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Diplomacy in Action

A Renewed U.S.-Thai Alliance for the 21st Century


Remarks
William J. Burns
Under Secretary for Political Affairs 
Remarks and Q&A at Chulalongkorn University
Bangkok, Thailand
July 16, 2010

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UNDER SECRETARY BURNS:  It’s wonderful to be in Thailand, and I want to thank Ambassador Bob Fitts for arranging this opportunity to discuss the important topic of U.S.-Thai relations and American strategic engagement in the Asia-Pacific region. I cannot think of a better place to do so than here at Chulalongkorn University. For centuries, this University has played an essential role in educating generations of Thailand’s most promising students, and serving as a laboratory for the cultivation of ideas that have helped construct the bridge from Thailand to the West. The Thai and American peoples have developed deep bonds through our institutions of higher learning. In fact, His Majesty the King was born in the U.S. while his father was studying medicine at Harvard.

My visit is part of a larger effort by the Obama administration to enhance and deepen our engagement in the Asia-Pacific, and in particular, in Southeast Asia and with ASEAN. President Obama entered office with a deep appreciation of the strategic importance of the Asia-Pacific region to America’s future, and it is clear that countries in the region also want the United States to maintain a strong and active presence. Our policy will ensure that the United States remains -- as Secretary of Defense Gates put it -- “a resident power,” and not just a visitor, because what happens in the region has a direct effect on our own security and our own economic well-being.

Over the course of the next few decades, climate change, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, widespread poverty, and threats to human rights will pose significant challenges for all of us. Meeting those challenges requires a renewed emphasis on partnerships among us. Nowhere are those partnerships more significant for stability and prosperity across this region than in our treaty alliances with Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, the Philippines and, of course, Thailand.

Our alliance with Thailand, in particular, is a key example of America’s enduring commitment to the region, and it plays an indispensable role as a platform for projecting shared interests and values, and ensuring regional peace and security. It is deeply in the national interest of the United States to see a stable, prosperous Thailand -- a Thailand that will continue to be a strong strategic partner as we together meet the challenges of the 21st century.

We are building our partnership at a time of dynamic shifts in the Asia-Pacific region. The rise of new powers -- India and China -- and their interactions with the existing order and established powers pose both significant opportunities and challenges. We will continue to have an important stake in the region and bring significant assets to bear as a powerful economy and a global magnet for higher education and innovation. But that does not mean that Americans have a monopoly on wisdom -- I’ve learned that a little humility goes a long way in the exercise of American leadership.

We will continue to look to Thailand’s deep historical experience in navigating geopolitical currents in the region. Thailand serves as a key strategic pivot between territorial and maritime Asia and is a natural bridge between India and East Asian countries, with which India seeks stronger relations. Amidst the significant changes and upheavals of the Asia-Pacific regional order, Thailand has remained a key driver of ASEAN’s evolution, and a proponent of economic growth grounded in democratic institutions. Thailand’s importance in regional stability at a time of significant change cannot be overstated.

The U.S.-Thai alliance, at its core, is built on shared values -- commitment to democracy, a desire for good governance, accountability and transparency in the actions of governments, and a respect for the rights to peaceful freedom of assembly and expression. These values inform not only how the U.S. and Thailand work together bilaterally, but also shape our joint efforts in the region and beyond.

Even though Thailand has just experienced its worst political violence in a generation, we believe our Thai friends will draw upon these values to work together to resolve political differences peacefully. Just as now-President Obama famously proclaimed “there is no red America or blue America; there is only the United States of America,” we are confident that our Thai friends, in a similar spirit of national solidarity, can come together to forge a healthy future for your country. Now more than ever, it is critical for all Thai leaders to promote dialogue and reconciliation, to recognize the legitimate grievances of Thai citizens, and to support the equal and impartial application of the rule of law. One hopeful sign -- a sign that reveals the strength and resilience of the democratic impulse in Thai society -- is that Thai political debate is once again taking place in Parliament and in lecture halls like this one, where it can bolster the democratic foundation and the spirit of debate. It is in this spirit that we welcome Prime Minister Abhisit's vow to follow through on the "reconciliation roadmap."

