-ASEAN Strategic partnership and the

China-ASEAN Joint Declaration on Non-Traditional Threats as

evidence of China\’s growing trustworthiness. XXXXXXXX at

MFA believes that Hu Jintao and the other fourth generation

leaders in the PRC are much more adept at building regional

ties than Jiang Zemin was. \”Hu is building bridges to the EU

and to ASEAN in a way Jiang never did; Jiang was much more

concerned with having strong ties with the United States,\” he

said. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, J-2 staff officer at the

Joint Staff College, sees China\’s signing the Code of Conduct

in the South China Sea as an example of Beijing putting its

desire to win influence in the region ahead of its short-term

national interest — a view echoed by XXXXXXX at the NIA.

\”Ten years ago, China repeatedly threatened to use force over

the Spratleys,\” XXXXXXX explained; \”today, it has renounced

the use of force.\” SRI\’s XXXXX thinks that, by tying China

to regional security protocols, ASEAN is helping to ensure

that China will act more responsibly.

 

ECONOMIC LINKS ARE SEDUCTIVE

 

6. (C) In addition to China making effective diplomatic

moves, all of the Thai China watchers interviewed for this

message agree that the desire to have access to China\’s

market is the major driving factor in Thailand\’s growing

links with the PRC. According to the Customs Department of

Thailand, in 2003 Thailand exported 235 billion baht (5.73

billion dollars) of goods to China, a 54 percent increase

over 2002. Also in 2003, Thailand imported 203 billion baht

(4.95 billion dollars) worth of goods from the PRC, a decline

of 4 percent from 2002. The October 2003 Sino-Thai Free

Trade Agreement (FTA) and the 2002 Sino-ASEAN FTA have many

Thai companies eager to sell their wares in China. XXXXXXX

believes that growing economic competition between China and

the United States is good for medium-sized economies like

Thailand\’s. XXXXXXXXXXXXX of NIA\’s XXXXXXXXXXXX

XXXX, noted that many ASEAN leaders, including some in

Thailand, now subscribe to the Chinese maxim, \”what is good

for China is good for the rest of Asia.\” MFA\’s XXXXXXXX

pointed out that PM Thaksin agrees with the maxim that \”a

rich China will lead to a prosperous Asia\” and claims that

Chinese leaders who promote economic links with Thailand are

\”knocking on an open door.\” XXXXXXX sees Thailand as

uniquely situated to serve as a bridge between China and the

rest of ASEAN. He is optimistic that China will expand road

links to Thailand, passing through Laos and Burma, linking

the two countries.

 

7. (SBU) Public perceptions of the impact of the FTA

affecting agricultural goods are quite different than the

optimistic view Thai analysts tend to hold. 87 percent of

the items covered by the Sino-Thai FTA are fruits and

vegetables. According to the Customs Department of Thailand,

from October 2003 until September 2004 the value of Thai

fruit exported to China under the FTA was 3.43 billion baht

(83 million dollars), a 37 percent increase from the previous

12 months. For the same period, however, Chinese exports of

fruit to Thailand were worth 1.28 billion baht (31 million

dollars) an increase of 125 percent over the previous 12

months. For the same period, the value of Thai vegetables

exported to China was 8.13 billion baht (198 million dollars)

a 73 percent increase over the previous year while Chinese

exports of vegetables to Thailand were worth 3.06 billion

baht (76 million dollars) a 120 percent increase. Press

reports and public comments on the FTA Early Harvest pact

have focused on its impact on Thai farmers in the north of

the country who have reportedly been overwhelmed by cheaper

and better Chinese agricultural products such as garlic and

onions. Experts complain that the RTG, which was urged to

quickly conclude the agreement by PM Thaksin, did not

seriously study the impact of the agreement nor draw up plans

to help those negatively affected by it. In addition,

critics complain that Thai negotiators did not understand or

anticipate the difficulties faced by intra-provincial trade

in China, or the effect that excise taxes, documentation

requirements and other non-tariff barrier would have on Thai

products going into China. Ministry of Commerce officials

admit this lapse and say that it has been a good learning

experience. Interestingly, the Thai public seems to blame

the RTG for rushing into the agreement rather than the

Chinese for benefiting from it.

