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Cablegate: Dasd Scher Addressses Asean Centrality, U.S. Role

VZCZCXRO1292
PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #0255/01 0291104
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 291104Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9766
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS PRIORITY
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 7964
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA PRIORITY 0378
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 6161
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 2305
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON PRIORITY 0288
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 000255

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM SMIG TH
SUBJECT: DASD SCHER ADDRESSSES ASEAN CENTRALITY, U.S. ROLE
IN THE REGION, AND THE FUTURE OF U.S. MILITARY ASSISTANCE
WITH THAI COUNTERPARTS

1. (C) SUMMARY. During a January 21-23 visit, Deputy
Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia
Robert Scher met with officials from the Ministry of Defense
(MOD) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to
discuss a variety of bilateral and regional issues. The
centrality of ASEAN in the region and the importance of U.S
involvement in this and other regional institutions were
emphasized by both ministries. While Director of Plans and
Policy at the Office of the Permanent Secretary of MOD
General Vibbhavat Rajatanun provided a positive perspective
on expanded military exercises with China and assured Scher
the U.S. had nothing to worry about, MFA Director General
of the Department of American and South Pacific Affairs
Chirachai Punkrasin spoke candidly about China's increased
engagement in the region, referring to China's approach to
the region as "less accommodating" than in the past.

2. (C) MOD's Vibbhavat expressed disappointment in recent
decreased IMET and FMF funding for Thailand and noted that
these cuts could diminish the historically close ties between
the U.S. and Thai militaries. In both meetings,
Scher commended Thailand for serving as a strong ally to the
U.S. and offered ideas on how the U.S. and Thailand
could continue to build on their relationship, such as
through possible U.S. participation in ASEAN Defense
Ministerial Meetings (ADMM) Plus and bilateral mil-mil
strategic talks. END SUMMARY.

THAILAND CONVINCED ASEAN CENTRALITY IN REGION MUST ENDURE
--------------------------------------------- ------------

3. (C) During meetings at the Ministry of Defense and the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Scher asked Thai officials
about their impressions of emerging regional institutions
and, more specifically, ASEAN's role within this shifting
paradigm. MFA's Chirachai expressed a general satisfaction
with the current architecture of the region and an openness
to its continuing evolution. He did admit that some of the
emerging institutions, such as the East Asian Summit(EAS),
run the risk of testing ASEAN's centrality or overlapping,
for example, proposals from Japan and Australia for an East
Asian Community and an Asia Pacific Community.

4. (C) Both Chirachai and MOD's Vibbhavat believe ASEAN
should maintain its centrality in the region, as it
provides a comfortable forum for interaction among ASEAN
nations and with key partners such as the U.S. Chirachai
indicated that the RTG wanted to enhance further ASEAN's role
in the region and had organized a taskforce to explore
how Thailand might take a lead role in doing this.

THAILAND EMBRACES U.S. PLAN TO ENHANCE ROLE IN REGION
--------------------------------------------- --------

5. Chirachai and Vibbhavat viewed U.S. interest in
increasing engagement in the region through ASEAN - as well
as ARF, EAS, and the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) - as
beneficial both in terms of regional security and in terms
of economics, and stated their belief that all ASEAN nations
agree with this sentiment. When DASD Scher asked
Chirachai for thoughts on how might the U.S. engage more
effectively in the region, the DG recommended specifically
that the U.S. consider exploring issues of infrastructure and
software connectivity within the region.

6. (C) The prospect of including the U.S. in the ASEAN
Defense Ministers Meeting Plus (ADMM Plus) was discussed in
detail in both meetings. Vibbhavat noted that the U.S.'s
positive influence on regional security made it imperative
that the U.S. be one of the plus countries involved, but also
stressed the importance of Secretary of Defense Gates'
direct participation in these discussions. MOD expects that
the RTG's ASEAN representatives would push for the
ADMM Plus 8 scenario that would include the U.S. and Russia,
as well as the 6 partners included in EAS, during
the ADMM meeting in Hanoi this May. The RTG also intended to
encourage that the focus of this dialogue be practical
in nature and, thus, complement the more strategic-focused
ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) rather than overlap with it.

BANGKOK 00000255 002 OF 003

7. (C) Vibbhavat cautioned that the Plus 8 scenario was not
certain to be adopted, as various ASEAN nations were
concerned about some of the potential members. For example,
Burma was disturbed by Japan's potential
membership following Tokyo's recent criticism of the GOB's
treatment of ASSK. In addition, Vietnam was hesitant in
including India. Scher encouraged the RTG to think carefully
about membership in the ADMM Plus before the
planned first meeting in October, as adding additional
members afterward could be complicated.

8. (C) Chirachai presented a less optimistic impression on a
possible expansive ADMM Plus makeup, noting that there
was currently no consensus at the MFA - or among ASEAN
nations for that matter - on what countries should be
invited to join. Scher expressed U.S. interest at the
prospect of possibly joining the ADMM Plus meeting in
October, recognizing it as a good forum for further dialogue
on defense and security issues outside the ARF
context. However, he also pointed out that the Department of
Defense views the annual Shangri La dialogue in Singapore as
the centerpiece of U.S. high-level engagement in the region
on security issues.

