SINGAPORE - Thailand is not retreating from democracy and seeks understanding from its economic and strategic partners while the country undergoes political reforms, a top Thai official said on Sunday.
Mr Sihasak Phuangketkeow, Thailand's Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, was responding to criticism by US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel who noted Thailand's "retreat from democracy" and Pentagon's decision to suspend military assistance and engagements with Thailand.
"We urge the Royal Thai Armed Forces to release those who have been detained, end restrictions on free expression, and move immediately to restore power to the people of Thailand, through free and fair elections," Mr Hagel said on Saturday, on the second day of the ongoing Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
"Until that happens, as US law requires, the Department of Defence is suspending and reconsidering US military assistance and engagements with Bangkok," Mr Hagel said.
At a press conference here, Mr Sihasak said he hoped the US and other nations would look at the relationship in the long-term.
"Thailand is not going to disappear, it is the second-largest economy in Asean. We are an economic force to reckon with. We will continue our engagement with the international community. We hope our friends will take that fact into consideration."
He also assured the region that Thailand would return to democracy.
"We are committed to staying the course of democracy. We want to consolidate. If you look at the events in Thailand, before the actions taken by the National Committee for Peace and Order, we did not have the kind of democracy we should have.
"There was protracted political conflict and violent incidents and our society was headed towards greater divisiveness. The government was not functioning. Had we continued in that direction, that would have been detrimental to Thailand's stability, to the region's stability."
The United States, which has close ties with Thailand's armed forces, cancelled a military exercise with Thailand and scrapped planned visits by officials after the Thai army seized power.
Mr Sihasak also said all detained individuals had been freed and curbs on the freedom of expression were being lifted.