Thai-U.S. Defense relations solid: U.S. academic

The decades-old strong defense relations between Thailand and the United States will not be eroded by Thailand’s increased cooperation with China or the new policies of the Trump administration, a respected academic from George Washington University told a Thai audience last week.

Defense relations between Thailand and the U.S. are “extremely deep, strong and long-standing,” said David Shambaugh, founding director of the China Policy Program at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University, noting the continuing joint military exercises such as Cobra Gold and CARAT, the joint naval drills.

Thailand is the oldest treaty ally of the United States in Asia, with trade relations dating back to 1833, and with defense cooperation a strong component of bilateral ties since the 1960s.

Speaking at a roundtable in Bangkok, Shambaugh said the U.S. was not asking Thailand or other countries in Southeast Asia to choose between America and China, and that relations with countries in the region should remain stable. He does not expect a trade war between China and the United States under President Trump despite an increase in tensions.

“You will not see significant change at the regional level, but I assume we will see change in the China policy. I anticipate a change in Mr. Trump’s administration which is far more confrontational towards China,” he said.

Both sides realize that the consequences of a trade war would hurt both countries, he said, and so are unlikely to take their disputes too far, despite harsher rhetoric.

He said that the Trump administration’s decision to abandon the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement would hurt America’s trade with countries in Asia. Although Thailand had not signed on to the agreement, it might still suffer indirectly as it would not benefit from a general increase in regional trade resulting from the deal.

Shambaugh spoke positively about China’s leader Xi Jinping, saying that the United States was now dealing with a strong China that is acting more responsibly in the global arena.

“Under Xi Jinping, China has really moved from being a free rider in global governance to a much more constructive, active participating contributor,” Shambaugh said.