Thailand, US ink defence 'vision'

Thailand and the US have signed a joint vision statement for a new Thai-US Defence Alliance intended to promote a security partnership between the two nations.

  • Published: 16/11/2012 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, right, and Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat, review honour guards at the Defence Ministry yesterday. Mr Panetta is on a three-country tour of the Asia-Pacific region. APICHART JINAKUL

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta yesterday met Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat to discuss defence cooperation between the two nations.

Mr Panetta is currently on a three-country tour of the Asia-Pacific region.

After the two-hour meeting at the Defence Ministry, Mr Panetta and ACM Sukumpol signed the 2012 joint vision statement for the Thai-US Defence Alliance, which focuses on four areas:

- Partnering to promote regional security in Southeast Asia;

- Supporting stability in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond;

- Bilateral and multilateral interoperability and readiness; and

- Relationship building, coordination and collaboration at all levels.

Mr Panetta told reporters that the US still has no plan to use U-tapao military airbase in Rayong for military purposes and does not intend to set up a regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) centre at the airbase.

ACM Sukumpol rejected suggestions that the signing of the joint statement with the US is an attempt to curb China's rising dominance in the region.

He denied the US is using Thailand as a tool to isolate China.

"Thailand makes friends with nations that are good to us. Both the US and China are our friends," he said.

ACM Sukumpol said the US is trying to strengthen ties with every country in the region, not Thailand alone.

He said the US Defence Secretary told him relations between the US and China have improved considerably.

ACM Sukumpol said Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao will make a two-day trip to Thailand next Tuesday and Wednesday. The Chinese premier's trip will follow soon after the visits of Mr Panetta and US President Barack Obama, who will be in Bangkok on Sunday and Monday.

According to the joint statement, the Thai-US alliance will foster cooperation on regional and multilateral security through a variety of initiatives and exercises, including Cobra Gold, the world's largest multilateral military exercise and the premier military training event in Asia.

Thai-US defence cooperation will support the leadership role Thai armed forces play in the region through peacekeeping missions, maritime security operations and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.

Similarly, Thailand's support of US presence in the region enables the stability that will allow the Asia-Pacific region to prosper under the principles of open and free commerce, a just international order, fidelity to the rule of law and open access by all to shared maritime, space and cyber domains, according to the statement.

Regarding bilateral and multilateral interoperability and readiness, the statement said the US supports the modernisation of the Royal Thai Armed Forces through the sale of US defence equipment, foreign military financing, international military education and training.

The forces of the two countries routinely exercise together, strengthening the bonds of interoperability, teamwork and friendship, the statement said.

The two countries also maintain a robust programme of military-to-military exchanges that help strengthen ties between their respective armed forces, the statement said.

The joint vision statement stressed the importance of the bilateral defence relationship at all levels, from ministerial consultations and military-to-military discussions to individual military exchanges.

Sustaining these engagements is critical to the future of the alliance, it said.

The statement said defence ties complement all elements of the two nations' broader relationship, including strong diplomatic, economic and cultural ties. In the joint vision, the two countries commit to strengthening all of these partnerships in order to achieve greater peace and prosperity for the two nations, as well as the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

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Writer: Wassana Nanuam
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