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Newsline: New US Diplomatic Complex in Northern Thailand Seen Aimed at China and Myanmar

No one doubts that the American community in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, which consists mostly of NGO workers, missionaries and retirees, needs consular services. But could that be the only reason why a massive, new United States (US) Consulate General is under construction at a cost of US$300 million? Due to be opened in 2023, the buildings of the diplomatic mission will sprawl over no less than 6.6 acres, or 26,709 square meters, of land in a business park on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. In a colorful, online brochure, the US Consul General in Chiang Mai describes the project as “a concrete sign of our long-term commitment to the people of northern Thailand and the future of our partnership” and the text goes on to state that the US Consulate General is “dedicated to serving the local American community or those wishing to travel to the United States”. While all of that may be accurate, Michael Vatikiotis, a Singapore-based British analyst, argues in an op-ed piece for Nikkei Asia on January 7 that Beijing sees the construction of a such a huge diplomatic complex only 500 kilometers from the Chinese border and even closer to Myanmar and Laos “as an attempt to reinforce existing US intelligence gathering capacity in northern Thailand”. (https://www.irrawaddy.com/opinion/guest-column/new-us-diplomatic-complex-in-thailand-aimed-at-china-and-myanmar.html) Covert US activity of that kind would fit into the broader picture of geostrategic rivalries in the region. The rise of China as an economic and political superpower in Asia has been met by the formation of new alliances in the region. The first was the Quad, or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which was set up in 2007 and brings the US together with Japan, India and Australia. Then, on September 15 last year, the formation of AUKUS, or the Australia-United Kingdom-United States pact, was announced with the specific purpose of coordinating activities in the spheres of “cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and additional underwater capabilities.” Under the terms of the pact, the US and the UK will help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

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