TAIPEI — Thailand’s move to purchase Chinese submarines has exacerbated tensions with the US and poses a challenge to Washington’s “pivot” to the Pacific.
The military junta, which declared a coup in May 2014 and created the National Council for Peace and Order, could turn to China for political and military support and cooperation, analysts said. The junta-led Cabinet approved the purchase of three Type 039A (Yuan) attack submarines in early July.
After the coup, the US reduced its presence at the annual Cobra Gold military exercises held with Thailand, and postponed further discussion on planning 2016 exercises.
There are fears in the region that US sanctions are pushing Thailand into China’s political sphere, said Martin Sebastian, head of the Centre for Maritime Security and Diplomacy, Maritime Institute of Malaysia.
“The US is giving the junta the cold shoulder, apparent during the Cobra Gold Exercise,” he said.
The sub decision will worsen the drift in Thai-US relations and frustrate the US’ rebalance strategy, said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
“It is building into a kind of brinkmanship from Bangkok which will require the US to weigh its values and interests carefully,” he said
US criticism might be the prime driver for the turn toward China, Pongsudhirak said.