...AND EXAMINE CHINA'S EMERGING PRESENCE AS WELL
--------------------------------------------- ---

9. (C) Scher asked both Vibbhavt and Chirachai to share their
thoughts on China's growing presence in the region.
MFA's Chirachai stated that China's influence in the region
had increased over the past few years and that this had
resulted in changes in how the PRC engaged the region.
Chinese policies had become "more assertive," and their
approach was now "less accommodating" than before. However,
Beijing's increased engagement in Thailand was on
the balance productive and not surprising considering China's
proximity to Thailand.

10. (C) Regarding the Royal Thai Armed Forces (RTARF) plan's
to continue small-scale military exercises with the
PRC, including initiation of a marine and naval exercise in
2010, Scher asked that Thailand keep us well informed
regarding the exercises, given our longstanding relationship.
Vibbhavat stated that the RTG could not ignore the growing
role of China in the region but expressed his agreement that
RTARF should share details of these exercises with the U.S.

11. (C) Scher described the recent increase in engagement
between the U.S. and the PRC, characterizing the Obama
Administration's collaborative approach as a more positive
way to address global problems. He expressed hope that the
two nations could continue to find shared interests,
particularly militarily and economically, that would help
sustain the relationship even when we did not see eye to eye
on political issues. He also assured the RTG that the
U.S. did not want to stand in the way of China emerging as a
global power, but wanted to ensure that this growing
Chinese power occurred within the confines of accepted
international rules and norms, and in a way that added value
to the region.

THAILAND SEEKS INCREASE IN U.S. MILITARY ASSISTANCE
--------------------------------------------- ------

12. (C) Both Chirachai and Vibbhavat told Scher that the RTG
would like to see increased U.S. military assistance -
through both the International Military Education & Training
(IMET) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF)
programs. Vibbhavat noted that IMET funding levels were
significantly less than previous years, with a current
budget of $1.5 million compared to the $2.4 million just a
few years earlier. The training provided by IMET enhanced
the knowledge and capacity of RTARF personnel and the funding
cuts had taken a toll on the Thai military. With
increased IMET funding, the RTARF would be able to more
positively impact regional security, and would continue
close U.S.-Thai military relations. Scher acknowledged a
worldwide decrease in U.S. military assistance funds, and

BANGKOK 00000255 003 OF 003


stated that he would work with the Department of State to try
to increase funding for IMET and FMF to Thailand as
early as 2012.

13. (C) Scher, while addressing RTG interest in receiving
excess defense articles (EDA) from Iraq, explained that
equipment would not be available earlier than 2014 and even
then the items might not be in an acceptable condition due
to extensive use, but that he would support Thailand's
request for any EDA items available. Stating that the U.S.
viewed military cooperation with Thailand as important, Scher
encouraged MOD to explore other U.S. opportunities as well,
such as APCSS courses and Counter Terrorism Fellowship
funding, as well as other avenues that would provide mutual
benefit.

14. (C) Recognizing the importance of the RTARF expanding its
role outside of Southeast Asia, Scher confirmed that
the USG still hoped to identify funding to assist Thai
military procurement of body armor and recovery vehicles
for use by Thai peacekeepers scheduled to be deployed to
Sudan in July (Note: Such funding subsequently was
identified the following week). Vibbhavat told DASD Scher
that the RTG was exploring other ways to participate in
international peacekeeping efforts. As such, deployments to
Lebanon and Haiti were being considered. Chirachai
expressed RTG interest in pursuing increased weapons
procurement with the U.S., and noted that a committee was
being formed to follow up on these proposals.

GOAL OF STRATEGIC 'DEFENSE TALKS' EXPLORED
------------------------------------------

15. (C) Scher shared EAP A/S Campbell and ASD Gregson's
intentions to come to Thailand for a U.S.-Thai Strategic
Dialogue in the coming months, and their hopes to establish a
separate defense officials' dialogue. DASD Scher,
Chirachai, and Vibbhavat discussed potential topics for a
mil-mil dialogue, including U.S. access to Thai training
facilities, prepositioning of humanitarian relief supplies,
regional security concerns, combating transnational crime,
and China and India's roles in the region. Vibbhavat
expressed his desire to see this dialogue be strategic in
nature, and conducted at the ministerial level to ensure it
has the greatest potential for successful cooperation.
Chirachai noted MFA's support of this dialogue and expressed
Foreign Minister Kasit's interest in participating as well.

THAI PROMISE FOLLOW-UP WITH LAOS ON THE HMONG
---------------------------------------------

16. (C) During his meeting with Vibbhavat, Scher stressed the
importance of the RTG's continued dialogue with the GOL
on Hmong who had been returned to Laos in December to ensure
that the Lao fulfill promises on the treatment of
the Hmong and in regard to U.S. access. Scher predicted that
Congress would likely react negatively towards the RTG
if the Hmong were treated poorly. Vibbhavat expressed
confidence that the GOL would ensure the safety of the
repatriated Hmong and assured DASD Scher that the RTG would
continue to monitor the situation closely.

THAILAND HOPES TO DO MORE FOR HAITI
----------------------------------

17. (C) Chirichai commended the U.S. for the response to the
earthquake in Haiti, and expressed the RTG's desire to
play a part in long-term relief efforts. While the RTG has
already sent $100,000 to Haiti through Mexico, Thailand
also planned to send medical teams and supplies to Haiti in
the future. Chirachai stressed that the RTG would likely
seek assistance from the UN and the U.S. to provide this aid.

18. (SBU) DASD Scher cleared this cable.
JOHN

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