Is China luring Thailand to its side of the board in Asia’s Game of Thrones? A delegation of Thailand’s military leaders visited China on June 11 for talks on “regional security and joint training,” according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Chinese Mobile Ltd., a nationally owned company, made an $881 million investment in True Corp, a Thai telecom corporation, and Chinese-Thai trade continues to sharply.It is easy to see why post-coup Thailand might be looking for a friend. The United States has cut off military aid, and American tourism, which is vital to the Thai economy, has declined. As we wrote last month, Beijing is well positioned to exploit a falling-out between Washington and Bangkok. The Chinese and Thais share ethnic links and have no history of animosity, and China is on the lookout for new friends in a fractious region.The military is in particular need at the moment; it is embarking on ambitious, expensive economic programs, which include agricultural reform and the construction of railroads, according to the WSJ. But the military has no time to waste:
Winning over the millions of Thais who voted for Mr. Thaksin and Ms. Yingluck won’t be easy, though. Failure could jeopardize the army’s bid to convince a broad cross-section of Thais to support its plans to create a new constitution and political system before elections are held, possibly next year, according to the army’s tentative schedule.“I think Gen. Prayuth will have a grace period of two or three months, and then it will start getting more difficult,” said Sulak Sivaraksa, a social critic and scholar.
Given its ambitious plans and limited time frame, the Thai military must find Chinese support very tempting indeed.Is this a shift in the balance of power in South East Asia?