Last week, two Thai navy vessels were in the Philippines for a goodwill visit. The development spotlighted the ongoing activity within the defense realm of the relationship between the two Southeast Asian states amid wider domestic and foreign policy developments.
As I have noted before in these pages, Thailand and the Philippines, both U.S. treaty allies in Southeast Asia, have long shared defense ties as part of their wider bilateral relationship which extends into the maritime domain as well. Certain parts of their defense ties, including exchanges, visits, and exercises, have featured functional areas of collaboration with a maritime focus, be it counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and battling transnational crimes such as smuggling and trafficking.
Both sides have been attempting to further boost joint collaboration in this domain over the past year or so as well. This is true whether viewed from the perspective of the bilateral relationship, such as goodwill visits between vessels, or within broader regional cooperation, with the case in point being Thailand’s advancement of maritime-related issues such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing) or managing maritime debris as part of its holding of the annually rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Last week, this aspect of the Thailand-Philippines relationship was in the headlines with another goodwill visit between the two sides. Two vessels of the Royal Thai Navy (RTN) docked at Subic Bay Freeport last week as part of a pre-arranged goodwill visit to the Philippines that lasted from May 15 to May 18.
The visit of the two Thai vessels, the His Thai Majesty’s Ship (HTMS) Taksin (FFG-422), a Naresuan-class frigate, and the HTMS Krabi (OPV-551), a modified river-class patrol vessel, was comprised of a series of interactions. This included a welcome ceremony, courtesy calls to officials, a visit to the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) in San Antonio, Zambales, and other confidence-building engagements with the Philippine side including shipboard tours, reciprocal receptions, and friendly games.
Both sides framed the visit as both an opportunity for the two countries to further strengthen maritime relations as well as a testament to the critical role that this aspect of ties plays for them. And while it is of course only one of several interactions between them, such activities will continue to remain important to watch within the broader trajectory of their ties and amid wider domestic and regional developments more generally through the rest of 2019 and into 2020.