But we recognize that the challenges facing Thailand need Thai solutions. Thais know better than anyone else that realizing Thailand’s full potential requires ensuring that human rights and basic civil liberties of all Thai people are protected. How can Thailand build confidence in its economy or in its democratic development with violence in the streets? How can it achieve reconciliation and pursue political reform if freedom of expression is restricted? Can it set a democratic example as the newly elected President of the Human Rights Council by continuing its long-time generosity towards those who seek refuge in your country?

The United States will stand by Thailand as you work through these challenges. I know some commentators have suggested that Thailand is the “forgotten American ally.” They argue that since the end of the Cold War, the relationship has been in a state of strategic drift. Nothing could be further from the truth. You should all know that the United States stands ready to work with Thailand, one of our closest friends and one of our oldest allies, in the continued pursuit of peace, prosperity, and security.

Established 177 years ago and transformed into an alliance over half a century ago, our relationship is based on a mutual commitment to regional peace and prosperity, non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, freedom of navigation, and a global commons governed by common rules and norms. Shared interests and values form the strategic backbone of this alliance -- a vital partnership in a rapidly-changing, increasingly complex region. Let me highlight briefly a few key elements on the agenda that lies before us for bilateral, regional and global cooperation.

Bilateral

Secretary of State Clinton -- at about this time last year -- said in Bangkok that “we are committed to a broader, stronger, and deeper relationship with Thailand.” The more robust, dynamic U.S.-Thailand relationship Secretary Clinton envisions will build upon an already solid foundation.

The U.S. diplomatic mission in Thailand is one of the largest in the world. Our economic relations with Thailand are strong and growing -- annual trade in goods and services exceeds $30 billion. The United States has traditionally been Thailand’s top export market, and one of the largest investors in Thailand, with U.S. companies reporting over $35 billion in direct investment. Over 600 American firms operating in Thailand provide over a quarter of a million jobs in local communities, and hundreds of thousands of jobs in Thailand depend on Thai companies’ exports to the U.S. markets.

Over the years, the U.S.-Thailand partnership has also provided considerable benefits to both countries in many fields, including health, humanitarian assistance, and refugee protection. Since the Peace Corps began its program in Thailand nearly fifty years ago, close to 5,000 volunteers have worked with Thai partners to promote Thailand’s development. In the 20th century, the United States helped Thailand physically connect its cities through infrastructure projects, including the famous Friendship Highway from Bangkok to Nong Khai. Thailand has come a long way since then. As we advance into the 21st century, our cooperation will also enter a new era: rather than constructing roads and physical highways, we can work together to build information and education highways, which will bring opportunity to more Thai people and serve as the pillar of Thailand’s long-term economic growth and prosperity.

Our people-to-people exchanges in the field of education, which are growing dramatically, have also extended great benefits to both our peoples. This week we are proud to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Fulbright program in Thailand, and we were honored that Princess Sirindhorn helped commemorate this important bond between our people. Fulbright programs, complemented by a variety of other student exchange programs, enabled over 8,700 Thais to study in the United States last year. In addition, some 1,500 Americans are studying at institutions of higher education in Thailand and many more are learning the Thai language.

The U.S. and Thai governments have promoted successful collaboration in the medical sciences for decades and continue to support public health initiatives today. Officials from American government agencies work hand-in-hand with Thai colleagues on world-class, cutting-edge research. This joint collaboration has benefited millions worldwide through efforts such as developing vaccines against Japanese Encephalitis and conducting a groundbreaking HIV-vaccine trial.

Beyond the medical sciences, our two countries are also sharing scientific expertise to identify and develop the environmental technologies and alternative energy sources that will facilitate a transition to a carbon neutral economy. Further collaboration to build the capabilities of the future through joint research and shared expertise is on the horizon.

