Yesterday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in a bid to “reinforce” longstanding military ties between the two nations, which date back to 1818.
Austin and PM Prayut, who is also Minister of Defence, “shared perspectives on regional security issues, and discussed opportunities to strengthen the US – Thai alliance,” according to the US Defense Department.
In a press briefing, Austin said…
“Now, you heard me talk in my speech about the power of partnerships, and that’s what we’re here in Thailand to reinforce with our long-standing allies. We’ve had the opportunity to discuss the modernization of the Thai military, and we’re working to enhance Thailand’s ability to protect its own security interests. We also discussed our emerging cooperation in new domains such as space and cyberspace.”
Austin recently met with China’s defence minister in Singapore, where he addressed the US’s concerns over Beijing’s claims to Taiwan and much of the South China Sea…
“You know, America never shied — shies away from honest competition, but we don’t seek conflict, nor do we seek a region that’s split into hostile blocks. It was an important opportunity to raise our concerns about the potential for instability in the Taiwan Strait and to underscore our last — our long-standing policy toward Taiwan as unwavering and unchanged.”
China has been extending its influence in Southeast Asia for the past decade by aid, investment and infrastructure. Thailand and China have strong trade ties and amicable diplomatic relations, but Thailand seems to be edging closer towards its American ally as the high-speed train planned to connect Thailand and China sees delay after delay.
Thailand and the US were allies in the Vietnam War. Interestingly, it was China and not the US who bailed Thailand out of its 1997 financial crisis. But then, in 2003, Washington designated Thailand as a major non-NATO ally, strengthening their alliance once more. Now, every February, the US and Thailand conduct their annual Cobra Gold military exercises, to “prepare both nations for future emergencies.”
In April, the US denied allegations that a new, expensive American consulate in Chiang Mai was supplying weapons to rebel groups in neighbouring countries and was being used for covert military operations in southern China.
SOURCE: US Department of Defense