Political Economy Journal: Thailand – United States relations

In accordance to recent U.S. activities in South China Sea

Kingdom of Thailand, located in the heart of South East Asia, inheriting the historical name of Indochina, can act a very crucial geostrategic role in both regional scale tensions (such as India China rivalry) and global scale conflicts (such as U.S. China tension in South China Sea).

PEJOURNAL – Kingdom of Thailand, located in the heart of South East Asia, inheriting the historical name of Indochina, can act a very crucial geostrategic role in both regional scale tensions (such as India China rivalry) and global scale conflicts (such as U.S. China tension in South China Sea). Thanks to its stable situation in ASEAN region and regarding to its eco-cultural stereotype, Thailand can also be a very important place for conducting intelligence and security operations. Below, we reviewed the milestones in Thai U.S. relationship, amid the unstable geopolitical situation in South and East Asia:

Security Cooperation of Thailand and U.S.

During the Vietnam War, The United States Air Force (USAF) deployed combat aircraft to Thailand from 1961 to 1975 (larger than the main US base in South Vietnam) about 80% of all USAF air strikes over North Vietnam originated from air bases in Thailand.

Since The United States ended Vietnam War in 1975 After the North Vietnamese soldiers fall of Saigon, the capital city of South Vietnam was destroyed. The US Army removed all of its combat from Thailand (Air Base) and greatly reduced its influence in Southeast Asia.

 After Cold War the United States has endeavoured to maintain relations as an old ally and maintain its influence in ASEAN. By the beginning of the joint US-Thai manoeuvres in the Cobra Gold Code in 1982 and continuing annual rehearsals to date, and participating in ASEAN countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, together with observers from many nations, including Israel. In addition to Cobra Gold, there are also air combat training between the United States Air Force, Thailand and Singapore under the code COPE Tiger. First started in 1994 at the Nakhon Ratchasima Air Base (Air Division 1) and provides ongoing training to date.

After 9/11, the United States adopted a new military policy. “War on terror” Thailand is part of the United States’ proactive policy on combating terrorism. Thai facilities to the US military Including allowing to travel in and out of the country as needed. Despite Thailand’s neutrality on the war in Iraq, the Thai government allowed U-Tapao RTNAF to be used by American warplanes flying into combat in Iraq.

After the Military Coup in Thailand in 2014, the United States immediately suspended $3.7 million in foreign assistance to Thailand, cancelled a series of military exercises and Thai military officers’ visits, including cooperation in both politics and economy it tends to decrease less than many democratic governments in the past.

Currently, Southeast Asia is an area of United States featured because the US aspires to block the expanding influence of China both economically through the Belt and Road Initiative Project, and stability which Thailand is still an area that The United States wants to use as a military base. Base from the geography that is the centre of the region and the coastal border with two important oceans (Indian Oceans and South China Sea)

 In addition, the United States attaches special importance to countries in dispute with China regarding overlapping areas in the South China Sea, such as Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.

Political Cooperation of Thailand and U.S.

With the awareness of important Thai strategies and stability in the influence of the United States in Southeast Asia, Thailand and the United States found themselves in a critical need of political cooperation. The 4th Thailand – U.S. Strategic Dialogue, held in June 2012, was led by Mr.Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, and Mr. Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the U.S. Department of State. The delegations discussed political, security, and economic cooperation and the two countries’ shared commitment to promote peace, security, and prosperity throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Both delegations emphasized the importance of regional integration and the United States reaffirmed its support for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its importance to the evolving architecture of the region.  The two governments underscored their continued support to increase cooperation in other regional frameworks, including the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the ASEAN Defense Ministers Meeting-Plus (ADMM+), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), and the East Asia Summit (EAS).

 During the Strategic Dialogue, the Thai delegation briefed the U.S. delegation on the ASEAN Connectivity initiative and key positive developments in the region, including progress in achieving the ASEAN Community by the year 2015. The United States emphasized its continued support for the ASEAN Community-building process.

