Quick actions needed to repair Thai-US friction

Quick actions needed to repair Thai-US friction

Thailand's outrage over the comments last week by Daniel Russel, Assistant State Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, and subsequent responses from the US, showed that the 182-year-old relationship was in deep trouble and must be fixed as soon as possible.

To move ahead, both countries need to dig deep into their long history of friendship and cooperation to rekindle old spirits and aspirations missing in the current exchanges.

Bangkok and Washington also must develop new common platforms that reflect their mutual interests and shared values to prevent these precious relations drifting further.

In the present regional and global environment, such a backsliding, even for a brief moment, could have far-reaching consequences.

In March 1833, Thailand became the first Asian country to sign a treaty with the US.

The Treaty of Amity and Commerce was a remarkable document revealing how the two allies valued their relations at that time.

The treaty's last paragraph pledged a perpetual peace that would allow the Thais and Americans to trade "so long as heaven and earth shall endure."

The hullaballoo last week simply reminded that our modern-day diplomats do not pay attention to these historical records and promises.

Instead, they prefer to create their own narratives.

Judging from numerous comments and reactions, it showed both Thai and American diplomats were not that smart, lacking the knowledge and intellect of their forbears, who managed to forge closer friendships under unusual circumstance and obstacles.

These days, Thailand and the US are willing to ignore their common history at their own peril, preferring to pass judgement and insult one another.

Doubtless, Thais viewed American bafflement at the present political situation as another form of hypocrisy.

A few actions need to be taken urgently to patch up and move forward in the mending of Thai-US ties.

First of all, if the US feels the urge to comment on the political situation in Thailand from now on, especially the ongoing political reform and democratisation process, Washington should use appropriate diplomatic channels to voice its views and concerns.

There is no need to air controversial remarks publicly, especially those that can easily add fuel to the fire.

Constructive comments at the right time would certainly help to strengthen mutual confidence.

They could help prevent unnecessary political "spin", which has already become a regular feature in Thai-US diplomatic rows.

Somehow, Washington and Bangkok have yet to learn valuable lessons from their longstanding engagement.

Russel's comment over the impeachment of Yingluck was really unfortunate and uncalled for and it came at the worst time-three days after the verdicts.

The same views expressed discreetly would not have harmed the relationship.

Second, the US State Department must make sure that the next American ambassador to Thailand, whoever he or she is, arrives in the capital as soon as possible.

They must not leave the post vacant for too long.

Otherwise, there will be a huge gap in communication between the two countries.

Given the reality in Washington these days, any confirmation in the US Congress of the ambassadorial appointment could clearly take some time.

However, the longer it takes, the heavier the impact on Thai-US relations.

Most importantly, any future delay could be perceived as a protest by Washington against the current government and the downgrading of bilateral ties.

A new envoy in town would be able to instil fresh confidence and jump-start improvement of the much-bruised relationship.

There is no need for American diplomats stationed in Bangkok and Washington to use Twitter to convey their messages as they do today.

Truth be told, since the last half of 2009, tweets coming from American diplomats on the situation in Thailand have caused deep anxieties and misunderstanding, poisoning the Thai-US friendship and deepening their mistrust.

Finally, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is preparing for his US trip to attend the UN General Assembly at the end of September, following UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon's recent invitation.

There must be communication strategies from concerned officials and agencies on this planned visit.

Otherwise, it could turn into another political fiasco as in last September when Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn was in New York to attend the UNGA and was given cursory attention by his American counterparts.

At the moment, Thailand is finalising its report on the progress over issues related to human trafficking and human rights violations concerning migrant workers.

Last year, Washington downgraded Bangkok to tier 3 - a huge embarrassment for Thailand.

When the annual Trafficking in Persons report is due in May, the new assessment by the US government would be another indicative of the state of Thai-US relations.

If the report is not positive, it could further ruin their friendship.

Thai-US relations are unique and cannot be replaced by other bilateral ties.

At this juncture, Thailand cannot afford to lose a friend, any friend for that matter.

Disagreements between Bangkok and Washington must be considered as normal happenstances.

However, it would become anything but normal if they allowed last week's response to drag on and continue to rear its ugly head.

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