Despite the coup, Thailand is 'friends with every country,' minister says

Despite the coup, Thailand is 'friends with every country,' minister says
Thailand's Foreign Affairs minister Tanasak Patimapragorn.

Thailand had been under pressure from the international community since the military staged a coup in May last year, but Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn insisted the Kingdom's status on the global stage remained unchanged.

As soon as the coup was staged on May 22 last year, Western countries like the United States, Australia and those in the European Union imposed measures against Thailand to show their disapproval of the Army takeover.

The US froze military assistance and scaled down joint military drills while the EU discouraged high level visits.

However, the military government sees nothing changed in its international relations.

"The PM [General Prayut Chan-o-cha] was treated at the same level as other countries' leaders when he attended the summit Asia-Europe Meeting in Milan last October.

Six motorcycles accompanied the premier's motorcade," Tanasak said in an exclusive interview with The Nation.

He argued that currently, there was no reason for PM Prayut to attend any bilateral meetings with other leaders - but when they met in multilateral meetings they showed respect towards Thai leaders.

"Thailand still stands among the world of democracy - but we may be in a process of restoration for further stability," he said.

As the foreign minister, who travels abroad on behalf of the Thai government, Tanasak said he rarely faced questions about Thailand's next election during his foreign trips.

"Nobody [foreign counterparts] asked me when we would hold an election or when martial law was to be lifted - but I tried to explain to them about the roadmap," he said.

Questions he received about the election were asked by United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and a human rights organisation - and Tanasak said they were protocol questions.

Asked if Western countries were still putting pressure on Thailand, he replied "They may put pressure on us [by issuing statements] against the coup and Thailand, but there was no [talk of] action against us, so far."

For his part, he was also invited to visit other countries and vice versa.

Julie Bishop from Australia was the first Western Foreign Affairs Minister to pay an official visit to Thailand after the coup. She recently attended an inauguration ceremony of the New Colombo Plan in Thailand.

Tanasak also held a bilateral meeting with his counterpart in which he said Australia insisted that it supported Thailand's moving forward.

Other foreign ministers from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia would soon come to meet him - followed by India, according to Tanasak.

Regarding relations with the US, he insisted that it remained at a normal stage.

The two countries were still strategic partners on military co-operation.

Military exercises were still continuing. However, he said Thailand now relied less on the US for military exercises, training funds, as well as weapons purchases.

Thailand had bought helicopters from Russia, Gripen jet fighters from Sweden and tanks from China, he said.

For ASEAN, he said he was confident 100 per cent that its members understood Thailand's [stance].

Thailand had been criticised for shifting away from the United States and towards China and Russia. Tanasak said this criticism had been politicised by some Thais.

In fact, Thailand had been associated with Russia for more than 170 years, with the United States for 180 years, and for China more than 1,000 years.

"For us, balance means associating with everybody and we love them all. We are friends with every country," he said.

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