(Unofficial Translation)

The largest joint military exercise in Southeast Asia held by U.S. and Thailand, Cobra Gold, commenced in the northern Thai city of Chiangmai on Feb 11. According to the Thai army, Myanmar is allowed to join the military exercise as an observer for the first time.

The military exercise this time will last for 11 days until Feb 21.  13,000 military personnel from the seven participating countries, including the U.S., Thailand, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia, will participate in different exercise programs in the north, northeast and middle Thailand.  New transportation aircraft, MV-22 Osprey based in Futenma will be dispatched for the first time in training for forced landing.

The exercise will also include a Japanese evacuation exercise, a traditional item since 2008. Due to the killing of foreigners, including ten Japanese, in the recent Algerian hostage crisis, this training has received broad attention. In addition, military personnel from these countries will participate in a series of humanitarian and citizen assistance programs aimed at enhancing the living conditions of local Thai people.  These would include the improvement of local infrastructure, community healthcare systems and medical assistance.

Since 1982, the annual U.S.-Thai joint military exercise “Cobra Gold” has developed from the original bilateral joint exercise to the largest multi-national military drill in the Asia Pacific region. Japan and South Korea began participating in 2005 and 2010. In the interest of efficiency, the U.S. and Thailand have specified that the maximum number of participating countries should be 10. They also require that any country participating in the exercises must meet the requirement of dispatching observers to the exercise for two consecutive years. China has been sending observers since 2002. Brunei, Germany, Laos and New Zealand will also send observers to the exercise this year.

U.S. looking for new issues for cooperation in Southeast Asia

The U.S. has been emphasizing that the main purpose of Cobra Gold is to practice multilateral cooperation in response to unexpected regional crises. However, it is widely believed that the U.S.’ aspiration lies in further strengthening its relations with Southeast Asian allies. As the U.S. implements its strategy of “rebalancing to Asia” in recent years, the military exercise has become more about the U.S. hope to find new issues for cooperation in Southeast Asia for the sake of the eastward pivot of its strategic focus and preventing its leadership in the Asia Pacific from being challenged.

The most striking issue this year is Myanmar’s participation in the military exercise for the first time at the invitation of the U.S. as a category B observer. This is seen as a strong sign of the improvement in relations between the West and Myanmar. Some experts also believe that the U.S. intends to drag Myanmar into the American strategic encirclement of China. And this is the first step in military cooperation between the U.S. and Myanmar.   It would promote the purchase of US arms by Myanmar and strengthen its military cooperation with the U.S. through the participation in the exercise. Meanwhile, the U.S. will use Myanmar to boost its military stance in the Indian Ocean.

Link: http://world.people.com.cn/n/2013/0212/c42354-20480815.html