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Zoellick Remarks With Thailand FM Suphamongkhon

Remarks With Thailand Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon

Robert Zoellick, Deputy Secretary of State
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Bangkok, Thailand
May 4, 2005


FOREIGN MINISTER KANTATHI: Very comprehensive discussion. We touched on so many subjects in a short time. And it's a great pleasure for me to be able to welcome my - actually we've met many times before but now, of course, we will be working very closely together. And Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick will be continuing to meet our Parliamentarians, and then he will be meeting with the Prime Minister later on today. But the subject that we have discussed, will focus on our bilateral relations as well as regional situations.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, first I want to thank the Minister for being gracious as host to me. This stop in Thailand is the first of a number that I'm going to be making in South East Asia over the course of the next week. And, the primary purpose was that, as President Bush starts his second term, the President and Secretary Rice wanted me to come out and have some consultations with our partners in the region and listen to some of their ideas about areas where we move forward together on economic topics, security topics, political issues. As the Minister and I discussed, in my prior role as Trade Representative, I helped launch the Free Trade Agreement negotiations, and so that is one of our topics of discussion. But that's why I also wanted to see some of the members of the Thai Parliament because, as the Minister and I discussed, in each country we have to work with our Parliament or, in my case, the Congress, to try to make sure there is understanding of what we're trying to accomplish here in terms of relationship. But I also, the one reason I very much appreciated the chance to talk with the Minister, is that I also got a sense of some other issues in terms of regional and global focus. Thailand has been obviously a very long-standing ally and partner and friend of the United States, and one of the other aspects of this visit will be discussions about how we move from the humanitarian support after the tsunami to the reconstruction phase. That will be particularly the case in Indonesia. But I thank the Minister and, through him, all the people in Thailand who worked so closely with us to deal with the tsunami, first in Thailand. But the nature of this partnership was that we worked extraordinarily closely together to be able to move humanitarian supplies into Aceh and Indonesia, and it was a good example of the working relationship that our alliance and partnership has, and we are very proud of those ties with Thailand.

QUESTION: Minister, has the government, the Thai government, asked for cooperation from the U.S. on the x-ray scandal? Because we might need the information from the U.S. to investigate this issue because it is also of interest among the Parliamentarians and also the public as well.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, I'll let the Minister speak for Thailand and their situation. In terms of the United States, as I think press accounts have shown, we had our own investigation from our Justice Department and our Securities and Exchange Commission and they've taken action against the company under our Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. We will certainly work with the Government of Thailand to put the appropriate agencies from the Thai Government in charge with those doing the investigation on the U.S. side. It is not something that my department, the State Department, does, because it is a matter of law enforcement. But we obviously want to work very closely with the Thai authorities on the issue.

QUESTION: Have you shared information?

FOREIGN MINISTER KANTATHI: Yes, we should be. We will work very closely on this matter. We want to have transparency, and we want to consider the things as they are in reality. So we're wide open and we will work with each other.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: I think the key point here is, I just saw some of the press stories today as I came in, is I think both governments, as the Minister said, are committed to transparency. The reason that this issue has come before the public attention is because we have a law in the United States. Triggering the law doesn't necessarily mean certain actions have occurred in terms of Thailand. What it means is that there are rules that U.S. companies have to follow, and this one apparently broke those rules and so they are taking action against it. But then, of course, we want to share the facts with the appropriate authorities in Thailand because both of us want to have a clean governmental system and have our businesses operate in a fair, transparent manner.

QUESTION: Did you discuss Burma as well? Burma issues?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: We did discuss it, and obviously in the context of learning more about what is going on in Burma. Obviously, I think, both governments have some frustrations about the lack of political change. We also discussed it in the context of the ASEAN relationship.

QUESTION: I'm sorry what did he just say?

FOREIGN MINISTER KANTATHI: ASEAN.

QUESTION: When the United States has taken such a strong line against the military government in Rangoon, how frustrating is it for the United States that ASEAN and Thailand have taken no substantive measures against Rangoon at all?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, I'm not going presume what Thailand has or has not done in terms of its conversation. My government has been very clear about the situation of Aung San Suu Kyi and the process of national reconciliation, and we're disappointed with the developments.

FOREIGN MINISTER KANTATHI: Yes, but on that note I would also like to clarify that we are taking substantive actions, some of which, of course, are delicate and we cannot open to the public. But it doesn't mean that we're not working very hard toward the realization of democracy and national reconciliation in Myanmar, as well as the unity of ASEAN. So we are working hard.

QUESTION: There have been a lot of rumors, Minister, about ASEAN about the military government possibly already deciding not to become chair of ASEAN in 2006. Can you comment on these rumors?

FOREIGN MINISTER KANTATHI: That's up to them. I think that it's one of the possibilities they are thinking of. What we are working on with them, of course, would be a dual track situation. We would like to see democracy, national reconciliation being realized, and we would like to also see that ASEAN can function effectively. On that note, of course, no one would like to see the chairmanship of ASEAN becoming an obstacle to the functioning of ASEAN, and so we are working with all of our partners on making sure that we can move ahead regionally and, of course, moving ahead also with the situation in Myanmar.

