Cobra Gold 2017: Are US-Thai Relations Improving?

My latest Channel NewsAsia report on the opening ceremony of Exercise Cobra Gold 2017 and the state of US-Thai military relations at the very beginning of Donald Trump's US presidency. 

TRANSCRIPT

Around Valentine's Day for nearly four decades, the armed forces of Thailand and the United States come together for war games which actually demonstrate a healthy relationship between the two.

But that hasn't always been the case in recent years.

The relations between the United States and Thailand have been somewhat frosty since the military coup in 2014. The US has suspended millions of dollars in military aid and reduced its commitment to Exercise Cobra Gold. But this year, with the attendance of the highest-ranking US military officer in years, and the growing geo-strategic challenges in the Asia Pacific, the US may be slowly warming up to one of its longest-standing allies in the region.

This year's guest of honor, Admiral Harry B. Harris from the US Pacific Command, stressed the importance of a strong Thailand and the importance of restoring democracy in the country.

"The US alliance with Thailand is a deep and enduring commitment. We look forward to Thailand's reemergence as a flourishing democracy because we need Thailand as a strong and stable ally. We need Thailand to get back to be the regional and global leader that it always has been. We (missing word?) Thailand's leadership in Asia," he said during the opening ceremony.

Thailand, which was criticized by the previous US administration for the numerous delays in holding democratic elections, also opted for a conciliatory tone.

"The political issues remain political issues and The US have their (differing) opinion, but we have been training together for years and that's nothing special," said Gen. Surapong Suwana-Adth, the Chief of the Thai Defense Forces.

The affirmation of ties comes amid uncertainty about the role of the US in Asia with Mr Donald Trump as president.

But if the mood at this year's Cobra Gold is anything to go by, then at least military leaders from the US and Thailand are getting along fine.

The drills are the largest US-led military exercises in Asia.

This year, some 8,300 troops from nearly 30 countries are taking part in various combat exercises and humanitarian operations.

This includes personnel from Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Sattahip, Chonburi province