Cablegate: Ambassador Visit to Northeast Thailand Highlights U.S.
PP RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
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P 160137Z DEC 08
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TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5404
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
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TAGS: PREL PHUM PGOV SCUL KPAO TH
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR VISIT TO NORTHEAST THAILAND HIGHLIGHTS U.S.
OUTREACH EFFORTS IN THE REGION
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1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Ambassador's November 25-26 visit to
Northeast Thailand highlighted U.S. outreach efforts in the region
and conveyed the USG's ongoing commitment to building and sustaining
cultural and economic ties that extend beyond Bangkok to all regions
of Thailand. Emphasizing the value of U.S. economic investment in
Northeast Thailand, the Ambassador met with Coca-Cola executives in
Khon Kaen province, toured a local bottling facility, and visited
two water development and conservation projects funded by the
company. The trip focused on education as well, with the Ambassador
visiting a local high school to discuss the recent U.S. Presidential
election and educational opportunities in the United States. This
high school visit and a joint visit by the Ambassador and American
artist John Domont to a children's hospital for a "therapy through
art" workshop underscored the Embassy's commitment to strengthening
U.S.-Thai relations among young people. An Entry Level Officer
accompanied the Ambassador on the trip, attending all of the
meetings and events. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) Upon his arrival in Khon Kaen on November 26, the
Ambassador explained in a televised interview that one of his aims
for the trip was to better understand how the region is developing
economically and to see first-hand U.S. investment in action. The
Ambassador later met with Coca-Cola executives in Khon Kaen and
toured a bottling plant in a visit that was organized by the U.S.
Embassy's Foreign Commercial Service. Coca-Cola has been doing
business in Thailand since 1949. The company currently employs more
than 10,000 people and operates seven bottling plants and over 80
warehouses. Thailand represents one of the top 20 markets for
Coca-Cola worldwide. The bottling plant in Khon Kaen is owned and
operated by Thai Nam Thip, an authorized Coca-Cola bottler.
Coca-Cola has a 49% ownership interest in Thai Nam Thip with the
remainder owned by local Thai shareholders.
3. (SBU) Coca-Cola's investment in Northeast Thailand is not
strictly economic. In recognition of the importance of clean water
to its business, the company has invested in various water
development and conservation projects in the local communities of
the area. The Ambassador visited two such Corporate Social
Responsibility (CSR) projects in Manchakhiri, one of the poorest
districts in Khon Kaen province. The U.S. Embassy's Foreign
Commercial Service worked with Coca-Cola in arranging the CSR site
4. (SBU) The Ambassador first visited Bann Huay Huak School in
Manchakhiri, the site of a water storage tank and pipeline system
installed by Coca-Cola as part of its "Clean Water for Communities"
project. Coca-Cola launched the initiative in June of 2008 in
partnership with the Population and Community Development
Association, a Thai nonprofit organization founded by Meechai
Viravaidya, the well-known former politician and social activist.
Coca-Cola has installed new water storage tanks and pipeline systems
for 5,450 households, providing 738,000 liters of clean water to
over 30,000 villagers.
5. (SBU) The Ambassador also toured Coca-Cola's long-term "Chi River
Conservation" Project, where he planted trees in the Chi River
watershed with the help of children from the local village.
Recently, over 150 Coca-Cola staff joined local villagers in
planting 1000 trees in the area. The project is a partnership
initiative between Coca-Cola and the World Wildlife Fund that was
launched in 2007 and will continue until 2011. The partnership aims
to improve the natural environment of the Chi watershed and enhance
the quality of life of community members.
