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05BANGKOK4324 SCENESETTER FOR THE SECRETARY’S VISIT TO THAILAND

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“35696”,”7/1/2005 7:31″,”05BANGKOK4324″,”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 004324

 

SIPDIS

 

DEPARTMENT FOR THE SECRETARY, EAP, EAP/BCLTV

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/28/2015

TAGS: PGOV, PREL, OVIP, TH, Scenesetter

SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR THE SECRETARY\’S VISIT TO THAILAND

 

Classified By: Ambassador Ralph L. Boyce. Reason 1.4 (a and d)

 

SUMMARY

 

1. (C) Madame Secretary, all of us in Thailand look forward

to your visit to Phuket. The Royal Thai Government is

particularly enthusiastic about hosting you: Prime Minister

Thaksin Shinawatra (Prime Minister TOCK-sin) and Foreign

Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon (Minister KHAN-ta-tee) plan

to join you for meetings there. Deputy Prime Minister and UN

Secretary General Candidate Surakiart Sathirathai (Deputy

 

SIPDIS

Minister SUR-a-ki-aht) plan to escort you as you tour tsunami

recovery sites. Coming six months after the devastating

December 26 tsunami, your visit will give you an opportunity

to showcase private and public sector assistance to the

region and highlight the resilience of the Thai people as

they rebuild their lives. In your meetings with senior

leaders, you can tap into the good will generated by

America\’s historic response to the tsunami to advance a

number of key foreign policy objectives. On the security

front, you can express our willingness to deepen dialogue

about strategic issues while urging Thailand to provide more

material support for recovery operations in Iraq and to

endorse the Proliferation Security Initiative. The Thai have

strong relations with Beijing (Thaksin is there right now, as

a matter of fact, celebrating the 30th anniversary of

diplomatic relations) and will welcome hearing about your

trip to Beijing and sharing views on China\’s growing role in

Southeast Asia. You can discuss our ongoing bilateral Free

Trade Agreement (FTA) talks and express our hopes that we

conclude a comprehensive agreement. With former FM

Surakiart\’s UN candidacy a key Thai objective, you can expect

your interlocutors will be ready and willing to discuss UN

reform. While supportive of constructive engagement with

Burma, PM Thaksin has recently expressed growing frustration

with the ruling junta in Rangoon and can share his views on

prospects for reform in Rangoon. Thaksin remains a key ally

in the Global War on Terror and will welcome your thoughts on

this subject as well as developments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He will likely share his opinions on his largest domestic

challenge — unrest in the predominantly Muslim provinces of

southernmost Thailand. FM Kantathi plans to visit Pyongyang

shortly after your visit and wants to discuss the North

Korean situation. End Summary.

 

AFTERMATH OF THE TSUNAMI — RECOVERY UNDERWAY

 

2. (U) The massive rescue and recovery operation undertaken

by the U.S. military as a result of the December 26 tsunami

was historic and will likely be studied as a model for years

to come. Mercifully, U.S. casualties were much lighter (two

dozen confirmed or presumed dead) than those suffered by

other countries. Thousands of Thai, Europeans and other

Asians were killed — primarily in resorts north of Phuket —

a haven for vacationers during the holiday season. Total

fatalities will likely never be known; the official number is

about 5,400 but Thai officials privately say they expect the

final death toll to top 8,000.

 

3. (SBU) While previous dignitaries visiting the devastated

area were able to focus on the destruction itself, your visit

can highlight recovery efforts. Such a message would be

welcomed by senior Thai officials who are telling the world

that Phuket is again open for business and asking foreigners

to spend their tourist dollars there as a way to help locals

recover. The outpouring of assistance from around the world

has been overwhelming. There are a number of sites you may

wish to visit to witness for yourself this generosity. For

example, students at the International School of Bangkok have

raised over 800,000 dollars from children around the world to

help rebuild a school in the Khao Lak area that was destroyed

by the wave. The project site, jointly supported by the King

of Thailand, is a beehive of activity and is already the home

of 700 students, including 181 tsunami orphans. Other

possible sites include new housing developments, repaired

fishing boats and infrastructure projects.

 

THE ASSISTANCE EFFORT ITSELF

 

4. (C) U.S. disaster relief efforts, led by the U.S.

military, had an immediate impact on affected areas in

Thailand. III MEF Commander, Lt. Gen. Robert Blackman, was

the commanding general of Combined Support Force 536 (CSF

536), which was based out of Utapao Thai Naval Air Station.

