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09BANGKOK1901 THAILAND SCENESETTER FOR SENATOR WEBB’S VISIT

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“219534”,”8/5/2009 10:22″,”09BANGKOK1901″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,

“UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,””,

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FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

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RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAQPRIORITY 6830

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SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

 

H PLEASE PASS TO SENATOR WEBB

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PREL, PGOV, MARR, MOPS, PINS, TH

SUBJECT: THAILAND SCENESETTER FOR SENATOR WEBB’S VISIT

 

BANGKOK 00001901 001.2 OF 004

 

1. (SBU) Senator Webb, Embassy Bangkok looks forward to

welcoming you back to Thailand. Your visit will afford a

chance to express the United States’ commitment for

Thailand’s democracy in meeting its current challenges and

emerging strengthened, as well as to engage Thai officials

and others on the U.S. foreign policy agenda in Asia,

particularly challenges like Burma and North Korea. It is

also an opportunity to underscore our appreciation for the

long-standing bilateral relationship, which has facilitated

shared benefits in the fields of security, law enforcement,

and intelligence efforts, as well as groundbreaking

health/research collaboration and long-standing refugee

support.

 

CALM IN THE KINGDOM, BUT FOR HOW LONG?

————————————–

 

2. (SBU) Nearly eight months after your last visit, which

came in the immediate wake of the late 2008 airport takeover

and change in government, the political scene on the surface

has calmed considerably, but it is likely the calm of the eye

of a still churning storm. Thailand remains deeply divided,

politically and socially, and struggles to break free of an

inward focus. The traditional elite, urban middle class and

the mid-south are on largely one side (Democrat in

parliament, “yellow” in the street) and the political allies

of Thaksin, with largely rural supporters in the North and

Northeast on the other (opposition Puea Thai in parliament,

“red” in the street).

 

3. (SBU) Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is a photogenic,

eloquent 44-year old Oxford graduate who generally has

progressive instincts about basic freedoms, social

inequities, policy towards Burma, and how to address the

troubled deep South, afflicted by a grinding

ethno-nationalist Muslim-Malay separatist insurgency.

Whether Abhisit can deliver on change is another matter.

Although he has performed well, holding his government

together and restoring stability in the face of significant

political pressure is a persistent challenge. He is beset

with a fractious coalition, as well as a resurgent post-2006

coup military. His Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya is a

capable strategic thinker, but Kasit is controversial due to

his 2008 affiliation with the yellow-shirt People’s Alliance

for Democracy (PAD) movement. Kasit recently had to answer a

court summons regarding the 2008 PAD takeover of Bangkok’s

airports, leading to calls that he step down.

 

4. (SBU) Since your last visit, the most dramatic political

development was the mid-April red-shirt riots in Bangkok and

Pattaya. The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship

(UDD), disrupted a regional Asian Summit and burned busses in

Bangkok, leading to two deaths, after ex-PM Thaksin, now a

fugitive abroad in the wake of an abuse of power conviction,

called for a revolution to bring him home. The opposition

Puea Thai Party and red-shirt movement will continue to seek

to drive Abhisit from office, call for changes to the

constitution which ban Thaksin’s cronies from participating

in politics, and demand the amnesty for the former Prime

Minister, who was convicted in a 2008 abuse of power case.

The latest red-shirt move is to appeal to the King for a

pardon for Thaksin, a not so subtle effort to drag a monarchy

which is supposed to be above politics into the political

fray; after several months of quiet after the April riots,

the red-shirts have resumed weekly rallies. The PAD

yellow-shirt movement has indicated it will oppose all of

these UDD initiatives.

 

5. (SBU) Both major parties in Thai politics are favorable

towards the U.S.; in fact, there are no radical, non-middle

of the road parties represented in the Thai parliament. On

the street, while both yellow and red try to lay exclusive

claim to the mantle of democracy, neither side of this split

is as democratic as it claims to be. Both movements reflect

deep social concerns stemming from widespread perceptions of

a lack of social and economic justice in Thailand, but both

seek to triumph in competing for traditional Thai

hierarchical power relationships. New elections would not

appear to be a viable solution to political divide, and

political discord could very well persist for years. We

continue to stress to Thai interlocutors the need for all

parties to avoid violence and respect democratic norms within

the framework of the constitution Qd rule of law, as well as

our support for long-time friend Thailand to work through its

 

BANGKOK 00001901 002.2 OF 004

 

current difficulties and emerge as a more participatory

democracy.

