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Tillerson to press Thailand on North Korea

Posted by pakin On August - 3 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will press Thailand and other Asian countries to take tougher action against North Korea when he visits Bangkok and attends regional meetings in Manila starting this week, a senior US official said on Wednesday.

Tillerson will visit Thailand next Tuesday and then Malaysia. His visit includes a trip to the Philippines this weekend for the start of Asean meetings and the Asean Regional Forum (ARF), which includes North Korea.

Susan Thornton, the acting assistant secretary of state for East Asia, said Tillerson will meet with Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai during his overnight stay in Bangkok Tuesday night. The two met privately in Washington in May.

His visit to Bangkok will be the first by a US secretary of state since the military seized power in the May 22, 2014, coup.

US-Thai relations have warmed this year, after the election of President Donald Trump. President Barack Obama and his secretaries of state – Hillary Clinton and John Kerry – pressured Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the regime to hold elections and resume democratic rule.

He plans to engage with China’s foreign minister at the meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Manila, but had no plans to meet North Korea’s foreign minister there.

Thornton said Tillerson, who begins his quick Asean tour in Manila on Saturday, will press Thailand for greater cooperation in isolating North Korea and in enforcing UN sanctions over its missile and nuclear weapons programmes. She said Washington wanted to see countries “drastically” reduce their dealings with Pyongyang.

“What we are trying to do is galvanise this pressure and isolate North Korea so it can see what the opportunity cost is over developing these weapons programmes,” she told reporters in a telephone briefing to preview Tillerson’s trip.

During his overnight stay in Bangkok, Mr Tillerson will pay respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He is expected to stress the “enduring” US-Thailand partnership, his spokesman said earlier.

Mr Tillerson is intimately familiar with Thailand. As a rising executive on his way to become chief of Exxonmobil, he was president of Esso Exploration and Production Khorat Inc.

Starting in 1996, he directed the ramping up of production in Thailand’s first commercial natural gas field at Nam Phong district of Khon Kaen.

Thailand has diplomatic relations with Pyongyang including full embassies in each other’s capitals.

Thornton said China had taken “significant steps, … frankly unprecedented steps” to increase pressure on its neighbour North Korea, but it could do “a lot more” to step up enforcement of existing sanctions and to impose more.

“We would like to see more action faster and more obvious and quick results, but I think we’re not giving up yet.”

US President Donald Trump on Saturday accused Beijing of doing “nothing” to help on North Korea and pointed to the huge US trade deficit with China.

A senior Trump administration official said on Tuesday that Trump was close to a decision on how to respond to what he considers China’s unfair trade practices and was considering action that could lead to tariffs or other trade restrictions on Chinese goods.

Thornton declined to comment on any possible action but stressed that despite Trump’s tweets, North Korea and the trade issue were not linked in a “transactional,” but “in a sort of philosophical way.”

“Can we work together jointly on the key security challenge facing Northeast Asia, which is the North Korea challenge?” she said. “If we can work together to do that, surely we can have a productive, mutually beneficial economic relationship in which we both enjoy reciprocal and fair access to each other’s markets.”

Thornton said Tillerson would continue to press China on the South China Sea issue while in Asia, where the United State has been pressing for rapid adoption of a code of conduct over competing territorial claims.

She said the United States would “certainly” raise human rights with Philippine President Duterte’s government.

US criticism of Duterte’s bloody war on drugs under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama damaged relations between the long-standing allies. Duterte has remained defiant, accusing critics of “trivialising” his drug campaign with human rights concerns.

 

Manila -Long regarded as an inspiration to Filipino soldiers, boxer-turned- senator Manny Pacquiao spent some time with government forces fighting Islamic State-inspired extremists in Marawi.

Senator Manny Pacquiao visited Marawi City on Saturday to boost the morale of Philippine troops fighting against ISISinspired Maute terrorist groups.

Pacquiao arrived at around 9:00 a.m. at Camp Ranao where officials of the Task Force Marawi welcomed him, Radyo Inquirer reported.

“You are fighting for our country. You are not committing sin even though you kill people. You don’t commit sin in the eyes of the Lord because you are doing your duty,” Pacquiao told the soldiers in Camp Ranao.