CSF 536 worked closely with the Embassy and JUSMAGTHAI to

ensure that requests for assistance were promptly addressed

and to assist coordination of relief from civilian agencies,

NGOs and corporate donors. The Royal Thai Armed Forces

granted the U.S. military blanket overflight clearances for

relief operations in the region, including for aircraft from

the USS Abraham Lincoln Battle Group which operated off

Sumatra. In addition to permitting our use of Utapao, the

Royal Thai Government integrated Thai officers into the CSF

staff where needed. During the height of operations, over

1800 USG personnel operated out of Utapao. We distributed

over 660,000 pounds of supplies within Thailand including

medicine, food, dry ice and body bags. USAF C-130s made

regular delivery runs from Utapao and Bangkok to affected

areas for time sensitive supplies while bulk shipments tended

to go overland. USN P-3s positioned at Utapao conducted

search and rescue missions in the region. Teams made up of

medical specialists from the CDC, the Armed Forces Research

Institute of Medical Science and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting

Command in Hawaii were also deployed to Thailand to assist

with victim identification. U.S. Navy SEALS and a

representative from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance

worked closely with Thai military units to search for the

remains of American and other victims of the disaster.

Embassy Bangkok provided 24-hour American Citizens Services

for weeks after the crisis to assist Americans, claim Amcit

remains and coordinate USG relief efforts and operated a

virtual Consulate in Phuket City to assist Americans. The

coordination among U.S. military and civilian officers

forward deployed in the Phuket area was a model of

cooperation. Longer-term assistance is being provided by

USAID in the form of replacement of small fishing boats and

the provision of start-up loans for the recovery of

small-scale aquaculture and tourism-related businesses.

Thailand is also eligible for a USD $150 million soft loan

facility OPIC is making available to tsunami-affected areas.

The Thai seek assistance in setting up a tsunami early

warning system and will welcome assurances from you that we

are providing technical assistance to help countries in the

Indian Ocean Basin establish a network.

 

THE BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP

 

5. (SBU) Bilateral relations with Thailand are excellent.

The goodwill generated by America\’s quick and massive

response to the tsunami is palpable. American businesses

have over $20 billion in direct investment in Thailand. The

United States is Thailand\’s largest export market and second

only to Japan as a foreign investor. U.S. visitors to

Thailand during the past few months have included former

Presidents Bush and Clinton, former Secretary Powell,

Governor Jeb Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary

Zoellick, and then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz.

 

6. (SBU) Nonetheless, there are several points of friction.

Human rights remain a key concern. On October 25, 2004,

poorly trained Thai military and civilian security forces

forced nearly 1,300 Thai Muslim protesters into trucks to be

transported to a military base nearly three hours away. 78

protesters died en route. The Department\’s annual human

rights report, which in 2004 voiced concern over the lack of

accountability for approximately 1,300 extrajudicial killings

in 2003 during a \”war on drugs\” promoted by the Prime

Minister, rankles the Thai Government. The United States

also has a substantial (about USD 10 billion) trade deficit

with Thailand.

 

7. (C) Thailand\’s policy of \”constructive engagement\” with

the military junta in Burma and provision of economic

assistance to Rangoon is a source of continuing frustration

for us. The Thai government supports democracy in Burma but

maintains, not altogether convincingly, that engagement with

the SPDC is the only realistic approach it has to make

progress on the major cross-border flows of refugees, illegal

economic migrants, and methamphetamines it faces from Burma.

Recently PM Thaksin has voiced growing frustration with

Rangoon and his Ministers tell us that Thai policy may become

less favorable towards Burma.

 

8. (C) China\’s growing influence in Thailand and Southeast

Asia is evident in business, the arts, and the media. While

Thai military links with the United States are deeper and far

more apparent than Sino-Thai links, the Thai military has

increased contacts with the PLA and a number of Chinese

weapons systems in its arsenal. Recent visitors have found

PM Thaksin to be an engaging interlocutor when discussing

China — he would likely welcome a chance to discuss China\’s

role in the region. He is there at the moment, celebrating

the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations.

 

THE DOMESTIC SCENE — PM THAKSIN\’S DOMINATION OF THAI

POLITICS

 

9. (SBU) Prime Minister Thaksin was returned to power with

a strong majority in early February, winning 377 of the 500

seats in Parliament. His Thai Rak Thai (Thais Love Thais)

political party dominates domestic politics. This election

was the first time in Thai history that an elected civilian

Parliamentary government filled out its entire term and was

reelected. The Prime Minister\’s populist policies, public

relations savvy and a booming economy resonated well with the

Thai electorate. Thaksin comes from a prosperous Sino-Thai

family in Thailand\’s second largest city, Chiang Mai, and

placed first in his class at the National Police Academy. He

spent several years studying in the United States — earning

a master\’s degree in Criminal Justice from Eastern Kentucky

University and a Doctorate in Criminology from Sam Houston

State University. (Thaksin jokingly likes to refer to

himself as an \”honorary Texan.\”) After a few years with the

police, he left government service to run the family business

(Shinawatra Corporation or Shin Corp), which he turned into

Thailand\’s largest telecommunications company, making himself

a multi-billionaire in the process. Thaksin characterizes

himself as a \”CEO Prime Minister\” and portrays himself as a

decisive leader. Critics, with some justification, accuse

him of stifling dissent within his government and filling key

government positions with family members or classmates.

