Secretary Antony J. Blinken At a Press Availability

July 10th, 2022  •  Author:   U.S. Department of State  •  8 minute read
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SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Good afternoon, everyone.  It is wonderful to be back in Thailand.  We had a trip that was planned a few months ago that was delayed because of COVID, so I’m finally glad to make it here.  And I was reflecting, in conversation with the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don that the first time I was here was actually in 1980, so 42 years ago.

As I said at the signing that we had earlier today of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Deputy Prime Minister, the strength of the relationship between our countries lies in how we are constantly evolving to try to meet the needs of our people and to try and address the challenges we face.

We’re working together to revitalize our economies, a central topic in my meetings with the Prime Minister and with the Deputy Prime Minister.  We share the same goal of not just driving growth, but trying to ensure that it creates opportunities for all our people.

We’re doing this together, bilaterally.  The United States is Thailand’s largest export market and third largest investor, and through new efforts like the ones we launched today to shore up our supply chains, we’re going to be making our economies even more secure.

We’re doing it regionally, through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.  As a founding partner, Thailand is taking a leading role in shaping that framework to position our workers, our businesses, our governments to lead in areas that are critical to our shared prosperity, like clean energy, like the digital trade.  And we very much appreciate Thailand’s leadership of APEC this year; we look forward to building on that success when the United States takes over as host next year.

We also had candid discussions today on democracy and human rights – core values that we share.  One of democracy’s unique strengths is the ability to acknowledge our flaws and work to address them.  This spirit is reflected in the Communiqué on Strategic Alliance and Partnership that we signed today, which reaffirms our commitment to helping one another live up to the principles of free and open societies, such as an independent civil society and free and fair elections.

We’re also deepening what has been decades-long cooperation in public health.  Thailand is a crucial partner in the COVID-19 Global Action Plan that we established to try to end the acute phase of this pandemic and leave the world better prepared to prevent, detect, and respond to future emergencies.

We’ve donated more than 2.5 million doses of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines to Thailand – free of charge, no political strings attached – while USAID has provided significant assistance to communities that are facing the highest risks.

Our two countries partner in responding to regional challenges and regional crises.  The United States is working with Thailand, and all of ASEAN, to push Burma’s regime to fulfill the five-point consensus, end its brutal violence, and put Burma back on the path to democracy.

This morning I actually had an opportunity to meet with some young leaders from Burma, who are committed as ever to building a democratic future.  More than 91,000 displaced people from Burma are currently in Thailand, part of the nation’s proud tradition of welcoming refugees.

For decades the United States has provided support for those efforts here in Thailand, including $45 million in humanitarian assistance this year alone.

Finally, we’re deepening the bonds, the connections between our peoples.

Today I met with some Thai alumni from the Fulbright Program, the International Visitor Leadership Program, and the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative.  More than 5,000 Thais have participated in these programs over the years.  They’ve been enriched by their interaction with Americans, just as Americans have benefited from their engagement with Thai students, scholars, innovators, and leaders.

Few people in history have done more to foster these ties than the great diplomat, Thanat Khoman.  Among his many contributions, he pushed for Thailand to become one of the first countries to host Peace Corps volunteers from the United States.  And when he was asked why, he said, “It is well that governments should come into contact with one another, but it is even more important for people to come into contact with one another, to have first-hand knowledge, first-hand experience, and also first-hand ideas about what we should do in this world to keep peace and develop friendly relations.”

So I’m grateful that, all these years later, that we continue to find new ways to bring our governments together but, more important even, to bring our people together to the benefit of all of us.

So I want to thank the government and people of Thailand for hosting us so warmly today, on a Sunday.  And with that, I’m happy to take some questions.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  We’ll start with Shaun Tandon of the AFP.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Shaun?

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Thanks, Mr. Secretary.  Could I follow up on the comments you made about Burma/Myanmar?  You talked about the five-point consensus, but of course it’s been over a year since ASEAN put that forward.  It’s been over a year since the United States has been putting sanctions on the junta.  Are you still confident that this approach is working?  What else can be done?  What else can the United States do to restore democracy, to help restore democracy in Burma?

Can I follow up on a couple points on that?  The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, was also recently – besides being in Bali, was also recently in Myanmar.  Do you see his efforts and China’s efforts helping or hindering the diplomacy that ASEAN and the United States are doing on Burma?

And on that, some have called for the U.S. to formally recognize the NUG as a legitimate government of Myanmar.  Is that something in the cards, including a representative office in Washington?  Thanks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Look, as a bottom line, I think it’s unfortunately safe to say that we’ve seen no positive movement.  And on the contrary, we continue to see the repression of the Burmese people.  We continue to see violence perpetrated on them by the regime.  We continue to see virtually the entire opposition in jail or in exile.  And we continue to see a terrible humanitarian situation, exacerbated by the fact that the regime is not delivering what’s necessary for the people.  And that’s also putting real pressure on Thailand as people flee from the violence, from the repression, in Burma.

On that note, I should say that we very much appreciate what Thailand has done to try to facilitate cross-border assistance, to try to expand cooperation on, for example, getting COVID-19 vaccines to people in Burma and to those displaced.  I think there’s even more that we can do to make sure that humanitarian organizations have access to people along the border to make sure they’re getting the assistance they need.

But look, at this point I think a few things.  One, all countries have to continue to speak clearly about what the regime is doing in its ongoing repression and brutality.  We have an obligation to the people of Burma to hold the regime accountable.  Regional support for the regime’s adherence to the five-point consensus developed by ASEAN is also critical.  That has not happened, and I think all the ASEAN countries need to hold the regime accountable for that, to continue to demand an immediate cessation of violence, the release of political prisoners, and a restoration of Burma’s democratic path.

But to date, we have not seen positive movement in that direction.  We will continue to look for ways that we can – and other countries can effectively put pressure on the regime to move back to the democratic path, and we’re doing that on a regular basis.  That was part of the conversation that we had today.

I can’t speak directly to what China is or isn’t doing in Burma, but I think it’s also incumbent upon China, and in China’s interests, to see Burma move back to the path that it was on and it was so violently disrupted from by the coup.

I think this is something that we’re deeply focused on, even as we’re spending, of course, a lot of time on Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.  We haven’t lost sight of Burma, we haven’t lost sight of its people.  I had an opportunity today to sit down with some remarkable young people from Burma to talk about what they see as its democratic future, and we are working with young people, we’re working with the National Unity Government, we’re working with other genuine representatives of the Burmese people, and we’ll continue to do that, including supporting the work of the NUG.


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