 

6. (SBU) Linked to the political uncertainty in Bangkok is

the RTG’s inability to resolve an ethno-nationalist Malay

Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand which has claimed an

estimated 3,500 lives since 2004. The fundamental issues of

justice and ethnic identity driving the violence are not

unique to southern Thailand, and ending the insurgency will

require the government to deal with these issues on a

national level – which the on-going political instability in

Bangkok has, to this point, prevented. In the mean time, the

insurgents use IEDs, assassinations, and beheadings to

challenge the control of the Thai state in the deep South.

The government has responded through special security laws

which give security forces expanded power to search and

detain people.

 

7. (SBU) Underlying the political tension in Bangkok is the

future of the monarchy. On the throne for 62 years, the

U.S.-born King Bhumibol is Thailand’s most prestigious

figure, with influence far beyond his constitutional mandate.

Many actors are jockeying for position to shape the expected

transition period Thailand during royal succession after the

eventual passing of the King, who is currently in poor health

and rarely seen in public anymore.

 

THAI FOREIGN POLICY

——————-

 

8. (SBU) If there is one area of policy difference between

Thai political parties affecting U.S. interests, it may well

be certain elements of foreign policy. PM Abhisit and FM

Kasit have stated that Thailand’s foreign policy should

reflect that it is a democracy, rather than being reduced to

mere commercial interests of cabinet members, as they claim

pro-Thaksin governments did.

 

9. (SBU) Thailand’s Burma policy has shifted noticeably since

Abhisit/Kasit came to office last December. Abhisit and

Kasit met with Burmese activists, exiles, and 1990 MPs elect

in March on the margins of an ASEAN summit, the first such

engagement since 2000, pre-Thaksin. As the Chair of ASEAN,

Thailand released a May 18 ASEAN Chairman’s Statement

reminding the Burmese regime that ASEAN Leaders have called

for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi (ASSK) and that

Thailand, as the ASEAN Chair, was gravely concerned about

recent developments relating to ASSK. The ASEAN and ASEAN

Regional Forum (ARF) Ministerial statements issued in Phuket

by Kasit in late July adopted a similar tone.

 

10. (SBU) Border tensions with Burma have increased since

June as approximately 3,000 Karen have entered Thailand. The

refugee influx resulted from a Burmese Army and Democratic

Karen Buddhist Army offensive against the Karen National

Union. FM Kasit has directed the MFA to work closely with

NGOs to address the refugees’ needs while in Thailand and to

ensure they return home voluntarily.

 

11. (SBU) Relations with Cambodia continue to be volatile,

primarily due to a border dispute centered on 4.6 square

kilometers of overlapping territorial claims adjacent to the

Preah Vihear temple. While Thailand and France in 1904-8

agreed in principle on the Thai-Cambodian border, ownership

of Preah Vihear was not decided until 1962 when the

International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Cambodia.

Tensions spiked in mid-2008 when the pro-Thaksin Thai

government in power at that time supported Cambodia’s

application to UNESCO for the unilateral listing of the

temple as a world heritage site. The decision was seized by

the opposition in order to attack the government. Periodic

clashes between the two sides’ militaries since then have

resulted in the deaths of at least seven Thai soldiers. We

continue to stress to the Thai interlocutors that the dispute

should be resolved peacefully and bilaterally.

 

12. (SBU) The rise of China, and the perceived absence of a

focused U.S. presence in the region in recent years, is

another strategic issue of concern to Thailand and the

region. Thailand does not seek to choose between the U.S.

and China, rather preferring to have good relations with both

and hoping the U.S. strengthens engagement in the region.

There was universal praise for Secretary Clinton’s

ARF-related visit to Thailand in late July, including U.S.

 

BANGKOK 00001901 003.2 OF 004

 

accession to the Southeast Asian Treaty of Amity and

Cooperation (TAC) and the holding of a U.S.-Lower Mekong

Ministerial that underscored Secretary Clinton’s comment

that: “The U.S. is back in Asia.” That said, Thailand

continues to develop closer relations with China. The Thai

military employs a range of Chinese weapons systems, and Thai

and Chinese special forces have in recent years conducted

joint exercises.

 

ENDURING, PRODUCTIVE BILATERAL ALLIANCE

—————————————

 

13. (SBU) As one of five U.S. treaty allies in Asia and

straddling a major force projection air/sea corridor,

Thailand is crucial to U.S. security interests well beyond

Southeast Asia. Our bilateral military relationship provides

distinctive force projection opportunities from Thai military

facilities amid vital sea and air lanes that support combat

and humanitarian assistance missions, and the opportunity to

conduct live fire training exercises, both bilateral and

multilateral, that are impossible to match elsewhere in Asia.

The COBRA GOLD exercise is PACOM’s largest exercise. The

event has evolved to facilitate important objectives such as

a greater role in the Asian Pacific region for Japan and

Singapore and re-establishing a partnership with Indonesia.