Following several meetings in Washington and the very

successful October 2003 Bangkok APEC Summit, Thaksin believes

that he enjoys a special relationship with the President.

 

VIOLENCE IN THE SOUTH

 

10. (C) Prime Minister Thaksin\’s biggest domestic challenge

is the unsettled security situation in the far southern part

of the country. Southern Thailand, in particular the

southernmost Muslim majority provinces of Pattani, Yala, and

Narathiwat, has experienced episodic violence since it was

incorporated into the Siamese Kingdom in 1902. However, 2004

witnessed a dramatic increase in the level of violence, with

over 500 people killed either by militants or by security

forces. Local Muslim separatist militants have attacked

symbols of Thai and Buddhist authority, and there continue to

be almost daily incidents of violence, notably even after the

tsunami disaster of December 26. Attacks most often involve

 

SIPDIS

isolated shootings of local officials, although increasingly

sophisticated bombing attacks have become more common. While

there is no credible evidence of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) or

al-Qaeda direction of the violence, there is concern that

they might attempt to exploit the local violence for their

own purposes.

 

11. (C) Thaksin has recently acknowledged that the problem

in Thailand\’s south is not simply the work of criminal gangs

as he once declared, and that recent RTG policies towards the

South have failed to halt the violence. Thaksin recently

appointed a National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) headed

by highly respected former Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun

to look for alternative solutions to the long-running

insurgency, and has indicated that he might replace martial

law with something less harsh. Until recently, this violence

was directed primarily at RTG institutions with no evidence

of attacks directed towards foreign interests. On April 3,

however, simultaneous bombs exploded outside a French-owned

Carrefour supermarket and at an international airport,

killing two persons. Since then there have been no other

attacks on foreign-owned targets. You may wish to point to

our current efforts to improve human rights training for Thai

soldiers and officers who will rotate to the south. We are

working with U.S. experts to develop a multi-faceted training

program to educate enlisted soldiers, mid-level officers and

senior Thai leadership. Thaksin — and most Thais — are

sensitive about any perception that the U.S. wants to

establish a security presence in the south. Outrageous but

widely circulated rumors that the U.S. has fomented violence

in the South also need to be considered when discussing

offers of possible U.S. assistance.

THAILAND AND IRAQ

 

12. (C) Thailand has played an important role in supporting

the Global War on Terror. In addition to capturing terrorist

mastermind Hambali — the link between the Jemaah Islamiah

and al Qaeda — Thailand sent troops to both Afghanistan and

Iraq. Thailand dispatched two six-month deployments to Iraq

as part of OIF. In December 2003, two Thai soldiers were

killed by a car bomb while on duty in Karbala. Thailand\’s

second six-month deployment of 443 medics and engineers to

Iraq ended on September 20, 2004. While participation in OIF

has not caused the domestic furor in Thailand that it has in

other countries, Thaksin\’s critics have used Thailand\’s

deployments to Iraq against him. Several RTG officials have

told us that Thailand\’s deployments have been used by

militants to stir up dissent in the Muslim south. Recently,

CJCS General Myers sent a letter asking Thailand to consider

sending staff officers to man the OIF Multinational

Headquarters. Although in recent meetings with PACOM

Commander ADM Fallon and Deputy Secretary Zoellick Thaksin

had said that he would consider some \”humanitarian\” presence

in Iraq, at a private dinner wit me on May 12, Thaksin seemed

extremely sensitive to the issue, particularly the symbolism

that a Thai presence in Iraq would have among Muslims in

southern Thailand. Thaksin stressed that as an ally Thailand

supported the U.S. on Iraq, but asked us to be sensitive to

his own efforts to manage the situation in Thailand\’s south.

