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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs > Releases > Remarks > 2002 East Asian and Pacific Affairs Remarks, Testimony, and Speeches

U.S.-Thai Relations After September 11, 2001

James A. Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Remarks to Asia Foundation Luncheon
Washington, DC
March 13, 2002

Thailand is one of our closest friends in Asia. The relationship has grown stronger over the last 50 years as we have faced many challenges together, from the Korean War to the Cold War. September 11 brought a new challenge and a new focus.

The attacks of that awful day focused our attention on terrorism and how we protect ourselves from it. It also focused the attention of the American government, especially the foreign affairs side. In the interest of defending our nation and the world against future attacks, we concentrated intensely on the multi-layered effort that has become the global war on terrorism.

As the world grieved and tried to respond to the attacks of September 11, the State Department went to work with the same intensity as the rest of the U.S. national security community and our partners around the globe.

That meant looking closely at every nation, asking our friends and allies "are you with us?" We needed to know if terrorists were found hiding in those countries, would they take action? If terrorists wanted to hide their money or themselves in those countries, would they be able to? We wanted to know: Who would help? Who would send aid? Who would send troops? Who would stand beside us and say "never again, not if we can help it." My staff in the East Asia and Pacific Bureau was in early and out late, in on weekends, reporting to Deputy Secretary Armitage and Secretary Powell and the White House. We paid and still pay careful attention to the counterterrorist response of every country in the world and our interactions with those countries. We wanted to know what their leaders said in public and private, what they offered, what was needed from them, and what our diplomats were doing to coordinate that effort.

Our ledger for Thailand filled up quickly. The expressions of condolence came instantly. The Thai Cabinet met in an emergency session and approved the official position of the Thai Government, offering "all possible support as Thailand has done in the past." Our Thai allies quickly granted blanket permission to over fly their country in the pursuit of our military objectives. When we asked, they allowed us to land our refueling and support aircraft at airbases on Thai soil, and invited U.S. ships beginning to deploy for Operation Enduring Freedom to visit Thai ports. Thai law enforcement promised all possible cooperation, and the police in Bangkok doubled their security protection around the U.S. Embassy as well as other American institutions, including the schools American children in Bangkok attend.

In October, at the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S was working hard to communicate that our war was against terror, not against Islam. Prime Minister Thaksin went on national television in Thailand and told his people that the evidence against Al-Qaeda was convincing, and that the U.S. humanitarian effort in Afghanistan demonstrated that the battle was against terrorists, not civilians. Thailandís permanent representative to the UN gave a speech there supportive of the U.S., and when PM Thaksin met with President Bush in December, he offered the services of a battalion of Thai construction engineers and five medical teams to assist in Afghanistan. Of course, some of the assistance and support Thailand has provided is best left undescribed. But I can tell you what I have told Secretary Powell and what I have told the President: in the global war on terrorism, Thailand has been among the leaders.

We will continue to put counterterrorism at the top of our list in our interactions with other countries, including Thailand. We intend to continue our close interaction with the Thai Government on blocking terrorist financing, for example. And with the arrest of terrorists in Singapore and Malaysia, and with our involvement in the battle against Abu Sayyaf in Philippines, Thailand is even more important in the war on terrorism. The global war on terrorism is multidimensional. As we succeed in one dimension, the struggle will shift to another, changing according to the nature of the threat and the patterns of terrorist activity. Southeast Asia will remain a concern, and we will look to Thailand to take advantage of its special role as a regional transportation and commercial hub to interdict terrorist manpower, money and material moving across its banks and borders. Close cooperation with other countries in the region -- in police and justice liaison, intelligence sharing, financial information sharing, border control, immigration, customs -- will be crucial to our collective success. We know we can count on Thailand to continue to fulfill its important role in the next phase of the global war on terrorism.

