Bangkok (AP) – Thailand’s prime minister has accepted an invitation from President Donald Trump to visit the United States, his office said Monday, as the U.S. leader made an unexpected diplomatic initiative toward several Southeast Asian counterparts.
Trump telephoned Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday to reaffirm traditional close relations and invite them for meetings. The invitations followed another one in a call late Saturday to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
Washington’s diplomacy in Asia has focused recently on China and tensions with North Korea, although Vice President Mike Pence included Indonesia on a recent Asia tour.
Prayuth’s office said he had accepted Trump’s invitation, while a Singapore Foreign Ministry statement said the two leaders “looked forward to meeting each other soon.” No dates were mentioned for the visits.
Washington has strategic concerns in countering Chinese influence in Southeast Asia. Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines are historically the most pro-Western nations in the region, but China’s influence has been increasing as it flexes its economic muscle and projects its military power into the South China Sea.
Prayuth’s government last week announced approval of a plan to purchase a submarine from China.
Prayuth’s office said he and Trump reaffirmed the importance of their countries’ long-standing alliance. They also said Prayuth invited Trump to visit Thailand at a convenient time.
The White House statement about the call to Lee mentioned that “robust security cooperation and close collaboration on regional and global challenges” mark the two countries’ partnership.