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10BANGKOK226 SCENESETTER FOR THE VISIT OF ADMIRAL WILLARD

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“245714”,”1/27/2010 10:07″,”10BANGKOK226″,

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,”VZCZCXRO9110

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SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/27/2020

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

SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR THE VISIT OF ADMIRAL WILLARD

 

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

 

1. (C) Admiral Willard, Embassy Bangkok welcomes you to

Thailand. Despite ongoing domestic political challenges,

Thailand\’s adherence to democratic values should not go

unrecognized. That a full range of actors in the Thai

political scene can openly and vigorously debate policies and

the state of democracy is indeed evidence that Thailand is a

positive role model for other nations in the region. In

addition, Thailand, while chairing ASEAN last year, was a

leading proponent of democracy and human rights within ASEAN.

As such, now is a prime opportunity to demonstrate clearly

to our close ally that we intend to engage fully in the

partnership. Your visit will provide such an opportunity as

it will signal 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. In just the last three months alone, the U.S.-Thai

partnership has yielded a promising new lead in the drive to

develop an HIV vaccination and the seizure of more than 35

tons of North Korean weapons, two examples that serve to

illustrate the depth and breadth of a relationship.

Furthermore, the Thai Cabinet in December approved a

supplemental budget to facilitate a peacekeeping deployment

to Darfur.

 

2. (C) Thai interlocutors will likely be interested in

pursuing discussions on strategic views of regional security

challenges, and how the U.S.-Thai alliance can be focused to

assist as Thailand prepare for threats. The Thai will also

look to discuss areas of cooperation, such as bilateral

exercises and training, whereby we can assist the Thai

military modernize. The Thai have also expressed strong

interest in receiving excess defense articles by way of

Thailand\’s status as a Major Non-NATO Ally, as Foreign

Minister Kasit Piromya raised in 2009 with Secretary Clinton

and other senior USG officials.

 

POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT

———————

 

3. (SBU) The past eighteen months were turbulent for

Thailand. Court decisions forced two Prime Ministers from

office, and twice the normal patterns of political life took

a back seat to disruptive protests in the streets. The

yellow-shirted People\’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) occupied

Government House from August to December 2008 and shut down

Bangkok\’s airports for eight days, to protest governments

affiliated with ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The

red-shirted United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship

(UDD), followers of Thaksin, disrupted a regional Asian

Summit and sparked riots in Bangkok in mid-April 2009 after

Thaksin, now a fugitive abroad in the wake of an abuse of

power conviction, called for a revolution to bring him home.

This year promises to be contentious as well, with Thaksin

and the red shirts having vowed to redouble their efforts to

topple the government. All sides hopefully learned a

valuable lesson against the use of violence, however, by

seeing their support plummet when such tactics were used.

 

4. (C) Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is a photogenic,

eloquent 45-year old Oxford graduate who generally has

progressive instincts and says the right things 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.

 

5. (C) While both yellow and red try to lay exclusive claim

to the mantle of democracy, both have ulterior motives in

doing so. 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

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

 

BANGKOK 00000226 002 OF 005

 

work through its current difficulties and emerge as a more

participatory democracy.

 

RECEDING MONARCHY

—————–

 

6. (C) Underlying the political tension in Bangkok is the

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

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 in Thailand during royal succession after

the eventual passing of the King. Few observers believe that

the deep political and social divides can be bridged until

after King Bhumibol passes and Thailand\’s tectonic 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.

 

SOUTHERN THAILAND – SEPARATIST INSURGENCY

—————————————–

 

7. (C) An ethno-nationalist Malay Muslim insurgency in

southern Thailand has claimed an estimated 3,500 lives since

2004. Fundamental issues of justice and ethnic identity

drive the violence as 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. 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 that give security forces expanded power to

search and detain people. The Thai military is now deeply

involved in counter-insurgency efforts; in the late

1990s-2004, the military viewed the top national security

threat to be the flow of illegal narcotics from neighboring

Burma.

 

8. (C) The insurgents 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.

 

ENDURING BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP

——————————-

 

9. (C) Despite the political divide, Thailand\’s unparalleled

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

The U.S.-Thai military relationship, which began during World

War II when the U.S. trained Thais to covertly conduct

special operations against the Japanese forces occupying

Thailand has evolved into a partnership that provides the

U.S. with unique benefits. Our military engagement affords

us unique training venues, the opportunity to conduct

exercises that are nearly impossible to match elsewhere, 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.

 

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 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

 

BANGKOK 00000226 003 OF 005

 

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 and Sattahip, over sixty times per

year for exercises and visits.

