Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha says the European Union is willing to normalise ties with Thailand now that the country has returned to democracy.
Gen Prayut made the comment on Saturday in Osaka where he was attending the G20 Summit. Thailand is not a member but was invited to join in its capacity as the current chair of Asean.
The EU has eased its stance on Thailand, as evidenced by increasing trade and investment over the past five years, he said. The bloc had put on hold trade and investment talks with the country since the military coup in 2014.
On behalf of Asean, Gen Prayut said he had submitted resolutions from the Asean Summit held in Bangkok last week to the G20 meetings. Most of them were in line with the shared views of developed and developing countries.
Other issues discussed at the meeting were measures to cushion the economic impacts from the US-China trade war and other geopolitical tensions, although some good news was expected from talks between the world superpowers, he said.
Gen Prayut also acknowledged some of the development challenges facing his own country as he prepares to take the helm of an elected government, with a new cabinet expected to be formed in the next week or two.
“Thailand has to get ready by making economic and technological advances and increasing online access,” he said. “These are the problems we’re facing as a large portion of our population is in the developing stage.”
Other issues under discussion were climate change and reduction of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas, as well as marine debris, which Asean leaders have pledged to tackle.
“Many view a G20 summit doesn’t place much importance on Asean but I don’t agree,” said Gen Prayut. “[We may feel overlooked] because our region is peaceful, with very few regional conflicts. The South China Sea issue might be an exception but we have laid down measures to deal with it peacefully in three years. In the meantime, safe sea passage and air navigation have been ensured.”
As for the Rohingya problem in neighbouring Myanmar, Gen Prayut said Thailand was pushing for solutions, which have to be approved by Myanmar.
“Asean agrees to jointly provide aid to help the ethnic group. Talks must also be held with Bangladesh on the repatriation and to speed up the screening process,” he said.
Myanmar will prepare for the resettlement and Thailand will send teams to help it with accommodation and health care, he added.
“The situation will gradually improve if there’s no new problem,” he said.
Discussing wider regional cooperation, Thailand pushed for the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which Gen Prayut views will help develop the country in all areas.
“We’ve seen 90% progress and will continue to talk to reach the goal while Thailand is Asean’s chair,” he said.
The RCEP is a free trade agreement championed by China between the 10 Asean members and six countries with which Asean has existing free trade agreements — China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.
The agreement is viewed as China’s response to the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership but does not set environmental or labour standards.
Negotiations for the RCEP began in 2012 and were supposed to have concluded by the end of 2015. However, they have dragged on for years amid disagreements over market access and protected sectors, especially between China and India.
Asean leaders pledged last weekend in Bangkok to work on completing a deal by the end of this year.