Kasit Pirom, Foreign Minister of Thailand, Remarks to Asia Society, New York, April 21, 2009
( Last edit 2009-04-23 )
Thailand After Songkran 2009
Good morning. This is a very captive audience, I hope you remain so. But, I have been feeling that I have been captive indeed for the past few weeks and for the past ten days I am surrounded by about ten fully armed Marines, so this is a short break from the captivity of the security protection. Because I belong to a very special group of Thai people, led by the Thai PM, Abhisit Vejjajiva, the deputy PM (Suthep) one of the PAD leaders (Mr.Sondhi Limthongkul) who was shot last week at about six in the morning. He was supposed to have lunch with me at noon, but he was shot before. I think he’s recovering very well. And then the fourth person is myself, and I think the fifth person under assassination attempt at the moment is the Minister of Finance, so the five of us at the moment are quite well protected by security forces.
So how did Thailand turn into this situation where politicians cannot move along quite freely? Because at this point in time, the political controversy in the Kingdom of Thailand has turned more from the differences in ideology to a more who survive. And so it’s more between the survival of a few of us to be able to maintain a democratic process in Thailand, and to lead Thailand out of this predicament to become a fully-fledged democratic and open society. And on the other side, the last resort of the former PM of Thailand (Thaksin Shinawatra) having failed on the populist movement and the mass unrest and now, I think, he has resorted to some sort of the assassination attempt.
So this is what the situation is at the moment. At this point in time, are we confident? Yes definitely, that we could overcome this. So this is the situation. It’s not a very happy thing, but I think Thaksin is fighting to the death and if he were to go down the drain, I think a couple of us also, should also go down to the ashes.
So that is the situation. So I don’t know how, could I, a diplomat, I was a freelance advisor on political things, could go in, what do you call it, short pants, with slippers and moving around Bangkok, as a very free person. Suddenly I have to be very well protected with the security forces of Thailand. The past ten days I have been moving from about two or three safe houses. And I think we have to do this for the next few weeks, until the situation is back to normal where the rules of law reign and the judicial process undertakes it’s full course. So that is the situation.
Second, how do we run the government for the past 4 months? This is to give you the assurances, especially my American friends from the business side of it and also the journalists working in Thailand, and the diplomatic corps. I think Mr.Abhisit, the PM, has been one of the most democratic personalities in Thailand and one of the best politicians in the world at large and I think a lot of world leaders from the academic side, business side, from the political side has seen his performance in Davos at the end of February and lately in London at the 2nd of April at the G20 conference and also at the last ASEAN summit about a month ago. And also he is meeting with many of the world leaders and his presence lately in London, and before that a bit in Tokyo and so on, that he is very much a very democratic person, and anyone working in Thailand for the past four months or even when he was in the House as an opposition leader for the past two years. Abhisit talks to everyone and consult every institution and every organization in Thailand on how to move the country forward, how Thailand should be a very good member of the international community. The past four months I think we have had a lot of meetings with the diplomatic corps, inclusive of the I think about 30 UN-related agencies in Bangkok, to keep on informing the diplomatic corps of what we have been doing, what we are about to do, and so on and what we will be doing.
At the same time, he has also been meeting the foreign correspondent club of Thailand and individual members of the International media all the time of the course of the direction we would like to undertake. And even the suppression of the violent activities on the street by the so-called red shirts, every movement of the Thai security forces were being accompanied by the media, so it was a very open, transparent process to ensure that we have avoided, or been avoiding the use of force and the machine guns with the blank bullets and so on. There was not any attempt to hurt the people, not even one life – that was one of the reasons why we have cancelled or postponed the recent ASEAN +3 +EAS Summit in Pattaya to avoid any semblance of even one death, because if there were to be one death caused by the security forces I think Thailand would turn itself into a situation of a civil war. So, that would be the situation. And I think, so far, we have been able to keep everything under control, within the greatest restraint possible. And so on.
And how do we run the government. I think I have mentioned about consulting, talking, listening, and so on, and to have this whole coordination moving forward. And the issue at hand in Thailand, the most important issue is how to bring about political reform. What type of Thai political system that we would like to have from now on – an open one, a democratic one, a transparent one, an accountable one, would be the course of the direction…and inclusive in thisis political reform process, there will also be the reform of the constitution, or the amendments of the constitutions, on those clauses that may seem to be undemocratic or very difficult to practice; because this present constitution was being drafted a lot by the academic institution and civil society people, but there were not the practitioners, there were not the politicians who did the constitution, so some of the clauses in the present constitution were found to be not so pragmatic, impracticable, too difficult to practice in the reality of the world or how democracy should move, should have that flexibility in the very character of it and so on.
