Full bilateral ties only after democracy restored: US envoy

national December 17, 2015 01:00


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FULL bilateral cooperation between Thailand and the United States would be resumed only after democracy has been restored, Daniel Russel, the US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said yesterday.
Good relations with Thailand were a valuable asset for the US, said Russel, adding he hoped to see prosperity and stability return to the Kingdom. 
At a meeting yesterday, he told Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha that he understood the situation in Thailand, but retained concerns over human-rights issues and democracy. 
Russel was considered in Bangkok as a controversial diplomat when, earlier this year, he branded the impeachment of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra “politically driven”. 
It is widely believed that his attitude toward the junta and the military-led government has led to a chill in bilateral ties since the May 22, 2014 coup.
Prayut responded to Russel’s comments by saying that his government was trying to achieve a balance between democracy and human rights as well as national security and stability. 
“In order to comprehend the situation in Thailand, we have to look into the past to understand the present and see a clear future. Consider the country, not just the people. Don’t just believe me, but study the situation more,” Deputy Government Spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak quoted Prayut as telling Russel.
The US diplomat was in Thailand yesterday for the 5th Thailand-US Strategic Dialogue, which he co-chaired with the Foreign Ministry’s permanent secretary Apichart Chinwanno.
The delegations discussed current political developments in Thailand and its commitment to implementing comprehensive reforms and returning to sustainable democracy. They also affirmed the importance of promoting universal human rights and humanitarian cooperation.
After the meeting, Russel explained to the press that Washington was legally limited in its cooperation with Thailand in the current situation. Despite the legal restrictions, the US would try to continue military cooperation such as Cobra Gold exercises and humanitarian assistance, he said. 
Since the coup, the US has shelved military assistance and scaled down Cobra Gold. 
A joint statement issued after the meeting said both sides would work on strengthening and expanding areas of cooperation, including public health, workforce development, medical research, creative economy, prevention and suppression of trafficking in persons and forced labour, cooperation in law enforcement, training and trade and investment. 
Both sides reaffirmed the value of Thailand-US defence cooperation and pledged to continue implementing the 2012 Joint Vision Statement by strengthening cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, global peacekeeping, and military medical research, among other defence engagements. 
The two sides would resume their Defence Strategic Talks at the earliest opportunity, they said.
Panitan Wattanayagorn, an adviser to the Defence Minister, said the dialogue had been delayed since 2012 and further postponed by the coup and political changes. 
As for Thai-US relations, he said both countries have been in a “love relationship” throughout 180 years of diplomatic ties, in contrast to the “love-hate” relationship the US has with other countries. 
However, a series of political situations had affected relations, he said, adding both countries have to be careful in nurturing the ties otherwise it could turn into a love-hate relationship.
Panitan, also a security expert, said that Thailand is a more suitable strategic location for military exercises for the US than other countries in the region, but Washington’s harsh reaction to the coup in Thailand is understandable as it has laws that oppose military intervention in national affairs.
Rangsit University lecturer Wanwichit Boonprong sees a diplomatic emphasis in the visit of Russel.
“The US on this occasion wishes to observe Thailand’s diplomatic character: whether the Kingdom is responsive to its pro-democracy approach, and also its recent development of ties with China |and Russia. The US may wish to maintain its diplomatic balance,” he said.

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