We recognize that those who foster ingenuity and entrepreneurship, while protecting the intellectual property of innovative minds, will lead the way in creating a more sustainable model for economic development and growth. Prime Minister Abhisit has stressed the importance that the government attaches to intellectual property rights and we agree that strengthening such protections will benefit both U.S. and Thai investors and innovators -- and the American and Thai people who reap the rewards of their creativity.

To this end, Foreign Minister Kasit and I met this morning and had a very productive discussion about ways to expand our alliance to address today’s challenges. We are launching a new “U.S.-Thai Creative Partnership” to build on Prime Minister Abhisit’s Creative Economy initiative by identifying new and dynamic partnerships between the public and private sectors.

Today, 12 percent of the Thai economy is based on creative industries, and the government’s goal is to raise that to 20 percent by 2015; the U.S.-Thai Creative Partnership will help make that possible. We believe that, by connecting our greatest minds -- our best scientists, engineers, artists, and entrepreneurs -- with Thailand’s most talented and entrepreneurial thinkers, we can sync business and government efforts; create linkages between universities; and build bridges between universities and businesses. Western Digital’s work with the world-class Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand to develop degree programs in Information Technology is just one example of the type of cooperation we want to expand under this Creative Partnership.

Regional

As important as our bilateral relationship is, our vision of partnership has always included a commitment to the security and prosperity of the region. Thai and American soldiers fought side-by-side in the frigid hills of Korea 60 years ago, and then in the jungles of Vietnam. Thailand remains a vital coordinating hub to meet the region’s complex and acute security demands, and is a key driver for economic growth and regional prosperity. The Thai military played a critical role in the 2004 Tsunami relief operations by providing supplies and support to millions of people in the Indo-Pacific basin, and provided a key peacekeeping role with troops and commanders for UN forces in Timor a decade ago.

The security component of our alliance continues to help ensure peace and stability throughout the Asia-Pacific region. COBRA Gold, held annually with Thailand, is one of the largest joint military exercises in the world, and has served for the past 30 years as an enduring symbol of the strength of the American commitment to the region and the close ties we share with Thailand. These valuable security ties have also facilitated the provision of humanitarian assistance: during two great catastrophes that devastated a number of countries -- the 2004 Tsunami and the 2008 cyclone Nargis -- the naval air station in Utapao, Thailand served as a critical platform for international relief efforts in the region.

Thailand has also become a strategic partner on other issues of regional concern. The Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), announced by Secretary Clinton last year, gives us an opportunity to work together to help bring prosperity to Southeast Asia. In all aspects of the Initiative -- environment, education and health -- our ongoing programs in Thailand will be the base from which we extend a cooperative hand to the broader neighborhood. The LMI will enable us to project and mitigate the potentially serious effects of climate change on the Mekong River; respond to regional pandemics; promote sustainable irrigation and water use initiatives; increase understanding of this invaluable river system. I know Secretary Clinton looks forward to holding the second Lower Mekong Ministerial next week during her visit to Vietnam for the ASEAN Regional Forum and the commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the normalization of U.S.-Vietnam relations.

The U.S.-Thailand relationship is a crucial component of the United States’ closer engagement with ASEAN and in regional institutions. President Obama met with all ten ASEAN leaders in Singapore last November in the first ever such meeting, and plans to hold a second meeting with these leaders. Secretary Clinton has also outlined a set of principles that offer a blueprint for how America seeks to engage and work with multilateral institutions in the Asia-Pacific. Through such engagement, we are continuing to work with our partners in the region to develop a vision for an effective and robust Asia-Pacific architecture and to address shared challenges. We welcome and appreciate Thailand’s continued support and guidance on America’s role in Asia-Pacific architecture.

