Making no reference to Thailand’s military rule, President Donald Trump on Monday hailed strengthening relations with America’s oldest ally in Asia as he welcomed a junta leader who took power in a coup.
The Oval Office meeting with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha underscored shifting U.S. foreign policy priorities under Trump, emphasizing American trade and strategic interests over democracy and human rights in the nations it deals with.
Prayuth and his wife, Naraporn Chan-ocha, were greeted at the South Portico by Trump and first lady Melania Trump as the Thai leader arrived for talks and a working lunch. The visit came three years after Prayuth seized power, and days after the elected leader whose government he ousted was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison.
“We’ve had a long and very storied history with Thailand,” Trump said in the Oval Office alongside Prayuth, referring to a nearly two-century diplomatic relationship, which the president said has advanced since he took office in January.
“So we have a very strong relationship right now, as of this moment, and it’s getting stronger in the last nine months,” he said, stressing the importance of trade ties, which totaled $40 billion last year, with the U.S. running a $19 billion deficit. “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.”
Prayuth said visiting Trump was a great opportunity for his government and the Thai people. He expressed optimism about strengthening cooperation, including in defense and security “to help ensure that our citizens are safeguarded from terrorism and other threats.” He also said the two nations would work closely on “regional issues of concern.”
“I am confident that with the president’s leadership we will be able to tackle all those problems,” he said.
The Associated Press, Matthew Pennington