 

MILITARY TO MILITARY LINKS WITH CHINA

 

8. (C) Thailand continues to have good relations with the

Chinese military. The Chinese military attache in Bangkok is

a Brigadier General. Chinese defense sales delegations visit

Bangkok frequently. Many Thai military officers are

appreciative of China\’s assistance in supplying small arms,

tanks and artillery shells during conflicts involving Laos

and Cambodia and every year a number of Thai officers receive

military training in China. Nonetheless, Thai officers

acknowledge a vast disparity between Thailand\’s military

links with the United States and links with the PRC. \”Most

of the equipment we received from China was not of good

quality when we received it and it is all outdated now,\”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX of

the National Defense Studies Institute, said. NIA\’s XXXXX

notes the growing number of security seminars and dialogues

Thailand and ASEAN countries have with China and expects

these to continue to increase. However, a number of Thai

military officers are quick to emphasize that China\’s

influence on the Thai military is minuscule compared to that

of the United States. \”For every one officer we send to

Beijing for training, we send 400 to the United States,\” one

explained.

 

DIPLOMATIC PRESENCE IN BANGKOK

 

9. (C) PRC diplomats in Bangkok have told U.S. Embassy

officials that they view the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok as

Beijing\’s leading diplomatic presence in ASEAN. Chinese

Ambassador Zhang Jiuhuan is a polished professional — a

veteran of two previous tours to Bangkok and one in Singapore

— who speaks excellent Thai and English. Mid-level Chinese

Embassy staff tend to be much more professional than their

predecessors. The PRC Embassy in Bangkok has done a

masterful job of reaching out to Sino-Thais. While attending

a large PRC-hosted function that included several hundred

ethnic-Chinese Thai nationals, one senior Chinese official

proudly claimed that \”ten years ago this would have been

Taiwan\’s crowd.\” Thai military and government officials

attended PRC National Day on October 1 in large numbers and

at senior levels.

 

CHINA AND THAKSIN

 

10. (C) Allegations that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra

is under Beijing\’s spell are rife in Bangkok. Outspoken

Thaksin critic XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX of the Nation calls

Thaksin \”China\’s deputy sheriff.\” Professor XXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXX of Chulalongkorn University claims that

Thaksin\’s decision to single out and expel Falun Gong

adherents from Bangkok in preparation for 2003\’s APEC Leaders

Summit was directly due to pressure from Chinese leaders

(NOTE: Falun Gong adherents also were not tolerated under

the previous Thai administration). XXXXXXXX and XXXXX both

claim Thaksin has been receptive to overtures from Beijing in

order to win contracts for Thaksin\’s family multinational

company, Shin Corporation. They point to a recent telecom

license deal involving Shin\’s IPStar broadband satellite

system and the China Satellite Communications Corporation

(Chinasat) as an example of how China has rewarded Thaksin

for his support of closer business links.

 

CHINA\’S RISE COMING AT WHOSE EXPENSE?

 

11. (C) Many Thai analysts believe that both Japan and

Taiwan are losing influence to a rising China. XXXXX notes

that China\’s growing influence in the region comes at a time

when Japan is declining in power and the United States is

preoccupied in the Middle East and with the War on Terror.

XXXX suggests that ASEAN countries are improving ties with

China to take into account China\’s rise and to hedge bets in

case the United States remains occupied elsewhere. XXXXXX

also points out that China\’s effective use of Free Trade

Agreements with ASEAN countries make those countries more

linked to China and cut Taiwan out. In 2003, according to

the Customs Department of Thailand, Thai exports to Taiwan

were worth 108 billion baht (2.63 billion dollars), or 46

percent of exports to the PRC. In 2001, Thai exports to

Taiwan were worth 85 billion baht (2.07 billion dollars) or

67 percent of the value of exports to the Mainland. In 2001,

more Taiwanese than mainland tourists visited Thailand but

those numbers have reversed since then. XXXXXXX sees

participation in regional meetings as an effective bellwether

of influence. He notes the growing number of Chinese scholars

at conferences outlining the future of Southeast Asia and

sees fewer and fewer Japanese scholars attending. XXXXX

XXXXXXXXXX claims that contacts between senior Thai and

Chinese leaders are much more frequent than they were in the

past and seem to be coming at the expense of meetings between

Thai and Japanese leaders.

