US hasn't 'lost' Thailand, says envoy Davies

US hasn't 'lost' Thailand, says envoy Davies

Protests escalate over Section 112 remarks

US Ambassador Glyn Davies held his press conference at the GPF Building on Witthayu Road. (Photos by Pattanapong Hirunard)
US Ambassador Glyn Davies held his press conference at the GPF Building on Witthayu Road. (Photos by Pattanapong Hirunard)

Despite closer ties between Bangkok and Beijing, the United States has not "lost" Thailand to China, American Ambassador Glyn Davies said Monday amid mounting protests over his criticism of the country's lese majeste law.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon advised Mr Davies to "think carefully before he speaks" after his remarks sparked last week's protest in front of the US embassy in Bangkok and rallies by scores of ultra-nationalists and royalists in provinces in the North, Northeast and South. (See below for details, photos)

"I don't spend a lot of time, I don't spend any time, saying to Washington here's how we get Thailand back. We haven't lost Thailand," Mr Davies told a news conference at an office building next to the embassy held amid tight security.

Once a staunch military ally, Bangkok's ties with Washington were downgraded after the May 2014 coup, but Beijing has embraced the ruling generals with closer trade, tourism and defence cooperation. 

"I think it is a good thing for Thailand to have a good relationship with China," Mr Davies told Thai reporters, just days after the Thai and Chinese air forces held a joint drill.

Hitting out at "the lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences handed down by Thai military courts against civilians" for breaching Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law, Mr Davies' criticism of the law at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand last week rubbed salt into the wound of the strained bilateral relationship and drew flak from the ruling junta.

US Ambassador Glyn Davies performs a wai at a news conference on Thai-US relations, as well as on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, held at the GPF Building on Witthayu Road.

"We're trying our best for the future of the nation and for permanent democracy. But wait a little longer. We're building a solid foundation for real democracy in the future that should not end up requiring day-to-day problem-solving," Gen Prawit, also defence minister, said Monday.

"Give the government some sympathy. We're doing our job... we're looking forward," he said.

Last week, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha hinted that trade ties between the two nations could be affected if Mr Davies repeated such remarks, but the US envoy tried to downplay the threat, saying the trade issue should be looked at on its merits exclusive of politics and geopolitics.

"If political leaders want to equate the two that's up to them, up to him," the US envoy said.

Mr Davies said the US "will be ready to work with Thailand" when "it expresses interest to join" the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact, but he was not trying to convince Bangkok to participate in the 12-nation trade bloc.

"We're busy with our own domestic process as there's still a big debate in the US," he said.

Ignoring Washington's offer, Thailand has asked Japan, a member of TPP pact, for help.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak said in Tokyo after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week that Japan had pledged to support Thailand in joining the much-touted new trade bloc, offering to help Bangkok study the impacts of TPP membership including its benefits, and the challenges it needs to prepare for.

The move was criticised by an anti-free trade group.

FTA Watch coordinator Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul said such a comprehensive agreement affecting so many facets of Thai society and the economy should be struck by a democratically-elected civilian government, not the military regime.

"The fact that agencies concerned have not studied and debated among themselves the pros and cons of the agreement reflects how prematurely the Thai leadership has jumped to conclusions for the national interest," Ms Kannikar said.

She also slammed the US for its "hypocrisy", preaching democracy but still collaborating with the military regime that she accused of violating the basic rights of the Thai people.

A meeting on Friday of the international trade development committee chaired by Gen Prayut is expected to discuss the impacts of the TPP and other regional trade agreements and provide preliminary findings on Thailand's TPP stance.

The ambassador's speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand sparked a demonstration in front of the US embassy in Bangkok last Friday in response.

And on Monday, small groups in the North, Northeast and South demonstrated against the ambassador's remarks.

In addition to the photos below, the rallies, illegal but unopposed by authorities, took place in Buri Ram, Chai Nat, Chaiyaphum, Lampang, Nakhon Ratchasima, Phuket, Songkhla, Trang, Trat, and Uttaradit provinces.

Some demonstrators demanded the government take diplomatic reprisals while others called for the US to replace its ambassador.

About 300 demonstrators gathered at the provincial hall of Nakhon Si Thammarat on Monday to protest against the US ambassador. (Photo by Nujaree Raekrun)

About 100 demonstrators showed up at the US consulate-general in Chiang Mai province on Monday. (Photo by Cheewin Sattha)

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