Last week, Thailand hosted its first visit by a prime minister of the Czech Republic. While the trip was characterized by both sides as largely being focused on economic issues, it also saw some conversations about defense collaboration between them as well.
Thailand and the Czech Republic have pursued aspects of defense collaboration in recent years as part of their wider contemporary bilateral relationship initially established in 1974. While the aspects remain quite basic relatively speaking, including some training and equipment, both sides have also been looking at opportunities for expansion as well.
Last week, the defense aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with the scheduled visit of the Czech Republic Prime Minister Andrej Babis to Thailand – the first-ever official visit by a sitting Czech premier. The trip, which had been confirmed earlier this month by both sides, lasted from January 15 to 17.
The visit saw Babis and the large business delegation that accompanied him meet with several Thai officials, including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. The focus of the visit was largely on economic issues, with the Czech Republic looking to strengthen ties with Thailand, which it has seen as a key hub for regional trade. Bangkok, for its part, is keen to emphasize the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) and Thailand 4.0 as platforms for drawing in foreign investment and promoting national economic development as the junta-led government nears expected elections later this year.
But defense-related issues also factored into the conversation as well. The delegation that accompanied Babis included companies that would have a potential interest in defense-related areas, including cyber and aerospace. And among the officials Babis interacted with during his time there was Defense Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who has previously discussed advancing aspects of security ties between the two countries as well.
Some details within the interactions as part of the visit also indicated attention to defense issues. On the Thai side in particular, there was mention that both sides would engage in consultations looking at collaboration in specific areas, be it developing a flight simulation training center, an aerospace assembly plant, or a center for maintenance, repair, and overhaul.
It is difficult to evaluate the future prospects of these proposals given the lack of specifics publicly disclosed thus far, be it future activities planned for the rest of the year or the progress on initiatives that both sides had discussed before, including Thai purchases of military equipment or opportunities to increase exchanges and educational opportunities. Some of them have been mulled previously, and the continued focus suggests there is at least an ongoing conversation on these fronts. How they will actually translate into tangible actions, however, remains to be seen, particularly amid other uncertainties in Thailand’s political environment for the rest of 2019.