The war on terrorism should draw the nations of the world together once it hits home how terrorism is a genuine threat to all of us. Thailand has faced it with violence in the south and bomb attacks in Bangkok. A huge truck bomb attack in Bangkok was barely averted in the mid-1990s. When we give in to terror -- or when we fail to meet it head on and challenge it directly -- whether that terrorism is political, or drug related, or tied up with Al-Qaeda, we give up some control over our own countries, over our own right to live freely and travel freely and feel safe. Thailand and the U.S. have a common interest in fighting terrorists, in fighting them on the battlefield in Afghanistan and in cyberspace, and in the financial world.

Donít think, however, that we have forgotten the important areas of cooperation we pursue outside counterterrorism. On counternarcotics, for example, we remain closely engaged with the Thai Government, police, and military. Our DEA agents work side by side with their Thai counterparts, and U.S. Special Forces train with Thai soldiers in Thailand in counterinsurgency and border security techniques. These are important when the drug traffickers you are up against have well-financed and well-supplied armies and bases of support and supply. On the civilian side, U.S. diplomats work daily with Thai Government officials and NGOs on drug treatment programs, demand reduction, crop substitution, and legal reform initiatives. U.S. Department of Justice attorneys consult with Thai Ministry of Justice attorneys on ways to strengthen the Thai justice system and take advantage of some of the legal tactics we have developed in this country to go after drug traffickers and money launderers. We are finding that this cooperation and training also has an effect on the fight against trafficking in persons, as well as battling terrorists who use the same financial infrastructure as the drug traffickers.

Freedom, democracy, security, and prosperity through free and fair trade are values shared by both Thailand and the United States. Thailand demonstrates these values through its membership in organizations such as ASEAN and the ARF, and through its actions, notably in East Timor where Thai troops and officers have been engaged in peacekeeping operations since 1999.

Thailand also hosts the International Law Enforcement Academy, which we call ILEA. As many of you know, ILEA is a regional training center for law enforcement professionals from all over the region. They come to Thailand for training in everything from forensic techniques to human rights. In the process, they forge the kind of cross-border law enforcement relationships essential to combating cross-border crime. Thailand should be proud to be a regional hub for fighting transnational crime.

Thailandís freedom, openness, strength, and relative prosperity make it a role model in the region for what people can achieve when they are allowed to. Those successes stand in marked contrast to the failures of its larger neighbor to the west. Burma remains an area of significant concern to the United States. Last week's move against Ne Win's family and sacking of several other senior officials serves to highlight the unpredictable nature of Rangoon's unstable leadership.

Burmaís problems increasingly spill across its borders and are a destabilizing force in the region. Burmese drug production and trafficking, for example, flood Thailand with huge quantities of methamphetamines. These drugs destroy lives and attack the fabric of Thai society. Children take these drugs in Thailand, even kids in elementary school. Heroin, another Burmese export, is exported around the world.

Continued Burmese Army harassment of ethnic minorities creates refugee flows into Thailand, India, and Bangladesh, and has sparked a crisis of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons inside Burma. While the U.S. is proud of its cooperation with the Royal Thai Government in sheltering and caring for displaced Burmese ethnic minorities in Thailand, we would greatly prefer that the conditions and treatment of minorities improve so they could live productive and satisfying lives at home. In addition, the Burmese Governmentís reluctance to satisfactorily address forced labor and agree to the suggestions of the International Labor Organization is troubling.

We were encouraged last year when we learned that the Burmese Government had initiated talks with Aung San Suu Kyi. These contacts have led to the release of some political prisoners and reopening of some National League of Democracy offices. However, after almost 18 months, the talks havenít moved beyond the confidence- building stage. Itís time to see some real results in Rangoon. The UN special envoy for Burma, Razali Ismail, who has done an excellent job, will visit Burma again starting March 19. This is a good opportunity for the Burmese to show the international community their sincerity about reform and national reconciliation, and take some of the actions they have been hinting at -- like the release of Aung San Suu Kyi without restrictions -- for some time.

