From Strength to Strength: Military Exercises Bolster Sino-Thai Relations

Publication: China Brief Volume: 12 Issue: 12

June 22, 2012 04:56 PM Age: 2 days  By: Ian Storey

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Chinese and Thai Marines During the Recent Exercise

In May, as the tense face off between maritime law enforcement vessels from the Philippines and China at Scarborough Shoal entered its second month, several hundred marines from Thailand and China conducted combined military exercises in Guangdong province. The two events highlight the widening fault line within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) between those members who view Chinese assertiveness as a serious national security concern—which can only be addressed with help from the United States—and member states who do not have a direct stake in the dispute and continue to prioritize strengthening economic, political and security ties with Beijing. The Philippines falls on one side of the divide, Thailand on the other. As Sino-Philippine relations deteriorate, Sino-Thai relations move from strength to strength.

Developing Sino-Thai Relations

Thailand and China developed a close relationship in the late 1970s when threat perceptions converged in the wake of Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1978. During Hanoi’s decade-long occupation, Bangkok and Beijing forged a de facto strategic alliance. China exerted military pressure on Vietnam when the Vietnamese military violated Thai sovereignty and Thailand facilitated the delivery of Chinese weaponry to anti-Vietnamese Khmer Rouge guerrillas along the Thai-Cambodian border. When Vietnam withdrew its forces from Cambodia in the late 1980s, the focus of Sino-Thai cooperation shifted quickly and seamlessly to trade and investment, and Thailand quickly established itself as China’s most important economic partner in mainland Southeast Asia.

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