Thailand takes action
Re: "US snub a wake-up call," (Editorial, Sept 4).
The Bangkok Post's editorial claims that that Thailand might lose some of its international clout as well as friends due to its preoccupation with the so-called "balanced approach" and "silent or quiet" diplomacy. We reiterate, that with such an approach, it does not mean Thailand cannot be proactive nor cannot achieve results.
Thailand's role on the global stage has not diminished and the country has not been bypassed by the US or the West for any high-level visits as claimed. Despite the long history of the Thailand-US alliance and long-term structural bilateral cooperation already in place for decades until today, sometimes fundamental developments are overlooked and bilateral relations are evaluated just by an immediate set of events, rather than by looking at the overall picture. Thailand and the US have enjoyed close, cordial and long-standing relations for almost 200 years, covering bilateral, multifaceted cooperation. While high-level visits could carry specific purposes and implications, the state of our bilateral relations should not merely be determined by the number of high-level visits.
Since the Biden Administration took office, the US has reached out to and maintained a close dialogue with their Thai counterparts, starting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken's first introductory phone call on his first full day in office with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, followed by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin's call with the Prime Minister in his capacity as Minister of Defense, reaffirming our close, strategic alliance based on shared values and mutual interest. A series of virtual meetings and phone calls have become the norm in enriching our close collaboration. Strategic cooperation has continued to be conducted in person despite the global pandemic, highlighted by the Cobra Gold joint exercise, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.
In terms of visits, Thailand welcomed the official visit of Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador to the United Nations, a cabinet-level position, in August 2021. Prior to that, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman paid an official visit to Thailand in June 2021 as part of her first overseas tour after assuming office. In between those visits, a Senior Director from the National Security Council also made a visit to Thailand in July 2021 to discuss ways to further strengthen our long-standing cooperation, both bilaterally and regionally.
Thailand has pursued a balanced approach in the conduct of international relations, which is a major foundation of Thai foreign policy. The country has maintained close ties and dynamic cooperation and interaction with allies, friends and partners around the world including all major powers, such as the US, China, Japan, India, the EU, Russia and the UK, in all dimensions. This has resulted in support from friends and allies in and outside the region for Thailand to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. China, Japan, the US and the UK have continued to provide vaccines to Thailand, along with a vaccine swap arrangement with Bhutan, while the Republic of Korea, Germany, Switzerland and India have also provided medicine, test kits, and more complex medical equipment to support the country's efforts in tackling Covid-19. Without the country's proactive, balanced and constructive diplomacy, Thailand would have not received all the above-mentioned support from our friends.
All major powers have also shown great interest to strengthen economic ties with Thailand. Thailand has been invited to join or engage in a number of trade negotiations around the world including the Thai-EU FTA, the Thai-UK FTA, the Thai-European Free Trade Association (EFTA) FTA, the Thai-Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). All global powers have also joined the Thai-led ACMECS economic cooperation framework as development partners at the invitation of Thailand. These include China, the US, Australia, India, Japan and the Republic of Korea. New Zealand and Israel are also joining in. ACMECS is a key Mekong Subregional cooperation platform founded by Thailand in 2003, consisting of five member countries: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.
It is incorrect in the editorial that "Thailand has shied away from proposing initiatives of its own, either regionally or internationally". As a matter of fact, in recent years Thailand has not only paved the way for the conclusion of negotiations on the RCEP FTA in 2019 during its ASEAN Chairmanship but the country has also been a co-initiator or a co-driver in a number of collaboration initiatives -- many of which have proved to be successful and yielded meaningful results and benefits for countries and the region as a whole.
In ASEAN, Thailand proposed the establishment of the Covid-19 ASEAN Response Fund to mobilise and supply medical equipment and medicines to ASEAN countries. Indeed, Thailand was the first nation that donated US$100,000 to the Fund and invited ASEAN member states and partner countries to support the Fund. Moreover, despite the global economic recession caused by Covid-19, Thailand is preparing in full capacity to be APEC Host Economy in 2022. This is in light of the view that the year 2022 would be a post-Covid-19 era in which the world is expected to regain its economic dynamism. The Royal Thai Government has been doing its utmost to ensure that the APEC objectives set forth by Thailand will be implemented in full, not only for our own people but also the entire Asia-Pacific region.
