Australia abandons 'human rights concern', welcomes Prayut

Australia abandons 'human rights concern', welcomes Prayut

Press the flesh: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha meets Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney Saturday. (Photo courtesy Government House)
Press the flesh: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha meets Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney Saturday. (Photo courtesy Government House)

SYDNEY: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha met Saturday with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to strengthen a bilateral trade tie.

The Thai prime minister put business issues at the front of the agenda at the first meeting between Thai and Australian leaders since 2013.

The meeting required huge loss of face and a change in travel regulations and foreign policy by Australia.

Australia banned travel to the country by Gen Prayut and every member of the junta leadership just eight days after the May 22, 2014, coup. It was the toughest punitive measure taken by a foreign government against the coupmakers.

At that time, Australia also downgraded relations and reduced engagement with the Thai military.

An announcement at the time, on May 30, 2014, said that "Australia is reducing our engagement with the Thai military and will lower the level of our interaction with the Thai military leadership."

Saturday's Prayut-Turnbull meeting turned that concern with human rights on its head.

Their talk was held prior to Saturday's launch of the two-day Asean-Australia Special Summit. The Special Summit was the first time Australia ever has hosted an Asean meeting.

Thai deputy government spokesman Lt Gen Werachon Sukondhapatipak said: "The talk marks a new chapter for the relationship between both nations."

The two countries will celebrate the 70th anniversary of their relationship in 2022, the year Thailand will also be appointed as the chairman of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or Apec.

In 2016-17, Australia's trade with Asean countries amounted to more than US$100 billion -- higher than the equivalent figure between the US and Japan, according to the Australian Government.

A large number of people from the Asean member nations are studying and working in Australia. Among them are some 100,000 Thai people.

Gen Prayut, according to Lt Gen Werachon, invited Mr Turnbull to visit Thailand to move forward their development initiatives.

If Mr Turnbull accepts the invitation, he would become the first Australian leader to visit Thailand in the past two decades.

Gen Prayut plans to build bridges between the two countries with more bilateral trade and investment.

He took his visit to Sydney as an opportunity to invite Australian businessmen to invest in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) scheme in Thailand.

The EEC is a large-scale high-tech industry development covering three provinces on the east coast.

The government has already prepared for this ambitious economic drive by planning infrastructure construction, suggesting tax incentives and drafting a so-called EEC law to boost investor confidence.

However, the Thai government not only wants to attract Australian investors. Gen Prayut stressed a need for two-way investment, supporting Thai business expansion Down Under.

The Thai prime minister asked Mr Turnbull to facilitate new investment projects, including energy and water-related businesses, from Thailand.

Mr Turnbull, according to Lt Gen Werachon, agreed with Gen Prayut to push ahead both bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

Any joint projects must be based on "mutual interests and respect", Lt Gen Werachon quoted the Australian prime minister as saying.

Mr Turnbull also thanked his Thai counterpart for supporting both the Sydney Declaration and an Asean-Australia Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism, two key agreements adopted in the weekend Special Summit.

The Sydney Declaration marks leaders' vision in promoting regional security and prosperity, while the MoU is aimed at building more concerted efforts to combat transnational crimes.

Earlier yesterday, Gen Prayut met a group of leading Thai business figures who had been invited by the Australian government to join a sideline "CEO Forum" and discussed their business expansion prospects in Australia.

Among the key participants are Krisda Monthienvichienchai, chief executive and president of Mitr Phol Group, the world's fourth-largest and Asia's largest sugar producer, Supamas Trivisvavet, chief executive of Ch.Karnchang Plc, Thailand's second-biggest construction company, leading hotelier Dillip Rajakarier, chief executive of Minor Hotel Group, and Kobsak Duangdee, secretary-general to Thai Bankers Association. THAI NEWS AGENCY

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