Daily News: Please explain about the Cobra Gold 2015
CDA: This year is Cobra Gold’s 34th year. It’s a multilateral exercise with 24 participating countries. So far, it has been very successful.
Daily News: Does changing the theme of the exercise to humanitarian and disaster relief drills mean scaling down the relationship between the U.S. and Thailand?
CDA: We have a long and enduring friendship between the United States and Thailand, and nothing has changed there. We have had relations for 182 years, and we cooperate on many global and regional challenges. That stays the same. Cobra Gold this year in 2015 is a little different. It’s a smaller, focused Cobra Gold, which has taken place in the context of Thailand managing its return to democracy, to a civilian elected government. However, the focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster response capabilities meets the needs of the region. There are growing disasters, growing needs for countries to cooperate and respond together. So, the fact that we are focusing on those areas is new this year as a result of the challenges in the country, but it is also a focus that meets the needs of the region and all of the participating countries.
Daily News: How do you view the present Thai politics? Do you think the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) would follow its planned “roadmap” (timeline)?
CDA: The interim government has made a commitment to return the country to democracy, and for our bilateral relationship, that is very important. We encourage a speedy return to elected civilian government. That’s what the Thai people deserve. And, what we believe the Thai people want. So, we very much encourage a process that results in a civilian-elected government. As Thailand manages this process, we very much hope for our relationship that we can see an inclusive process that all voices in Thailand are heard, and that there will be broad participation. We also hope that civil liberty can be respected. And, we have made known our concerns that martial law being imposed restricts participation and the expression of opinions and participation.
Daily News: So the U.S. still has a stance that the government lifts martial law, right?
CDA: We have offered that advice. We don’t have the answer for Thailand. We think the Thai people should determine the future of their country. But, for the relationship between Thailand and the United States, it is important that democracy be restored, and during the process to achieve that objective, there shouldn’t be martial law because it limits the ability of Thai voices to be heard. So, we have given that good advice to Thai authorities privately and publically, that it would be helpful for the relationship between our two countries, and we think helpful ultimately for Thailand.
Daily News: When the U.S. talks about Yingluck’s impeachment during the coup, does it mean the U.S. intervenes into Thai internal affairs?
CDA: I don’t believe we have intervened or interfered in Thai political scene in any way. To the contrary, we don’t take sides. We are a friend of Thailand, a friend of Thai people. We want Thailand to succeed because Thailand’s success is our success. What Assistant Secretary Russel observed is that when you have individuals who intervene and disrupt democracy, and put in place processes that then impeach the very leader who was ousted, some could question is it a fair process, or does it reflect political motivation? That is an observation he was making. We do not take sides whatsoever. We think the rule of law should be applied. We think justice should be equitable. And, I don’t think there’s any surprise coming from the United States that we believe institutions are the strongest under democracy, when the will of the people can be expressed, and ensure fairness and equitable application of the rule of law.
Daily News: If Yingluck asks for asylum, would the U.S. accept for consideration?
CDA: I’m not going to answer any hypotheticals about any Thai individuals. Let me just reemphasize that we do not take sides in Thai politics. We are friends of Thailand. We are cooperative partners. And, I think you saw today that was on display with Cobra Gold as an example. We cooperate where there is regional and global benefit, so not just on security, but on law enforcement, on public health, infectious diseases, on education, on environment. So, I think that the better way to answer your question is we are here for all of Thailand, and not taking sides.
Daily News: The junta promised to return happiness to Thailand. In your view, has happiness returned to Thais?
CDA: I would ask how would you measure a public sentiment, a public opinion when you don’t have democracy in place? You don’t have mechanisms for the population to express their opinions, their views. I think during this disruption of democracy, it’s very hard to determine what people want and how they feel. When you have democracy, there are institutions, there is an electoral process, there is free speech, freedom of assembly. Those are the ways to measure truly how people are feeling. And, we are confident that’s what Thailand would want to be. Thailand has a long tradition of democracy, respect for human rights. We are encouraging as a friend, as a partner, and for the benefit of the relationship that these things be restored sooner rather than later—full democracy, civilian-elected government, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech. These are things that we cherish and the Thai people cherish like we do.
Daily News: Do you think there will be another coup again after PM Prayut talked to a Japanese news outlet?
CDA: I really don’t think it’s for me to answer. Thailand’s future is for the Thai people. We have already made it very clear that a military coup with this disruption of democracy has negative repercussion for our relationship. So, that holds now. That holds into the future. It would not be good in our view for the relationship clearly by our law, but also not good for the Thai people. We, again, strongly encourage a return of full democracy, so that our relationship can be at its maximum, and we can further deepen our cooperation for the benefit of our two countries, for Southeast Asia, for the East Asia-Pacific region, and even the globe.