Thailand’s prime minister is visiting the White House, a rare honor for a military leader who seized power in a 2014 coup and has resisted returning the country to democratic rule.
President Donald Trump and the first lady welcomed Prayuth Chan-ocha and his wife to the White House Monday, where the two leaders held talks in the Oval Office.
"Our relationship on trade is becoming more and more important and it's a great country to trade with," Trump told reporters before turning to the Thai leader and noting, "I think we're going to try to sell a little bit more to you."
Prayuth’s first meeting with Trump comes days after a court in Thailand sentenced in absentia the prime minister he unseated, Yingluck Shinawatra, to five years in prison for criminal negligence.
Human rights groups and the United States have been critical of Thailand’s military intervention, saying there has been an erosion of human rights and democratic freedoms. The prime minister has argued the action was necessary to stabilize the country.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Katina Adams told VOA Monday that officials “regularly urge Thai authorities, both privately and publicly, to ensure that human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected consistent with Thailand’s international obligations.” She said diplomats remain concerned about continued restrictions on freedom of expression and rights to peaceful assembly.
Trump extended an invitation to Prayuth in late April, shortly after he also invited Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, another leader who has drawn international criticism for alleged human rights violations.
President Trump is expected to visit Asia next month to attend political and economic summits in Vietnam and the Philippines. He is also scheduled to travel to Japan, South Korea and China.