We appreciate Thailandís unique relationship with Burma, and hope that the Thai people can use their influence to push for national reconciliation, peaceful change, and an improvement in the human rights situation in Burma. The people of Burma deserve it, and people on both sides of the border would benefit enormously.

Another area we should point to in the U.S.-Thai relationship is HIV/AIDS research cooperation. Thailand has had some extraordinary success in lowering the rate of growth of HIV infections. In 1991, the number of new HIV infections in Thailand was almost 200,000. In 2000, that number was less than 30,000. That kind of drop -- possible because of ambitious and creative government programs such as the "100% condom" initiative -- is the reason we point to Thailand as an example of the fact that developing nations are capable of effectively addressing the rate of HIV transmission.

The United States and Thailand operate one of the largest research laboratories in Thailand, called the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Science. U.S. Army researchers there, working with counterparts in the Thai Government and in the private sector, are hard at work on HIV vaccine trials involving tens of thousands of subjects. U.S. and Thai researchers also work together on Typhus, Dengue Fever, and Malaria, and have had impressive results.

The future of U.S.-Thailand relations is one of close cooperation, of partnership on strategic issues, and of more frequent and regular government-to-government contact. Weíd like to see more high-level visits like Prime Minister Thaksinís visit to Washington in December, and hope and plan to have more senior Bush administration officials visit Thailand. We can expect our law enforcement and security cooperation to remain close as we pursue terrorists everywhere they hide. I hope we will see some tangible successes in the form of seized terrorist assets or captured terrorists before too much longer. And we can expect close U.S.-Thai cooperation on international economic matters, such as the WTO, which will soon be run by Dr. Supachai, and APEC, which will be held in Bangkok in 2003.

As we look to the future, we will remain friends and allies, and we will continue to have "friendly engagement" on issues such as steel tariffs, jasmine rice, press freedom, and the pros and cons of tropical forest protection.

I confess to some disappointment with what I have read from Thailand lately, in both the U.S. and the Thai press. On several issues of some importance to both countries, including jasmine rice, with which you are all familiar, and the debt-for-forests offer we extended to Thailand, inaccurate statements and outright distortions of the truth created a climate of animosity in Thailand toward the U.S. It saddens me to see how quick too many Thai people have been to believe the worst about the United States. There has seemed, lately, to be a presumption that the United States is not acting in good faith, or that the United States is somehow looking to exploit Thailand. Of course that isnít true. Our challenge now is to find the right way to communicate that. The people of Thailand need to know, need to believe, that the United States is a friend. I look to you, the opinion makers and the thinkers on Thailand, and to the Royal Thai Government, to help us find ways to communicate more effectively. It is unfortunate that we are going to lose this opportunity to protect Thai forests. It is our responsibility to see that distortion is countered by truth.

The energetic journalist community in Thailand has had a reputation for many years as one of the freest environments for discourse in all of Asia. Those of us who know Asia well treasure the Thai press, and all of us are accustomed to pointing to the Thai protection of freedom of the press as a model for the region. Freedom House recently ranked Thailand as "fully free" in its review of international standards for freedom of the press. Investors notice that, because a free press creates a climate of transparency in both the political and economic worlds. Wilshire Associates, an influential investment analysis firm, recently gave Thailand its top ranking for press freedom. So it is disturbing to see news coming out of Thailand that creates the perception that press freedom has become less important to the Thai Government. The Thai Constitution of 1997, a bold document created to put political power once and for all in the hands of the Thai people, gives prominent placement to the freedom of the press. Yet I am concerned, as we all are, to read the reports of harassment of journalists critical of the government. But being a strong supporter of Thailand and having known the place for many years, I am sure the situation will work itself out with positive results.

With a relationship dating back to the 19th century, the U.S. and Thailand are old friends. Looking forward, the foundation of our future relationship will be our shared vision for the world: a safe, stable place in which freedom, democracy, peace, and trade thrive. This you can count on. Thank you very much.

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