Sunday, November 20, 2011

Yingluck backs anti-nuclear, trade calls

Bangkok Post

Thai support wins thanks, White House invitation from Obama

BALI: Thailand has thrown its support behind two United States-backed initiatives and earned the thanks of US President Barack Obama.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the government would move towards endorsing the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which aims to stop the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems.

Ms Yingluck said Thailand would also consider joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade deal described by Mr Obama during the recent Apec Summit in Hawaii as a "21st century state of the art" initiative.

She and US President Barack Obama held a meeting Saturday.

Ms Yingluck said the cabinet would discuss the PSI soon before formally announcing Thailand's support.

It was launched by US President George W Bush in 2003 and has been endorsed by 98 countries.

Despite considerable support for the PSI, many major powers are opposed to it, including India, China, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Critics, including Iran and North Korea, say the PSI would allow members to stop ships on the high seas, in violation of international law guaranteeing freedom of the seas.

Article 23 of the United Nations' Convention on the Law of the Sea allows ships "carrying nuclear or other inherently dangerous or noxious substances" the right of passage through territorial seas.

Critics also say the PSI amounts to an act of piracy.

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said the US had approached Thailand on past occasions to support the PSI. "This is a lingering issue of discussion with the US for many governments," he said.

Each time Thailand has said it was willing to support the PSI but military officials said they were concerned that if ships or vessels were stopped and their cargo damaged, they could face lawsuits.

"This was a sticking point which prevented Thailand from moving forward on this issue," he said.

During the Apec Summit, Mr Surapong said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raised the issue once again and sought Thai endorsement. The Foreign Ministry discussed the issue on Monday.

The minister said Thailand could obtain sufficient intelligence about what was being carried on ships to enable it to make decisions without any mistakes occurring which could lead to lawsuits.

The US considers this an important issue and Mr Obama thanked Ms Yingluck for Thailand's support, he said.

Despite Ms Yingluck's backing for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the other initiative raised in talks with Mr Obama, Mr Surapong said Thailand would need more time to consider the details.

The TPP is a multilateral free trade agreement that aims to liberalise the economies of the Asia-Pacific region.

"We did not say when. The United States is satisfied," said Mr Surapong.

"There are many conditions. Japan took a long time before deciding to join. But at least it is a starting point."

Japan recently joined the TPP, after taking years to consider the move amid opposition from its farmers.

Asean Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said the TPP takes economic cooperation among its members further than Apec is prepared to go.

For example, it expands cooperative measures to areas such as government procurement contracts and projects.

Mr Surapong said Mr Obama also invited Ms Yingluck to visit the US. The visit is likely to take place early next year. The prime minister is scheduled to visit China next month and India on Jan 26. Ms Yingluck told the president that Thailand appreciates increased US engagement with Burma and is delighted that Mrs Clinton will visit Burma soon.

"Thailand supports the democratic process that is occurring in Burma," said Mr Surapong.

"We are close neighbours. When Ms Yingluck visited Burma, we could see their genuine intentions to move towards a democratic process."

Mr Surapong said he asked his counterpart Wunna Maung Lwin why Burma had decided not to proceed with the Chinese-backed Myitsone dam in Kachin State. "He told me the people and NGOs did not want the dam to be built because it would harm the environment. This means the Burmese government is beginning to listen to the people and this is good," Mr Surapong said.

During her visit to Burma, Mrs Clinton will also meet Aung Sang Su Kyi. Ms Yingluck told Mr Obama that Thailand is ready to help the US in its dealings with Burma
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