CHIANGRAI TIMES – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced hope Wednesday that Thailand would play a greater leadership role after years of political turmoil that has shaken the oldest US ally in Asia.
Clinton met in Washington with Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul ahead of formal talks Thursday on issues ranging from trade to human rights and the environment.
“We support the kingdom of Thailand assuming a greater leadership role in the region,” Clinton told reporters.
“We look forward to working with Thailand in pursuing our common objectives for maintaining peace and prosperity in the Asia Pacific.”
Thailand has long been a linchpin of US policy in Asia, with the kingdom then known as Siam famously offering elephants to Abraham Lincoln as he put down secession in the 1861-1865 Civil War.
But the United States has been concerned that Thailand has been too absorbed in recent years by domestic politics at a time that President Barack Obama’s administration is putting a renewed emphasis on Southeast Asia.
Surapong welcomed the greater US focus on Southeast Asia, saying: “We believe that this would help contribute to regional peace and stability, which is important for economic growth and prosperity of the region.”
Thailand plunged into chaos in 2006 when royalist generals staged a coup that ousted elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist billionaire. More than 90 people died in mass protests in Bangkok in 2010.
Clinton visited Thailand in November and urged reconciliation after an election that brought Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra to power as Prime Minister of Thailand.