Trade and Investment Relations of Thailand and U.S.

The United States is Thailand’s third-largest bilateral trading partner, after Japan and China, with total trade valued at more than $37 billion in 2012. The United States is also one of the largest foreign investors in Thailand. Leading Thai imports from the U.S. include machinery, chemicals, gold, optic and medical goods, aircraft, and agricultural products. Thai exports to the United States include machinery, rubber, prepared meat, shrimp and tuna, jewelry, and other agricultural products.

In 2011, some 767,420 American tourists visited Thailand, while 60,000 Thais visited the United States. Thailand and the United States signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (Trade and Investment Framework – TIFA) in 2002.  Under this framework, U.S. and Thai officials engage on trade and investment issues such as intellectual property rights, customs issues, the WTO Doha negotiations, our APEC and ASEAN agendas, and Thailand’s interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP).

In terms of investment with direct investment from the United States (FDI) in Thailand (stocks) were valued 11.3 billion US dollars in 2011, up from 2011. 2010 7.6%, the Investment in Thailand by US companies mostly in the industrial and banking sectors.

Thailand’s investments in the United States (stocks) were valued at US $ 118 million in 2011, down 25.3 percent from 2010. The distribution of Thai investments in the United States does not appear in the year 2011.

Selling goods and services in Thailand by US private companies most of them were 4.1 billion US dollars. In the year of 2000, while the sale of goods in the United States in which the Thai owned company is valued at $ 151 million.

Cat’s Eye Project

When Gina Haspel, a veteran CIA clandestine officer picked by Donald Trump to head the Central Intelligence Agency, her involvement in the CIA’s black-site detention facilities, in Thailand came to the media.

Haspel ran this secret CIA detention facility in Thailand condemned “Cat’s Eye” but better known as Detention Site Green. One of the most famous operations took place in this site was regarding two suspected members of the al Qaeda militant group, were subjected to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques at the facility.

Three years later, still during Bush’s presidency, she helped carry out an order to destroy videotapes of the waterboarding at the Thai site, which simulates drowning and is considered a form of torture, according to those people. It must be mentioned that such facilities are called “black sites” regarding the secrecy around their existence and not being acknowledged by the U.S. government.

Thai government and army commander since 2002 has also denied there ever was such a site on Thai territory. Despite the exact location of the Cat’s Eye site has remained secret despite hundreds of attempts by Thai and foreign media to discover its actual whereabouts, based on our sources and local informants this site was definitely located in a territory at North East Thailand called Isan. They also mentioned two possible cities that can have a high probability to be the host of CIA Black Site.

The first city is Phetchabun where the 1st Cavalry Division of Royal Thai Army is located and includes the Fort Phokhun Pha Mueang, special military district.

The second city is Udon Thani where the Fort Prachaksinlapakhom, special military district is located there. Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base (Udorn RTAFB) is also located in this area. Although this city and its military places played a very important role in Vietnam War, but the point that makes the probiblity higher is the history of Udorn RTAFB.

Udorn RTAFB,  was the Asian headquarters for Air America a US passenger and cargo airline covertly owned and operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) which provided essential resources for the war in Laos and Vietnam. Its predecessor, Civil Air Transport (CAT), started operations from Udorn on 11 September 1955 with the arrival of three C-46s.

Air America’s roles supportive of covert and overt situations related to hostilities in Southeast Asia and elsewhere worldwide provided buffers and solutions to problems the United States faced in various locations. Operations were focused in Laos as part of the “secret war” the United States carried out against the Pathet Lao forces operating in the country. Udorn RTAFB also served as the site of “Headquarters 333”, the Thai organization in charge of their forces in Laos.

The local sources has reported that Udorn RTAFB base can be the location of CIA Black Site, known to insiders as “Detention Site Green”, used to interrogate Abu Zubaydah, a 31-year-old Saudi-born Palestinian, believed to be one of Osama Bin Laden’s top lieutenants.

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