BANGKOK — Thailand and the United Kingdom will launch a new joint military exercise, the Defense Ministry announced Thursday.
The agreement came from a meeting in London between Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, the junta No. 2 who also serves as defense minister, and his British counterpart Michael Fallon, according to Thai ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich.
Prawit was in London to attend Defence and Security Equipment International, an arms fair.
The new exercise, called Panther Gold, will be held Oct. 30 to Dec. 1 at a military base in Kanchanaburi province, Kongcheep said. What forces and equipment the British Armed Forces will commit were not disclosed, nor were specifics about the nature of the exercises.
It’s a breakthrough for the military regime, which saw European relations nearly frozen following its 2014 coup d’etat. The planned exercises come as the United States has increased what had been scaled-down commitments to a longtime exercise known as Cobra Gold following the coup.
Besides cooperating on military and national security issues, the discussion between the two defense ministers included talk about Thailand’s commitment to holding elections, Kongcheep said.
Prawit also met with Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field, with whom he exchanged views about international security and how to improve partnerships for investment and defense.
“Gen. Prawit stressed that the general administration of the government that attempts to maintain peace in the country by enforcing the laws strictly and equally,” Kongcheep said, “that we value human rights and are aware of giving people freedom of expression and participation to create the path to reconciliation, national strategy and reforming the country together.”
— Mark Field MP (@MarkFieldUK) September 13, 2017
The junta has been on a shopping spree in recent months, purchasing submarines, tanks, missiles, training jets and armored personnel carriers. Departing Tuesday, Prawit’s trip to the United Kingdom was seen as likely to yield another weapons buy. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said that couldn’t happen because acquisitions must go through a proper process that begins with evaluating the need.
“Don’t write headlines that every time the government goes somewhere, we go to buy weapons,” Prayuth said Tuesday after meeting his cabinet. “It’s not that easy. We do not have that much money.”
Since it came to power, the military government has been criticized for the increased spending by the Defense Ministry. During its three years in power, it has spent more than 70 billion baht on weapons and systems for the army, navy and airforce, according to Thai PBS.