BANGKOK, Thailand -- The U.S. State Department has quietly approved
the sale of 16 missiles -- plus training -- to Thailand in a $27
million deal, the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency said.

China and Thailand meanwhile began their first joint military air
exercise with 180 Chinese officers and top pilots this week, at a Thai
base used by the U.S. Air Force to bomb Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia
during the Vietnam War.

The U.S. missiles deal, and the newest integration of Chinese and Thai
forces, are the latest successes by Bangkok's coup-installed junta to
attract military support from both Beijing and Washington, despite
pro-democracy activists demanding an end to the regime.

China and Thailand are conducting their Falcon Strike air exercise at
the Royal Thai Air Force Base at Korat city, also known as Nakhon
Ratchasima, from November 12 to November 30.

"For years, indeed decades, this [Thai-Chinese] cooperation would have
been not only politically unthinkable, but technically impossible, as
the RTAF [Royal Thai Air Force] was almost wholly dependent on the
U.S., while China's [support] was significantly less advanced," said
Benjamin Zawacki, an American analyst completing a book on the
U.S.-Thai-China axis, titled Continental Drift: Thailand at the Turn
of a Sino-American Century.

"For the U.S., it spells another zero-sum loss to an engaged and
strategic China," Mr. Zawacki said in an interview on November 4.

"There is no rivalry between Washington and Beijing for Bangkok's
affections, as such would require Washington being aware and
interested in Thailand as geo-politically important.

"The U.S. has not had a coherent policy in either Thailand or
Southeast Asia as a whole for two decades, while the Chinese see and
treat it as their near abroad," Mr. Zawacki said.

Falcon Strike 2015 training includes about 180 Chinese officers and
top pilots, led by senior air force men at the level of deputy
chief-of-staff, will participate in the event, and coincides with the
40th anniversary of Thai-Chinese diplomatic ties this year, the
Bangkok Post reported.

"The aim of this joint exercise is to increase mutual learning and
understanding between the two countries' air forces, deepen Sino-Thai
practical cooperation and increase mutual trust and friendship,"
China's Defence Ministry China's Defence Ministry said.

Falcon Strike's name echoes previous joint exercises between the two
Asian neighbors, including Blue Strike which began in 2010 featuring
Chinese and Thai marines, and Strike involving both nation's armies
since 2007.

Before America's triple defeats in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in 1975,
4,500 U.S. Air Force personnel launched their warplanes from Korat Air
Base to bomb those countries.

Nowadays, the U.S. and Thailand use the base together during Cope
Tiger, one of the Pentagon's annual multinational military exercises
training Thai and other forces.

As a result of Thailand's 2014 coup, "the U.S.'s existing law and
policy put limits on levels of military-to-military leadership, but
real work happens among soldiers on the ground, and that still goes
on," newly arrived U.S. Ambassador to Thailand Glyn Davies told the
Bangkok Post in an interview published October 31.

Ambassador Davies confirmed the Pentagon will conduct a scaled-down
version of its annual Cobra Gold multinational military exercise in
Thailand next year, despite the coup.

The Pentagon and State Department are also strengthening the arsenal
of Thailand's military junta.

The proposed sale of 16 U.S. missiles to Thailand in a $27 million
deal includes Raytheon Missile Systems, Lockheed Martin and other
weapons manufacturers.

"The Major Defense Equipment includes 16 Evolved Seasparrow Missiles
(ESSM)," which are "14 tactical missiles and two telemetry missiles,"
plus "additional equipment, training, and technical services," the
Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced on October

"This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national
security of the United States by increasing the ability of Thailand to
contribute to regional security and improving interoperability with
the U.S. Navy.

"Thailand will use the ESSM to provide ship battlespace self-defense
and firepower, which will improve its capability to meet current and
future naval threats," it said.

"The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the
basic military balance in the region," the Pentagon's agency said.

Thailand's relatively tiny, weak navy operates some vessels on the
southwest coast along the Andaman Sea which opens to the Bay of Bengal
and Indian Ocean.

The navy also patrols the southeast coast which hugs the shallow Gulf
of Thailand and leads to the dangerously contested South China Sea,
but Bangkok is not directly involved in China's maritime claims there.

