Thailand supports stronger ASEAN-U.S. Strategic Partnership at Sunnylands


Thailand pledged support for stronger strategic partnership between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United States as Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and other ASEAN leaders met with President Barack Obama at the first American-hosted summit with ASEAN at Sunnylands, California.

As a long-time ally, Thailand stands ready to lend its full support to take the all-round ASEAN-United States partnership to the next level, said Prime Minister Prayut.

At the Sunnylands Summit, Prime Minister Prayut focused chiefly on building shared prosperity and cooperating on security issues, such as counter terrorism, combatting human trafficking, Global Health Security Agenda and maintaining peace and maritime freedom in the South China Sea.

The Prime Minister told reporters he was satisfied with the results of the summit when he arrived at Suvarnabhumi International Airport on his return to Bangkok. He praised President Obama’s warmth as host.

The summit was the first between the two sides since the establishment of the ASEAN Community at the beginning of 2016 and since ASEAN and the United States elevated their relationship to strategic partnership level in November 2015.

“It will also be the first time that the United States and ASEAN meet as newly minted strategic partners. Over the past five years, U.S. officials have made Southeast Asia a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s Asia Rebalance initiative, steadily deepening ties across the region,” wrote Jennifer Harris, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, in U.S. News & World Report.

The Obama administration and the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council have been urging Thailand to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-member free-trade group that already has four ASEAN countries as members. Prime Minister Prayut said in his address that Thailand supports regional economic integration through various initiatives, including the TPP. He added that Thailand is interested in the TPP and welcomes the U.S.’s proposal to hold workshops for ASEAN countries to understand key elements of the agreement and the reforms needed.

Harris wrote that Thai membership in the TPP would be an opportunity for closer engagement with the U.S. Panitan Wattanayagorn, a senior adviser to the Thai government said, “We are looking forward to joining the TPP in the near future. We are committed to free trade.”

Prime Minister Prayut also said he would like to see greater investment by American companies in the areas of innovation, R&D, transfer of hi-technology for production, and e- commerce. He added that Thailand would build on the current Thai-U.S. creative partnership program to promote partnership between ASEAN and the U.S. toward “Creative ASEAN” in order to develop creative economies in the region.

Prime Minister Prayut also shared his views about a range of security issues of common concern for ASEAN and the United States, ranging from North Korea, to irregular migration, wildlife trafficking, global health security and climate change.

On the South China Sea issue, Prime Minister Prayut expressed Thailand’s concern about the situation, particularly the militarization of the area, and called on all parties concerned to exercise self-restraint and refrain from any activity that would further complicate the situation. More regular and frank consultations are needed, he added, and that every effort should be made to reduce tensions, prevent escalation and miscalculations. He stressed the need to resolve the issue through peaceful means on the basis of international law, while ASEAN and China should effectively implement the agreed Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and accelerate the conclusion of the Code of Conduct (COC).

The Prime Minister viewed that the effort by the United States to promote freedom and safety of navigation and overflight in accordance with universal principles of international law is important, and urged the United States to continue to support ASEAN centrality and unity.

The points he made were timely as tensions in the South China Sea increased last week. “ASEAN matters because it has emerged as the world’s primary forum for China’s maritime disputes in the South and East China seas and its best hope for peacefully resolving them,” Harris wrote.

At the margins of the Sunnylands Summit, Prime Minister Prayut also had a good conversation with President Obama. During the conversation, the Thai Prime Minister told the U.S. President that Thailand stands ready to work with the United States on all issues of mutual benefit, while President Obama reaffirmed the importance of Thailand as a long-time friend and ally.

Prime Minister Prayut also reaffirmed his commitment to undertake a comprehensive reform to ensure stronger and more sustainable democracy in Thailand and that elections would be held in 2017. President Obama took note of Thailand’s efforts and expressed the support of the United States for Thailand as the country moves ahead toward democracy.

“The US president gave us moral support and wished us success when he learned that we are moving forward on a democratic path,” Prayut told reporters.

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