26 Oktober 2010

An upcoming Joint Exercise Between Seaborne Troops Takes Chinese and Thai Military Ties to Another Level

26 Oktober 2010

STRAIGHT AS A DYE: A Chinese-made C-801 guided missile is test-fired from the Thai warship ‘Sai Buri’, marking the end of a major naval defence exercise in the Gulf of Thailand. (photo : Bangkok Post)

Starting Tuesday and running to Nov 14, the Marine Corps of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) will conduct joint drills with their Thai counterparts in Sattahip.

Sino-Thai military ties have steadily improved in recent years, especially between the two armies and navies, and which will also see ties extended between the two air forces in the near future. This has been thanks to Thailand's hedging strategy of maintaining its traditionally close relationship with the US while increasing defence ties with China in support of Beijing's grand plan to secure safe passage at sea.
Dubbed "Blue Assault-2010", the joint training exercise in Chon Buri province will be the first time Chinese marines will have conducted drills with marines from another country, the Chinese National Defence Ministry said, according to a report by the official Xinhua news agency.

The joint drill will focus on anti-terrorism and help the two marine corps learn from each other, enhance mutual understanding and build friendly exchanges and cooperation in a bid to improve the capabilities of both countries' seaborne troops in handling new challenges and threats together, the report said.

SHOW OF STRENGTH: A Chinese fleet is assembled off the eastern port city of Qingdao just weeks after tensions flared following a naval stand-off with the US in the South China Sea. (photo : Bangkok Post)

The exercise will be held just 11 days after the end of a 15-day counter-terrorism training exercise between Thai and Chinese Special Forces in Guilin in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
The two armies have been holding annual joint Special Forces exercises since 2007.

Japan's Kyodo news service has also reported that 135 marines from each country will take part in the upcoming 20-day exercise that will include basic and comprehensive training scenarios on land, at sea and in the air.

The first naval exercise between China and Thailand took place in December 2005 in the Gulf of Thailand and was called "China-Thailand Friendship 2005". This exercise featured the People's Liberation Army Navy's guided-missile destroyer Shenzhen and supply ship Weishanhu as well as the Royal Thai Navy frigate Chao Praya.

This was the first exercise China had conducted with a Southeast Asian navy, though similar exercises were conducted with the Pakistani Navy in October 2003 and the Indian Navy in November 2003.

Ties between the two armed forces were widened during the Thaksin administration, thanks to General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh's established links with the Chinese leadership, and the integrated economic ties between the two nations.

Military cooperation between Thailand and China actually goes back a bit further to Vietnam's December 1978 invasion of Cambodia. Here Thailand became a supply route for Chinese-made military equipment to Khmer Rouge guerillas fighting the Vietnamese invaders. Clashes between Vietnamese troops and the Thai military as a result also saw Chinese pressure being put on Hanoi with cross-border shelling into Vietnam by the PLA.

Over the past few decades, China has also supplied Thailand with weaponry at knock-down, "friendship prices". In 1987, Thailand became the first Asean country to purchase arms from China and included 400 armoured personnel carriers (APCs), 50-60 tanks and anti-aircraft guns.


A couple of years later the Thailand ordered four Jianghu-class frigates (Bangpakorn, Chao Praya, Kraburi, and Sai buri) and two larger vessels of the same class (Naresuan and Taksin), which were delivered in the early 1990s and still form the bulk of the Royal Thai Navy's fleet.

The patrol boats Pattani and Narathiwat were also built by China.

However, Thai purchases of Chinese military equipment during the 1980s were as much for political reasons as military ones, according to Dr Ian Storey from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in a 2008 article titled: China and Thailand: Enhancing Military-Security Ties in the 21st Century published in the Jamestown Foundation's China Brief. Throughout this period Thailand still looked to the US for its most technologically sophisticated weaponry, such as the F-16 fighter, he said.
The close military ties with the US prompted president George W. Bush to declare Thailand a Major Non-Nato ally in October 2003.

Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based security analyst with IHS-Jane's, said closer naval cooperation between Thailand and China needs to be seen in the context of a growing Chinese naval footprint in the South China Sea and, indeed, the Indian Ocean.
KICKING OFF: Chinese and Thai Special Forces ended a 15-day joint counter-terrorism training exercise on Wednesday in Guilin of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. The training was the third of its kind in four years. (photo : Bangkok Post)

A large proportion of China's oil imports cross both waterways and Chinese naval vessels have recently been involved in anti-piracy patrols off the Somali coast, their most distant operational commitment to date, said Mr Davis.

China's growing focus on the South China Sea and Indian Ocean theatre has involved both naval cooperation with, and the building or upgrading of ports in friendly countries such as Cambodia, Burma, Bangladesh and Pakistan. China is also increasing its engagement at a range of levels with Sri Lanka, added the analyst.

"Sino-Thai military exchanges have been gathering pace over the past decade, so there is nothing radically new here. But the closer cooperation between the two navies will certainly be something that Thailand's traditional big-power ally, the US, will be monitoring closely along with other states in Asean and beyond," said Mr Davis.

India, he said, was particularly watching the extension of Chinese naval power into its Indian Ocean 'backyard' with close attention.

Khien Thiravit, Chulalongkorn University's professor emeritus on political science, said closer military ties between China and Thailand should be welcomed as Bangkok already has established relations with the US.

But Mr Khien, a China expert, said he would like to see, at the same time, warmer and more constructive collaboration between Thailand and her neighbours in the region: "If the military leaders of each country know each other well, this region and the world should be at least be more secure with sensible channel of communications. But this can only happen when the politicians also establish constructive and respectful dialogue with each other as well."

Holding joint military exercises are theoretically a sovereign issue of any nation, but Thailand should also exert some diplomatic finesse to secure the support and understanding of neighbours and allies when it holds them, he noted. In light of China's soft diplomacy, he also urged the Thai government to craft well-calculated policy platforms that can best fit the national interest.

(Bangkok Post)

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