BANGKOK – United States Secret Service agents were reportedly taken aback on seeing the large water lizards wandering the grounds of Government House during security inspections on Thursday ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit.
They mistook them for the ferocious, carnivorous komodo dragons found in parts of Indonesia.
Thai officials calmed their nerves, explaining to them that the creatures are relatively harmless.
Meanwhile, a US explosive ordinance disposal team reported that five locations United States President Barack Obama will visit during his two-day visit to Thailand starting Sunday have been thoroughly scanned.
These locations included Government House and Don Mueang airport.
The US team, now into its fourth day of its inspection, also inquired about the antique cannons on the lawn and were told that they are relics of the King Rama VI era and have no ammunition.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s security detail is also planning and rehearsing for the reception of the US president.
Mr Obama, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all plan to visit Thailand.
The US is keen to set up a humanitarian and disaster relief force at U-Tapao, a naval and air force complex on the eastern seaboard of the Gulf built by the US military during the Vietnam War.
“The return to U-Tapao would be very symbolic for the US, sending a message to China that it is returning to mainland South-East Asia,” said Panitan Wattanayagorn, a military affairs expert at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
But such a development would require the consent of parliament, where it is likely to face strong opposition. Large segments of Thai society might also think twice about having US soldiers based permanently on their soil again, he said.
The US pivot also had established Washington as a rival to Beijing for dominance in South-East Asia.
“The US is returning to Southeast Asia whether you like it or not,” Mr Panitan said. “So do you want to engage in the return or stand idle and be seen as a Chinese satellite?”
The US might look beyond Thailand for new bases in Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and even Vietnam, Mr Panitan said.
Whether the US would succeed remained to be seen.
“With China’s uncertain rise, all Asian countries are hedging their bets,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.