QUESTION: Mr. Zoellick, do you think that having a country like Myanmar chairing ASEAN, would that affect Washington's relations with ASEAN? Is it something that would concern you?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, first, the decisions about ASEAN's procedures and chairmanship are for ASEAN to make. But my government has been very clear about the problems that we've had in terms of working and dealing with Burma. And frankly the ongoing disappointment we've had that you have somebody who is a Noble Peace Prize winner like Aung San Suu Kyi, who continues to be held under house arrest. And so what we see throughout the world, even in places where people that expect it like the Middle East, is a process of openness and democracy. I've seen it all throughout Southeast Asia over the 25 years that I've been dealing with the region, since I first lived in Hong Kong on a fellowship. And there's no reason it can't happen in Burma as well.

One last point, just to mention, that is the Minister will actually be coming to Washington about the time that I'm returning. I think we both get there about the 11th because there is a conference that is being held on May 12th about a private sector support, both business and NGO in the post-tsunami environment that the Minister will be attending. And it also gives him a chance to see Secretary Rice. So I very much appreciated the chance to get his thoughts on a whole series of regional issues. And I hope to be do that more frequently, because I can see that I will benefit a great deal from it.

QUESTION: Can I ask about FTA, because there are sentiments by Thailand that this might be of disadvantage to the Thai public, especially on the health issues and also on the intellectual property rights. How will the U.S. go through this sticking point?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, first there is a certain irony in some of the concerns I hear in Thailand, in that Thailand sells a lot more to the United States than we sell to Thailand. We also have a very, very strong investment relationship, so I think Thais can compete very well with the United States. But it is natural in any of these negotiations that there are anxieties. There are anxieties in the United States about some of the competition from Thailand, so that's one reason why the Minister and I talked about the importance of having broader discussions with Parliaments and Congress. It's one reason why we are very pleased that we are working with Thailand to have a special trade capacity growing effort for small- and medium-sized enterprises. The Prime Minister has made support for small and medium-sized enterprises part of his domestic program. We need to link that in both countries to the trade system. On the item that you mention about pharmaceuticals, in all our free trade agreements, we make very clear that the agreement to which the United States joins and, in fact, I helped put together dealing with access to medicine dealing with HIV-AIDS, will not be affected at all by any aspect of this agreement. And indeed, in our other agreements we have side letters that are part of the agreement that confirm that. So I understand the anxieties on that issue, but I think there is a very, very good answer for them.

But I think the big picture here is the United States does different types of free trade agreements than many other countries do. You hear people talking about free trade agreements through the region. The U.S. does very comprehensive agreements, so they cover all areas of services, goods, agriculture, transparency, anti-corruption going to some of the issues we talked about here labor, environment topics. But because of that they are a particularly well-regarded vehicle in terms of, not only a bilateral relationship, but a sign about a country's standing in the international economy. Our first in this region was with Singapore, which is obviously a very well-regarded trading economy. And the reason that we were very pleased and proud to start with Thailand is we felt that with the strong leadership here and the commitment, that it would then send another good signal to people in the region. And we have other countries in this region and elsewhere that also want to move ahead of a similar nature. We see this as an important part frankly both for Prime Minister Thaksin after his reelection and President Bush to try to accomplish this in the second term. But obviously there are sensitive issues that people would have to negotiate. But the key point for us is, we want to try to strengthen the economic ties, and so we need to explain that to the respective constituencies.

QUESTION: Like you said, this is the first in Asia-wide trip. You'll be dealing with a lot of countries' FTAs. What's your general expectation of how much solid progress you are going to bring out of your trip?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: The prime purpose as I mentioned is to consult and listen. So in the start of a four-year term for President Bush, a second term, the key aspect is to introduce some ideas and hear from others across a wide range of topics. And so particular elements really vary by country. Here we've got a very strong economic and security relationship, but we'd like to build on it, for example, through the free trade agreement. In Indonesia, there will be a very big focus on the pivot from humanitarian aid to reconstruction. I'm going to Aceh to particularly emphasize that. In Vietnam, it's the tenth year of our normalization of relations. Vietnam is interested in getting into the WTO, so there are both some economic and security dimensions. So it really varies a lot by country, but then I also hope as I had a chance to discuss this with the minister that I've worked with the ASEAN region for a long time and I can benefit a lot from talking to people out here about their perceptions of Southeast Asia, but also South Asia, North Asia. There's a lot to learn, to listen to as well.

QUESTION: So can I ask a last question? How do you regard the Thai candidate for the post of Secretary General?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, I knew the prior foreign minister from his service. He just had a chance to meet Secretary Rice in Washington, and I know they had a very good conversation. He went to the same graduate school as my wife about the same time so, of course, I have a particularly high view of his educational background. But I know that he is just starting the process of consultations, which I think is a wise approach for such an important position. But we are pleased with the work that we had going forward and I know the Secretary welcomed the chance to talk to him about some of the UN reform issues which will also be on the agenda.

Thank you. 2005/469

Released on May 4, 2005

ENDS


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