Thailand demonstrated its willingness to play a leadership role in Southeast Asia during its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2009. Under Thailand’s leadership, ASEAN adopted a ground-breaking Charter and established an intergovernmental Human Rights Commission. Thailand also pushed forward a vision of a people-centric ASEAN community, fostering dialogue between civil society and ASEAN leaders. Thailand’s voice was crucial in advocating for an ASEAN Defense Ministerial Meeting that builds regional capacity to respond to both natural and humanitarian disasters.

Thailand’s leadership in Southeast Asia puts it at the forefront of dealing with some of the region's most pressing problems. Its relative prosperity and geographic position have attracted and provided safe-haven to scores of refugees seeking asylum from some of the last remaining bastions of authoritarianism in Southeast Asia. Among those asylum seekers are tens of thousands of Burmese. The United States and Thailand may sometimes have differences when it comes to Burma policy, but we share the aspiration of a Burma which is unified, peaceful, prosperous, responsive to the needs of its people, and respectful of international norms, such as UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874. As Burma approaches its first elections since 1990, the U.S. and Thailand have a shared interest in pressing for an inclusive, transparent, and credible electoral process. A first step towards this should be a genuine dialogue among all stakeholders and the release of more than 2100 political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. We urge Thailand, as a member of ASEAN and as Burma’s neighbor, to use its position of leadership in the region to press Burma’s leaders to adopt a course of political reform.

Global

Beyond the immediate East Asia region, the U.S.-Thai alliance is increasingly significant. As a major non-NATO U.S. ally, Thailand has made continuing contributions to international peace and security.

In the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein, Royal Thai forces contributed to medical assistance programs in Iraq. In Afghanistan, Thai forces were responsible for the construction of a critical runway at Bagram Airbase and provided medical services to allied troops. Thailand also has a long-history of participating in UN-led peacekeeping operations, such as the mission in Timor-Leste. The international community is also very appreciative of Thailand’s decision to deploy troops to help in peacekeeping efforts in Darfur later this year.

As an economic hub and a major transit point, Thailand has been confronted by three transnational criminal networks: traffickers of drugs, persons, and arms. We appreciate the extensive campaigns that Thailand has launched to curb the trafficking of illegal drugs and arms, which notably led to the arrest in 2008 of the world’s most notorious private arms dealer, Viktor Bout. With one of largest grants from the United States for anti-trafficking-in-persons programs, Thailand has made significant efforts to combat human trafficking, but can do more -- in its own self-interest -- to protect victims and prosecute those who traffic them. Thailand’s anti-trafficking efforts are vital to dismantling these global criminal networks, and we want to continue working with our Thai friends to combat this global threat.

Thailand also offers other Southeast Asian nations and developing nations a model for how to think strategically about dealing with the security risk posed by climate change. Thailand is acutely aware of the security risks posed by climate change. It is often referred to as “the Rice Bowl of Asia,” and the agriculture sector accounts for about 50 percent of the nation's employment and about 10 percent of national GDP. The effects of climate change -- including higher surface temperatures and more frequent violent weather patterns, will put Thailand’s rice crops and agriculture dependent economy at risk. We appreciate the important role Thailand has played in setting unilateral domestic targets to reduce greenhouse emissions -- such as the Bangkok Declaration on Mitigation of Climate Change. The steps taken by Thailand to mitigate carbon emissions and adapt the national infrastructure to cope with more frequent and intense climactic events serve as an example for the rest of Southeast Asia.

Thailand has also made significant contributions to counter the spread of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear terrorism. This year, President Obama hosted the inaugural Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. At this summit, Thailand agreed in principle to join the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism -- a key foreign policy objective for President Obama. Thailand’s efforts in counter-proliferation have also directly contributed to regional peace and were on full-display last year when Thai police interdicted a substantial shipment of arms from North Korea. We also share a commitment to urging Burma to respect UN Security Council Resolution 1718 and 1874. We look forward to working together to continue to promote non-proliferation and nuclear safety -- particularly, as nations in Southeast Asia embark upon aggressive investments in civil nuclear energy programs.

