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09BANGKOK263 SCENESETTER FOR SENIOR MILITARY VISITORS TO THAILAND DURING COBRA GOLD

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“189850”,”2/2/2009 8:00″,”09BANGKOK263″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

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RUEKJCS/CJCS WASHDC IMMEDIATE

RHHMUNS/COMSOCPAC HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE

RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

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RHMFISS/HQ PACAF HICKAM AFB HI IMMEDIATE

RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE”,

“C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05

BANGKOK 000263

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/02/2019

TAGS: PGOV, PTER, MARR, MOPS, PINS, PHUM, TH

SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR SENIOR MILITARY VISITORS TO

THAILAND DURING COBRA GOLD

 

Classified By: Ambassador Eric G. John, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

 

1. (C) Summary. Coming visits by component commanders, and

other senior leaders of various U.S. military commands will

afford a chance to affirm the United States Government\’s

commitment to working with a democratically elected Thai

government, to promoting a continued strong bilateral

relationship, and to affirming our support for important

areas of our mil-mil relationship such as the Defense Reform

Management Study (DRMS), Cobra Gold, and Thailand\’s

deployment of peacekeepers to Darfur. End Summary.

 

ENDURING BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP

——————————-

 

2. (SBU) The Thai public closely watched our recent

Presidential election, and the results received much scrutiny

regarding the potential impact on U.S.-Thai relations. Thai

government officials have expressed strong interest in

hearing assessments of the transition to a new administration

and U.S. policy towards Southeast Asia. We have stressed to

the Thai we do not anticipate significant changes in our

bilateral relationship due to the history and strength of our

alliance and the nature of long-standing U.S.-Thai security,

economic, and cultural bonds. However, the changing

generations in both Thailand and the U.S. require both sides

work hard to maintain the vibrancy in the relationship.

 

THAI POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT – YELLOW AND RED

——————————————-

 

3. (C) The December dissolution of the People\’s Power Party

(PPP), which led to the fall of the government of former PM

Somchai and installation of the Democrat-led coalition

government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajjiva, has appeared

to quiet, at least temporarily, the political situation.

Gone are the street protests by the anti-government People\’s

Alliance for Democracy (PAD) which shut down Bangkok\’s

airports for a week and occupied the formal seat of

government for over three months. But the basic deep split

in society and the body politic remains, with the traditional

royalist elite, urban middle class, Bangkok, and the south on

one side (\”yellow\” in shorthand) and the political allies of

ex-PM Thaksin, currently a fugitive abroad, along with

largely rural supporters in the North and Northeast (\”red\”)

on the other.

 

4. (C) Prime Minister Abhisit is off to a reasonably good

start in his first month in office, but his government faces

significant policy challenges given the current economic

situation in Thailand and globally. Abhisit and the

Democrats also have to contend with former Prime Minister

Thaksin Shinawatra\’s continued attempts to influence the

political environment from abroad and to recover assets of

his that were seized by the government. Moreover,

demonstrations by United Front of Democracy for Dictatorship

\”redshirts\” loyal to the former PM will test the new

government.

 

5. (C) Calling for new elections would not appear to be a

viable solution to political divide, and political turmoil

could very well persist for years. The steadiest figure on

the political stage over the past months has been Army

Commander Anupong Paochinda, who steadfastly rejected

pressure from both sides for the army to intervene in the

political stalemate, either to conduct a coup d\’etat or to

clear the streets of protesters. We continue to stress to

Thai interlocutors the negative ramifications of a coup and

the need for all parties to avoid violence and respect

democratic norms within the framework of the constitution and

rule of law.

 

6. (C) King Bhumibol turned 81 on December 5. Many had

anticipated his commentary for his annual address to the

nation on the eve of his birthday; his address was canceled,

 

BANGKOK 00000263 002 OF 005

 

however, after he fell ill with bronchitis. (Note: The King

was hospitalized for a period of weeks in late 2007 for

appeared to be a minor stroke. End note.) The Palace has

since announced the King\’s recovery; as of late, he has been

shown on television more frequently in meetings with both

foreigners and Thais. The King\’s passing, whenever that may

be, will shock Thailand. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is the

King\’s designated heir. However, the current King\’s enormous

personal prestige, the lack of a precedent for royal

succession during the modern era (King Bhumibol has been on

the throne since 1946), and changing sentiment about the

proper role of the institution in the 21st century suggest

that the transition will be difficult.

 

THAI ECONOMY STRUGGLES TO OVERCOME CHALLENGES

———————————————

 

7. (SBU) Over the past few years, Thailand\’s economy has been

growing at a moderate pace, though the long-running political

uncertainty has stifled domestic investment, hamstrung

government stimulus programs, and kept Thailand from keeping

up with other ASEAN nations. The worldwide economic slowdown

of recent months has hit Thailand particularly hard as

exports, the one bright spot in GDP growth, have fallen,

causing growth forecasts for 2009 to be ratcheted down from

4% to less than 2%. This dreary scenario was made much worse

by the November airport closures, which devastated Thailand\’s

large tourism and convention industries just at the beginning

of the high season.