But we will do this in a very consultative, open and the opposition, the civil society, the academics and so on, inclusive the private sector will be invited to join this as sort of a national to come out with a form of a political system that would be acceptable to every Thai. And, second,to have a constitution that works practicable, and easy to understand
But in all of this process, of to find a new political system for Thailand, or course we will have to maintain, and we will, and we must maintain the institution of the monarchy. The institution of the religions, and whatever the tradition and the culture and the practices of Thailand all of these will have to be maintained. But how would all of these traditional institutions would be kept and combined with the new democratic process - ideologies, like HR, like accountability, transparency, good governance – all those beautiful English words; how they could be combined with what Thailand has been for the past thousand years: a very open society, a very tolerant society, a society that has able to assimilate external culture, tradition, practices or even foreigners.
And a few things to remind, is that we have a lot of Vietnamese minorities since the IndoChinese war, the Second World War, and I think all the Vietnamese have been fully integrated into the society. Many of the third generation Vietnamese have become generals, and director generals, and permanent secretaries and so on. And the last Foreign Minister of Thailand, Doctor Surin Pitsuwan is a Muslim, now he is the Secretary General of ASEAN. The last chief of the army was a Muslim. One of the speakers of the parliament was a Muslim.
My point is to reflect to you this openness, this tolerant type of Thai society that has been our character, the characteristic of the Thai society for a long long time. So we would like to maintain this openness of the Thai society, combining the tradition that we have and the modern demands of globalization, of democracy and so on. And Mr.Abhisit the PM, has been, I think, the example of a person that can combine both and leading Thailand through consultation, coordination and the open hearts and minds to welcome different ideas and so on.
So that’s what we have been doing for the past four months in the government that we never and have not practiced any type of autocratic government, unlike what Mr.Thaksin of the past – he only usedthe majority in the Parliament to become very authoritarian, follow-the-leader type of policy. I think we are on the opposite end, so this is something I would like to convey to you, that what is the major difference between Thaksin and Abhisit and I think they are on a different spectrum of how we run things. Abhisit is a very open and consultative person, consensus making, respect the rules of law. Mr.Thaksin was more like any fascistauthoritarian leader of the past and so on. So, that is the situation that how we run the government – we run the government in a very consultative manner, so that’s the first point that I would like to convey to you.
Second, a bit on the business side of it, the concern for the American business community, first the foreign business act – we will keep it as it is, we will not make it more protectionist, conservative, and so on. But in the future we will try to reform to make it more conducive to the international community. Second, the PM has made himself the chairman of the committee to suppress infringement of intellectual property rights and so on. So we are going to be very serious about enforcing the law on intellectual property infringement – the copyrights, the trademark, brand names and so on. Third, the utilization of the CL compulsory licensing would be the last resort.
There will not be any unilateral measures by the Thai government - that was the practice of the past government. We will consult as much as possible, we will look at the joint procurement for the purchase of very expensive medicine to help the poor people; either to do it more with the Clinton Foundation, to work with the WHO, or even to have the joint procurement with the other nine ASEAN countries – to be able to have the access to expensive medicine and for the ordinary people and the poor people to have the access to the expensive medicine.
So (going) to be this working together with the pharmaceutical industries, particularly of the American pharmaceutical business. Then by the end of this month, or next month at the latest, to cater to the needs of the international business community, a one-stop service will be set-up in Bangkok, and four regional one-stop service will be set-up around the country, so that the business community would not have to move from one department and one ministry to the other to get a work permit, to renew the, what do you call it, visa extension and so on. All of this, there will be definitely a one-stop service to make Thailand more conducive to the needs of the international community and we will maintain Thailand as an open market economy, friendly to the international community so this is the second point I would like to convey to you.
Third, on the political situation, I had mentioned about this consensus making to have a new political system and a new constitution. This will be launched from today onwards and the PM has asked all the major political parties to join forces – to think together, to work together – and to come out with and acceptable formula for the future of Thailand.
As to the situation on the ground at the moment, we have decided to separate the protestors into two groups: First, the perpetuators, the instigators of the violence – these will have to face the justice system; Second for the genuine protestors. Because they might find the political system in Thailand, according to their understanding, not democratic. We will invite them to join in this process of consultation, thinking together, working together; as to the Third group of the red-shirt protestors who were bought or who were paid to come to the protest, to the rallies and so on, or who did not have access to the correct of rightful information, there will be massive, I think information flow for them to really understand what it was all about and so on. Because some of them may have this misinformation, may have been provided with misinformation and so on.
And so I think its incumbent upon the government to provide as much of the information, what happened, what the government is trying to do, what is the role of the institution of the monarchy – first is that institution of the monarchy in Thailand is above politics. And since the institution of the monarchy cannot protect itself, so there is a need for law to protect the institution of the monarchy. And instead of giving a lot, the whole responsibility to the police department, for them to bring the matters of the less majesty to the court and so on.
There is now a very serious and ongoing consultation to have other formula to look into this defamation and accusation of the institution of the monarchy, ungrounded, unfounded,and so on, maybe to have a sort of national committee to look at this. We have been studying all these cases, and the set-up of the countries, particularly in Europe and in Japan, where the institution of their monarchies are there – How do you handle this type of questions, or this type of problem,and so on.