 

MILITARY COOPERATION

 

13. (C) The massive U.S. military response offering relief

to tsunami victims and our use of Utapao Thai Naval Air

Station as the hub for our relief efforts in Indonesia, Sri

Lanka and Thailand was possible in large part to our having

more than fifty years of close cooperation with the Thai

military. Thailand also affords the United States a unique

platform in Asia to work jointly with other Asian military

forces, including those from Japan and Indonesia, and to

conduct multinational peacekeeping, disaster relief, and

other exercises. Our largest exercise, Cobra Gold, is

America\’s only annual joint/combined multinational training

exercise in the Asia Pacific region. We are working with the

Thai military to build a National Training Facility (NTF) —

which could become a regional center — to improve Thai

peacekeeping and counterterrorism capabilities. Further

expansion of our cooperative exercises with Thailand coupled

with our expected use of the NTF could go a long way toward

establishing a near-continuous U.S. presence in Southeast

Asia in support of our stability and security goals. We are

exploring at the working-level the possibility of improving

strategic talks with the Thai MFA and military to share views

on the region and to shape Thai thinking about proliferation,

terrorism, threats to the free flow of commerce and the

future role in the region of China and India.

 

FREE TRADE AGREEMENT (FTA)

 

14. (SBU) Our premier economic initiative with Thailand is

a bilateral FTA. Initiated in mid-2004, talks have

progressed, albeit at a moderate pace. The FTA we seek is

far more comprehensive than previous trade deals inked by

Thailand: areas of concern include inclusion in the FTA of

labor rights and environment safeguards, financial services,

and stronger intellectual property laws and enforcement.

Thailand is pressing us on improved access to the United

States for Thai workers. With other Southeast Asian

countries eager for an FTA with the United States, it is an

open question how long we will continue to devote the bulk of

our negotiating resources to the slow-moving Thai talks.

 

PROLIFERATION SECURITY INITIATIVE (PSI)

 

15 (C) After a year and a half of lobbying from the U.S.

and others, Thailand apparently has made the basic policy

decision to be more supportive of PSI and is moving through

the final steps towards endorsement of the PSI Statement of

Interdiction Principles (SOP). However, despite recent

assurances by both the Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime

Minister that official Thai endorsement of PSI awaits only

final Cabinet approval, the Royal Thai Government has failed

to move forward with the initiative. Prime Minister

Thaksin\’s final scrutiny of the decision will be key, and his

endorsement cannot be taken for granted given his mercurial

decision making style. Thai leaders told Secretary Rumsfeld

that Thailand will likely endorse PSI only after another

ASEAN nation besides Singapore does so.

 

F-16 SALE

 

16. (C) Thailand recently announced its plans to purchase

18 fighter aircraft to replace aging F-5s in the Royal Thai

Air Force (RTAF) fleet. Thaksin has made it clear that the

company winning the contract must be willing to engage in

barter/countertrade for Thai agricultural products. Bidders

on the contract include Sweden\’s Saab\’s Gripen fighter,

Russia\’s Sukhoi SU-30 and Lockheed Martin\’s F-16. Senior

U.S. leaders visiting Thailand, including Deputy Secretary

Zoellick and Secretary Rumsfeld have urged Thailand to

seriously consider Lockheed Martin\’s F-16. You also raised

the issue with FM Kantathi in Washington in May. The F-16 is

demonstrably a better aircraft and Lockheed Martin recently

made it clear that it is willing to offer a 100 percent

barter trade financing package. The Embassy believes that

continued pressure from senior U.S. officials like yourself

is essential for Lockheed Martin\’s prospects. It is our

belief that a transparent competition that takes into

consideration capability of the aircraft, interoperability

with U.S. forces, and cost would result in F-16 winning the

contract.

 

BURMA

 

17. (C) Although Thailand remains committed to its

engagement strategy with Burma — and you can expect frequent

reference to the 2,400 kilometer long border the countries

share — PM Thaksin has recently confided to us his

frustration with the SPDC. He will be prepared for you to

urge Thailand to take a tougher stance with Burma. FM

Kantathi will probably tell you that the SPDC will postpone

Burma\’s turn in the ASEAN chair rotation and could make such

an announcement in Vientiane.

 

REFUGEES

 

18. (SBU) We are in the latter stages of refugee

resettlement programs for 15,500 Hmong and about 2,500

Burmese. We recently reached agreement with the Thai on

starting another major resettlement effort which will draw

from the 145,000 Burmese currently residing in nine refugee

camps along the Thai-Burma border. This is likely to be a

multi-year project that will move tens of thousands of

Burmese refugees to the United States. Thai cooperation on

these programs, which serve the interests of both sides, has

so far been excellent.

 

IN CLOSING

 

19. (U) We are excited about your visit. The Thai are

honored that you are going out of your way to visit their

country on a trip that will take you to Tokyo, Seoul and

Beijing. We look forward to helping make your visit a

success.

BOYCE

 

Written by thaicables

July 7, 2011 at 5:37 am

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