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China may gain from Thai-US Cobra Gold spat

WHILE the United States is considering whether to delay next year's annual Cobra Gold military exercise in response to the coup, China appears to have sent a clear signal of its wish for a greater role in this exercise, the largest in the Asia-Pacific region.

Washington's strong criticism of Thailand's new military junta could drive a wedge between the two countries and provide China an opportunity to ingratiate itself with Bangkok, Chulalongkorn University security expert Panitan Wattanayagorn said.

China participated in the exercise for the first time early this year as an observer by dispatching 17 mechanics and military medical staff.

The fate of next year's Cobra Gold is still unknown, pending further consideration. Washington on Tuesday suspended US$4.7 million (Bt152.7 million) in defence aid and halted a military exercise that had been under way in the wake of the power seizure.

The annual joint exercise, bilaterally controlled by Thailand and the US, has been held every year in the Kingdom.

Though Bangkok and Beijing signed a military cooperation deal more than a year ago, China has shown only symbolic moves because it has yet to accumulate significant military power, Panitan said. Beijing has dispatched missile cruisers to the South China Sea and staged operations against Japan. But it will take China at least 20 years to catch up with the US in terms of military clout, he said.

"The period of 20 years is on the assumption that the US puts its military and arms development on hold. China spends around US$100 billion annually in military and arms development, while the US splurged up to $700 billion a year," he said.

China's modern military force is still in its infancy. Its conventional force has no expertise to stage operations beyond its borders. The country has rarely had joint military training with any country, Panitan said.

"It will take time for China to be equipped with a formidable military force, but the point is the country is ready financially and politically. China has signalled it is ready to strike a security balance against the US."

He believes China might stage some kind of protest against Thailand if it initiated a new military cooperation with the US further on from Cobra Gold.

This year's Cobra Gold, held between January 13 and February 21 at Akatosarot military camp in Phitsanulok province, attracted 8,239 participants from seven countries.

Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Brunei, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Mongolia and the Philippines sent multinational augmentation teams to the event. Also Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, China, South Africa, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Russia, Pakistan and the United Kingdom dispatched 11 combined observer liaison teams.

Cobra Gold 2014

(33rd military exercise)

January 13-February 21

8,239 participants from seven countries

Thailand: 3,010

United States: 4,556

Singapore: 65

Japan: 137

Indonesia: 42

South Korea: 376

Malaysia: 36

Observers: 17 mechanics and

military medical staff from China


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