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US president to visit Thailand ahead of Olympics


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August 6, 2008

US president to visit Thailand ahead of Olympics
US President George W. Bush is expected in Bangkok on Wednesday for a two-day state visit, ahead of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, reported Channel News Asia.

The news agency said he and Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej will celebrate the 175th anniversary of the establishment of ties between the US and Thailand – a longstanding ally in the region.

But celebrations aside, Bush is expected to also deliver a major policy speech on Asia – a region that has taken a backseat to the Middle East during his administration.

Impact, however, will be limited given he will be leaving office soon. A new US president in 2009 and the ongoing political gridlock in Bangkok mean that advances in US and Thai relations are at a standstill.

Thailand Hote

Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science lecturer at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, said, “Thailand’s a crucial partner. But because of the political crisis in Thailand, things have been put on the back burner because Thailand is now so polarised, the government cannot agree on anything. It cannot get things done.

“A lot of the items on the agenda such as the free trade agreement (FTA) between the US and Thailand could be a crucial landmark agreement that would expand trade between the two countries. It would further cement and deepen the relationship that has been idle.”

It is not the first time that domestic politics has hurt ties. The Thai-US FTA negotiations were interrupted by the September 2006 coup after which the military government broke drug patents by issuing compulsory licences for several anti-HIV drugs.

Thailand was then put on an international watchlist of intellectual property violators.

The focus of the US president’s visit is most likely on Myanmar, rather than Thailand, after a brutal military crackdown on protesters in Yangon last September and the devastation of Cyclone Nargis in May.

Bush will meet with dissidents and attend a briefing on relief efforts, while his wife, Laura Bush, who has spoken out repeatedly and forcefully on human rights abuses in Myanmar, will visit a refugee centre and clinic on the Thai border.

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