The political news and even the economic news dominates the Thai press. Arguably, though, the most significant event in a while is the joint anti-terrorism exercise under way in Chiang Mai, and involving the Special Forces of Thailand and China. It started last weekend and lasts until July 31.
Yes. China. This is the first time that the Thai and Chinese forces have had any sort of joint exercise. It is a very big deal just for that alone. But to bring in the Chinese special forces and team them up with the Royal Thai Special Forces troops from Lop Buri in war games against terrorism is a very big deal indeed.
Thai media have been mostly conspicuous by their absence. There was one piece in the Bangkok Post (archive here). It started off terrifically well, written by the Chiang Mai correspondent Subin Kheunkaew and the newspaper’s diplomatic correspondent Achara Ashayagachat:
The first-ever Thai-Chinese joint military exercise in Thailand aimed at suppressing international terrorism kicked off in Chiang Mai yesterday. The exercise, which involves troops from the 5th Special Forces Regiment in Chiang Mai’s Mae Rim district and their Chinese counterparts from Guangzhou, capital of south China’s Guangdong province, is coded-named “Strike 2008.”
It was the first time the Guangzhou army has sent its troops to take part in joint training outside its country, said Maj-Gen Zheng Qin, deputy commander of the Guangzhou army, who co-chaired the opening ceremony.
Unfortunately, after “one Chinese soldier” without a name or personality said he was excited, it quickly sunk to quoting academics rather than telling us what was going on where the ammo hit the targets.
Chulalongkorn University associate professor on political science, Surachart Bumrungsuk, said Sino-Thai military cooperation has been proceeding for some time but the first-ever joint military exercise in Thailand might reflect an improvement in relations between US-Asean and Asean-China.
“China has been participating as an observer in the Thai-US Cobra Gold exercise. Still, any closer relations between Thailand and China should be well-balanced,”’ said Mr Surachart.
Vorasakdi Mahatdhanobol, a China expert from the same faculty, said Thailand’s closer ties with China are being monitored by its Asean neighbours.
The analysis was excellent, but we need a longer and separate part to that, as well as much more description of what the troops on the exercise are doing.
Chinese media have given the story good play, including several pieces by the official national news agency Xinhua. Chinese TV has covered the exercise, including the channel seen on TrueVisions pay-TV in Bangkok and much of Thailand.