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09BANGKOK3006 SCENESETTER FOR THE VISIT OF GENERAL NORTH AND BRIGADIER GENERAL CROWE

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“236618”,”11/25/2009 9:46″,”09BANGKOK3006″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

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INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE

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“C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04

BANGKOK 003006

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/25/2019

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

SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR THE VISIT OF GENERAL NORTH AND

BRIGADIER GENERAL CROWE

 

Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission James F. Entwistle,

reasons 1.4

(b) and (d)

 

1. (C) General North and Brigadier General Crowe, Embassy

Bangkok welcomes your visit to Thailand during the

celebration of King Bhumibol Adulyadej\’s 82nd birthday. Your

visit signals the United States\’ 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. Your visit affords the opportunity to affirm our

support for our important mil-mil relationship, after a

stretch of time in which it has appeared to many Thai that

the U.S. places decreasing importance on that relationship

and engaging top Thai military leaders, even as China\’s

romance effort expands.

 

POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT

———————

 

2. (C) After the December 2008 installation of the

Democrat-led coalition government of Prime Minister Abhisit

Vejajjiva, Thailand has experienced a period of relative

political stability. That said, 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 fugitive former PM Thaksin, with largely rural supporters

in the North and Northeast on the other (opposition Puea Thai

in parliament, \”red\” in the street). Abhisit generally has

progressive instincts about basic freedoms, social

inequities, foreign policy, and how to address the troubled

deep South. The Prime Minister\’s approval ratings have

benefited, at least temporarily, from a problematic period

for Thaksin subsequent to his badly chosen comments to the

\”The Times\” of London on royal succession and an ill-advised

visit to Cambodia following his appointment as economic

advisor to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

 

3. (C) Despite relatively higher approval ratings, Abhisit

remains beset by a fractious coalition, vigorous

parliamentary opposition in the form of a large block of

politicians under the Puea Thai Party banner, and street

protests from \”red-shirts.\” The most dramatic political

development of the past year was the mid-April United Front

of Democracy for Dictatorship (UDD), or \”reds\”, riots in

Bangkok and Pattaya, which led to the postponement of a

regional Asian Summit and burned busses in Bangkok. UDD have

been planning a return to the streets, possibly with a \”final

showdown\” rally that would begin November 28, but the rally

was called off November 25 out of respect for the King\’s

birthday celebrations. Thaksin himself has suggested to

supporters that he did not know how long he could \”ask the

red shirts to be tolerant.\”

 

4. (C) 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, but both seek to triumph

in competing for traditional Thai hierarchical power

relationships. New elections would not appear to be a viable

solution to the political divide, and political discord could

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 and rule of law, as well as our support for

long-time friend Thailand to work through its current

difficulties and emerge as a more participatory democracy.

 

RECEDING MONARCHY

——————-

5. (C) 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. Few observers believe

that the deep political and social divides can be bridged

until after King Bhumibol passes and Thailand\’s tectonic

 

BANGKOK 00003006 002 OF 004

 

plates shift. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn neither commands

the respect nor displays the charisma of his beloved father,

who greatly expanded the prestige and influence of the

monarchy during his 62-year reign. Nearly everyone expects

the monarchy to shrink and change in function after

succession. How much will change is open to question, with

many institutions, figures, and political forces positioning

for influence, not only over redefining the institution of

monarchy but, equally fundamentally, what it means to be

Thai.

 

ENDURING BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP

——————————-

 

6. (C) Despite the domestic political divide, Thailand\’s

strategic importance to the U.S. should not be understated.

Our military engagement affords us unique training venues in

Asia, training exercises that are nearly impossible to match

elsewhere in Asia, a willing participant in international

peacekeeping operations, essential access to facilities amid

vital sea and air lanes that support contingency and

humanitarian missions, and a partner that is a key ASEAN

nation in which we continue to promote democratic ideals.

 

7. (C) The U.S.-Thai military relationship began during World

War II when the U.S. trained hundreds of Thais as part of the

\”Free Thai Movement\” that covertly conducted special

operations against the Japanese forces occupying Thailand and

drew closer during the Korean War era when Thailand provided

troops for the UN effort. Thai soldiers, sailors, and airmen

also fought side-by-side with U.S. counterparts in the

Vietnam War and, more recently, Thailand sent contingents to

Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

8. (C) The relationship has evolved into a partnership that

provides the U.S. with unique benefits. As one of five U.S.

treaty allies in Asia and straddling a major force projection

air/sea corridor, Thailand remains crucial to U.S. interests

in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Underpinning our

strong bilateral relations is the U.S.-Thai security

relationship, which is based on over fifty years of close

cooperation. The relationship has advanced USG interests

while developing Thai military, intelligence, and law

enforcement capabilities.

 

IMPORTANT MILITARY ENGAGEMENT PROGRAM

————————————-

 

9. (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 a success. While those

high-profile relief operations highlighted publicly the value

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

military flights. A prime example was the critical support

Utapao provided during OEF by providing an air bridge in

support of refueling missions en route to Afghanistan.