 

8. (SBU) Historically, Thailand\’s economy has hummed along

unaffected by frequent political squabbling, but the recent

willingness of political actors to take actions that clearly

damage the economy and the nation\’s international image is

changing that tenet. Thailand\’s largest foreign investors,

Japanese in particular, have expressed dismay at the new turn

in events. The full effect of the airport closures has not

yet shown up in the data, but FDI (especially from the U.S.)

was already trending down for 2008. The new government is

well aware of these challenges, has made an extraordinary

effort to put together an economically reasonable and

politically savvy economic stimulus package, and is reaching

out to the foreign business community to re-built Thailand\’s

image as a good place to do business.

 

IMPORTANT MILITARY ENGAGEMENT PROGRAM, ACCESS

———————————————

 

9. (SBU) The long-standing U.S.-Thai military partnership

provides the U.S. with unique benefits. These include

distinctive force projection options, the possibility to

conduct training exercises that are nearly impossible to

match elsewhere in Asia, the opportunity to advance U.S.

strategic goals, access to military leaders in a nation that

is trying to strengthen democratic institutions, a willing

participant in international peacekeeping operations, and a

partner in medical research which has produced widely-used

vaccines.

 

10. (C) Thailand\’s willingness to allow the United States to

use Utapao Naval Air Station as the hub for our regional

assistance program was key to making the 2004 tsunami and the

2008 Cyclone Nargis relief operations successful. While

those high-profile relief operations highlighted publicly the

value of access to Utapao, the air base is used regularly for

flights in support of critical U.S. military operations to

strategic areas of the world. Thailand also provides valued

port access with U.S. naval vessels making calls, primarily

at Laem Chabang and Sattahip, over forty times per year for

exercises and visits.

 

COBRA GOLD AND THE MILITARY EXERCISE PROGRAM

——————————————–

 

11. (C) By means of access to good military base

 

BANGKOK 00000263 003 OF 005

 

infrastructure and large areas to conduct unrestricted

operations, Thailand gives the U.S. military a platform for

exercises unique in Asia. Thai leaders are far more willing

to host multinational exercises than are other countries in

Asia. Unlike Japan, which only hosts annual bilateral

exercises due to legal prohibitions over collective security,

or the Philippines, where planning for multinational

exercises has been difficult, or Australia, which refuses to

multilateralize Tandem Thrust, the Thai government encourages

multinational exercises as a way to show regional leadership.

This has allowed us to use exercises in Thailand to further

key U.S. objectives, such as supporting Japan\’s growing

military role in Asia and engaging the Indonesian and

Singaporean militaries.

 

12. (C) Cobra Gold, the capstone event of our exercise

program, is PACOM\’s largest annual multi-lateral exercise and

for 28 years has served to strengthen our relations with

Thailand, highlight our commitment to Southeast Asia, and

provide exceptional training opportunities for our troops.

The event has evolved over the years and now facilitates

important objectives such as promoting a greater role in the

Asian Pacific region for Japan and Singapore and

re-establishing a partner role with Indonesia. Cobra Gold is

key to building partner nation capacity in humanitarian

assistance and disaster relief, especially at a time when

U.S. forces face other global commitments. We have also been

able to incorporate into Cobra Gold a robust Global

Peacekeeping Operations Initiative (GPOI) event with active

participation of Indonesia and Singapore. Our other primary

exercises with the Thai military are CARAT and COPE TIGER.

 

DEFENSE REFORM

————–

 

13. (C) We have been working closely with the Royal Thai

Armed Forces Headquarters (RTARF) on the U.S.-funded Defense

Resource Management System (DRMS) project which will help

rationalize the Thai military\’s procurement and other

resource needs. We use every appropriate opportunity to

emphasize our desire to work closely with the Thai military

leadership to accelerate DRMS process. Phase II of this

process will begin the first week of March following the

ASEAN summit scheduled for Thailand.

 

PEACEKEEPING EFFORTS

——————–

 

14. (C) Thailand has been an active contributor in

peacekeeping missions, best known for leading forces in the

UNTAET mission in East Timor. The RTARF has been a close

partner for us as the Thai government continues preparations

to deploy a battalion of peacekeeping troops to Darfur as

UNAMID. With deployment currently scheduled for mid-2009, we

have continued to underscore to the leadership of the Thai

military that we stand ready to assist the Thai again where

possible.

 

SOUTHERN THAILAND: SECURITY AND JUSTICE

—————————————

 

15. (C) The Thai military, since General Anupong became Army

Commander, has taken a more assertive role in trying to quell

the ethnic Malay Muslim ethno-nationalist insurgency in

southern Thailand, a region that has witnessed episodic

violence since its incorporation into Siam/Thailand in 1902.

Regional violence has claimed more than 3000 lives since

January 2004, when the violence began to escalate. The root

causes of the insurgency — government neglect, human rights

abuses, and a lack of social justice, combined with a desire

for some form of self-determination, have not been addressed

by any Thai government to this point.

 

16. (C) While the Thai military has so far focused mostly on

trying to resolve the difficult security situation in the

 

BANGKOK 00000263 004 OF 005

 

South, with increased tactical success in security sweeps,

occasional abuses by security forces have added to the sense

of grievance and lack of justice by the local populace.

