The US had not lost Thailand to China, Washington's envoy to Bangkok said today, as the relationship between the two allies was marked by acrimony and a shift by the kingdom's junta towards its giant northern neighbour was now palpable.
"I don't spend a lot of time, I don't spend any time, saying to Washington here's how we get Thailand back. We haven't lost Thailand," ambassador Glyn T Davies told reporters in Bangkok.
"I think it's a good thing for Thailand to have a good relationship with China," he added.
Thailand had been one of Washington's staunchest military allies in Southeast Asia and that relationship could have strengthened under US president Barack Obama's policies. However, the May 2014 coup, the second in the last decade, as also the junta's subsequent rights crackdown had strained those ties.
Thailand's latest crop of military leaders had gravitated towards Beijing in recent years, a move gladly reciprocated by its northern neighbour.
The junta had also started to forcibly deport critics of Beijing back to China, some of whom had recognised refugee status, sparking condemnation from the UN and other western allies of the kingdom.
Meanwhile, on Monday, a member of Thai junta warned the US ambassador to the country to be careful with his words, responding to remarks made by envoy Glyn Davies last week on Thailand's harsh lèse mejesté law.
According to the Bangkok Post, ambassador Davies, in an address to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand on 25 November, criticised the military regime for ''the lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences handed down'' under the law, which existed ostensibly to protect the standing of the Thai royal family but in practice was used to stifle political opposition.
In response, junta deputy leader Prawit Wongsuwon advised Davies to ''think carefully before he speaks,'' the Post reports. The ambassador's remarks also sparked protests by hard-line nationalists outside the US embassy.
Junta strongman Prayuth Chan-ocha hinted that such remarks could hit trade ties between Washington and Bangkok, the Post said.