As China circles, US-Thai military friendship stumbles

Perturbed by Thailand’s coup, the United States has scaled back a showpiece joint military exercise with its Southeast Asian ally, but analysts say that with China circling for influence, Washington will not push the kingdom’s generals too far.

Famed for its jungle bonding sessions where US and Thai soldiers down snake blood, the annual “Cobra Gold” event is the crown jewel of Thailand’s decades-long strategic alliance with the US.

But this year’s edition, which started on Monday, has been slimmed down, as Washington recalibrates the level of military support it is willing to show for a country under junta rule — and martial law — since last May.

In tweets following the opening ceremony, US charge d’affaires W. Patrick Murphy said the exercise had been “modified” in response to a “challenging” period, urging a return to democracy so the “full potential of relations” could be restored.

But while Washington wants to see one of its strongest Asian allies return to democratic rule, it has no desire to risk its relationship with Thailand, especially as the world’s most powerful military pursues its much-vaunted “pivot” to Asia to challenge a rising China.

“This is an intimate security relationship which goes back decades and has been strengthened by multiple challenges,” said Anthony Davis, a Bangkok-based military expert with IHS-Jane’s, citing conflict in Korea, Vietnam, Laos as well as Thailand’s own battle with communist insurgency.

“You don’t throw that away in a fit of pique.”

Full article: As China circles, US-Thai military friendship stumbles (Spacewar)

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