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Tillerson visits Thailand to firm up bilateral relations

AP  |  Bangkok 

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Thailand's leaders during an official visit today, seeking to stabilize relations that soured after the Southeast Asian nation's military seized power from an elected civilian three years ago.

Tillerson flew in from the Philippines, where he with his counterparts from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations at an annual regional gathering. He is the top US official to visit Thailand since its 2014 coup.

Thailand has long been one of Washington's closest regional allies, but relations have been strained over US criticism of Thailand's military for its repression of critics and failure to restore democracy.

However, President Donald Trump's administration has made human rights less of a priority than did its predecessors.

Thailand, like other Southeast Asian countries, has also been cultivating closer ties with China, causing consternation in The Thai position has been seen as both a rebuke to and an accommodation to Beijing's aggressive carrot-and-stick diplomacy, which includes both the blandishment of massive infrastructure development projects linking the region and intimidation through naval moves to promote Beijing's territorial claims in the South Sea.

Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai told reporters that in his 45-minute talk with Tillerson, "Nothing was discussed about human rights."

"In all, it was a comprehensive visit to build understanding over a variety of important issues," Don said, adding that Tillerson raised the issue of cybersecurity, which they discussed briefly.

Thailand allegedly has been used as a springboard for third parties to launch major cyber-attacks, reportedly including the 2014 hack of film studio Sony Pictures.

Don also indicated that he and Tillerson had discussed Washington's efforts to ensure that pressure was maintained on North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program. He said Thailand, as a member of the United Nations, adhered to its sanctions on Pyongyang, which resulted in a 94 percent decline in trade with North Korea from January to June this year compared to the same period last year.

Tillerson also Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha during his visit, and paid his respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died last October.

Tillerson flew to Malaysia later Tuesday for the last scheduled stop of his Southeast Asia tour.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, August 08 2017. 18:22 IST