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US backs Thailand as Asean chair, wishes success in polls

US backs Thailand as Asean chair, wishes success in polls

THURSDAY, November 29, 2018
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THE UNITED STATES is ready to support Thailand as Asean chair as it will play a strategic role in the security of the Indo-Pacific region and also wished the Kingdom success in the upcoming general election, a visiting senior defence official said Thursday.

Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of Defence for Asia-Pacific Security Affairs, is leading the US delegation to the Thailand-US strategic defence dialogue being held today to enhance bilateral security cooperation in a move to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific Strategy. At the talk today, the US will highlight maritime security, terrorist threats and cyber-security concerns, he said. 
“Our priority national security strategy is to promote an open and free Indo-Pacific strategy for countries to protect their national sovereignty, uphold international law, international norms, maintain freedom of navigation and promote free and fair reciprocal trade,” Schriver told reporters in a group interview yesterday. 
The US official voiced concerns over the continuous militarisation of the contentious South China Sea, where many Asean members are at loggerheads with their giant neighbour China. Washington is not a claimant, but champions the freedom of navigation and flyover, and also upholds international laws to maintain peace and stability in the region. 
The US has taken measures over the past years through cooperation with governments in the region and diplomatic channels to deal with security challenges, he said.
President Donald Trump’s administration initiated the Indo-Pacific Strategy apparently to counter the rising role and influence of China in the region.
However, Schriver said Washington had no problems with regional countries, including Thailand, holding more military engagements and activities with China, such as joint exercises, as well as purchasing military hardware from the country. 
The US, which also overtly has military engagement with China, will never object if other countries have similar relations with the Chinese army, he said. 
As for military hardware, Schriver said the US can be a better partner.
“We are more reliable. There is evidence out there that the Chinese are less reliable. 
“The main point is we want to be a quality partner,” he said. 
As for cyber-security concerns, he said major threats are likely to come from state-sponsored cyber threats and from a number of criminal enterprises. He named China, North Korea and Russia as the sources of state-sponsored cyber threats. 
“We engage with partners to have best practices on cyber-security, to enable governments to protect financial and economic system,” he said.
The US official also said the Korean peninsula remained a hot spot for security concerns in the Indo-Pacific region and thanked Thailand for the role it played in supporting United Nations sanctions and contributing to international pressure for the denuclearisation of North Korea. 
Asked if the strategic talks today would touch on the role of Thai military in politics and suppression of democracy, Schriver simply said that the US wished to see success in the upcoming elections.