In show of commitment, US signs ‘strategic vision’ pact with Thailand

McConville (left) is the first official visitor to Thailand since coronavirus entry rules were eased. (AP pic)

BANGKOK: US Army Chief of Staff General James McConville met with Thailand’s prime minister and its army chief on Friday, in the first high-level visit by a foreign delegation to Thailand since the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted international travel.

McConville met with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and also Thai Army Chief Apirat Kongsompong and signed a Strategic Vision Statement, a US embassy statement said, as Washington looks to reassure allies about its commitment to the region.

The text of the statement was not released, but the embassy said McConville and Apirat “discussed modernisation, interoperability, joint training, and doctrine”.

The US has sought to counter China’s influence in Southeast Asia, most recently by sending two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea while the Chinese military conducted drills near islands that are also claimed by Vietnam.

Thailand is Washington’s oldest ally in Asia, but relations were strained by a 2014 military coup led by then-army chief Prayuth that ousted an elected civilian government.

The US scaled back some military exchanges with Thailand, and Bangkok responded by forging a closer ties with China.

But ties improved after last year’s general election that officially restored civilian rule while keeping Prayuth on as a civilian leader, resulting in arms deal for US-made armoured personnel carriers and light attack helicopters last year.

Prayuth on Friday also acknowledged US$2 million in US aid to help Thailand cope with the coronavirus, according to a news release from his office.

The US delegation visited under a special arrangement to follow strict coronavirus safety measures that required members to wear face masks.

Thailand has gone six weeks without confirmed community transmission of coronavirus, while the US marked a new daily record of more than 60,000 new cases on Thursday.