US looking forward to closer Thai military ties

US looking forward to closer Thai military ties

SINGAPORE - US Defense Secretary James Mattis has said he looks forward to Thailand's return to democracy and to expand military cooperation with the country.

He reiterated America's commitment to Asia-Pacific but urged the countries in the region, including Thailand, to play a greater role in their own security.

"We call upon all countries to contribute sufficiently to their own security. At the same time, we encourage them to actively seek out opportunities and partnerships with other like-minded nations, and we do the same, to sustain and maintain the peace," Mr Mattis said during a speech at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore on Saturday.

"We will continue to engage closely with our partners, building on recent progress. We are exploring new ways to address challenges, from maritime security to the growing threat posed by the spread of terrorism in Southeast Asia."

For Thailand, in particular, he pointed out to a return to democracy as a point when the US can give more military support.

"Our oldest ally in the region, Thailand, has been and will remain instrumental in addressing a wide range of regional challenges," Mr Mattis said.

"Thailand has announced its intent to hold elections.

"We look forward to our long-time friend's return to democratic governance and the expansion of our military-to-military relationship grounded in our everlasting confidence in the Thai people," he added.

The United States's policy towards Asia, challenges for crisis management in the region, threats from nuclear weapons, terrorism and cybercrime as well as the conflicts in the South China Sea have been highlighted at the conference, which runs from Friday until today.

Deputy Defence Minister Gen Udomdej Sitabutr as well as National Security Council secretary-general Gen Thawip Netniyom are among the Thai delegates.

Earlier, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was the keynote speaker delivering opening remarks of the Asia security conference, on Friday night praised the US for its role in regional security over decades.

He also supports the US to continue its role.

"Some have been concerned the withdrawal from the TPP and now from the Paris Climate Change Agreement herald a US withdrawal from global leadership. While these decisions are disappointing, we should take care not to rush to interpret an intent to engage on different terms as one not to engage at all," the Australian premier said.

On the other hand, while emphasising the rule of law and respects among the countries, Mr Turnbull warned China of bullying others.

"China has gained the most from the peace and harmony in our region, and consequently it has the most to lose if it is threatened," he said.

He urged China to take action on the security issues in the Korean Peninsula.

"Just as modern China was founded in 1949 on an assertion of national sovereignty, so will 21st Century China best succeed by respecting the sovereignty of others and in so doing build a reservoir of trust and cooperation with its neighbours," Mr Turnbull said.

"And it has no better or more urgent opportunity to build that trust than to use its great leverage, and honour the responsibility with which it comes, to curb the unlawful, reckless and dangerous conduct of North Korea."

Meanwhile, he said Asean should show that it could remain its "statecraft" and be able to adjust to the rapid changes.

He said Australia supports a united Asean while citing the Asean-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement as "Asean's most comprehensive trade agreement that inspired the drive for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which will also bring in China, Korea, Japan and India".

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