On Myanmar, we insist that Thailand has not been complacent with what is happening in Myanmar, and has monitored the situation closely. We realise that every step Thailand takes must be carried out, taking into account the implications in all aspects, many of which require "quiet diplomacy".
Such a diplomatic approach is necessary in order for Thailand to be able to communicate frankly and sincerely with Myanmar through various channels, both at the bilateral level and together with other ASEAN Member States for the benefits of the people of Myanmar as the top priority. Therefore, Thailand suggested the "D4D" as the way forward to de-escalate violence, deliver humanitarian aid, release detainees and hold dialogues, which led to the ASEAN Leaders' Five-Point Consensus adopted in April 2021. In parallel, Thailand stresses that the priority at hand is the growing humanitarian and public health challenges in Myanmar that require immediate assistance, and Thailand has already provided humanitarian assistance to the Myanmar people. Altogether, since February 2021, Thailand has provided humanitarian aid worth approximately 24 million baht. In addition to aid provided through the bilateral channel, Thailand has also been extending assistance to Myanmar through ASEAN, including the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on disaster management (AHA Centre) and Disaster Emergency Logistics System for ASEAN (DELSA).
ASEAN Member States are well aware of the urgent need to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Myanmar, particularly through implementation of the fourth point of the 5-Point Consensus agreed to by their leaders on 24 April 2021. To garner the much-needed support for ASEAN's humanitarian assistance efforts, the Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister proposed at the recent ASEAN Foreign Ministers' Meeting to organise a donors' conference. The resulting Pledging Conference on 18 Aug 2021 was a resounding success. The total pledged amount, both in cash and in kind, reached over US$8 million while Thailand pledged over US$350,000 in additional in-cash and in-kind support. This is further to the US$1.65 million we have already provided or are on-going since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Bangkok Post's editorial that states that "Thailand seems to have missed the boat on key global issues such as human rights," simply overlooks the past and current government's efforts to advance a strong and resilient society in the area of human rights and other key global issues. The fact that Thailand has been invited to serve as "Champion Country" for the Global Compact on Orderly, Safe and Regular Migration is a solid recognition of the work that Thailand has done in protecting the rights of migrants. It also reflects the trust placed in Thailand to lead in implementing this landmark global agreement on migration. Thailand was also the very first country in Asia that launched in 2019, the National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights and continues to lead by example. Thailand is also engaging prominent business corporations on the elaboration of policies on Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP).
In the area of rights and criminal justice, Thailand initiated the "Bangkok Rules", which were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2010. The rules highlight the plight of female inmates and the need to adhere to a minimum standard of treatment.
In addition, Thailand, as part of a core group of countries, proactively advanced the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was a truly landmark treaty, and Thailand became the first among three countries to sign and ratify the treaty on the day it opened for signatures.
On climate change, Thailand has always been right with the pack on global climate change efforts. The country was among the first countries to sign and ratify the landmark Paris Agreement, taking its obligations under the Paris Accord seriously. Thailand has submitted an updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), outlining the country's ambition to curb greenhouse gas emissions and efforts in other areas of climate action. Regionally, during Thailand's chairmanship in 2019, ASEAN delivered a Joint Statement at the UN Climate Action Summit setting the region's targets on mitigation in the energy and transport sectors. Thailand has also been working at both bilateral and multilateral levels, including actively engaging in some of this year's major events such as the US Climate Summit and the Republic of Korea's P4G Summit as it gears up towards the UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow this year.
Looking ahead, as host of APEC in 2022, Thailand plans to strongly advocate sustainability and a green agenda alongside its very own climate- and environment-responsive Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) economy model. Thailand hopes to drive BCG cooperation in the region and beyond to rebuild economies in the post pandemic world and bringing us closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Actions speak louder than words, indeed.
Mr Tanee Sangrat
Director-General of Information Department and Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand
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