1. Why Thailand is important to the US
The US has an economic but primarily, a military relationship with Thailand, to serve their interests in the region. As the current Asean chair, Thailand also wants to see stronger Asean-US relations in all areas. Despite the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle the foreign policy’s legacy of his predecessor, Barack Obama, Thailand is still hopeful that the US will continue existing policies and programmes which have made Asean-US ties so unique. Thailand, similarly to India, acts as a geopolitical strategical ally to have close to China. Mr Pompeo’s trip is highly significant, as it comes at a time when the trade war initiated by the US with China has greatly affected overall development in the ASEAN region. The ongoing US-China dispute was seriously discussed when Asean leaders met last month in Bangkok.
2. New military vehicle deal shows the development of relations
The US sees Thailand as an important military ally to have in the region, serving its geopolitical interests, and Thailand appears to welcome US aid to their military. Last week, a formal announcement was disclosed about a potential new military vehicle deal between the United States and Thailand. The development put the spotlight on the ongoing efforts by both countries to continue to further their defence collaboration within the broader relationship. According to the DCSA press release, the Thai government request covers 60 Stryker ICVs, 60 M2 Flex .50 cal machine guns, as well as spare parts, and other supporting equipment including those for testing, operations, maintenance, logistics, and program support.
3. The US certifies Thailand as a democracy
The US has acknowledged and praised Thailand’s transformation into a democracy. The declaration by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that “a democratically elected government has taken office in Thailand” was the only hurdle remaining to full restoration of ties following the 2014 coup d’etat. It was published over the weekend before he departed Washington to attend ASEAN meetings in Bangkok this week. The declaration was required under U.S. law to restore full diplomatic and military ties as sought by the militaries of both nations and signifies the growing importance of Thailand to the US.
4. Thailand wants more cooperation
Thailand is well aware of the instability in the region, especially with the Hong Kong situation, and is looking for increased support between nations. Thailand Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai told colleagues in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations that they must be “more agile” amid increasing nationalism globally.“We must recognise that looking inward and being myopic is not our option and never will be,” he said in his opening speech. “Amidst a great turmoil, we must be more outward and forward-looking than ever before.” He warned the road ahead “could be treacherous” but said greater cooperation among ASEAN members and outside partners could help sustain long-term growth. The main concern is China’s dangerous moves in the South China Sea, which Thailand believes are destabilising the region.
5. Stronger currency marks problem
While Thailand will strongly benefit from its military cooperation with the US, economic cooperation will also be important, as The Thai baht has soared against the U.S. dollar this year, significantly more than many other emerging market currencies. That strength is sparking concerns as the country’s domestic economy weakens, analysts said. Since the beginning of this year, Thailand’s currency has jumped more than 5% against the dollar. On a year-over-year basis, it has bounded even higher nearly 8%. The strength of the baht has been supported by Thailand’s large trade surplus and a hawkish central bank, among other factors. ”(The) strong currency is worsening the (Thai) economy’s plight by hurting exports further,” Prakash Sakpal, Asia economist at Dutch bank ING, told CNBC. It remains to be seen whether the US wants to increase their economic cooperation with Thailand, but such an agreement is not out of the question.