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10BANGKOK298 SCENESETTER FOR THE CSA-HOSTED VISIT OF THAI ARMY COMMANDER GENERAL ANUPONG

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“247126”,”2/4/2010 5:35″,”10BANGKOK298″,

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SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/04/2020

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

SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR THE CSA-HOSTED VISIT OF THAI ARMY

COMMANDER GENERAL ANUPONG

 

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

 

1. (C) General Casey, the upcoming visit of Thai Army

Commander General Anupong Paojinda will be an important

occasion to demonstrate our appreciation for the U.S.-Thai

relationship. Despite ongoing domestic political challenges,

Thailand\’s adherence to democratic values should not go

unrecognized. General Anupong has been invaluable the past

two years as he has resisted pressures from all sides for

military intervention into politics; as a result, a full

range of actors on the Thai political scene are able to

openly and vigorously debate policies and the state of

democracy. This visit is a prime opportunity to demonstrate

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

the partnership, at a time when many in Thailand question

U.S. commitment to the region in comparison to a sustained

Chinese charm offensive. As examples of benefits from the

relationship, 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

in just the last three months alone, 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) General Anupong is the preeminent military leader in

our steadfast ally and has been a strong advocate of not

staging a coup and permitting the democratic process to play

out, although with the Army ensuring security. Indeed, if

you look back at the political turbulence of the past two

years, he has been one of the more admirable figures in

Thailand, and this counterpart visit is one way to express

our appreciation for his actions. Anupong has had to make an

extraordinary series of tough decisions over the past

eighteen months, and his intellect and disposition have been

key ingredients that have enabled him to make the choice to

come down on the side of democracy, even as his troops wage a

counterinsurgency campaign in Thailand\’s troubled

southernmost provinces. We will also want to use this visit

to send a signal to the rest of the Royal Thai Army that the

United States values its relationship with the Thai military

and Thailand. Anupong will likely be interested in pursuing

discussions on regional security challenges, and how the

U.S.-Thai alliance can be focused to assist as Thailand

prepares for changing threats. Anupong will also look to

discuss areas of cooperation, such as bilateral exercises and

training, whereby we can assist the Thai military modernize.

Thai government officials and military leaders 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 in 2008, 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.

 

4. (C) 2010 promises to be contentious as well, with Thaksin

and the red-shirts having vowed to redouble their efforts to

topple the government. In recent weeks, the red-shirts have

steadily increased a campaign to discredit and undermine the

government, with promises of a \”final battle\” in late

February that has many worried that violence could again

return to the streets of Bangkok. Among their activities has

 

BANGKOK 00000298 002 OF 005

 

been an operation to spread rumors of an impending coup, a

rumor for which we have seen no basis.

 

5. (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.

Delivering results has proved more elusive, though the Thai

economy is growing again, driven by expanding exports.

 

6. (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

work through its current difficulties and emerge as a more

participatory democracy.

 

RECEDING MONARCHY

—————–

 

7. (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, including in the military, 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 has greatly expanded the

prestige and influence of the monarchy during his 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

—————————————–

 

8. (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 contrast, from the

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

security threat to be the flow of illegal narcotics from

neighboring Burma.

 

9. (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. This approach dovetails with the

 

BANGKOK 00000298 003 OF 005

 

Thai interest in keeping outside influences and actors away

from the internal conflict.

 

10. (C) General Anupong has dedicated more of his time to

overseeing RTA counter-insurgency efforts in South than past

Army Commanders, who often were more focused on politics in

Bangkok. Anupong makes almost weekly trips to the South, and

he and his senior staff have engaged the Embassy and USARPAC

in an effort to learn counter-insurgency and counter-IED best

practices.

 

ENDURING BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP

——————————-

 

11. (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.

 

12. (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 and Sattahip, over sixty times per

year for exercises and visits.

 

13. (SBU) Beyond traditional military activities, our

bilateral military relationship provides benefits in other

important areas. One example is 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

——————————————–

 

14. (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.

 

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

program and being held during the visit, 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

 

BANGKOK 00000298 004 OF 005

 

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. As an

example of the tangible benefits of the exercise, USARPAC is

using this year\’s Cobra Gold to test a deployable command

post for crisis situations such as HA/DR incidents. Cope

Tiger, a leading air exercise with the Thailand and

Singapore, and CARAT, a bilateral naval event, are key

mechanisms for engagement of the Royal 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

——————————————

 

16. (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. State recently identified

$2.4 million to be used to support equipment needed by the

Thai for the deployment, and we have used various funding

sources to increase overall Thai peacekeeping capabilities,

both as a contributing nation and as a trainer of neighboring

nations.

 

BORDER CONFLICT WITH CAMBODIA

—————————–

 

17. (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. Cambodian Prime Hun Sen\’s November 2009

decision to appoint Thaksin as an economic advisor further

stoked cross-border tensions. Furthermore, there have been

at least six reports of small-scale conflicts resulting from

cross-border illegal logging activities in recent months.

 

18. (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: HMONG AND BURMA

—————————————–

 

19. (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. The USG and Congress are also focused on 4,000

ethnic Karen in a Thai army-run camp along the Thai-Burma

border who came into Thailand last June fleeing an offensive

and who may be sent back in the near future. (Note: 140,000

Karen and Karenni have lived in RTG-sanctioned camps along

the border since 1990. End Note.) We underscore to the RTG

our disappointment with the Hmong deportation decision and

our continuing concern over access to the Hmong now that they

have been returned to Laos, as well as our concerns on the

Thai-Burma border.

 

BANGKOK 00000298 005 OF 005

 

THE INCREASING ROLE OF CHINA

—————————-

 

20. (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.

 

21. (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.

 

22. (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.

 

23. (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

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 General Anupong, through multiple

hosted-visits to China.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

July 22, 2011 at 9:41 am

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