Behind the Australia–Thailand Strategic Partnership

Author: John Blaxland, ANU The Australia–Thailand Strategic Partnership was signed on 13 November 2020. Why did it take place and how did this happen? The joint declaration covers enhanced cooperation in defence and security, cyber affairs, anti-money laundering and transnational crime. But it is best understood in the context of shared history, common geography, overlapping […] The post Behind the Australia–Thailand Strategic Partnership first appeared on East Asia Forum.

Behind the Australia–Thailand Strategic Partnership

Author: John Blaxland, ANU

The Australia–Thailand Strategic Partnership was signed on 13 November 2020. Why did it take place and how did this happen? The joint declaration covers enhanced cooperation in defence and security, cyber affairs, anti-money laundering and transnational crime. But it is best understood in the context of shared history, common geography, overlapping interests and mutual strategic concerns.

During the Second World War, over 13,000 Australian prisoners of war were press-ganged by Japan into building a railway from Thailand to Myanmar. With the onset of the Cold War, Thailand and Australia’s significance to each other changed. For different but complementary reasons, both chose to be aligned with the United States. They established diplomatic relations in 1952 and both were founding members of the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) in 1954. Australia also deployed a squadron of F-86 Sabre aircraft to Ubon Ratchathani Province in Northeast Thailand for much of the 1960s.

During the Vietnam War, Australian soldiers fought alongside Thai soldiers in neighbouring provinces in South Vietnam. Australia and Thailand supported each other and worked collaboratively, including tipping off emergent threats to each other. Since then, both have established good relations with Vietnam, thanks in large part to the constructive role of ASEAN. Throughout, the connection between Australia and Thailand has endured.

Many Thais have studied in Australia, including the King of Thailand, Maha Vajiralongkorn, who studied at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, alongside Governor-General David Hurley. Today, exchanges include a range of institutions and disciplines.

Something that speaks to the reliability of a friendship is when in a crisis a true friend lends a helping hand. In the East Timor crisis of 1999, Thailand was the first country in Southeast Asia to volunteer to assist Australia in resolving the crisis.

Others in Southeast Asia followed, including the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, but it was Thailand that took the risky first step, setting the precedent for others to follow. Thailand recognised that Australia was a trusted partner in the region — as was the case during the Cambodian peace process a few years earlier — and volunteered to take the lead, as well as providing the deputy force commander for the international coalition known as International Force East Timor (INTERFET). Thailand then deployed a substantial task force into East Timor before others did so.

Given the shared geography, it’s not surprising that Australia has been actively engaged in Southeast Asia since the Second World War, being widely recognised as the first partner of ASEAN.

By way of demonstration of its ongoing importance, Australia is actively involved in a range of regional initiatives that include Thailand. These range from the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM+) arrangements, including their various expert working groups, to the ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit. Australia is also a close partner on a range of regional counterterrorism initiatives that involve defence, police and security agencies. That common shared space — the geography they both inhabit — links to their shared interests.

These interests revolve around the key requirements for security and stability.

Thailand’s economic development and prosperity, for example, stands in contrast with the status of fellow predominantly Theravada Buddhist neighbouring countries: Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. For Australia, Thailand’s Western security links have facilitated a closeness between their armed forces that few realise. These security ties are matched by strong bilateral trade and education links.

Both Thailand and Australia are founding members of APEC. In 2005, both Thailand and Australia signed the Thailand–Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) and the ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA) in 2010. Both also cooperated on the recent Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). This shows Thailand and Australia’s interests overlap — pointing to areas of shared concern.

Like Australia (and despite contrary reporting) Thailand remains a US treaty ally. Also like Thailand, Australia is invested in the great Asian project of regional cooperation and mutual benefit. As middle powers, both have cause to share ideas and work collaboratively — as they have previously done in East Timor in 1999 and Cambodia in the early 1990s. That sharing of perspectives has become particularly important in light of the apparent American transactional retreat from ideational leadership witnessed in recent years.

Reflecting on Australia’s geostrategic strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, Thailand and Australia face similar challenges linked to a combination of great power contestation, looming environmental catastrophe and a spectrum of governance challenges. That confluence of factors and shared interests is driving the desire for a strategic partnership between these two nations.

In thinking about Thailand’s domestic politics, some may wonder why Australia signed a comprehensive strategic partnership with Thailand at this juncture?

