Sea Change Awaits Trump in Thailand

During the US election campaign and since, President Donald Trump and other members of his administration issued tough statements about China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea and promised to bulk up the US naval fleet. Thailand, both bilateral and multilateral treaty ally for the United States, may not be reassured. To be fair, as noted by author Benjamin Zawacki, Trump inherited cooling ties with Thailand from his predecessor who failed to secure a sustainable policy pivot to Asia. Thailand has been gradually improving relations with its neighbor China over the past two decades. Since the 2014 coup, China has become Thailand’s leading trade partner and the second largest source of foreign investment. Thailand joined the China-led Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank, and the two nations have expanded joint military drills. “In January, Thailand announced intentions to develop a joint weapons and defense industry to facilitate increased procurement of Chinese arms,” Zawacki writes. Other nations are run by their own nationalist leaders. If crisis strikes over the South China Sea or another issue in Southeast Asia, the Trump administration could discover that allies could play an oppositional role. – YaleGlobal