New US ambassador's vision of unity

New US ambassador's vision of unity

Small boats are moored along the bank of the Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom province on Jan 29. The cabinet this week called for the cancellation of the Mekong ‘rapids-blasting’ project.
Small boats are moored along the bank of the Mekong River in Nakhon Phanom province on Jan 29. The cabinet this week called for the cancellation of the Mekong ‘rapids-blasting’ project.

In a meeting with Thai media editors at the US embassy on Wednesday, Michael G DeSombre, who is globally recognised as a pre-eminent authority on mergers and acquisitions and high-profile negotiations, outlined his policy priorities as new US ambassador to Thailand.

US-Thai strategic alliance

The ambassador summarises three of his main priorities.

First, energising the US-Thai strategic alliance, second, strengthening the US-Thai economic partnership, and third, encouraging transparency and good governance. For energising the US-Thai strategic alliance, he said Thailand plays a critical role in the US pacific strategy and this is why energising the relationship with Thailand is important.

The countries have been security treaty partners for over 65 years and this has recently been renewed for 2020.

The US and Thailand have over 400 military interactions every year.

The Mekong River is included in his strategic relationship policy, said the ambassador.

“The Mekong River is a top priority for us and for Thailand,” he said.

The river begins in the plateau of Yunan province in China, flows down through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and empties into the Gulf of Thailand and Vietnam. It is the second largest inland fishery in the world.

More than sixty million people depend upon it for their livelihood.

“Unfortunately, the Mekong River is at risk; there are significant dams on the upper and the lower streams of the Mekong River.

“There is unregulated city-sized development in special economic zones along the banks of the Mekong River.”

According to him, there have even been proposals to blast the very foundations of the Mekong River.

The river, environmentally, is deeply at risk, he says.

In the past few weeks, the vibrant ground sediment-filled water has frequently turned clear blue, indicating a lack of resources for the environment.

“In addition to the environmental issue, you also have significant transnational crimes coming primarily out of Shan State in Burma,” he said.

“That influences substantially all of the countries around that area and it’s a real threat to Thailand and its neighbours.

“And it’s a key priority of our strategic relationship.”

Economic partnership

The US and Thailand introduced the Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations of 1833, 187 years ago.

“We believe the US companies are the best partners of Thai companies and I will actively promote the investing and expanding of US companies in Thailand,” the ambassador said.

Meanwhile, Thailand is also one of the fast growing investment sources in the US.

Several Thai companies have invested in the US.

They include Banpu Plc which has invested in shale gas resources, Charoen Pokphand (CP) Group investing in fishery and shrimp farms in Florida, and PTTGC Plc which is working towards an investment in Ohio.

Good governance

“America believes in the strength of the democratic system of government,” he said.

“We believe in fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.

He said democracy is challenging and can be messy at times, and each country has to develop their own system in light of their own circumstances.

“We view our job as to help countries understand the benefits of transparency and good governance,” said the ambassador referring to his third policy priority.

The ambassador also responded to the question about Thai democracy and the recent protests launched by students over the dissolution of the Future Forward Party.

“We support democracy and do not support any specific party so we don’t take sides,” he said.

Trade war benefits

“Chinese trade practices have been negatively impacting the US and many countries for a long time and the US is very pleased that it is able to reach a phase one agreement with China and looking forward to continuing negotiations on the phase two agreement,” he said.

“I actually think that this whole process can be very beneficial to Asean.

“We have already seen it in Vietnam. Substantial movements of supply chains from China to Vietnam.

“I think now that the US government has fully re-engaged with Thailand after the election, we look forward to working with the Thai government to encourage more companies to move their supply chains from China to Thailand.”

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