A high-ranking military source said Thailand had asked the US to explain in writing why it wanted to resume the Cobra Gold exercises with Thailand, after previously suggesting it might shift them elsewhere. The threat was an apparent gesture of opposition to the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s seizure of power on May 22.
“It was quite a strong reaction from the US in threatening to withdraw the Cobra Gold [exercises] from Thailand, which we are fine with,” the military source said.
“We are ready to conduct military exercises with member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [Asean], including Myanmar, along with China and India, which have already said they are ready to take part,” he added.
“The US has submitted a letter saying it will resume Cobra Gold jointly with Thailand, but we have not responded to it. We have asked the US to explain in a written statement why [it wants to resume the exercises],” the source said.
There are now a total of 3.5 billion people – the population of India, at 1.2 billion, China at 1.4 billion and the Asean countries, at 700 million – that understand the situation in Thailand, the military source said. However, the US, which has a 180-year-old relationship with Thailand, was among the first to publicly oppose the coup, he added.
The annual Cobra Gold military exercises began in 1982 and are the largest in the Asia-Pacific region, with seven participating countries and 11 observing countries, including China. This year's exercises were conducted in February, before the military seized power.
The exercises have been conducted every year since they began without interruption. They were even held in 2007, one year after a military coup led by retired Army General Sonthi Boonyaratglin dislodged former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The source said the NCPO had categorised foreign countries into three groups based on their stance towards its coup: Asean countries, which he said were 100 per cent supportive of the NCPO; countries that had not expressed a strong stance, with which the NCPO was currently creating an understanding; and countries that had openly opposed the coup.
“These countries are speaking less about the power seizure – a response signifying their better understanding of the situation in Thailand,” the source said. He said most Western countries had only decreased the level of their military relations with Thailand, which he described as a testament to the NCPO’s success in foreign relations.
The US government’s lowering of Thailand on its human trafficking ranking had not affected the country, he said. The NCPO was, however, disappointed by the “unfair” move, he said.
A decrease in Thai-US military cooperation would not affect the repair and maintenance of US-made hardware and weapons in the Thai military inventory.