He also asked fellow Asean nations to join hands to tackle increased regional security challenges.
Member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations should adhere to a “strategic new equilibrium”, he said, and address regional security challenges, such as terrorism and extremism, cyber-security, irregular migration, climate change, South China Sea disputes and tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
General Prayut made the call in his keynote address during the opening ceremony of the 15th Asia Security Summit in Singapore on Friday night.
“Countries in the region should think of sovereignty in less traditional terms in order to support collective security in the long term,” he said. “If we look at everything from the standpoint of conflict, we will never be able to see a way out.”
“If we focus solely on borders, some of which are still in dispute, then again, we’ll never find a way out,” Prayut told the annual meeting.
He also reiterated that the military had to stage the 2014 coup as a necessary step in the transition towards a sustainable democracy.
“Thailand is in a transition towards a strong and sustainable democracy,” Prayut said before an assembled ballroom of defence ministers, senior military officers and defence analysts at the International Institute for Strategic Studies-hosted event, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue.
He was quick to defend his government’s record on human rights, refuting critics who say that Thailand has increasingly clamped down on freedom of expression.
“We have enforced the law only in situations where the laws have been broken,” he said. “So taking action in these instances should not be considered in violation of human rights.”
Emphasising that stability within Thailand was important for stability in the wider region, Prayut called for increased cooperation between countries to build “a strategic new equilibrium in the region” and ensure peace.
“All countries have to begin from a foundation of security and stability and no one country can face these challenges alone,” he said.
Alluding to tensions in the South China Sea, Prayut said that small and mid-sized countries should “avoid the trap of having to choose sides”.
“Compromises must be made for the common interest, for common security,” he said.
Other issues addressed by the Thai premier in his speech included irregular migration, a major issue for Thailand as it grapples with the challenge of dealing with waves of migrants and refugees fleeing nearby countries like Myanmar.
“Irregular migration is the joint responsibility of the origin, transit and destination countries,” he said. “The responsibility should not be a burden on any one country.”
The former general led the Thai Armed Forces in a coup in May 2014, establishing the National Council for Peace and Order, which continues to govern Thailand today.