BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand's authoritarian coup leader Prime
Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Tuesday (May 2) he expects to enjoy a
much-needed boost to his military regime thanks to President Donald
Trump's surprise invitation to the White House.
   "The U.S. president said that we are their good ally, and he
assured me that although we have been rather distant recently,
Thai-U.S. relations will now be closer than ever," Mr. Prayuth told
reporters on Tuesday (May 2).
   While speaking with President Trump, Mr. Prayuth "affirmed that
Thailand stands ready to support and promote bilateral cooperation in
all fields, particularly trade, investment and security," announced
Deputy Government Spokesman Lt. Gen. Werachon Sukondhapatipak.
   Mr. Prayuth will "support the constructive role of the United
States in maintaining peace and security in the region," Lt. Gen.
Werachon said.
   Mr. Prayuth accepted the White House invitation and asked the U.S.
president to come to Bangkok.
   No dates were announced for either visit.
   Mr. Prayuth's junta has not allowed this Buddhist-majority
Southeast Asian country to have elections, freedom of speech or other
basic rights since he seized power in a bloodless 2014 coup when he
was army chief.
   "Trump's invitation is a positive move," said Kasit Piromya, a
member of the military government's National Reform Steering Assembly.
   The visit will give Mr. Prayuth "respectability and legitimacy in
the eyes of the Thai conservatives, ultra-right wing, upper-middle
class, and the elites," Mr. Kasit said in an interview on Tuesday (May
   "However, Prayuth will have to give a lot of explanations" about
why he is "too friendly and too complying with Beijing's wishes," Mr.
Kasit said.
   "Prayuth and other members of his government, and their supporters,
have been embarrassed and angry at the refusal of the USA to appear
supportive of their coup-installed regime. They will now be jubilant,"
Thailand-based British historian Chris Baker said.
   "Locally, support for the Prayuth government has fallen
dramatically in recent months as a result of some unpopular measures
including purchase of [Chinese] submarines for the navy, a pending
bill to control the media, repeated delays in the promised 'roadmap'
towards elections, and [political] devices to preserve the military's
political influence even after the return of an elected government,"
Mr. Baker said in an interview on Tuesday (May 2).
   "Trump's invitation will not correct this slide in popularity, but
will induce the generals to ignore it," said Mr. Baker, who wrote
several books about Thailand including his newest titled, "A History
of Thailand: Siam in the Early Modern World," co-authored with Pasuk
   Activists struggling for democracy and human rights meanwhile are
discouraged by Mr. Trump's decision.
   President Trump's invitation was offered to "democracy-crushing
Prayuth, Thai junta chief," New York-based Human Rights Watch
Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote on Monday (May 1) on his
official @KenRoth Twitter account which has 206,000 followers.
   "The [invitation] offer makes a dramatic change in tone from the
former administration of Barack Obama which, despite giving much
attention to Asia, refused to afford such prestige to [Prayuth] the
leader of a non-elected government," the English-language Bangkok Post
newspaper reported on Tuesday (May 2).
   During the past few years, Thailand drifted closer to China by
tightening military, economic and diplomatic links.
   Thailand's military, which owns no submarines, plans to buy three
weaponized submarines from China costing a total of about $1 billion.
   Bangkok and Washington are non-NATO treaty allies.
   The Pentagon stages several expensive military training exercises
each year with Thailand's armed forces, including in the skills of
submarine warfare.
   During former President Obama's administration, U.S Embassy
diplomats and other officials criticized the Thai junta's lack of
   Those public complaints have eased in recent months.
   Mr. Prayuth's visit to the White House will be the first official
trip by a Thai premier to Washington since 2006 when then-Prime
Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled in a coup while visiting the
   Mr. Prayuth visited the U.S. twice as prime minister of his
military government.
   Those trips were for a U.N. General Assembly in New York and a
summit in California for members of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) which includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos,
Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
   During the 2016 U.S.-ASEAN Summit, Mr. Prayuth met then-President
Obama in California.