By Mei Jingya, Sina English
The United States had reportedly requested Thailand to approve its use of Thailand's civil-military U-Tapao air base for climate studies and wanted a reply from the Thai side before June 26, which has sparked controversy and heated debates in the country.
Thai media reported a NASA aircraft and equipments are already in Thailand for so-called 'atmospheric studies in the South and Southeast Asia region'. The official calendar of the proposed research mission on the NASA website shows equipment have been shipped to Thailand on May 18, apparently confirming the report. How could this happen before Thailand nods to the move?
Still, the Royal Thai Navy has dismissed this as baseless rumors. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra Friday said the foreign ministry, the armed forces and the Council of State are still looking at the issue. The cabinet is expected to press ahead with approving the request tomorrow after postponing a decision in the wake of the growing criticism.
Washington's U-Tapao request has raised multiple concerns. Is the project a disguise for military purposes? Will it pose a threat to Thailand’s sovereignty and its Asian neighbors?
To clear up the possible 'misapprehensions', NASA’s main coordinator of the project Hal Maring said during an interview with Bangkok Post that the weather study is of great scientific potentials and has been all along planned and, the move has nothing to do U.S. military, he added.
The study, if approved, is expected to be conducted in August and September. Thai media reported that an ER-2 NASA aircraft could be used within the period.
The aircraft, a modified design of Lockheed's U-2 aircraft, can climb to an altitude of 21 kilometers, defying radars.
This gives rise to the concern that the U-Tapao project is actually a disguise for a new secret US intelligence operations targeting, perhaps, China.