Thai military ready to aid Philippines

Posted by pakin On July - 26 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

The Royal Thai Army (RTA) is ready to send troops to the restive city of Marawi to provide humanitarian aid if the Philippines seeks help from Thailand.

Lt Gen Chatchai Patranavik, chief of the RTA’s Counter Terrorist Operations Centre, says if requested, Thai troops could be deployed to Marawi to provide humanitarian aid for residents affected by the conflict against local militants claiming links to the Islamic State (IS) group.

The relief would be provided under the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) programme. He stressed they would not engage in any combat.

At present, only military advisers from Australia and the United States are deployed in and around Marawi.

“We [Thailand] would have to position ourselves carefully in this operation. Otherwise, we could invite trouble for ourselves. However, if the Philippines seeks help from us, we have to be ready. It is just preparation,” an army source said.

Lt Gen Chatchai was speaking during the 7th Asean Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus Experts’ Working Group on Counter-Terrorism, held in Bangkok.

The meeting, co-chaired by the Thai and Chinese Defence ministries, aimed to discuss anti-terrorist measures. More than 100 representatives from Asean member countries attended the meeting.

Speaking about the IS issue, Lt Gen Chatchai said there have been no reports of IS activities in the country. He admitted individuals connected to IS had earlier entered the country but have since left.

 

KHON PI LONG, Chiang Rai — China’s plan to blast open more of the Mekong River for bigger cargo ships could founder on a remote outcrop of half-submerged rocks that Thai protesters have vowed to protect against Beijing’s economic expansion in Southeast Asia.

Dynamiting the Pi Long rapids and other sections of the Mekong between Thailand and Laos will harm the environment and bring trade advantages only to China, the protesters say.

“This will be the death of the Mekong,” said Niwat Roykaew, chairman of the Rak Chiang Khong Conservation Group, which is campaigning against the project. “You’ll never be able to revive it.”

Mr Niwat said blasting the Mekong will destroy fish breeding grounds, disrupt migrating birds and cause increased water flow that will erode riverside farmland.

Such opposition reflects a wider challenge to China’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” project to build a modern-day Silk Road through Asia to Europe.

Second Harbour Consultants, a subsidiary of state-owned behemoth China Communications Construction Corp (CCCC) said it was surveying the Mekong for a report that China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand would use to decide whether blasting should go ahead.

It added that it was not tasked with the blasting, which would need to go to tender.

The company said in an email it had held meetings with local people “to communicate, build confidence and clear doubts”.

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Clearing the Mekong for bigger ships is not officially a part of One Belt, One Road, a project announced in 2013. China blasted sections of the river in Laos several years earlier.

But some Chinese engineers involved in the survey speak of it as a part of the broader plan, and it is consistent with Beijing’s Silk Road objectives.

Even in its Southeast Asian backyard, where it has sympathetic governments and ancient historical ties, China sometimes struggles to convince ordinary people that One Belt One Road will benefit them.

Thailand, Laos and Myanmar have approved the survey work, which is funded by China, but further studies and approvals are needed before blasting.

Keeping a low profile

The Mekong River originates in the Tibetan plateau and cascades through China and five Southeast Asian countries.

China has built a series of dams along its stretch of the river that Thai campaigners say has impacted the water flow and made the regional giant hard to trust.

Chinese flags now flutter from company speedboats, while CCCC Second Harbour has met with Thai protesters three times since December in a bid to avert opposition to their work.

A unit of the conglomerate faced violent protests in January in Sri Lanka, where people objected to plans for an industrial zone in the south.

Chinese engineers on the Mekong said they were worried that Thai protesters would board the rickety cargo ship where they slept, prompting them to moor it on the Lao side of the Mekong each night.

“We are afraid for our team’s safety,” one engineer told Reuters, declining to be named because he wasn’t authorised to speak to the media.

“We keep a low profile here,” he added. “We want to do this project well and benefit Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, China, these four countries. This is not just for China.”

China wants to remove rocks and sandbanks to allow ships of up to 500 tonnes to sail from its landlocked province of Yunnan to the sleepy Laotian town of Luang Prabang.

That would expedite the shipping of Chinese freight deep into northern Laos, said Paul Chambers, an expert in international relations at Thailand’s Naresuan University.

“Luang Prabang may seem sleepy, but northern Laos … represents a hub of Chinese influence,” he said.

 

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