Tillerson Visits Thailand for Trade, Regional Security Talks

U.S. State Secretary Rex Tillerson, left, and Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai pose for a photograph during meeting at the Foreign Ministry Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made a short visit to Thailand for talks on trade and regional security matters, including discussions on pressuring North Korea over its nuclear and missile programs.

Following his visit to a regional security forum in the Philippines, Tillerson, the highest ranking U.S. official to visit Thailand since a 2014 coup, arrived in Bangkok Tuesday to meet with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

In a statement to VOA, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson said, “The Secretary discussed the broad range of U.S.-Thai cooperation on regional security, trade and investment, and other areas, including through regional forums like ASEAN. He also raised regional and global issues, including the security threat posed by DPRK [North Korea], as well as developments in the South China Sea.”

In addition to seeking support for a U.S. policy designed to isolate North Korea for violating United Nations sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, Tillerson discussed trade issues with his hosts.

Thailand had the 11th highest trade surplus with the U.S. at nearly $19 billion last year, placing it on President Donald Trump’s list of countries to be investigated over trade practices; however, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, said the trade deficit went down in the past year, giving both sides more room to maneuver on the issue.

“This is a bargaining chip that I think the Trump administration is not going to go all the way and start punishing Thailand and Thailand has also been trying to accommodate. This is just part of the larger relationship. I think, as you can see, Thailand being more accommodating, the Trump administration will probably be more compromising. And this will mean that their whole relationship can then realign and move on,” he said.

He added the U.S.-Thai relationship hit rock bottom with the Obama administration following the 2014 coup, but that the Trump administration is engaged in a regional realignment focused on its North Korea policy.

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SOURCE: VOA News, Colin Lovett