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Russel puts proviso on normal ties

Posted by pakin On December - 17 - 2015

The top US envoy for East Asia, who “left a wound in Thais’ hearts” after his January trip, has told Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha the full normalisation of ties will only come after the “successful return of democracy”.

US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs Daniel Russel’s remarks come in the wake of growing anti-American sentiment among Thai ultra-nationalists.

In a joint news conference after the 5th Thailand-United States Strategic Dialogue meeting, Mr Russel insisted the US acknowledges the government’s roadmap to democracy, but full-scale bilateral cooperation will return only with a civilian-led and democratic government.

“We [the US] wish to restore full engagement with Thailand when the country restores a civilian-led and democratic government,” Mr Russel said.

“I had a chance to share with him [Gen Prayut] some specific areas of our concerns. I also listened carefully to his description of the situation and his roadmap to democracy,” he said, referring to the meeting with Gen Prayut Wednesday.

During Mr Russel’s visit in January, he called for a “more inclusive political process” in Thailand after holding talks with both government officials and ousted premier Yingluck Shinawatra.

He sparked outrage when he said a vote by military-appointed lawmakers to impeach Ms Yingluck could be seen as political, which then deputy foreign minister Don Pramudwinai described “as a wound in Thais’ hearts”.

This time round, Mr Russel said he had shared “hope, woes and concerns” regarding the political situation in Thailand and prospect of improved US-Thai cooperation with Gen Prayut at Government House, after he gave the opening remarks at the dialogue meeting at the Foreign Ministry.

“We care deeply about our relationship with Thailand and will continue to work together in years to come,” Mr Russel said, adding that Thailand will remain a true friend, an important partner and ally.

Foreign Ministry permanent secretary Apichart Chinwanno described his talks with the senior US diplomat which lasted six hours at the ministry as a “frank discussion with a cordial atmosphere” and both sides affirmed they would boost cooperation.

“The partnership of Thailand and the United States will be further strengthened in the Asia-Pacific and beyond,” Mr Apichart said.

A joint statement was released after the meeting with pledges to promote peace, security and prosperity in both the Asia-Pacific and around the world. Thailand and the US will continue their defence cooperation, especially humanitarian assistance and peace keeping, for which Thailand has pledged to provide medical teams and experts to future United Nations peacekeeping missions.

During Mr Russel’s courtesy call at Government House, Gen Prayut told him the main objective of the administration is laying a strong democratic foundation, aiming to free the country from the cycle of political turmoil, according to the deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukhondhapatipak.

“The premier told Mr Russel that democracy is more than holding elections and he hoped the US will not use the same standard in engaging with countries which have different levels of development,” Maj Gen Werachon said.

Mr Russel, meanwhile, responded to Gen Prayut saying that the US understanding of Thai political developments has gradually improved, but some issues are still a concern, particularly freedom of expression, human rights and human trafficking.

“Gen Prayut assured Mr Russel that the government gives the media and public freedom to share their views but the views should not increase conflict in the country,” the deputy spokesman said.

Mr Russel kicked off his three-day visit to East Asia in Bangkok on Wednesday as American lawmakers and labour union activists are pressuring the US to penalise Thailand over alleged human slavery in various labour-intensive industries, especially fisheries and poultry.

US officials and rights activists have called on Americans to stop buying fish and shrimp tied to supply chains in Thailand, where the Associated Press claims to have found migrants forced to work in the seafood industry as modern-day slaves.

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