So that it would be a system of the grievances, petition and law cases,could be more transparent, the process should be transparent to everyone and so on. Instead of providing the whole and giving the whole authority to the police where they could be abused. Full charges could be done in order to get rid of a political opponent or the police themselves could set up cases that could also I think lead to a lot of corruption and money extortion and so on. So we are trying our very best to overcome this problem, and to come out with a set of policy directions and measures that could be known to all and everyone knows what it’s all about and how iit’s going to be handled, once a problem arises and so on.
On the other point, let me come back to the ASEAN situation a bit. “Why ASEAN Matters” – this is the subject that has been given to me. I think ASEAN has this centrality, relevancy to SE Asia and to the Asia-Pacific region. First I think for the very geo-politics and strategic question. It’s in the middle of SE Asia and it’s striding I think two oceans – the Pacific and the Indian Ocean – with almost 600 million people, large market, potential market, and a market of an urban population, because the whole of SE Asia is becoming more urbanized. So a lot of economic potential. We still have a lot of resources. We still have a very young population over all, a workforce that could be very skillful, trainable, intelligent, that work hard, and is willing to learn. And the whole of SE Asia opted for the market economy and moving more and more into HR side of it and by the end of this year and in the end of October, the HR body for ASEAN will be set up.
I think that it would be a very significant, very important for SE Asia for the region as a whole that the question of HR will become part and parcel of the ASEAN society. And second, the integration of ASEAN in accordance with the newly launched ASEAN charter, we will be more integrated politically, security-ly, economically, socially, and I think culturally. So that’s the course of direction we will be moving. So I think it will make us more stronger as a whole, a more forceful player on the regional and international scene inclusive of the UN.
And interestingly, on the 10th of April, there was the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Pattaya which I chaired, quite successfully, thank you very much to the other nine colleagues for the cooperation and the ideas provided. I think we have agreed, which was not announced in the, to the press because we were held up with the 11th and 12th of April episodes, but what we have agreed is to be more prominent and more coordinated on the humanitarian undertaking within the context of the UN body and also in the peacekeeping and peacemaking operation, with the peacekeeping forces since I think Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand will be strongly present in I think in Darfur, Sudan towards the end of the year, we will have about eight hundred soldiers present there.
So, and then we have had a lot of experiences in Timor, in central Europe and so on, and so there was the agreement of the Foreign Ministers in Pattaya on the 10th of April that we would be more coordinated, we will have more information one another, and all the information of what we have been doing on the humanitarian front and on the peacekeeping front and so on, all the information statistic will be provided to Dr.Surin Pitsuwan at the ASEAN Secretariat so he has the task to compile and make this known to the UN and to the world at large what the ten ASEAN countries have been contributing to the international community in terms of peacekeeping, peacemaking, and to the humanitarian assistance as a whole, and so on.
And I think the successful story of ASEAN as a regional organization, and now moving more into [an] integrated manner and also with the setting up of the Chiang Mai initiative fund of $120 billion US dollars together with China, with South Korea, and with Japan, is an example of how a regional organization could work together to help itself instead of I think depending on the international community or on the international financial institution. So what we can to together as ASEAN and as ASEAN+3 or +6 should be an example for the world that I think sometimes you need to help yourself first in order to help the world, but not to keep on depending on the world at large for their help, but also to make contributions as much as possible to the regional and to the national community.
So I think the relevancy of ASEAN, or what ASEAN matters to the world, is its centrality, its relevancy to the geo-politics, to the international economic activities…and I thinkk also to the very important to the international transportation and to the logistic business, because of the sea lane, because of the international civil aviation and so on. ASEAN astride SE Asia its geographical position is very important, not only in terms of the geo-politics, but I think in terms of international economic activities, I think international transportation and communication. So the relevancy of ASEAN is there.
And from a negative point of view, I don’t think any major power would like ASEAN to fall into, what do you call, the sphere of influence, so it makes ASEAN more attractive and strong in that sense because ASEAN provides the balancing act. ASEAN, most important of all, provides the forum for the major world powers to come and talk to one another. In the ASEAN plusses and particularly under the ASEAN regional forum, where I think maybe sometimes China, may I please allow me, may not quite feel happy to speak to Japan directly, but I think they can come and speak together at the ASEAN forum or at the ASEAN meetings and so on. So it’s a good informal forum for the big brothers to thrash out their differences and the possibility for both cooperative activities. So these are some of the few points that I want to convey to you and let me recapitulate a bit.
First, I think we are moving forward as a democratic society. Second, we are running the government in and open, consultative manner, and adhere to the principles of democracy, openness, and open market. And third, ASEAN really matters, and it has relevance and in the chair or even when we are not in the chair, as a founder of ASEAN, we will keep on pushing ASEAN to become a force to be reckoned with in the regional political and economic activities and in the international community as a whole. I think just to provide a sort of dessert to your lunch. Thank you very much. I’m open to any question, thank you.