The meeting also focused on the “friendship that stretches back more than 200 years”, news agencies said on Friday.
Austin announced plans to visit Thailand next month, his first as US secretary chief, though no exact date was disclosed. This would be his fourth trip to the Indo-Pacific region in this position.
At the meeting, Austin thanked Thailand for giving the US military access to the U-Tapao Naval Airfield in Chonburi province, as per the script of his welcoming remarks that is available on the US Department of Defence website.
“We deeply appreciate your continued support for our military operations and exercises. We're grateful for the access that Thailand has provided to U-Tapao Naval Airfield and other key sites, which has supported critical operations in the region,” Austin said.
He also told Prayut that the US was planning to hold a “full scale” Cobra Gold military exercise in Thailand next year.
The annual drill, billed the largest of its kind in this region, has been downsized after Thailand’s 2014 military coup and later the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, critics have warned that closer military ties with the US – particularly allowing access to the key airbase – could undermine Thailand’s relationship with the Asian superpower China.
At the Pentagon meeting, Prayut thanked the US government for providing Covid-19 vaccines and other key medical equipment to Thailand during the pandemic.
He also sought to expand bilateral cooperation with the US to boost Thailand’s ability to confront cybersecurity and space threats, the Pentagon website showed.
Prayut told his US defence counterpart that his government was looking at Washington’s “successful experiences in terms of research and development in the defence industry” to ensure that defence equipment produced in Thailand is accepted by the international community.
The PM also urged the US defence industry to consider investing in the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) special industrial zone.
“We wish to jointly invest with other countries to promote technology transfer and advance Thailand towards self-sufficiency in this area. We also hope that Thailand could be a part of the supply chain for the defence industry,” he said.
Prayut's visit came as US President Joe Biden hosted leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Washington DC, as his administration makes an extended effort to demonstrate that the US has not lost focus on the Asia-Pacific.
Published : May 13, 2022