Thailand’s demonstrated leadership in addressing transnational threats has made the U.S.-Thai alliance an alliance with global impact. Our far-reaching cooperation extends to every one of the most important international challenges we face.

Conclusion

A strong and durable U.S.-Thai alliance is a critical element of the Obama Administration’s Asia-Pacific strategy. Our alliance is not only a key to strong U.S. relations in Southeast Asia, but it is an anchor of stability and prosperity in the most dynamic region in the world. We will continue to look for new opportunities to broaden and enhance our relationship. We have a long-history of cooperation, but we cannot just rest on that history or the on patterns of the past. We must together invest the time and energy to renew our partnership, to work together to take full advantage of the opportunities of this new Asia-Pacific century.

As I look around the audience I see a number of students with us today. You are Thailand’s future. Like the generations who came before you at this University, you will be the leaders who transform the ideas conceived within these walls into the realities beyond them. You will be the leaders who ensure a bright future for Thailand -- a future that can only be built on tolerance, genuine reconciliation, and respect for human rights. You will be the leaders who build a future that not only benefits the Thai people, but also provides for peace, prosperity and stability in Southeast Asia. And you will be the leaders who shape a renewed U.S.-Thai alliance that can thrive in the new century unfolding before us. Thank you.

QUESTION: We have a conflict in Thailand right now and how can the US which is an alliance of Thailand can help us to resolution of this conflict? Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thanks for what is a very good question. Americans, as friends of Thailand, were deeply saddened by the violence and the deaths that occurred in recent months. We remain convinced that it’s only through peaceful processes and Thailand’s own democratic institutions and the even-handed application of the rule of law that genuine reconciliation and tolerance can be built. And genuine reconciliation and tolerance are the keys to realizing the full potential of the people of this country, the enormously talented people of Thailand. That’s much easier said than done. I don’t underestimate the difficulties before all of you and before this society. But an enormous amount is at stake and it seems to us, again your friends in the United States, that it’s essential to pursue these avenues peacefully and take full advantage of the institutions that you’ve built.

MODERATOR: For those of you who need translation we have earphones down there. So for the second round we’ll take a few questions from the floor.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: If I haven’t stunned you all into silence.

QUESTION: Ambassador Burns, my question is about civil military relations. You’ve outlined the trajectory of your relations with the Thai army, which has been very positive, COBRA Gold, humanitarian assistance and the Thai army has provided a lot of peace and stability, as you rightly pointed out. And yet the behavior of the Thai army in the recent crisis has not been exemplary, particularly the live firing zones that they’ve had, the use of snipers, pretty unprecedented behavior. What impact has the American army had on the Thai army? And also if you could discuss, mention, could comment on if there will be any sanctions for the way the Thai army has behaved, in the same way that you have now sort of resumed military ties with the Indonesian army after the recent Indonesian army’s behavior in East Timor. Are there similar sanctions that you’re looking at? And also if you could comment on how the Thai army can be more professional in respecting civilian politicians.

MODERATOR: Ambassador Burns do you want to answer this or wait for a few more questions.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Okay, the challenge is if I remember all the parts of that question.

MODERATOR: Well it’s like three questions in one.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, I’m used to that.

MODERATOR: Okay, one more question maybe. So that, okay please.

QUESTION: I come from Thammasat University which is very far from here. Well recently I read from the newspaper that the US will open the military cooperation with Cambodia. My question is that will this affect the relationship between Thailand and American since Cambodia has some sort of conflict with Thailand? Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Okay, thanks. Maybe I’ll try both of those sets of questions. On the last one first. It’s true that we are cooperating with Cambodia, along with a number of other countries, as Cambodia begins to contribute to international peacekeeping operations. There was recently a military exercise involving the United States and several other countries and the Cambodian military to help prepare them to play that international peacekeeping role. That is actually a striking development when you recall that it wasn’t too long ago that Cambodia was the object of international peacekeepers as opposed to a contributor.

