Daily Archives: January 26, 2015

Care, Compassion and Respect for our Veterans

Care, Compassion and Respect for our Veterans

Toronto, Ontario
January 23, 2015

Thank you very much Robert. What a lovely introduction by someone I greatly admire. It’s special for me to be here today. You see how long it’s taken for us to book this, seven months. I wanted to be at your 100th anniversary and missed that. They wouldn’t let me out of Ottawa. I certainly wasn’t going to cancel because it would have taken us another two years for me to get here and join you.

I’m a proud Rotarian as well. It’s also very special for me to have so many friends here, friends from Churchill Society, True Patriot Love and the Canadian Armed Forces. They’re friends because we share passions. We share passions for our parliamentary democracy, for service and for country. It means a lot that friends have taken time to join me and of course my wife Rebecca who is my partner in this journey into public service—we’re two years in now—that we feel is very important. Without her love and support I would be lost so I’m glad to see her here.

As Robert mentioned this was an appointment where I was going to speak on my role as an MP and a Rotarian and how Rotary appealed to me as a former military officer looking to serve the greater good of my own community. I was going to talk about Courtice Rotary, some of our great work. I was going to talk about my favourite Paul Harris quote which is, “Great things happen when good people come together.”

I think that says it all about Rotary’s work, not just in Canada but around the world. It truly is leadership at the local level. There were several dozen Rotarians at the founding meeting of the United Nations. Easter Seals is a charity started by Rotarians and Rotary has been in the forefront of trying to eradicate polio. It would be only the second disease eradicated from the face of the earth.

Rotary as a group was the leadership at the World Health Organization, the Gates Foundation and increasingly our government over the last few years has joined in your journey. It’s an impressive record and as Rotarians you should be really proud. As Veterans Affairs Minister the veterans community and the Canadian Forces writ large saw your wonderful gesture in 2011 when there had been a couple of poppy boxes stolen from a few locations in Toronto.

It was the Toronto Rotary Club that stepped up with a $5,000 donation to make up the difference in the poppy fund that those boxes would have been. Don’t think those gestures go unnoticed, very impressive. In fact, Rotary in many ways embodies the same principles that lead people to join the Canadian Armed Forces—service above self.

I think nothing epitomizes service above self than donning the uniform of your country and putting yourself into harm’s way. We have some tremendous veterans who did that for country and for freedom in the Second World War. Fred Strickland who was part of the Second Tactical Air Force is with us, a multi-decade Rotarian, still continuing to put service above self. George Richardson who was a fighter squadron pilot joined Rotary years after the war, continues to put service above self.

I’m going to do a twist on what Gerry did earlier because there are a number of veterans in the room but there are also families in the room because they serve as well. I saw my friend Alex Brown who is here somewhere whose son commanded a reserve regiment in south western Ontario, Chris Brown, proud to call him a friend.

I’d like everyone in the room if someone in your family—children, spouse, partner, served in the armed forces please stand. Now I would like anyone who served in the military to stand at the same time. Everyone still stand up. Thank you and your families for your service. I serve all of you, veterans and families, as Minister of Veterans Affairs so I’m here to serve you.

(Applause)

I do that to show that without the family unit being strong, the veteran will not be strong. That’s going to be a theme during my tenure as Minister of Veterans Affairs. Because we’re one day away from the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill, probably the greatest parliamentarian in history who secured the freedoms we enjoy today and Canadians served with our allies in that effort.

With the Churchill Society here I had to embed a couple of Churchill quotes into my remarks. I’ll use one now because it really exemplifies my opportunity and challenges as Minister of Veterans Affairs. Churchill once said, “It is not us saying we will do our best. You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.” What has been necessary as Minister of Veterans Affairs has been listening and coming up with a plan. Today I’m going to share with you a few reflections on my first few weeks listening and meeting with veterans and advocates from across the country.

C’est un honneur pour moi de vous parler aujourd’hui non seulement comme membre de cette belle organization mais aussi en tant que Ministre des anciens combattants sur les enjeux auxquels font face les hommes et les femmes qui ont servi notre pays et ceux et celles qui le servent encore.

Service above self—I’ll stay with that theme. In many ways it embodies why I joined the military at 18. I wanted to serve the country. I didn’t particularly know what I wanted to do in the military and went off to military college to find that out but I wanted to serve a greater purpose than what I thought I was doing as a young high school student in Bowmanville, Ontario.

The most startling thing I’ve learned on my journey meeting people in my first three weeks as Minister has been that continuing passion to serve. We see it in Frank and George up here with me today, both I will note air force people. It’s good to see the air force so well represented here. But in Esquimalt I met a young master corporal Bruno, a clearance diver who had just gotten out of the military a few years earlier.

He’s in his transition to civilian life yet he’s already volunteering his time with wounded warriors in a program to help families with mental health. Immediately out of uniform and immediately helping other veterans and military families. I’ve been struck by this throughout my visit.