Efforts by civilian government ministries to solve the root

causes of injustice and the feeling of disenfranchisement by

the Thai-Malay majority in the three southern provinces have

so far lagged. While the Abhisit government appears set to

adopt an integrated government approach to solving the

insurgency with budgetary and policy decision making

responsibility possibly transferred to the Office of the

Prime Minister, it remains unclear how the civil-military

dynamic will change.

 

17. (C) The RTG has made clear its hesitancy in accepting any

direct USG role in the South. The Embassy maintains a

three-pronged focus to improve our military cooperation in

order to address the violence in the South:

1) Using our exercise and training program to improve the

professional and operational skills of the Royal Thai Armed

Forces, especially the Thai Army;

2) Helping the Thai break down stovepipes between the Thai

military, police forces, and civilian agencies;

3) Doing everything we can to ensure the Thai respect

international human rights norms as they counter the violence.

 

BORDER CONFLICT WITH CAMBODIA

—————————–

 

18. (C) Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya\’s January 26

visit to Phnom Penh produced encouraging statements by all

sides regarding the border dispute that is centered on

overlapping claims to territory adjacent to Preah Vihear

temple. The next round of talks under the auspices of the

Foreign Ministry-led Joint Border Commission (JBC) are

scheduled for February 2, and the two nations\’ defense

ministers are scheduled to meet February 6 to discuss the

redeployment of soldiers stationed at the temple. Despite

continued talks between Thailand and Cambodia, we are not

optimistic for quick resolution to the dispute. Difficult

issues lay at the heart of the matter, and political conflict

in Bangkok may make tough decisions more difficult for the

Thai government. We continue to stress to the Thai

interlocutors that the dispute should be resolved peacefully

and bilaterally.

 

REFUGEE/MIGRANT CONCERNS: LAO HMONG AND ROHINGYA

——————————————— —

 

19. (C) Thailand has hosted millions of refugees since the

IndoChina wars and currently has more than 150,000 refugees

from Burma in camps along the Thai-Burma border. The RTARF

has the lead on resolving the difficult problem of the

thousands of Hmong from Laos who arrived in 2006-2007 seeking

resettlement in the U.S.; many of them likely would not

qualify for refugee status and will be returned to Laos.

However, the Thai government has so far failed to set up a

transparent screening process for the Hmong currently in a

camp in Petchaboon province; we believe that a portion of the

group may have a legitimate claim to refugee status and could

face harsh treatment by the Lao government if returned. Some

are former fighters (or their descendants) allied with the

U.S. against the communist Pathet Lao during the IndoChina

wars. We want to take every opportunity to underscore to the

RTARF the importance of transparently handling the Lao Hmong

cases.

 

20. (C) Media reports in recent weeks over Thai actions

regarding Rohingya \”boat people\” have resulted in strong

criticism of the RTG and its policy toward groups that

attempt to enter Thailand, primarily from Burma. Rohingya

typically cross from Burma\’s Northern Rakhine state into

Bangladesh to board vessels bound for Malaysia. This year

many have instead found their way to the Ranong area in

Thailand, the Andaman Islands of India, and Aceh Province,

Indonesia. According to various reports, several hundred

 

BANGKOK 00000263 005 OF 005

 

Rohingya went missing from at least one vessel encountered by

the Indian coast guard off Port Blair in the Andaman Islands

in early January. Survivors have alleged being towed out to

sea and being abandoned by Thai military or marine police

vessels.

 

21. (C) A recent visit to the Ranong area by Embassy RefCoord

suggests to us that two loosely defined groupings of unpaid

civilian defense volunteers drawn from fishing villages were

involved in the alleged mistreatment of the Rohingya, but

that they received general policy direction and some

financial support from the Thai Army-led local Internal

Security Operations Center. It remains unclear what boats

may have been involved in towing the Rohingya back out to

sea. We continue to stress to our contacts in the Thai

government that Thailand should provide access for UNHCR to

Rohingya boat people who reach Thai shores, and that

push-outs to sea are not consistent with basic humanitarian

principles.

 

THE INCREASING ROLE OF CHINA

—————————-

 

22. (C) Thai leaders continue to develop closer relations

with China while simultaneously emphasizing the vital role of

the U.S. in the region. While Thai military links with the

United States are deeper and far more apparent than Sino-Thai

links, China\’s growing influence in Thailand and Southeast

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

military. The Thai military has a range of Chinese weapons

systems in its arsenal; the PLA Navy is interested in closer

links with the Thai navy, and China has worked with Thailand

to improve air defense equipment provided to Thailand in the

late 1980\’s. In 2007 and 2008, Thai and Chinese special

forces conducted joint exercises, and other mil-to-mil

exchanges have expanded in recent years, as has the number of

bilateral military VIP visits. A yet to be disclosed marine

corps exercise between China and Thailand near the eastern

seaboard port of Sattahip in the April-May timeframe

highlights the continuing push by China to expand their

mil-to-mil relations with Thailand\’s military.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

July 19, 2011 at 6:32 am

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