We access the Utapao Naval Air Field alone a 1000 times a

year. The base was a key for air-bridge operations to Iraq

and for combat operations in Afghanistan. Preserving such

unfettered, unquestioned access requires engagement and

remains a mission and USG priority. Thailand has performed

well on international peacekeeping missions, particularly in

leading UN forces in East Timor, to which Thailand

contributed 1,500 troops. The RTG is currently preparing to

deploy a battalion of peacekeepers for Darfur.

 

14. (SBU) The U.S. and Thailand have extensive cooperation in

medical research. Approximately 400 Mission staff work on

health issues, making the Embassy one of the USG’s largest

efforts to fight the world’s most dangerous diseases:

malaria; TB; dengue; HIV/AIDS; and pandemic influenza. CDC,

USAID, USDA/APHIS, and the Armed Forces Research Institute of

Medical Sciences (AFRIMS) closely collaborate with Thai

counterparts on basic research and trial vaccines. The

sophistication of the Thai scientific and public health

community makes collaboration as useful to the USG as it is

to the Thai. A number of important breakthroughs, such as in

the prevention of HIV/AIDS transmission from mothers to

children, were developed here, and several phase III, double

blind trials for potential HIV vaccines are currently ongoing.

 

15. (SBU) Forty years of law enforcement cooperation

initially focused on counter-narcotics efforts has expanded

to all aspects of transnational crime, defending U.S.

interests and securing extraditions of both U.S. citizens and

third country nationals, and building capacity in the Thai

criminal justice system. Eighteen federal and local law

enforcement agencies are currently represented in the

Embassy. The U.S. and Thailand co-host the International Law

Enforcement Academy, a regional platform to promote law

enforcement professionalism. The extradition case of Russian

arms trafficker Viktor Bout, wanted in New York on charges of

conspiring to provide arms to terrorists, is our current law

enforcement top priority. The court decision is expected

August 11, your first day in Thailand.

 

16. (SBU) On refugees, Thailand continues to host more than

114,000 registered Burmese refugees and has allowed the

resettlement of nearly 10,000 refugees to the U.S. this

fiscal year, for which we are grateful. We continue to push

for greater self-sufficiency activities to end the

“warehousing” of refugees unwilling or unable to resettle

abroad. About 4,000 Burmese refugees crossed into Thailand in

June in response to an offensive by government-allied militia

groups. Thailand has provided temporary protection to this

latest influx, comprised mostly of women and children. A

group of 5,000 Lao Hmong is also of concern. 158

UNHCR-recognized refugees have been confined in an

immigration jail for 2.5 years. Another 4,700 are in an

army-run camp in Phetchabun. The RTG and Government of Laos

have insisted the issue will be handled bilaterally, although

the RTG recently assured the United States that none will be

forcibly returned to Laos. We have also been invited for the

first time to discuss the issue in a trilateral format on

August 7 at the Phetchabun.

 

BANGKOK 00001901 004.2 OF 004

 

THAI ECONOMY CONTINUES TO STRUGGLE

———————————-

 

17. (SBU) The United States and Thailand have long enjoyed a

robust trade relationship; annual bilateral trade has been

over $32 billion in recent years. Cumulative U.S. investment

over the past twenty plus years is estimated at $23 billion.

There is a large American Chamber of Commerce with some 650

members; you will have an opportunity to address the AMCHAM

membership at lunch on August 17. While U.S. direct

investment is down this year largely due to the global

economic crisis, many U.S. firms receive preferred national

treatment in a number of sectors under the bilateral Treaty

of Amity and Economic Relations, the bedrock of our economic

relationship since 1966. A number of large U.S. investments

in petrochemicals, computer parts, and automotives use

Thailand as an export manufacturing base for the region.

Thai officials still need to do more to strengthen the

overall investment climate, particularly on customs reform

and intellectual property rights enforcement.

 

18. (SBU) The global economic crisis hit Thailand’s

export-driven economy particularly hard over the last year.

Exports, historically the bright spot of the Thai economy,

declined 23.5 percent over the first six months of this year

when compared to the same period last year (with exports to

the U.S. declining 27.1 percent). The tourism industry,

another longtime economic growth generator, has experienced a

serious decline in the number of tourist arrivals for the

past 10 months; tourist arrivals in June alone fell 18.6

percent year-on-year. With the lessons of the 1997 financial

crisis under its belt, the banking sector remains sound due

to strong regulation and minimal exposure to risky or toxic

assets. The economy went into official recession with a 7.1

percent drop in GDP the first quarter of this year. Forecasts

show a three to five percent GDP contraction for all of 2009.

If global trade activity remains depressed, Thailand’s

export-dependent economy likely will continue to suffer

significant losses this year.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

July 21, 2011 at 5:48 am

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