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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
10BANGKOK298 2010-02-04 05:35:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bangkok
Cable title:  

SCENESETTER FOR THE CSA-HOSTED VISIT OF THAI ARMY

Tags:   PGOV PTER MARR MOPS PINS PHUM TH 
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 BANGKOK 000298 

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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