Thai Junta Leader to Meet Trump at White House Next Week

Nontarat Phaicharoen
170926-TH-whitehouse-620.jpg Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha answers questions from reporters at the Government House, July 11, 2017.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

In the latest sign of warming relations between Bangkok and Washington, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said Tuesday that he plannedto meet U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House on Oct. 3 to discuss bilateral issues including trade and regional conflicts.

Prayuth will be accompanied by a few members of his cabinet during the official visit from Oct. 2 to Oct. 4, according to Maj. Gen. Weerachon Sukhonthapatipak, the deputy government spokesman.

The prime minister said he would play a neutral role during his meeting with Trump.

“To visit the United States does not mean we chose a side,” he told reporters at the Government House in Bangkok. ”Don’t view it as side-choosing. We are willing to meet all sides.”

Prayuth confirmed his trip as the White House issued a statement saying that the two leaders would "discuss ways to strengthen and broaden bilateral relations and enhance cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region."

“President Trump looks forward to reaffirming the relationship between the United States and a key partner and longstanding ally in Asia, the Kingdom of Thailand,” the White House statement said.

The dual confirmation came after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Bangkok in August – the highest-level visit by a U.S. official since Prayuth, a former Royal Thai Army commander, took power during a coup on May 22, 2014.

Bilateral ties between the two nations had slumped as the Thai military junta jailed dissidents, outlawed street protests and ramped up prosecutions under Lese-Majeste, the nation’s strict royal defamation law.

In response, the United States terminated $3.5 million in military aid programs to Thailand and followed that move with a watered-down Cobra Gold Exercise, the annual drill that symbolized America’s strong military relations with its major non-NATO ally in Southeast Asia.

Although Prayuth met former President Barack Obama in February 2016 during an Association of Southeast Asian Nations-U.S. summit in California, a political observer said the junta leader’s scheduled meeting with Trump would be more significant as it would bolster the Thai general’s image.

Meeting could focus on China, North Korea

“Gen. Prayuth becomes the second military figure who turned into a premier and who was and is recognized by two U.S. presidents. Ex-President Nixon held former premier Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda in a high regard and Gen. Prayuth is recognized by President Trump,” Sutin Wanabovorn, a Thai political observer told BenarNews.

“Trump is unorthodox, he doesn’t care about the protocol and his recognition of Gen. Prayuth is a triumph for the Thai general,” Sutin said.

Sutin said the bilateral meeting might focus more on China, North Korea and regional conflicts, rather than domestic Thai issues.

Thailand and the United States started bilateral ties after King Rama III and President Andrew Jackson signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1833, said Maj. Gen. Weerachon, the deputy Thai spokesman.

The announcement of Prayuth’s visit comes two weeks after Trump welcomed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to the White House amid a U.S. probe into a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal that has implicated the Malaysian leader.

Additionally, the White House confirmed a friendly discussion between Trump and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in May, but has not provided details on when or if Duterte would visit Washington.


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