Approximately 1,000 flights transit Utapao every year in

support of critical U.S. military operations both regionally

and to strategic areas of the world. Thailand also provides

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

primarily at Laem Chabang, Sattahip and Phuket, over sixty

times per year for exercises and visits.

 

COBRA GOLD AND THE MILITARY EXERCISE PROGRAM

——————————————–

 

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

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.

 

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

 

BANGKOK 00003006 003 OF 004

 

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, Singapore, and South Korea

and re-establishing a partner role with Indonesia. Along

with Cobra Gold, Cope Tiger and CARAT are also key to our

engagement of the Thai military.

 

BORDER CONFLICT WITH CAMBODIA

—————————–

 

12. (C) Bilateral 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 11th century Hindu Preah Vihear temple. Minor

skirmishes have erupted three times since mid-2008, leading

to the deaths of seven soldiers.

 

13. (C) The roots of the dispute lie in the Siam-France

agreements of 1904-8 and a 1962 International Court of

Justice ruling that granted Cambodia the temple but left the

rest of disputed land unresolved. Tensions spiked in when in

2008 the Thai government in power at that time supported

Cambodia\’s application to UNESCO for a joint listing of the

temple as a world heritage site, only to face opposition in

parliament and an adverse court ruling.

 

14. (C) Thorny internal political considerations and

historical rancor between Thailand and Cambodia make progress

difficult; the countries withdrew their Ambassadors in the

wake of Thaksin\’s recent appointment as an economic adviser

to Cambodian leader Hun Sen. We urge both sides to resolve

their differences peacefully through bilateral negotiations,

border demarcation, and a reduction of troops deployed along

the border.

 

PEACEKEEPING EFFORTS

——————–

 

15. (C) Thailand has historically been a strong supporter of

UN peacekeeping missions and was an early contributing nation

to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, Thai

generals very effectively led UN forces in East Timor, to

which Thailand contributed 1,500 troops, and in Aceh where a

Thai general served as the principal deputy of the Aceh

Monitoring Mission, Thailand\’s success in peacekeeping has

led the RTG and the military to seek a more prominent role in

international stabilization and peacekeeping missions. For

instance, Thailand is currently preparing for a deployment of

a battalion of troops for a difficult UNAMID mission in

Darfur. Using GPOI funding, we are working with the military

to increase its peacekeeping capabilities, both as a

contributing nation and as a trainer of neighboring nations.

 

ONGOING REFUGEE CONCERNS

————————

 

16. (C) Due to inherent institutional capabilities, the Thai

military plays a prominent role in the management of the many

refugees that enter Thailand from neighboring countries. The

Thai government conducted a screening process in January 2008

for a large group of Lao Hmong in an army run camp,

reportedly to identify those who might have a legitimate fear

of return to Laos, but has not released the results or

informed the Hmong themselves. We believe some have a

legitimate claim to refugee status, and seek resettlement in

the U.S. and several other countries. Detained in an

RTARF-run camp for over two years, some are former fighters

(or their descendants) allied with the U.S. against the

communist Pathet Lao during the IndoChina War. We want to

take every opportunity to underscore to the military that the

any individuals found by the RTG to have protection concerns

should not be returned forcibly to Laos.

 

SOUTHERN THAILAND

—————–

 

17. (C) 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

 

BANGKOK 00003006 004 OF 004

 

justice and ethnic identity driving the violence are not

unique to southern Thailand. More specifically, many Malay

Muslims feel that they are second-class citizens in 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.

 

18. (C) Southern separatists direct their anger at the

government in Bangkok, not at the United States. Since a

U.S. presence or perception of U.S. involvement in the South

could redirect that anger towards us and link it to the

international jihadist movement — a link that is currently

absent — we ensure that any offers of assistance or training

pass the \”location and label\” test. Put simply, we keep U.S.

military personnel away from the far South and we make sure

that we do not label any assistance or training as directly

linked to the southern situation. Likewise, we work to avoid

feeding rampant, outlandish speculation that we are somehow

fomenting the violence in the South in order to justify

building permanent bases — a very sensitive issue in

Thailand. We do not want to jeopardize our access to key

military facilities in Thailand like Utapao Naval Air Station.

 

19. (C) 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.

 

THE INCREASING ROLE OF CHINA

—————————-

 

20. (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.

 

21. (C) The Chinese through hosting visits have made a strong

effort to court the Thai 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 finalized bilateral Marine Corps exercise between China

and Thailand near the eastern seaboard port of Sattahip next

year highlights the continuing push by China to expand their

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

 

22. (C) As the shape of Southeast Asia, Asia writ large, and

the world has changed, so have Thai attitudes. The Chinese

have been making a major push to upgrade all aspects of

relations, including mil-mil. Thailand is not interested in

making a choice between the U.S. and China (nor do we see

closer Chinese-Thai relations as automatically threatening to

our interests here), but we will need to work harder to

maintain the preferred status we have enjoyed.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

July 22, 2011 at 9:30 am

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