Last week, Chalermchai Sitthisart, the head of the Thai military, paid an official visit to China. While his trip was just the latest in a series of interactions by both sides for the year, it put the focus on ongoing efforts by the two countries to further opportunities in the security side of their relationship.
As I have noted before in these pages, though China-Thailand military cooperation is not new, it noticeably deepened following the coup in May 2014 orchestrated by the current ruling junta led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and an initial downturn in U.S.-Thai relations. While much of the focus has been on Thailand’s purchase of Chinese submarines, there have been other notable developments in defense ties as well, including a first-ever joint air force exercise, planned purchases of tanks, and even discussions about a joint military production facility to advance defense industry cooperation with Bangkok (See: “What’s With the China-Thailand Military Facility?”).
Both sides have continued to try to make further inroads in cooperation into 2018, even as the Thai junta remains preoccupied with domestic political concerns as well as future defense plans (See: “What Does Thailand’s 2019 Defense Budget Mean?”). Officials have been discussing some future steps in meetings and visits in the first half of this year, including ongoing plans regarding the joint military production facility discussed before as well as continuing on with plans to carry out military exercises (See: “What’s Ahead for China-Thailand Military Relations in 2018?”).
Defense ties were again in the spotlight last week when Chalermchai Sitthisart, the chief of the Royal Thai Army (RTA), paid an official visit to China starting on June 12. During the visit, Chalermchai met with a range of Chinese defense officials, including General Han Weiguo, the commander of the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force.
Unsurprisingly, few specifics were publicly disclosed by both sides in the way of details about the visit. According to Thai media outlets, bilateral discussions touched on progress on a range of different defense items, including defense items such as tanks and armored personnel carriers. There were also suggestions that the defense industry facility could be set up later this year, even though no further specifics were provided.