11 July 2024

United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), or “Red Shirt” leader Jatuporn Prompan led a small group of Thai people who staged a rally in front of the Ministry of Defence yesterday (Monday), to protest the visit to Thailand by US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and his country’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

Austin paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, also Thailand’s defence minister, at the Ministry of Defence at 3pm yesterday.

In his address to the media, the red-shirt movement leader said Austin’s visit amounts to an attempt to drag Thailand into the US conflicts with China, based on the principle that enemies of the US are also enemies of Thailand, despite the fact that Thailand is not an enemy of any country, as he urged Thailand to reject the US Indo-Pacific strategy.

Jatuporn urged the prime minister to study the history of the Vietnam War and questioned whether he has received the consent of the Thai people to get involved in a war to protect Taiwan, in case it is invaded by China.

Prime Minister Prayut and then US Defence Secretary Mark Esper signed a Thai-US Joint Vision statement 2020, a comprehensive agreement on defence and security cooperation.

A free and open Indo-Pacific a common vision – US Secretary of Defence

The vision statement reaffirms the importance of the alliance for the 21st century and notes that defence ties complement all elements of their much broader relationship, including strong diplomatic, economic and cultural ties.

This is the fourth time that Lloyd Austin has been in Asia since he took office but it is the first time he has made an official visit to Thailand.

During his press conference in Bangkok, Austin said Thailand is an ally of the US, so there is a strong relationship, of which we must remain mindful. Thailand, he said, is an important country to the US.

This is not the first time some Thais have protested against perceived Western influence in the country. Last year, pro-monarchy and pro-establishment groups, usually Jatuporn’s antagonists, also rallied against what they claim is US interference in Thai politics and in support of the anti-government movement, while calling for the ouster of Amnesty International from the country last year.