Thailand watches with interest as US election looms

Thailand watches with interest as US election looms

Changes at the White House after this election may not have an immediate impact on Thailand, but the level of US engagement with Bangkok could have long-term repercussions.

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BANGKOK: The United States has been a major treaty ally for Thailand for decades, and Bangkok hosts one of the largest US embassies in the world.

However, Washington's decision to condemn the Thai military coup in 2014 undermined relations, and Bangkok has gravitated more towards Beijing. Thailand and China have been continuing to strengthen ties ever since.

The US presidential campaign has also received a great deal of coverage in Thailand. An observer in the Thai government believes the way it has been conducted raises questions about democracy in the US.

"I think the campaign has become more aggressive, more problematic and worrisome to a lot of people," said Panitan Wattanayagorn, a Thai government security adviser. "It's not the model that the world can follow anymore. In the past, the developing world, developing democracies were thinking that the US model should be one of the top models to follow. Not anymore, looking at it from this campaign perspective.”

Thai nationalists and conservative supporters of the military government have also accused the US of meddling in Thai political affairs. Some would like to see a change in administration at the White House.

"The US has to match words with actions - like what they will do with their support for Thai lese majeste offenders based in the US, or their support for the NGOs that aim to destroy Thailand and the government, or their (embassy) movement and interaction with people on the ground here," said Paisal Puechmongkol, adviser to Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

"I think if Trump wins, we will have more clarity, for the better, on these issues. If Clinton wins, these things will remain unclear," he added.

“A lot of Thais would like to see the US disengage, the US getting out the region, stop being the world policeman," said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Security and International Studies. "The US under Trump might just do that. But that would bring greater instability, and perhaps more tension leading to possibly confrontation and conflict.

“Under Clinton, we will see some continuation of Obama, the pivot, the re-balance, with a lot more constraints. She will be constrained because of the Bernie Sanders supporters who want America to focus on itself, and also by the Trump supporters who want America to look after its own."

The level of US engagement with Bangkok could have long-term repercussions for Thailand. US President Barack Obama exerted pressure on the Thai military to restore democracy quickly after the 2014 coup and it remains to be seen if Washington will continue to weigh in as the kingdom heads for elections next year.

Source: CNA/ec