Since the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, U.S. policy toward Southeast Asia has remained uncertain. Leaders around the world have become anxious about whether the United States will continue to engage with the global community or adopt an isolationist foreign policy to please American conservatives.

Amid this anxiety, the U.S. recently announced the launch of this year's Cobra Gold military exercise, due to begin Tuesday. Cobra Gold has long represented the bedrock of relations between the U.S. and Thailand, which can be traced back to the Cold War period. The exercise, initiated in 1980 and one of the largest in the Asia-Pacific region, involves 13,000 troops from 24 Asian-Pacific countries. They meet annually and conduct joint military exercises, bringing in large paychecks and technological transfers to the Thai Army.

But the 2014 coup in Thailand has strained Bangkok's relationship with Washington. The U.S. was compelled to penalize Thailand for the coup, initially by suspending $4.7 million in military aid. In addition, Washington downgraded the level of Cobra Gold in an effort to push for democracy in Thailand — a step that paved the way for Thailand to slide into the warm embrace of China as the country's new provider of legitimacy.