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10BANGKOK45 SCENESETTER FOR ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO

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“242728”,”1/7/2010 10:42″,”10BANGKOK45″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,”10BANGKOK3116″,”VZCZCXRO2954

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SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/07/2020

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

SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO

 

REF: BANGKOK 3116

 

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

 

1. (C) Assistant Secretary Shapiro, Embassy Bangkok welcomes

you to Thailand. Despite ongoing domestic discord and

current inward focus, Thailand\’s strategic importance to the

U.S. cannot be overstated. Your visit provides an

opportunity to 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 which serve to

illustrate the depth and breadth of a relationship. In late

December, the Thai Cabinet approved a supplemental budget to

facilitate the delayed peacekeeping deployment to Darfur.

 

2. (C) As your visit will take place in the run up to the

expected U.S.-Thai Strategic Dialogue, 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 look to discuss U.S.

assistance through bilateral exercises and training, and

helping the Thai military modernize either by means of

procuring U.S. defense articles or via the hoped for receipt

of 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. In addition, with the Royal Thai Armed Forces

Headquarters (RTARF) preparing for a difficult deployment to

UNAMID in Darfur, the Thai military will look to explore ways

whereby the U.S. can assist.

 

POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT

———————

 

3. (SBU) The last 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, shutting 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.

2010 promises to be contentious as well, with Thaksin and the

red shirts having vowed to redouble their efforts to topple

the government.

 

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

eloquent 44-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 is another matter, and Abhisit has disappointed us

recently on the repatriation of the Lao Hmong and his

handling of several foreign investment-related issues.

Despite recent 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 the

red-shirts.

 

5. (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 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

 

BANGKOK 00000045 002 OF 004

 

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 Thailand during royal succession after the

eventual passing of the King, who is currently in poor

health. 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. The 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 which 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. 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.

 

ENDURING BILATERAL RELATIONSHIP

——————————-

 

9. (C) Despite the political divide, Thailand\’s 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. Thailand remains crucial to U.S. interests in the

Asia-Pacific region and beyond. 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

 

BANGKOK 00000045 003 OF 004

 

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.

 

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 PACOM\’s largest annual multi-lateral exercise 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 navy and air force.

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 (Ref A). During your visit,

the Thai will be very interested in discussing ways ahead on

the deployment. 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.

 

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 three 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.

 

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

 

BANGKOK 00000045 004 OF 004

 

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.

 

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 us privately about possible 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 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.

 

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 will be held at the platoon

or company level; it is unclear how many Navy personnel may

participate.

 

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

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 and Army Commander General Anupong

Paojinda, through multiple hosted-visits to China.

JOHN

Written by thaicables

July 22, 2011 at 9:35 am

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