The United States has suspended more assistance to Thailand in response to the military intervention, and is considering moving a major regional military exercise (Cobra Gold) out of the kingdom.
Washington has blocked US$4.7 million (S$5.9 million) in security-related aid to Thailand, which accounts for roughly half of its US$10.5 million in annual assistance to the longtime ally, State Department official Scot Marciel said in testimony to Congress.
Republican representative Steve Chabot, who chaired Tuesday’s hearing, said the coup called in question the effectiveness of assistance for Thailand — including about $8 million in military training and financing for sales of defence hardware and services over the past three years — in encouraging democratic values in the nation’s military.
Cobra Gold in Australia ?
He urged the US to shift the annual Cobra Gold exercise, which is held each year in Thailand and brings together thousands of forces from a half-dozen Asian nations, to another venue, such as Australia. But there aren’t any Cobra in Australia are they ?
The top diplomat for Southeast Asia, Scot Marciel also voiced concern over censorship of media and the internet and detentions and intimidation of hundreds of political figures, academics, journalists, online commentators and peaceful protesters.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers spoke warmly about Thailand and its alliance with America but voiced support for the Obama administration’s suspension of various assistance and military exercises after a junta took power May 22 following months of protests against the elected government and factional violence.
Mr Marciel said the US wanted to maintain long-term relations with Thailand but it couldn’t be “business as usual” until democracy was restored — a process that took 16 months after the 2006 coup.
“We do not believe that true reconciliation can come about through fear of repression,”
he told of a House subcommittee that oversees US foreign policy toward Asia. “The deep-rooted underlying issues and differences of opinion that fuel this division can only be resolved by the people of Thailand through democratic processes.”
The junta, led by army commander Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, has characterised the military intervention as necessary to restore order and enact reforms before elections can be held after about 15 months. An interim government is due to be appointed in September.
Mr Marciel described that road map as “quite vague”.
Thailand: A Democracy at Risk ?
In a long contribution titled “Thailand : A Democracy at risk” published on the US Deparment of State website, Scot Marciel Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, exposes the US administration position towards thai military new government.
Commercially, the United States is both Thailand’s third-largest bilateral trading partner with more than $37 billion in two-way trade, and its third-largest investor with more than $13 billion in cumulative foreign direct investment. Thailand has the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia, and our American Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok represents a diverse body of more than 800 companies doing business across nearly all sectors of the Thai economy.
Our Embassy in Bangkok is a regional hub for the U.S. government and remains one of our largest missions in Asia, with over 3,000 Thai and American employees representing over 60 departments and agencies. We enjoy close people-to-people ties, and more than 5,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served successfully in Thailand over the past 52 years.
So for all these reasons, we care deeply about our relationship and about the people of Thailand. For many years, we were pleased to see Thailand build prosperity and democracy, becoming in many ways a regional success story as well as a close partner on shared priorities such as counterterrorism, wildlife trafficking, transnational crime, energy security, and conservation of the environment.
But the US administration is also highly critical on Thailand’s roadmap to future election and return to democracy.
The military government has said that it will appoint an interim government by September, and has laid out a vague timeline for elections within approximately 15 months. Its stated intention, during the period of military rule, is to reduce conflict and partisanship within society, thereby paving the way for a more harmonious political environment when civilians return to control. Meanwhile, the military government has begun a campaign to remove officials perceived to be loyal to the previous government.
Many board members including chairs (mostly appointed by former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra) of Thailand’s 56 state owned enterprises have been strongly encouraged to resign their positions in favor of military-selected replacements. Rapid, sweeping changes are being proposed in the energy and labor sectors, and greater foreign investment restrictions are being considered in industries like telecommunications.
We do not see, however, how the coup and subsequent repressive actions will produce the political compromise and reconciliation that Thailand so desperately needs. We do not believe that true reconciliation can come about through fear of repression. The deep-rooted underlying issues and differences of opinion that fuel this division can only be resolved by the people of Thailand through democratic processes. Like most Thai, we want Thailand to live up to its democratic ideals, strengthen its democratic institutions, and return peacefully to democratic governance through elections.