Despite the United States’ rebalance to Asia, relations with Thailand have been rocky over the past year and a half, but things are starting to look better. On December 16th, the two nations will hold their first strategic dialogue in three years. In May of last year, the Royal Thai Armed Forces staged a coup an ousted the civilian elected government. This struck a serious blow to US-Thailand relations and full resumption of ties are only likely to occur with the restoration of the elected government. However, the move back to an elected government keeps getting pushed back further and further as the military is concerned with the impending royal succession of the King, who is in poor health. It is likely that the junta will continue its hold on power to ensure that succession runs smoothly. With no real signs as to when the country will return to democracy, the United States has to re-evaluate its relationship with Thailand.
As stated before, the United States does not wish to restore full relations until the democratic government is reinstated but they may have no other choice but to move forward in its diplomatic and security relationship so as to prevent increased Sino-Thailand relations. When the United States responded to the coup with a suspension of some military aid, it only provided a situation in which China could exploit. This situation proves problematic as Thailand still serves as a critical ally for the US in the Asia-Pacific, especially as an access point for US forces. During the past half year and in response to increased Sino-Thai military relations, the United States has increased its defense cooperation activities in turn.
In addition to the recent increase in US-Thai cooperation, there have also been more positive moves towards restoring the diplomatic relationship, which is perhaps the result of the United States accepting that the military junta will stay in power for longer than expected. In April, Washington confirmed a new ambassador to Thailand following the previous ambassador which spoke out against the junta. Glyn Davies, after taking the position, stated that there is a greater willingness to improve relations in spite of Thai domestic politics. In turn, the new Thai ambassador the US said that his most immediate task was to improve Thailand’s relationship with the US.
Despite the issues that Washington has with the current military rule in Thailand, its strategic importance in the rebalance to Asia appears to be more important moving forward.