Thai Prime Minister Aims for October Trump Meet

By Bangkok Post & Reuters 9 August 2017

BANGKOK, Thailand — Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said he will visit the United States at the invitation of US President Donald Trump this October, amid reports that the US has pressured Thailand to help cut funding sources to North Korea.

This is the first time the prime minister has indicated a clear timeline for the overseas visit after Trump invited the prime minister to the White House on an official trip in a phone call in April.

Gen Prayut’s announcement came during a visit from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Bangkok. Tillerson met the prime minister on Tuesday.

Reports suggest Tillerson is in Thailand to press the Prayut government to take harsher action against North Korea.

A top priority of the US official has been to encourage Southeast Asian nations, including Thailand, to do more to cut funding to North Korea.

The US believes North Korean front companies are active in Thailand and it is trying to encourage Thailand to shut them down, Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton told reporters.

The companies are using Bangkok as a regional hub and they change their names frequently, she said.

The prime minister also said Tuesday his visit to the US this October should proceed without any conditions imposed by Washington.

“Thailand is committed to its obligations to the United Nations and has clearly expressed its stance through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [Asean]. So there should be no need to set any conditions for the country,” Gen Prayut said, without elaborating.

Last weekend, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to impose strict new sanctions on Pyongyang in response to North Korea’s launch of two intercontinental missiles last month.

On Saturday, foreign ministers of the 10 Asean member states marked the bloc’s 50th anniversary by issuing a statement demanding North Korea stop the rush toward war.

In a historic moment, all 10 members demanded that Pyongyang immediately halt ballistic missile launches and nuclear weapons tests.

“We reiterate our support for the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner, call for the exercise of self-restraint, and underscore the importance of creating conditions conducive for dialogue to de-escalate tensions,” the statement said.

It has been reported that Trump’s invitation to Gen Prayut and some other Asean leaders, including Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, is part of an attempt to reach out to US allies in Asia and seek their cooperation in containing the threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, however, hesitated to confirm the exact time frame for Gen Prayut’s US visit, saying the Thai and US sides were working to find an appropriate time for the visit.

“The United States is still planning the visit. We need not worry about the date of the visit because there are efforts from both sides to prepare for it,” he said.

Gen Prayut’s US visit has been postponed from a previous tentative date of July 19.
On Monday, Gen Prayut claimed he had been banned from visiting some countries for being a coup leader. He said only his cabinet members could visit those countries at that time.

Don clarified Tuesday that Gen Prayut might have been referring to the period shortly after the coup in May 2014 when he said he could not visit other countries because he had staged the coup. Australia, for one, announced a ban on visits by junta members including the leader, Gen Prayut.

Gen Prayut was now free to visit any country he was invited to, as long as time permits, he said.

In the meeting between Gen Prayut and Tillerson, deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak said the two men discussed cooperation in various areas ranging from security, counter-terrorism efforts, human trafficking, cyber security, disaster management, and trade and investment.

The prime minister invited American investors to invest more in Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor and the U-tapao area, said Lt Gen Werachon.

Gen Prayut also assured the US secretary of state that the Thai government is sincere in its efforts to protect intellectual property.

He also asked the US to review the kingdom’s status on the Priority Watch List of the Office of the US Trade Representative, the deputy spokesman said.

Gen Prayut also confirmed to Tillerson that the government would stick to its roadmap toward democracy.

Tillerson also met Don at the Foreign Ministry.

“This is the first high-level US visit to Thailand in three years. The visit indicates that the relationship between our countries is good, and it is going to get better,” Don said after the meeting.

Tillerson came to Thailand after attending the Asean Regional Forum in Manila.