We don’t see that as in any way contradicting or in conflict with our commitment to working with the Thai military on regional security or peacekeeping operations. We’re very much in favor of regional cooperation on all of these kinds of issues.

On the earlier question, first I would say, just to repeat, that we, like many other people around the world were deeply saddened by the events that took place. We support, the United States supports, a full and credible investigation of what happened to determine who was responsible and what can be done to prevent something like this in the future. In professional military terms, our military has worked with the Thai military for decades now. And to answer your question again, we have great respect for the professional military capabilities of the Thai and we’ve worked together on some very serious humanitarian challenges in this region, the tsunami, as well as more recently on the cyclone in Myanmar, in Burma. In the American experience, clearly defined civil military relations are an extremely important part of our political system in which the civilian leadership makes the ultimate decisions and the role of the military is very clearly delineated. That’s a system that has not only worked well for us, but we think in any democratic political system that definition of a proper civil military relationship is extraordinarily important.

MODERATOR: Do you have any follow-up questions?

QUESTION: [unintelligible]

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well as I see it, the investigation is the most important event before us right now.

MODERATOR: Okay, next.

QUESTION: Just a question on regional security issues. There was a report in Kyoto news a few weeks back about China in just saying that some official had told US officials that the South China Sea was now a core interest for China, on par with Taiwan and Tibet. I’m just wondering if you can confirm that and what your view is on that and how Thailand and ASEAN and other counties you’re visiting on your trip, how important that is to have a common view, if that were to be the case.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: First I think I’d let China speak to what it’s interests are. And second, the United States does not take a particular position with regard to the territorial claims that have been made in the South China Sea. What we support is the peaceful resolution of those claims consistent with international law and also taking into account the declaration on conduct in the South China Sea that was agreed to between ASEAN and China in 2002. That lays out a set of principles that I think are very important to apply.

MODERATOR: Can I ask a follow-up question? Will the United States brace this issue at the upcoming ASEAN Regional Forum on South China Sea?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I can’t predict exactly what the agenda’s going to be at the ASEAN Regional Forum. I think this is an issue that’s obviously occupied ASEAN countries as well as China in the past. And what I would simply emphasize is the importance of a peaceful approach to these differences consistent with international law. And that’s what the United States will support.

QUESTION: Ambassador you are in Bangkok and there is currently a state of emergency here which has been renewed for another three months. As you know this involves suspension of the very human rights and civil liberties that you mentioned earlier as being so important . You’ve made no direct criticism of it here in public, can you tell us if you’ve raised any concerns in private with Thai officials about the state of emergency and what it means for the people living here. And if so, have you received any assurances that made you feel confident. In particular Secretary Clinton herself spoke earlier this year about the importance of the internet as free express, at the moment in Thailand that’s clearly not the case, hundreds if not thousands of websites have been closed down, many simply because they’ve been discussing issues that are sensitive rather than being explicitly part of the political opposition, which in itself is still a freedom of expression issue. Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes, we certainly did discuss during my meetings here the issue of the state of emergency. I’ve made clear in private as we’ve made clear in public in the past the American view that the emergency decrees, in the self-interest of Thailand, ought to be lifted as soon as possible because the indefinite promulgation of those kind of decrees is not a healthy thing for any democratic system. Ultimately that’s obviously a choice that needs to be made by Thais. But we have expressed our concern in the past about moving to the quickest possible lifting of those decrees.

MODERATOR: Do you mind if I take a few more questions?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Sure.

QUESTION: Just another one on the same issue really. You were stressing the importance of a democratic solution. Do you have any concerns about the election date sort of receding off into the distance at the moment here.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I do not have a specific comment on the election date. Obviously the constitution sets out an end point for elections to be held. And this is again a choice that the Thai government is going to have to make. What we will continue to stress though in both private and public is our strong support for the fastest possible peaceful resolution of the political differences which obviously exist and which have caused violence and deaths in the past. And to make full use of Thailand’s democratic institutions including the electoral process in order to bring that about.