6. (SBU) The educational component of the Ambassador's visit to
Northeast Thailand included a visit to Khon Kaen University
Demonstration School where he discussed the recent Presidential
election with over one hundred high school students. The
Demonstration School, founded in 1970, is part of the Faculty of
Education at Khon Kaen University and serves as a grade K through 12
research school for university students and professors. The
students' command of English, as well as the depth of their
questions, was impressive and highlighted the potential of the
7. (SBU) The Ambassador was repeatedly asked during his trip to
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Northeast Thailand about educational opportunities in the United
States and the U.S. visa process. The questions revealed an
apparent misperception among the region's residents that U.S. visas
are difficult to obtain. The Ambassador emphasized during
interviews with the press as well in meetings with Provincial
Governors that while the screening process for U.S. visas is
necessarily meticulous, here in Thailand over four out of five
applicants are successful in their efforts to obtain a U.S. visa.
He directed the public to the Embassy's website and noted that the
current wait for an interview appointment was only one working day,
thereby dispelling another common misconception about the visa
8. (SBU) The Ambassador also joined John Domont, an artist visiting
Thailand under the auspices of the ART in Embassies Program at U.S.
Embassy Bangkok, for a "therapy through art" workshop with children
at Srinakarind University Hospital. Srinakarind is the only research
and teaching hospital in Northeast Thailand. The children who
participated in the workshop are living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or
other chronic diseases. The hospital workshop culminated a very
successful ten-day official visit by John Domont during which he
conducted art workshops and seminars throughout Thailand.
Visit To DEA and VOA Facilities
9. (SBU) Finally, the Ambassador traveled to Udorn Thani province
and visited the Mission's regional DEA office, as well as the
Thailand transmitting station for Voice of America, now known as the
International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). The DEA in Udorn consists
of three U.S. agents and a local staff of four personnel. The
office works with its Thailand counterparts in investigating and
targeting the trafficking of drugs within the Northeast border
provinces of Thailand and along the Mekong River. It also has
enforcement responsibilities in Southern Thailand.
10. (SBU) The IBB facility, located on 1300 acres in the Ban Dung
District of Udon Thani province, transmits Broadcasting Board of
Governors' programs from the Voice of America and Radio Liberty, as
well as Radio Thailand programs produced by the Royal Thai
Government. The facility has been broadcasting since 1994.
11. (SBU) Media interest in the Ambassador's visit to the region was
high with the Ambassador interacting several times with both print
and broadcast media during his two-day tour. This coverage helped
boost public recognition of the strength and importance of
U.S.-Thailand bilateral ties, our cultural outreach, and the
involvement of U.S. companies in CSR projects and the resulting
positive impact on communities.
12. (SBU) In the Ambassador's nearly half-hour interview with the
provincial branch of the state-owned National Broadcasting of
Thailand (NBT) on November 26, he discussed U.S.-Thai relations and
promoted U.S. investment in Thailand by highlighting Coca Cola's
operations in Khon Kaen. The Ambassador also underscored the
importance of educational exchanges to the relationship, and noted
that Thailand ranks tenth in the world for the number of students it
sends to the United States. The Ambassador also deflated some well
entrenched notions that visas to the U.S. are difficult to come by.
NBT Khon Kaen broadcasts to several adjoining provinces, and as many
as five million viewers may have seen the Ambassador's interview
when it was later broadcast on November 28.
13. (SBU) In both Khon Kaen and Udorn Thani, the Ambassador
addressed large groups of local reporters after his meetings with
the respective Governors. In addition to discussing the purpose of
his trip and promoting education and trade, the Ambassador made one
of his first widely reported public comments on the airport seizures
by PAD protesters. When asked in Khon Kaen about the situation, the
Ambassador said: "The U.S., as a good friend of Thailand, just
wants to see this resolved peacefully and within the law and the
Constitution. When you shutdown the international airport, for
example, that is going to really negatively impact tourism,
industry...Maybe it is only shutdown for a day, but it affects it
for months." Many Bangkok-based newspapers including the Bangkok
Post, Matichon, and Krungthep Turakit quoted the Ambassador on this
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14. (SBU) Channel 7, Thailand's most watched television station with
a reach of nearly 10 million nationwide, covered the Ambassador's
hospital visit and gave the Ambassador the opportunity to shine a
spotlight on both American compassion for the seriously ill, the use
of art as a therapeutic tool, and the Art in Embassies program.