The U.S. tilt back into Southeast Asia has made a hesitant start with Bangkok delaying a decision on a request for NASA to use the U-Tapao airstrip in Rayong, a former base used during the Vietnam War, for weather research and atmospheric studies.
The request is a very minor move in the overall scheme of diplomatic relations. But although the U.S. says it’s designed for weather research, critics argue there’s more to it than that – some mutter that the government in Thailand is aiming for some political gains, or else suggest that it’s really some kind of covert U.S. operation for peaking into China.
Neither claims have any credibility, but political head banging in Thailand got a whole lot louder when the opposition Democrat Party – which approved the project when in government – claimed the current government wanted a U.S. visa for the former leader Thaksin Shinawatra in exchange for the base.
Such an allegation was made all the more plausible with hints from Thaksin’s sister Yingluck, the current prime minister, at a possible return someday for her wayward brother, now a famously rich exile who can’t come home because of corruption convictions.