The Pentagon has conducted anti-terrorist training with Thai forces to
protect U.S. and Thai oil and natural gas platforms in the Gulf of

"Because Thailand is not a claimant state in the South China Sea,
China has cultivated its [Bangkok's] role as 'mediator' -- read:
'ally' -- for several years," said Mr. Zawacki who is also a lawyer.

"This is ultimately to China's benefit, as Obama's 'pivot' to the
region remains stillborn," Mr. Zawacki said.

"The growing strategic posture of China in the South China Sea dispute
is arguably contributing to an increase in defense spending across the
region," Thomas Withington, editor of two Bangkok-based publications,
Armada International and Asian Military Review, reportedly said.

Mr. Withington was speaking at a Defense Industry Collaboration forum
on November 3 at Bangkok's junta-supported Defense and Security 2015

U.S. exhibitors hoping to sell weapons-related goods and services at
the November 2 to November 5 international trade show included Colt,
Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and others.

"Our military will continue to fly, sail, and operate whenever and
wherever international law allows," Commander of U.S. Pacific Command,
Admiral Harry Harris, said on November 3 at Peking University in the
Chinese capital.

"The South China Sea is not, and will not be, an exception," Adm.
Harris said, one week after the USS Lassen guided missile destroyer
sailed close to China's artificial islands in the sea, angering

Some analysts predict the rapidly improving military, diplomatic and
economic relations enjoyed by Thailand and China will weaken
Washington's ties with Bangkok.

Others presume Thailand will balance its affairs in a practical way to
extract the most from both giant partners.

Former Army Chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha's bloodless May 2014 coup
emboldened him to become prime minister with newly created absolute
power including immunity for himself and his junta.

After Mr. Prayuth toppled the democratically elected government of
former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, he cancelled the
constitution and hunted down Thais who engaged in political activity
or free speech, including students, academics, journalists,
politicians, and ordinary civilians.

Many of Thailand's democracy supporters now cower in fear after dozens
were punished with "attitude adjustment" in the military's dreaded
re-education cells, threatened with seizure of their financial assets,
restricted from leaving the country, or imprisoned when they continued
struggling for freedom.

Support from China and the U.S. is therefore exceptionally valuable
for Mr. Prayuth's regime.

The "Thai coup leader, enjoying power, is dangerously coming to think
of himself as indispensable," New York-based Human Rights Watch's
Executive Director Kenneth Roth tweeted on October 31.

Mr. Roth pointed to Mr. Prayuth's warning on October 28 about critics
who complain "every day, that I intend to cling on to power.

"I must make it clear. If there is no peace and order, I must stay on,
and if we have to close the country, so be it," Mr. Prayuth said.

He was speaking in parliament in a two-hour monologue to the junta's
five appointed institutions, including a National Council for Peace
and Order, National Legislative Assembly, Constitution Drafting
Committee, National Reform Steering Assembly, and cabinet.

Many people in Buddhist-majority Thailand perceive China as a loyal,
wealthy elder to be wooed and emulated.

Some however worry about becoming Beijing's economic colony and
strategic southern route to exploit Thailand's lucrative ports.

Thailand's relations with China date back centuries, with Chinese
traders boosting this country's roller coaster economy during wars,
economic misfortune, and domestic unrest.

"All the top 10 richest Thais in the 2014 Forbes 500 List were
families of Chinese descent," according to a recently published book
titled, A History of the Thai-Chinese, by Jeffery Sng and Pimpraphai

In 1905, solidarity among Chinese in China and their descendents in
Thailand resulted in a 10-week boycott of U.S. goods in Shanghai and

They were protesting Washington's racist anti-Chinese immigration
policies during America's so-called "Yellow Peril" fears.

"Chinese dockworkers and coolies refused to unload U.S. goods,
including wheat, flour, cigarettes and lamp oil.  Chinese importers at
Bangkok's port sent all the boycotted goods back to Hong Kong and
Singapore," Mr. Sng and Ms. Pimpraphai wrote.

"The Chinese in Siam [Thailand] had just discovered their potential as
a powerful political force."