 

12. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXX

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX of the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok

 

SIPDIS

are also convinced that China\’s growing role in Southeast

Asia is coming at Japan\’s expense. They privately lament

that Tokyo does not seem to have a coherent strategy to

reengage with the region. MFA\’s XXXXXXX also believes

China\’s growing role is coming at a time when Japan\’s

influence is declining. He thinks that it would be good for

U.S. interests if Washington were to urge Japan to take a

more active leadership role in fora affecting Thailand.

 

CHINA TAKING OVER ASEAN?

 

13. (C) Many analysts suspect China\’s participation in the

ASEAN region is an attempt to further expand its influence,

perhaps at the expense of the United States. XXXXX of the

Joint Staff College describes China\’s \”partnership strategy\”

as the means by which China hopes to emerge as a long-term

counterweight to the United States in the region. Under this

\”partnership strategy\” China stresses the need for

multilateral approaches in ASEAN and ARF as the best means to

solve regional problems. China is also not hesitant to play

up its role as a member of the UNSC P-5. While XXXX believes

China wishes to use only economic influence in the near-term,

he is convinced that China\’s ultimate aim is to replace the

United States as the strongest power in the region. XXX

at NIA claims that every country in ASEAN remains quietly

suspicious of China\’s real agenda in the region and is

concerned about its influence in ASEAN. Nonetheless, XXX

notes, so far the attractiveness of the China market coupled

with China\’s good behavior in North Korea and the Spratleys

has more than offset that suspicion. MFA\’s XXXXXXXX also

believes that China wants ASEAN to be \”China-centric\” and is

convinced of China\’s long-term goal to supplant the United

States in the region. However, he discounts concerns that

China will be able to exercise power on a par with the United

States for decades. On the other hand, XXXX believes that

China\’s growing role in ASEAN will not allow the organization

to act contrary to China\’s wishes ten years from now.

 

UNITED STATES REMAINS THE PREEMINENT POWER

 

14. (C) XXXXXXXXXXX observed that Thailand is not

about to replace the United States with China as its

strategic partner; \”we are cordial with China, we are allies

with the United States, and that\’s not about to change\” he

said. NIA\’s XXXXX goes further by saying \”We recognize

that China is trying to use growing economic ties to create

an atmosphere of political and security dependence, but this

issue is quite sensitive among Thai senior officials who

intend to rely on the United States as the prime guarantor of

security in the region for the foreseeable future.\” MFA\’s

XXXXXX thinks that, to counter the risk of a rising China,

Thailand will need to rely more strongly on the bilateral

relationship with the United States. He does not see this as

a zero sum game, however, noting that if China and the United

States can continue to improve relations with each other,

they could work jointly in the region to promote stability.

 

PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE — ARE THAIS NAIVE?

 

15. (C) Most of the analysts interviewed seem convinced

that China\’s impressive economic growth will continue for the

next several years uninterrupted. None seem willing to

seriously entertain the notion that China\’s huge unemployment

figure, overheated financial sector, insolvent banks, aging

population or underdeveloped interior might upset the

economic juggernaut. As a result, Thai analysts seem unable

to consider moves a struggling China might make that could

jeopardize regional security. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Staff officer at the Joint Staff College, realizes that China

must continue to maintain a high level of economic growth in

order to modernize and believes that China will be unwilling

to jeopardize Southeast Asia\’s peaceful environment for the

foreseeable future. XXXXXX is also generally optimistic

about China\’s emerging role in Southeast Asia and seemed

unwilling to consider alternative scenarios where internal

problems cause China to act aggressively to divert domestic

attention. XXXXXXXXXXX at MFA is convinced that Chinese

leaders will not make any aggressive moves in the region for

the foreseeable future; \”their number one concern is to

maintain Party control and they will do nothing to jeopardize

the economic growth that allows the Party to remain in

power.\” He added, \”China can\’t afford a war over Taiwan, it

would kill economic growth.\” XXXXXXX agreed by saying, \”We

are not sure that China would use force against Taiwan; in

the near term we think China wishes not to jeopardize its

economic development. In the future, however, we are not

sure what China\’s long range strategy is.\” XXXX added, \”We

believe the United States will continue to successfully use

influence over Taiwan to prevent Taipei from declaring

independence.\”

 

OVERLY ROSY PICTURE?

