Thailand, the United States, and the Marianas

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The relationship between Thailand and the United States is strong, possibly understated, and of ongoing strategic importance. Thailand and America have a defense alliance partnership brought about from three separate signed agreements initiated over the past seven decades. 

Thailand’s location, which is east of the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean, is perfectly located to act as a strategic node for American military activities between the Western Pacific and the Middle East. 

American-Thai relations are characterized by cooperation in the realms of natural disaster response missions, fighting transnational crime and drug trafficking, military security partnering, public health, infrastructure development, and diplomacy. 

How the military-to-military relationship remains key
Thailand continues to give the United States access to a strategically located naval base and air base named Sattahip and U-tapao, respectively. The largest annual multilateral multi-mission military exercise that takes place in Southeast Asia involves Thailand as host partner, supported by several other nations to include South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, several other countries, and, of course, the United States. 

One central aspect that makes America incentivized to work with the Thais is that the air base at U-tapao has provided U.S. military aircraft with access to a key depot facility to refuel planes. This has been proven useful time and time again, as evidenced by operations performed to support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Thailand also gave the United States access to several air force bases that were used by American military personnel to initiate large numbers of its aircraft operations against North Vietnam during America’s conflict in Vietnam.

Today, Thailand purchases around two billion dollars’ worth of military equipment from the United States. The close relationship between Thailand and the United States is partially offset by Thailand’s closer relationship with China, which has sold a variety of military equipment to the Thais, including submarines and main battle tanks. Thailand also purchases military weapons from South Korea and Ukraine. 

Some are concerned that America’s ties to Thailand are slowly fading and being replaced by Chinese influence and economic power. Thailand’s constant and everchanging governmental tensions amongst its populace, monarchy, and the military make it very difficult to divine how greater stability can be sustained for Thailand over the long term. 

Other US-Thai activities
Despite China’s growing influence with Thailand, the United States and Thailand continue to work together on law enforcement training that covers topics ranging from human trafficking to wildlife trafficking. Both nations maintain a robust intelligence relationship and economic trade cooperation between the two countries is also strong, valued at approximately $50 billion. 

The United States also spends billions on direct foreign investments into Thailand. This, however, is offset by Japan, which is Thailand’s largest direct foreign investment party, and China, which is the country’s largest trading partner. 

Mariana islanders and folks from Thailand: Some similar concerns
As is the case with Guam and the Northern Marianas, Thailand’s strong tourism industry continues to be pummeled by COVID 19. While Guam markets itself as a place for tourists to get vaccinated, Thailand has been selling Phuket island to international tourists, primarily from low COVID-19 risk Middle East nations and Singapore as the place for already vaccinated tourists to roam.

Thailand’s biggest challenge with opening the country to international tourism is founded on the fact that most of the country’s 70 million citizens are not vaccinated for COVID 19. Thailand also continues to see spikes in citizens testing positive for the disease. 

Political and economic considerations
Unlike Thailand, Guam and the Northern Marianas are very restrained structurally in terms of how our Chamorro Pacific Islander civilization engages with the United States. Our island chain remains a priceless and tightly controlled military colonial region for the Pentagon and for America’s military allies in the region.  

Unlike Thailand, which is a world leader in exporting rice, our Mariana Islands have little to export in terms of products or commodities to major world markets. Perhaps it is this lack of having an overall tangible marketable resource base that further compartmentalizes and limits our island chain’s ability to leverage more fully what is available to our collective advantage. 

Chamorro military veterans who fought in Southeast Asia: Unresolved matters
U.S. military veterans who served in Thailand during the Vietnam era conflict are now included in a Veterans Affairs bill currently being reviewed by Congress. Many American military veterans, including many service personnel of Chamorro ancestry, became ill from exposure to herbicide rainbow agents such as Agent Orange during the Vietnam conflict. 

In addition, many of our Chamorro military veterans who served in Vietnam and throughout Southeast Asia during this time have never gotten a fair and comprehensive review of all their military files. 

Not one Chamorro who served in the United States military during this time was ever awarded the Medal of Honor. 

Now is the time for the Guam and NMI congressmen to push hard to have our Vietnam era veterans’ prior military records reviewed with precision and for completeness because several Chamorros may merit the Medal of Honor and other military awards.

Rick Perez | Author
Rick Perez used to serve in the U.S. military and has work experiences in public policy research and public affairs. He is passionate about national security and geopolitics and runs a newsletter called Guam Affairs at guamaffairs.substack.com. For questions or comments, contact Perez at rickp7839@gmail.com.

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