A recent collaborative Centre of Gravity paper between the ANU and Thammassat University showed that Australia has an interest in political reform in Thailand, but that interest is moderated by a strategic calculus. In essence, Australian leaders seek to remain on good terms with their Thai counterparts as successive Thai governments have been on good terms with their Australian counterparts.

In a cool-headed calculation, the Australian government recognises an alignment of interests which motivates a desire to maintain as close ties as close as possible with Thailand, despite sporadic domestic political turbulence and difference of views. In turn, after nearly 70 years of formal diplomatic ties, the Thai government appreciates this calculated position. There is more in common to warrant the strategic partnership than many realise.

John Blaxland is Professor of International Security and Intelligence Studies in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University.

The post Behind the Australia–Thailand Strategic Partnership first appeared on East Asia Forum.
Source : East Asia Forum More   

What's Your Reaction?

like
0
dislike
0
love
0
funny
0
angry
0
sad
0
wow
0

Next Article

Indonesia: Tankers' Crews Caught 'Red-Handed' in Illegal Oil Transfer, Confessed

The two ships, one crewed by Chinese nationals and the other by Iranians, had lowered their flags and turned off their automatic identification systems in an attempt to escape detection.

Indonesia: Tankers' Crews Caught 'Red-Handed' in Illegal Oil Transfer, Confessed

The crews of two tankers seized by Indonesia over the weekend admitted that they were carrying out an unauthorized oil transfer from an Iran-flagged vessel to a Panama-flagged one and hiding their ships’ identities, a spokesman for the Indonesian coast guard said on Tuesday.

Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCC) MT Horse and MT Freya were scheduled to arrive Tuesday afternoon at a naval port in Batam, in the Riau Islands, for an ongoing investigation after they were seized by Indonesia’s Maritime Security Agency (Bakamla) on Sunday.

Members of the crew admitted they were making an unsanctioned transfer of oil, had shut down the tankers’ automatic identification systems, lowered national flags, and covered the vessels’ names in a bid to conceal their identities, Bakamla spokesman Wisnu Pramandita said.

“It will be investigated further in Batam. However, they were caught red-handed and confessed,” Wisnu said in a statement received by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Thirty Iranian nationals crewed the Horse, while 25 Chinese nationals crewed the Freya, coast guard spokesman Wisnu had said on Monday.

The head of Bakamla, Adm. Madya Aan Kurnia, said Indonesia had the authority to investigate because the ships were caught in the act of committing violations regulated not only by Indonesia but also by international law.

“Iran can protest, or question this. But it’s clear, the two supertankers were caught red-handed by Bakamla’s KN Marore as it was on patrol,” Aan told BenarNews by phone.

Aan said the crews of the two tankers initially declined to answer radio calls when their positions were detected in waters off Pontianak, West Kalimantan.

“They were caught transferring fuel oil from an Iranian ship to a Panamanian ship. When the security forces arrived, some oil was thrown into the sea, creating pollution,” Aan said.

After the tankers arrive in Batam, an investigative team with representatives of several ministries and related institutions will carry out the investigations, he said.

“This is not just a security issue,” Aan said, adding that he had reported about the two tankers to the Foreign Ministry and the ministries of immigration, transportation, environment, and energy and mineral resources, along with police.

 “Tomorrow the teams will start investigations, in their respective fields.”

Aan said the two tankers had been escorted to the naval base for investigation of initial allegations. Further legal measures would be determined based on the results of the investigation, he said.

He said that Bakamla had become more vigilant after a Chinese survey ship earlier this month went through Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone with its AIS turned off.

The Indonesian Navy has been investigating the discovery of an unmarked underwater surveillance drone, or sea glider, near South Sulawesi in December. The device, which is capable of collecting military intelligence, likely belongs to the government of China, Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute told the website of Australia’s ABC News at the time.

“We’re also suspicious because of that sea glider. The issue has been conveyed to the Chinese side as well. We ask the foreign ministry to tell the Chinese that while passing through Indonesian sea routes, AIS must be turned on and it must be reported if the system does not work,” Aan said.

The tankers were suspected of committing four violations, including violating the right of passage in an Indonesian archipelagic sea lane and transferring oil there, Wisnu told BenarNews on Monday.

The Freya had traveled from Bayuquan district in China’s Liaoning province on Jan. 6 and was near Indonesia and Singapore six days ago, according to the MarineTraffic.com website. The Panama-flagged tanker is owned and managed by a firm listed as the Shanghai Future Ship Management Co., according to information from the site.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.