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Thai Junta Using China to Leverage the West

Author: Joshua Kurlantzick, Senior Fellow for Southeast Asia
July 8, 2014
World Politics Review


Last month, a Thai army delegation visited China for talks on their security ties, which include joint military training. In an email interview, Joshua Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, discussed Thailand's relations with China.

WPR: What was the status of ties between Thailand and China before the May military coup?

Josh Kurlantzick: The status of relations was quite good, probably better than between China and any other large country in Southeast Asia. Thailand has always, through its history, done an excellent job of balancing between major powers and still promoting Thai interests.

WPR: How has the coup impacted bilateral relations?

Kurlantzick: I don't think China is necessarily any happier about the coup than anyone else, since the coup ultimately could result in more instability, which is inimical to Chinese interests. China does not have as close a traditional relationship with the Thai military as the United States has, although China-Thai military relations have gotten closer in recent years. Still, China has, to some extent, tried to present itself as an alternative to Western powers' condemnation of the coup, and certainly the Thai junta is very, very interested in suggesting that China could be an alternative to its relations with the U.S. However, I don't think China is really ready to fill the U.S. role in military relations with Thailand at this point. Most Thai officers are not happy with the quality of training and joint exercises they have gotten in China.

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