Super powers keep Thailand on its toes

POWER play will continue among the super powers, the most dramatic being among US, China and Russia, but with different tactics now that Donald Trump has been elected the US President.  And as Thailand is among those in the key geo-political locations, the Prayuth government is now under pressure as to how to deal with the subtle conflicts especially between US and China.

China has expanded its military power into the South China Sea causing sea border conflicts with countries in the region namely, Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan.  US stepped in to help those affected but not with much success now that the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has obviously kept distance from US and got closer to China while Indonesia is more or less having closer relationship with both Russia and China, making it more difficult for US to expand military presence in these countries aside from Japan and South Korea.

Just early March, with North Korea Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un firing too many missiles into the sea near Japan, US has got an excuse to deploy an antimissile system, Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), in South Korea.   Such move has triggered a strong opposition from China, which said the US move is a threat to its security.

And the war began last month initially with cyber-attack. South Korea’s Lotte Duty Free’s website crashed last month by attacks using Chinese internet protocol (IP) addresses after its affiliate Lotte International Co Ltd approved a land swap to allow the US THAAD system on what was once its property near North Korea.

And just early this month bad news came to Thailand as it will be among 16 countries, China included, to be targeted by the Donald Trump administration in its attempt to narrow the United States’ massive trade imbalances.

US President Trump has signed two executive orders directing his administration to review the country’s trade deficits and clamp down on countries that abuse trade rules, saying the new executive orders would start a new chapter for American workers and businesses.

In Washington DC, the US leader largely blamed “unscrupulous foreign powers” for his country’s trade imbalance. He said those countries were aided by US special interests that have helped push through bad trade deals.

He promised to crack down on “foreign importers that cheat,” saying that the new executive orders would lead to an historic reversal of the nation’s trade deficit.

“They’re cheaters! From now on, those who break the rules will face the consequences and they’ll be very severe consequences,” Trump was quoted as saying by USA Today.

That’s the pressure the Thai Government has to deal with.  The Prayuth government has been under a lot of pressure from US during the Obama administration as a result of a coup against the Yingluck government, pushing Thailand to drift closer towards China and Russia.  And it is known since the previous government that US would like to use U-Tapao airfield for a certain project but that would not happen today or in the future as the present government chose to develop this military air base eventually an international commercial airport.  That’s a wise move as it will also serve as part of the country’s new Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) and part of U-Tapao will also be developed into an aircraft maintenance center, competing more effectively with the one in Singapore.

Recently, a long delayed project of Kra Canal has been talked about again.  This is also to be a key strategic decision as it would mean a drastic change in the maritime navigation, which especially in time of war, would make it a key alternative route aside from the Strait of Malacca. For China, not only most of its trade and commercial ships pass through the Malacca Strait, but so does up to 80 per cent of its energy needs.

Thailand’s Kra Isthmus Canal project is unlikely to be implemented any time in the near future because of multiple geo-political and economic challenges involving a super power and regional stakeholders, according to a senior Thai diplomat, who said if the canal project to link the Gulf of Thailand with the Andaman Sea was implemented it would affect the status quo of regional security and economic arrangements.

China had in the past proposed three potential routes for this scheme in southern Thailand as Beijing announced its Belt and Road initiative involving the ancient Silk Road maritime and land-based trade routes.


Top: The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the South China Sea on March 2, 2017. The ship and its carrier strike group are on a western Pacific deployment as part of the US Pacific Fleet-led initiative to extend the command and control functions of US 3rd Fleet. Photo: Official US Navy Page. (CC-BY-2.0)

By Kowit Sanandang



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