US president Donald Trump welcomed Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in the White House in a meeting that was considered a sign of improved ties between the United States and Thailand.
Trump described Prayuth’s appearance in the White House as a “great honor,” while saying that the trade relations between the two countries is becoming more important.
“Our relationship is becoming more and more important,” Trump told Prayuth, adding that Thailand was a great country to trade with. “I think we’re going to try and sell a little bit more to you now. Make that a little bit better if that’s possible,” added Trump.
Trump has previously expressed his intention to improve ties with the Asian country, which is considered as America’s oldest ally in the region.
He also said he wants to reduce the US trade deficit in Thailand. The US Trade Representative’s office reported that the deficit with Thailand was $18.9 billion last year.
“We’ve had a long and very storied history with Thailand,” said Trump as he and Prayuth sat in the Oval Office. “We have a very strong relationship now. And it’s getting stronger in the last nine months,” he added.
Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai tagged the meeting as “special” saying that it “shows special attention for the Thai prime minister,” indicating that his government has done some achievement.
“If we weren’t good, they probably wouldn’t invite us,” he said.
Trump sent the invitation to the Thai junta in late April, and he is set to travel to Japan, South Korea, and China to further bolster trade relations.
The Thai junta came to the White House days after a Thai court sentenced in absentia the Prime Minister who Prayuth unseated, Yingluck Shinawatra, to five years in prison for criminal negligence.
Thai Junta and America
The meeting roused criticisms from human rights groups.
In 2014, Prayuth Chan-ocha came to power and became the most authoritarian leader of the Asian country. He led the military in a coup and took over the government, and as a result, it soured the country’s relationship with the United States. Washington cut aid and cooled its relations with Bangkok.
Katina Adams, who is a US State Department spokesperson, said that officials “regularly urge Thai authorities, both privately and publicly, to ensure that human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, consistent with Thailand’s international obligations.” She emphasized that diplomats keep an eye on the continued restrictions on freedom of expression and rights to peaceful assembly in the country.
Other groups like Human Rights Watch called the attention of the members of the US Congress to demand Trump to put pressure on Thailand and convince it to bring back democracy. They have also called on the Pentagon to “cool their engagement” with the Thai leader.
“They should be demanding that the Trump administration not give the junta a free pass. They should publicly reaffirm that US law bars direct military assistance to Thailand and outline key benchmarks Thailand needs to meet to restore the bilateral relationship to its prior condition,” said John Sifton, who is Human Rights Watch Asia Advocacy director in Washington.
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