It’s a distinct pleasure to be here today. Thank you Ambassador Vijavat for your gracious remarks. And thank you also to the National Archives and to Archivist David Ferriero for hosting this event. And a special thank you to all of you in the audience, members of the diplomatic corps and the many friends of Thailand here, for being with us tonight.
This evening I am here with you on behalf of Secretary Kerry to celebrate the close ties that have endured for 180 years between the United States and Thailand. We are celebrating in the presence of this fascinating document that – by its very existence – continues to prove the enduring nature of our relationship.
Like all great relationships, ours has evolved over the decades as the region and our two countries have evolved. Today, we are expanding a mature partnership in which our two countries cooperate on a wide range of issues, benefitting not only the people of our two countries but also, increasingly, the peoples of Southeast Asia and further afield, as Thailand and the United States assist others with development and other challenges they face.
The United States was only 57 years old when we signed a treaty with Thailand stating that there shall be a "perpetual peace" between our countries. To keep that in perspective, that means Thailand has been a friend for three-quarters of U.S. history. And for about one-quarter of U.S. history -- since 1954 -- we have also had a formal defense relationship that has contributed to the security of the region. The constancy of our two nations’ friendship over 180 years is remarkable. So it is altogether fitting that we celebrate it tonight in these impressive surroundings.
The depth and breadth of our cooperation is as impressive as its length. Thailand and the United States work together to assist refugees and displaced persons, and to fight human trafficking. A recent groundbreaking AIDS vaccine trial came partly out of collaborative work on public health between Thai and American scientists, including military medical officers. We also work together to combat narcotics and wildlife trafficking and to strengthen law enforcement capabilities throughout Asia, including by co-hosting a law enforcement academy in Bangkok that trains police from across the region and shares best practices on combatting transnational crime.
Our security cooperation remains indispensable to regional security and stability. It is critical to large scale humanitarian relief efforts such as the international response to the 2004 Tsunami and Typhoon Nargis. Our militaries engage in over 40 joint exercises annually, including Asia’s premier multinational field exercise involving 32 countries, called Cobra Gold, hosted by our Thai partners. Our defense cooperation has played a key role in international efforts from combating piracy off the Somali coast to peacekeeping in Darfur. We are allies in the region and worldwide for peace and prosperity.
Speaking of prosperity, our business relations are also deeply rooted. Thailand and the United States benefit from $37 billion in two-way trade each year. Hundreds of U.S. companies choose to headquarter their Southeast Asian operations in Thailand, enhancing Thailand’s strength as a regional hub and exporter. U.S. companies are large investors in Thailand, employing about 250,000 Thais and creating jobs here at home, as well. Many of our firms have celebrated decades of business operations in Thailand. We are proud that U.S. investments continue to foster innovation and support high labor and environmental standards.
As the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia and a founding member of ASEAN, Thailand is a lynchpin of the region. Thailand plays an important role in our joint Lower Mekong Initiative, especially in Education and Energy Security. We are now discussing a cross border initiative to streamline commerce, security, and communications in the region.
Ultimately, the future of our relationship is as at least as much in the hands of our peoples as it is in the hands of our governments. Last year, almost 8,000 Thai students studied at U.S. universities and an increasing number of Americans choose to study in Thailand’s excellent universities. In fact, I understand that Ambassador Vijavat studied at Tufts University on a Fulbright scholarship in the 1980s. This is proof that we’re doing something right in our educational exchanges! The U.S. Foreign Service includes a number of officers who began their adventure in foreign affairs as Peace Corps volunteers in Thailand where we continue to have an active Peace Corps program. And then there is Thailand’s scenic and cultural beauty, which last year alone brought well over 600,000 American tourists to the country. Americans have great affection for Thailand!
At the highest level, our relationship is a special one. His Majesty the King is the world's only reigning monarch born in America, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is a great inspiration to his people for his numerous good works to improve their lives. President Obama visited Bangkok in November as his first foreign visit upon being re-elected. I was on that trip and can say from firsthand experience that the President was simply delighted by Thailand, and felt honored to be able to meet with His Majesty.
In closing, I must say that standing in the presence of this treaty, I can’t help but feel struck by the wisdom and foresight of its designers. Our alliance has truly stood the test of time. It's not often that one can witness the 180th anniversary of any relationship. Onward to 200!