Last week, Thailand’s army chief paid his introductory visit to Singapore in his current capacity. The trip once again underscored the defense ties underway between the two Southeast Asian states amid wider regional and domestic developments.
As I have observed previously, Thailand and Singapore have a defense relationship that includes not only traditional aspects like exchanges, visits, and exercises, but also components such as an overseas training area for Singapore in Thailand, one of several arrangements that the city-state has with select partners, and minilateral and multilateral interactions including those within the ASEAN framework as well as the Cobra Gold exercises, which Thailand hosts annually.
The development of the defense relationship has continued on into 2019 amid wider domestic and regional developments, with Thailand holding the annually rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, and both countries going through domestic political changes with Thailand having just gone through an election and Singapore gradually transitioning to a period beyond current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. As just one example of this, over the past few weeks, both sides have been carrying out the latest iteration of their bilateral army exercise Kocha Singa, which they have held since 1997.
Last week, this aspect of the relationship was in the headlines again with the introductory visit of Thailand’s new army chief to Singapore. Apirat Kongsompong, the commander in chief of the Royal Thai Army (RTA), was on his first visit to Singapore in his current capacity which lasted from May 21 to May 23.
Apirat’s visit to Singapore consisted of a series of interactions. In terms of meetings, he met with a range of Singapore officials including Senior Minister of State for Defense Heng Chee How, Chief of Defense Force Melvyn Ong, Chief of Army Goh Si Hou.
According to Singapore’s defense ministry (MINDEF), the meetings addressed both the state of the defense relationship between Singapore and Thailand as well as wider regional and global developments of mutual interest, including Thailand’s current holding of the annually rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which included a defense component as well.
In addition to these meetings, Apirat also had a series of other interactions as well. This included co-officiating the closing ceremony of Exercise Kocha Singa, which he did along with his Singapore counterpart Goh as well at the Murai Urban Training Facility in Singapore. The exercise, which took place from May 14 to May 23, was the 21st iteration between the two sides and featured a series of activities including peacetime contingency operations training, judgmental shooting, and urban live-firing, culminating in a joint battalion assault.
Unsurprisingly, no further specifics were publicly disclosed by either side about the private deliberations between them. Nonetheless, defense interactions such as the one we saw recently will continue to be significant as the relationship evolves through the rest of 2019 and beyond.