Thailand’s annual Cobra Gold war games have seen the largest attendance by the US in a decade. The international military exercise started yesterday and runs to March 10.
The unprecedented attendance by the US military is thought to be part of Washington’s efforts to build ties with a key security partner as geopolitical competition with China is on the rise.
According to Brunswick News, the Cobra Gold military drill is the largest joint military exercise in Asia and involves 30 countries. The drill has been running for more than four decades. Now, more than 6,000 US military personnel will be attending the war games.
America’s envoy to Thailand, Robert Godec, says Admiral John Aquilino, the top commander for the Indo-Pacific region is also participating, signalling renewed US-Thai security ties.
“Cobra Gold helps build interoperability, advances our common interests, and serves as a demonstration of our dedication to our allies and partners in ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
Previously, Washington’s criticism of the 2014 coup by Prayut Chan-o-cha saw dwindling numbers of US military joining the drills. But, this year’s attendance numbers show a strengthening of the Thai-US relationship.
Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Thailand’s Naresuan University, says the rise in attendance is a significant development. He says the US’ increased attendance is part of Washington’s “dance” to balance its values and geopolitical interests with the rise of China.
“By increasing the number of US troops back into Cobra Gold, this re-calibrates US-Thai relations more on a par with China. So there is more of a hedging policy for Thailand in terms of trying to create a balance between the two great powers that matter most to Thailand.”
Currently, China is the largest source of annual foreign investments in Thailand and Chinese tourists remain key to its tourism industry.
Cobra Gold kicked off in Rayong province yesterday and features more than 7,000 military personnel from 30 countries in attendance.
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