 

11. (SBU) Beyond traditional military activities, our

bilateral military relationship provides benefits in other

important areas. One example it the Armed Forces Research

Institute of Medical Sciences\’ (AFRIMS) collaboration 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 Thais. A number of important breakthroughs, such as

in the prevention of HIV/AIDS transmission from mothers to

children, were developed here, and the first partially

successful phase III, double blind trial for a potential HIV

vaccine occurred in 2009; a second such trial run by CDC is

currently ongoing.

 

COBRA GOLD AND THE MILITARY EXERCISE PROGRAM

——————————————–

 

12 (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 and bilateral exercises than are other

countries in Asia. 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.

 

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

program, is the largest annual multi-lateral exercise in the

Pacific region and for 29 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. Cope Tiger, a leading air

exercise with the Thailand and Singapore, and CARAT, a

bilateral naval event, are key mechanisms for engagement of

the Thai air force and navy. The Thai military continues to

highlight to us the significance of these events for training

and for relationship building.

 

PEACEKEEPING EFFORTS AND DARFUR DEPLOYMENT

——————————————

 

14. (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 is preparing for deploying a

battalion of troops for a difficult UNAMID mission in Darfur

and has asked for USG assistance. Using various funding

sources, we are working to support the request and to

increase overall Thai peacekeeping capabilities, both as a

contributing nation and as a trainer of neighboring nations.

 

BORDER CONFLICT WITH CAMBODIA

—————————–

 

15. (C) Bilateral relations with Cambodia remain 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 four times since mid-2008, leading to the deaths

of seven soldiers. Furthermore, there have been at least

five reports of Thai rangers firing upon illegal Cambodian

loggers in Thai territory in recent months. Cambodian Prime

Hun Sen\’s November 2009 decision to appoint Thaksin as an

economic advisor further stoked cross-border tensions.

 

BANGKOK 00000226 004 OF 005

 

16. (C) The roots of the border 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 2008 when 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. Thorny

internal political considerations and historical rancor

between Thailand and Cambodia make progress difficult. We

urge both sides to resolve their differences peacefully

through bilateral negotiations, border demarcation, and a

reduction of troops deployed along the border.

 

ONGOING REFUGEE CONCERNS

————————

 

17. (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.

Thailand continues to host more than 140,000 Burmese and

facilitate resettlement of more than 14,000 refugees to the

U.S. annually, but the recent forced repatriation of two

groups of Lao Hmong in late December provoked international

outcry. We underscore to the RTG our disappointment with the

deportation decision and our continuing concern over access

to the Hmong now that they have been returned to Laos. The

Thai have asked privately about possible Congressional

repercussions due to the deportation.

 

THE INCREASING ROLE OF CHINA

—————————-

 

18. (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. While Thai

military links with the United States are deeper and far more

apparent than Sino-Thai links, China\’s growing influence in

Thailand is readily evident.

 

19. (C) The Chinese have made a strong effort to court the

Thai. 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.

 

20. (C) During a visit to Thailand by Chinese Minister of

National Defense Liang Guanglie for the King\’s birthday

celebrations in early December 2009, the Thai and Chinese

militaries agreed to expand bilateral exercises to include

the two nations\’ navies, marines, and air forces. The

initial exercise will be conducted early this year, with the

PLA engaging Thai sailors and marines through an amphibious

landing event and a naval rescue and humanitarian relief

exercise. While some entities within the RTG resisted the

expanded engagement, reportedly the MFA and the Marine

Commandant, the Thai tell us that the Chinese pushed hard for

a rapid expansion of bilateral exercises. The Thai Marines

suggested to us that the exercise would be held at the

platoon or company level; it is unclear how many Navy

personnel may participate. While there are those in the Thai

military who have resisted expanding ties with the Chinese,

Foreign Minister Kasit during an early November meeting with

EAP Deputy Assistant Secretary Scot Marciel warned that

Thailand could not continue to say no, and that the U.S.

military needed to more seriously re-engage with their Thai

counterparts.

 

21. (C) The expansion of joint exercises follows China

providing Thailand with $49 million in military assistance

following the 2006 coup. Beyond exercises and assistance,

the number of exchanges by Thai and Chinese officers studying

 

BANGKOK 00000226 005 OF 005

 

at military institutes has increased significantly in recent

years, particularly since the coup. The PLA has also

actively courted Thai military leaders, including Defense

Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, Chief of Defense Forces General

Songkitti Jaggabatra, and Army Commander General Anupong

Paojinda, through multiple hosted-visits to China.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

July 22, 2011 at 9:39 am

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