US, China differ on coup
Washington anxious about martial law while Beijing welcomes Gen Surayud
The world's two superpowers took different positions on the appointment of Surayud Chulanont as Thailand's prime minister, with the United States stressing its concerns about the curbing of civil liberties and the lengthy timetable for an election, while China welcomed the announcement with "warm congratulations and best wishes".
A stern statement from the White House said: "The US remains concerned by restrictions on civil liberties, provisions in the draft constitution that appear to give the military an ongoing and influential role in decision-making, and the lengthy timetable for democratic elections.
"We call for clear and unambiguous pro-
tection for civil liberties by the interim authorities and the military, and a quick return to democratic elections. Thailand's image in the eyes of the world and US-Thai relations will suffer until Thailand returns to its place as a democratic leader in Asia."
An official at the US Embassy in Bangkok said the White House statement was "by no means an ultimatum".
"It would be a positive step if martial law is lifted. We are not suggesting any timeframe," the official said.
Head of the ruling junta, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, said martial law would remain in force for the time being, at least during the transitional period. He did not elaborate on how long the transitional period would be.
In a letter handed to the Foreign Ministry yesterday, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said the "traditional friendship between China and Thailand dates back to ancient times" and the two people "are like each other's relatives with friendly feelings.
"We are good neighbours, friends and partners," Wen said. "I am willing to work together closely with Your Excellency for the constant progress of Sino-Thai relations."
Speaking to reporters yesterday, National Security Council secretary-general Winai Pattiya-kul said the ruling military council could not lift martial law by itself.
"It has to be initiated by Parliament and endorsed by His Majesty the King," Winai said.
Joining the welcoming chorus were Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Vietnam, all of whom congratulated Surayud on his appointment as interim prime minister by the junta who ousted Thaksin Shinawatra.
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien-Loong said he looked forward to working with Surayud.
"You shoulder a heavy burden to ensure the drafting of the
constitution and to work towards early elections. I am glad that you have the endorsement of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and am confident that you will also have the support of the Thai people in exercising your responsibilities," Lee said.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed hope that "our friendly relations and good cooperation will continue to sustain for the benefit of our two kingdoms".
Laos' premier Bouasone Bouphavanh said his country looked forward to working with Surayud and strengthening relations with Thailand.
Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said he believed "the situation in Thailand will soon return to normal so that the people of Thailand can concentrate on building a prosperous country and a happy life".