MODERATOR: Any more questions?

QUESTION: I am just wondering whether you are aware that lobby disclosure forms in the US Senate, US congress, has just revealed that Thaksin Shinawatra, ex-prime minister of Thailand, hired lobbyists from three firms in the past three years, so what would be impact among the US MPs regarding that and should the Thai government hire lobbyist firm to fight in this battle, what do you think? And what’s the impact of US politicians when you come and you meet with opposition politicians of Thailand because the foreign minister of Thailand it seems is not quite happy about that.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: First, I don’t know the details of the story about the Congress and the hiring of lobbyists. And second, the United States, as a matter of principle and a matter of practice in societies around the world meets with a range of political figures. That’s been our established pattern for quite some time and that’s what we’ll continue to do, and our message is a consistent one, just as I expressed before, and that is strong support for Thai solutions but for Thai solutions that are built upon a peaceful resolution of differences working through democratic institutions. That’s a message that we’ll emphasize to everyone that we talk to.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: One more if that’s okay.

QUESTION: The reconciliation program, the five code reconciliation program, seems to have no room for the opposition, the red shirts. Do you think that’s the way forward? And do you think the reconciliation plan as it stands is going to help Thailand? On a broader question over the last 18 months, you’ve had the Thai army pushing off Rohingyan refugees. You’ve had the Thai government practicing reform on 158 Lao refugees. You’ve had 80 demonstrators, most of them unarmed, shot on the streets. Has it made any difference to Thai-American relations these apparent violations of human rights?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We’ve been very clear in expressing publically our disappointment and our concern over the issues of forced repatriation of the Lao Hmong refugees and others and we’ll continue to stress our concerns about that issue. We’ve been quite clear about the serious concerns we’ve had about the violence and deaths that have occurred and our support for a full and credible investigation into those incidents, and we’ll continue to be as straightforward as we can be about those issues.

MODERATOR: Ambassador Burns can you take one more question from the front row?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Sure.

QUESTION: Due to the public’s desire for transparency in Thai politics does the US find Thailand is becoming an easier neighbor with which to work?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I’m sorry the last part?

QUESTION: Do you find the US is finding Thai an easy neighbor with which to work due to the public’s desire for transparency in Thai politics.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: As a general matter, we attach a great deal of importance to our partnership with Thailand. Obviously Thailand is wrestling today with some enormously difficult political challenges. The question of transparency is also an extremely important one not just with regard to politics but in other areas as well. It was mentioned before regarding internet freedoms and restrictions on those freedoms. Secretary Clinton has made very clear the importance the United States attaches to internet freedoms and to civil society, as well as the related issue of intellectual property rights. You know, we talked today for example about launching a new creative partnership with Thailand to help promote innovation sectors of the economy in this country, which I think holds a great deal of promise. But what comes along with progress in that direction is also responsibility, responsibility to protect intellectual property rights and to ensure transparency in that area as well.

MODERATOR: One more question, you cannot refuse, she’s from BBC.

QUESTION: You said in your talk, in fact you posed a question; can Thailand achieve the reconciliation if the freedom of expression is restricted? I wondered if you had an answer to that. If you think that freedom of expression is too restricted here at the moment for a reconciliation process to succeed.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think that that’s a question that Thais are going to have to answer. But I asked the question because I don’t think the answer is entirely clear today. And I think it’s very important to focus attention on the importance of those core values and of applying them, complicated as the circumstances are. It’s only through careful attention to free expression and open debate and the responsibility comes along with that, those rights have to be exercised responsibly, but it’s only through that process that I think a genuine reconciliation can be built.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much for spending time here with us. I’d like you to join me in thanking Ambassador Burns for his time.



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