The U.S. Must Deepen Economic Ties with Thailand
Thailand, a longstanding ally, has been drifting away from the United States. Ever since the military coup in 2014, when the United States reduced its aid to Thailand, China’s influence in the country has grown. Increasing military and economic ties between Thailand and China are a threat to U.S. interests in Southeast Asia.
To counter this trend, the United States has been working to increase military ties to Thailand. One such example is the large increase of U.S. personnel taking part in the annual Cobra Gold Exercise this year. Yet this strategy alone is not enough for the United States to fulfill its strategic goal of strengthening relations. The U.S. must deepen economic ties with Thailand.
For Thailand’s government, economic development is the top priority. Many vast infrastructure projects are under way in the country including the Eastern Economic Corridor Project. The government is currently looking for foreign investment. Therefore, to warm relations with Thailand, the United States must respond accordingly, by increasing its economic ties with Thailand. This strategy will have many benefits for both the United States and Thailand.
Strengthening economic ties with Thailand furthers U.S. security interests. Through new trade and investment partnerships with the United States, Thailand will become less dependent on its economic ties with China. U.S. trade and investment will contain Chinese influence in the country and strengthen our own.
Strengthening economic ties with Thailand creates opportunities for American businesses. The United States can ensure the development of a strong middle class in Thailand through its investment in Thai businesses. The United States exports over $13 billion of goods and services to Thailand. A larger middle class in Thailand will ensure a larger export market for American goods and services, and contribute to our prosperity.
Strengthening economic ties with Thailand will lead to a stronger partnership with Thailand. Expanding economic ties will signal to Thailand that the United States is a committed ally. They will also improve the diplomatic dialogue between the two countries. A better dialogue can lead to deeper cooperation, to help resolve future issues as they arise.
Some U.S. officials are concerned that our economic engagement will prop up Thailand’s military government. On the contrary: supporting economic development in Thailand is the best way to bring back democracy to Thailand. Other countries in the region had authoritarian systems, but after becoming developed countries they became democracies. Some notable examples are Taiwan and South Korea. In those countries, economic development created a strong middle class. It was this strong middle class that paved the way for democracy. The same can be accomplished in Thailand.
Improving military ties is a step in the right direction for U.S.-Thai relations. Yet the United States should increase its economic ties to Thailand if it truly wishes to protect and promote its interests in the country. Two countries whose relations have been strained over the last four years can once again become strong allies. A relationship full of uncertainty can become one of confident friendship. Through stronger economic ties, the United States and Thailand can build a future of peace and prosperity together.