Washington Times : U.S. will find a cooperative ally in Thailand at the Asia Security Summit
Asia will be all ears this weekend when Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter speaks on the Obama administration’s policy of rebalancing American relations at the Asia Security Summit in Singapore. For the United States to achieve its shift toward Asia, it will need strategic partners. Thailand is so strategically placed to be such partner.
Thailand is the oldest ally of the United States in Asia. We concluded our first treaty in 1833, and have stood shoulder-to-shoulder during armed conflicts, peacekeeping operations and humanitarian crises. U.S. officials will be in attendance in Bangkok at a multination gathering hosted by Thailand to develop solutions to the crisis of boat people in the Andaman Sea. At times, we have had our differences, but our friendship has always remained strong and enduring.
The past year, however, has seen challenges to the Thai-U.S. relationship. The United States is the world’s strongest advocate for democracy. Thailand is always an open and free society. Its commitment to democracy is unwavering. One year after the current Thai leader intervened to end political paralysis and mounting violence, Thailand today is, by and large, stable and peaceful.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has laid out a road map to restore democracy — with stronger checks and balances, and greater accountability to prevent the abuse of power and rampant corruption that typified many of Thailand’s elected governments, and led to protests and violence.
A draft new constitution will be put to the people for referendum in January. Political parties and factions, civil society groups and the public are being consulted on national reform in meetings and open forums. While much has been made about various proposals in the draft charter, nothing has been set in stone — except that Thailand will return to electoral democracy next year.
What Thailand is seeking from its U.S. ally is patience and support, as we work through this difficult process.
Thailand highly values its relationship with the United States. Our cooperation encompasses a broad range of issues from security and defense to trade and investment, education, science and technology, and new issues such as disaster relief, combating epidemics and climate change.
No priority is higher than our partnership for security, especially human security. Thailand’s current government has devoted more effort and resources than any of its predecessors to fighting human trafficking and other abuses. We have strengthened laws, tightened up enforcement, given greater protection to victims and are comprehensively tackling problems in our fishing industry. Our goal is to bring the traffickers to justice, no matter who they may be or what positions they may hold. In Bangkok, we regularly update the U.S. Embassy on progress in these cases.
Together, Thailand and the United States are partners in combating transnational crimes, including drug trafficking, wildlife trafficking, money laundering and cyberthreats. In fighting terrorism, Thailand promotes voices of tolerance and shares intelligence.
In public health, Thailand just hosted a meeting in support of the U.S.-led Global Health Security Agenda, and we have worked together to prevent the spread of HIV and malaria, and in research, trials and vaccines production. The United States needs the active participation of Thailand to succeed in its Lower Mekong Initiative, and Thailand is ready as an indispensable partner.
Cobra Gold, our annual joint military exercises with the United States since 1982, has been putting greater emphasis on disaster preparedness and response. Training turned into action as our militaries worked together to deliver relief supplies to victims of the earthquake in Nepal. Now, as the Thai Navy and Air Force patrol the Andaman Sea to rescue boat people, we welcome U.S. participation.
Mr. Carter will no doubt have much to say about the “Asia pivot” and U.S. goals in the region. As the second-largest economy in and a founder of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Thailand also has good relations with other regional powers. It has led ASEAN over the past three years to make progress on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. Trade, interests and infrastructure links through Thailand are bringing India and China closer to ASEAN. The United States will do well in Asia through continuous support for ASEAN centrality.
History has shown that our relationship has great value for both countries. As Washington turns toward Asia, that great value can be further enhanced through increased strategic engagement with Thailand.