 

16. (C) General (ret.) XXXXXXXXXXX, an influential

thinker on a number of security issues, is concerned that

Thai leaders have too rosy an opinion of future relations

with China. \”I think they are not considering our potential

points of conflict carefully enough,\” he cautioned. XXXXXXX

is especially concerned that China\’s growing influence in

Burma will undermine Thailand\’s interests there and hurt

efforts to stop the drug trade between Thailand and Burma.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX of Chulalongkorn University said

that, while Thailand should not overlook the possible

benefits of closer ties with the PRC, it is in Thailand\’s

best interests to think about less sanguine possibilities.

XXXXXX thinks that Thai analysts covering China could gain

much by having more regular meetings with U.S. counterparts.

 

SOME AREAS OF DISAGREEMENT STARTING TO APPEAR

17. (C) While noting the generally good relationship

between China and ASEAN countries, some analysts predict that

the number of contentious issues will grow as China becomes

stronger. XXXXXX noted how forcefully Beijing responded

to Singapore PM Lee Hsian Loong\’s recent trip to Taipei and

expressed concern over how abjectly Singapore apologized and

made amends for the \”offense.\” XXXXX of the Nation finds it

significant that ASEAN resisted Chinese overtures to accede

to the protocol of the Southeast Asian Nuclear Weapons Free

Zone but is skeptical that the effort may have served as a

wake up call to ASEAN leaders that they need to stand up to

Beijing more frequently. XXXXXXX, an Anglo-Thai businessman

with offices in Bangkok and Beijing believes that trade

friction between Thailand and China will only increase.

\”It\’s fairly easy to avoid the political hotbuttons with

Beijing — Tibet, Falun Gong, Taiwan — but as more and more

Thai consumer companies are undercut by cheap Chinese

imports, there will be a growing call to protect Thai

industry,\” he predicted. XXXXXXXX at MFA and XXXXXXXXXX

XXXXX believe that Burma will become an increasingly large

irritant between China and Thailand. Thongchai believes that

Chinese efforts to reach the Andaman Sea through Burma are at

odds with Thailand\’s interests in having Chinese goods bound

for ASEAN pass through Thailand.

 

18. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXXX believes that China\’s planned

dams along the upper Mekong River will give it a great deal

of influence over countries downriver. SRI\’s XXXXXXXX

foresees Mekong subregional development and the drive to find

new sources of fossil fuels as the two issues most likely to

cause bilateral problems between China and Thailand. He sees

energy security as second only to Taiwan as a potential cause

for China to use force in the region. XXXXXXX described

Beijing\’s attitude towards Taiwan as \”irrational\” and,

looking at Chinese spectators\’ behavior during the recent

Asian Games, expressed concern about rising nationalism in

the PRC. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX of the

National Defense College, is also skeptical that Thailand can

avoid economic disagreements with China; \”China says it does

not want to be a superpower, but it seems to be moving in

that way by acquiring better defense technology, improving

its space program and modernizing its military. Every

country looks at China as a potential export market, yet look

around at how many companies import far more from China than

they export there.\”

 

WHEN COULD CHINA POSE A SECURITY THREAT?

 

19. (C) NIA\’s XXXXX concludes that China will continue to

try to use its economic clout to influence ASEAN countries in

the political and security fields. Nonetheless, she doesn\’t

see China as an outright security threat for several years.

XXXXXXXX predicts it will be 2020 at the earliest before

China will have the potential to pose a military threat to

Thailand. If present economic trends continue and China can

maintain 7 percent annual growth, Thongchai believes China

could have the means to possess three or four aircraft

carriers by 2020.

 

COMMENT

 

20. (C) While Thailand\’s desire to see China emerge in the

future as a responsible member of the international community

are in line with our objectives, Thai analysis of the

ramifications of China\’s growing influence seems inadequate

and overly optimistic. RTG economic officials seem unable to

gauge the impact of many of Thailand\’s recent trade deals

with China, and Thai strategic thinkers seem overly sanguine

about the effect China\’s rise will have on the security

situation in the region. Thailand\’s close ties with the PRC

give Thai sinologists some insights that might be beneficial

to American experts. A regular exchange of views between

Thai and U.S. sinologists could improve our insights into

Chinese policies and practices in this region while helping

the Thais to improve their analysis. End Comment.

JOHNSON

Written by thaicables

July 6, 2011 at 7:14 am

Posted in China, Confidential

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