Chinese and Thai forces participated in an air show today ahead of their planned first joint exercises together. Reuters:
On Thursday and Friday, Chinese and Thai air forces will conduct their first joint exercises that China has said are aimed at increasing “mutual trust and friendship.”
Since a May 2014 coup, Thailand’s military generals have sought to counterbalance the country’s ties with Washington and launched a charm offensive toward their neighbor to the north.
“Thailand has been pushing for this for quite some time,” Air Marshal Bhanupong Seyayongka, director of operations for the Royal Thai Air Force, told Reuters.
Thailand, a longtime U.S. military ally, officially insists that the exercises are not meant as a pivot away from the United States into China’s arms. “We are not trying to use China to counter the U.S. Our foreign policy is to have no enemies and to be friends with everyone,” a military spokesman said. Nevertheless, in addition to the unprecedented exercises, the country recently inked a $1 billion contract for submarines from China. Whatever officials may say, Bangkok wasn’t collaborating with Beijing like this two years ago.
Back in February of last year, a top U.S. diplomat publicly chastised Thailand for its human rights record while on an official trip to Bangkok. We warned that such ham-fisted moral grandstanding was likely to be very counterproductive, both to the cause of democracy and to U.S. national interests, and that it would help push Thailand away from the U.S. The alienation of Bangkok should instruct American diplomats as they think about how strongly and in what ways to push for democratization in Myanmar. Even if the State Department’s goal is to defend human rights, it’s hard to see how letting Beijing become a more desirable ally than Washington helps achieve that aim.