22 May 2024

US chargé d’affaires in Thailand, Michael Heath, has debunked several rumours and allegations about its new consular office in the northern province of Chiang Mai, sparked by its high price tag.

Among the currently unsupported allegations is that it will be used as a US centre for monitoring military communications in southern China, or as a missile base.

At a meeting with a selected group of Thai reporters covering security affairs, Mr. Heath, the acting ambassador, said that he is happy to address all rumours surrounding the construction of new consular office, in Chiang Mai, which cost about US$280 million.

He said that, from now on, the public relations office at the US embassy will take care of this matter on a case by case basis.

The construction cost sounds expensive, he said, but it is in line with the budget allocated by the US government for the construction of a consular office which meets the required safety standards, such as the thickness of the walls, the distance from the walls to the buildings and good construction materials which are eco-friendly and heat resistant.

All these standards are set out in the regulations and several other consular offices, in Botswana and Namibia for example, are of the same standard, said the US envoy.

The allegation that the new consular office, upon completion, will become a US spy centre in Southeast Asia was made by former media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul, who headed a movement against the Shinawatras, later known as the “yellow-shirt” royalist political movement.

In one of his online talk programs in September 2020, Sondhi said that Chiang Mai is an ideal location from which to spy on Chinese military communications in Sichuan province, especially its capital of Chengdu, which is home to several military installations and the Qionglai Air Base.

Sondhi, however, did not provide any evidence to support his allegations or suspicions.

The US envoy disclosed that, earlier, there was a question over whether the US government should keep the consular office in Chiang Mai, but as there are about 17,000 American citizens living there the US government decided that the consular office should remain, noting that China has four consular offices in Thailand.

He said that the consular office in Chiang Mai has several roles and responsibilities and has been cooperating with Thai security agencies in joint efforts against human, wildlife and drug trafficking