Thailand: Top US Diplomat Says PM Supports Restoration of Civilian Rule

BenarNews Staff

2015-12-16
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151216-TH-thai-us-620 Thai Permanent Secretary Apichart Chinwanno (left) and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel brief the press at the Thai Foreign Ministry, Dec. 16, 2015.
BenarNews

The Thai junta chief voiced agreement about the importance of restoring Thailand to civilian-led democratic rule, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel said Wednesday after meeting in Bangkok with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

Russel paid a courtesy call to Prayuth before participating in the first U.S.-Thai strategic talks since 2012, and the fifth such bilateral meeting between the long-standing allies.

“He created an opportunity … for me to engage and share directly with him our hopes, our goals and our concerns with regard to the political situation in Thailand and the prospect of rolling U.S.-Thai cooperation,” Russel, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told a news conference.

He was referring to the prime minister and retired army general who heads the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) – the junta’s official name.

“There are a number of issues that we may not come to agreement on,” he said during a joint news conference with Thai Permanent Secretary Apichart Chinwanno, which followed their six-hour meeting on bilateral relations.

But, Russel added, “One thing that we do agree on is the importance of the Thai people charting a path to a stable, secure future [that] leads to civilian-led democratic government.”

Old friends

Relations between the two countries date back 182 years, but have been tested since the Thai military seized power from the civilian-led government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014.

The junta initially promised to restore civilian rule through elections within 18 months, but has since twice announced that it was postponing elections. Now, a general election can take place in mid-2017 at the earliest.

The junta, meanwhile, has cracked down on free speech and ratcheted up arrests of people from all walks of life who are accused of violating the country’s strict royal defamation law known as Lese-Majeste. The latest case involves a Thai accused of insulting the king’s dog through a Facebook posting, according to news reports.

For Russel, the visit was his second since the junta took power. In January, the top American diplomat in the region roiled Thai officials by meeting with the deposed Yingluck and expressing his government’s concerns “about the significant restraints on freedoms since the coup.”

“The human rights that the United States and others advocate for are not Thai specific. They are not American specific. They are universal rights. These are freedoms all people seek and all people deserve,” Russel told reporters Wednesday.

“And that is our … wish, that the wishes and rights of the citizens of the kingdom of Thailand are ultimately realized in a combination of stable, democratic, civilian-led government,” he added.

Geopolitical stakes

During the fifth U.S.-Thai strategic dialogue, Russel and his Thai counterpart Apichart discussed a broad range of bilateral issues, including health, science technology, economic, military, and the issue of over-flight rights above the South China Sea.

The meeting unfolded amid efforts by the U.S. to reassert its diplomatic and military sway in the region through a so-called strategic pivot. Yet Washington finds itself vying with Beijing for influence in Southeast Asia, and tensions have arisen between China and other countries in the region over its maritime and territorial claims in the South China Sea, according to reports.

“The United States is a friend of Thailand. We stand with the Thai people. We stand with the Thai nation. We want to see Thailand unified, stable, secured, prospered and influential. Thailand has important roles both in the region and on international stage,” Russel said.

Apichart agreed.

“As the oldest U.S. ally in Asia, Thailand has an important role to play in upholding and building regional peace, security and stability. And the U.S.-Thai alliance is a key pillar in doing that,” Apichart told the news conference.

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