At Sunnybrook Hospital in this city I met Fraser Holman. He came up to me, knew I was the new Minister. He was wearing a smock that said volunteer. He was there to volunteer with our Second World War and Korean vets at Sunnybrook. I only learned later that he was a retired major general and former fighter pilot and fighter pilot squadron commander. Now the top gun is wearing a smock that says volunteer and quietly going on his way serving veterans, service above self.

The two central themes that I hope to establish as Minister of Veterans Affairs and it’s good to see one of my predecessors in this portfolio, John McCallum here, is to do two things. I want to create an informed and respectful dialogue about the opportunities and challenges facing our veterans. In the last few years we haven’t always seen that and that’s not serving veterans.

Let’s talk about some of the challenges we have and a plan to fix some of those challenges. Let’s also talk about some of the tremendous work going on and there really is tremendous work, personal stories, people within Veterans Affairs helping Canada become a leader on support for families, veteran families, military families, Canada becoming a leader in the rising challenges regarding mental health.

Let’s not just focus on some of the challenges. Let’s also say what we’re doing right and talk about that responsibly. Everything we do should be focused at care, compassion and respect. Even when there’s disagreement politically or amongst veterans or amongst advocacy organizations, let’s agree to do that respectfully and show care and compassion to those who served us.

As Churchill said, you’ve got to succeed in doing what is necessary.

The three broad themes I’ll fill the rest of my time with are; what is necessary?

What do I see as necessary after my first three weeks traveling from coast to coast on my listening tour?

We have to have a veteran-centred approach to everything we do from policies to future planning to programming. The veteran has to be at the centre of everything we do and their family which is why I asked the families to stand.

It’s not just the person on the frontline in an office or on the phone. It’s the policy advisors. Everyone in Prince Edward Island where the department is headquartered or in Ottawa, in my Minister’s office, the veteran will be at the centre of everything we do. The question should be, “how will this help the veteran or their family?” Can we make this simpler for the veteran or their family? Can we cut down on wait times for the veteran and their family?

Veteran-centric means responding to the rising new needs, mental health being the largest. A fact that stunned me when I first heard it over the course of the last three weeks is in the last five years operational stress injuries, PTSD being the most widely known one but there’s various forms of mental injury from service, in the last five years have increased by 100%.

Let’s talk about that rationally as a challenge. We have to meet rising new needs of demand. We’ve been trying to do that. By the end of this year we’ll have a network of almost 24 operational stress injury clinics open to help address that rising need. That may not be enough but we’re moving there and giving resources, adapting programing to support our veterans.

Why we have to talk rationally about that is the first operational stress injury clinic opened by Mr. McCallum’s government did not open until 2002. This is something that the Canadian Forces has been struggling to deal with for the last two decades and is now making great headway. It’s an area where Veterans Affairs is working closely with them.

Some of our programing is cutting edge in the world in terms of helping the veteran get to a better place to resume their duties or to transition to a civilian career, nothing better exemplified than the story of Chris Linford and his wife Catherine. I joined Wounded Warriors to launch their program in Victoria last week called Couples Overcoming PTSD Every Day.

Chris Linford served with Romeo Dallaire and other Canadians in Rwanda. He developed PTSD. Ask him. When he finally put his hand up and said I need some help he had world class care. He got to a better place and he redeployed to Afghanistan. He didn’t lose his job. He wasn’t mired in years of challenge and trouble. He accessed programing. It worked.

Not only did he go back to his job. He redeployed in Afghanistan. Now like many of the veterans I talked about before he’s out of the military. What does he want to do? He wants to turn around and help his brothers and sisters in arms and the family. Chris and Catherine have launched a program that helps families deal with operational stress injuries and the impact they have on the family unit.

The second broad theme that I’ve learned and I see as a vision for the department is a seamless integration with the Canadian Forces. There are 700,000 veterans right now in Canada—the Second World War, Korea, NATO, UN Peacekeeping, Cold War, Afghanistan but there’s 80,000 veterans coming. Who are those veterans? They’re the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces.

For 50 years the Department of National Defence and Veterans Affairs Canada operated as if they were two different units, not recognizing implicitly that the men and women wearing a uniform now, regular force and reserve, are veterans of the future. One of the stakeholder meetings I had this week was at my old base in Shearwater, CFB Shearwater 12 Wing … meeting with leadership in uniform of the Canadian Forces.

One of the first questions I got is they said, Sir, why are you coming here as Veterans Affairs Minister. I said because you’re a veteran in 2, 5, 10 or 15 years. The very fact that a senior leader asked that question shows we’ve got to make integrating services, understanding benefits better. The commanding officer told me he had three service members come into my office over the last couple of years and express their interest in getting out; one was a medical issue and one was a spouse who had a better job in another province. He said I didn’t know what to tell them. Go meet Veterans Affairs after you leave the forces. We have to make sure that it’s seamless. I want to see an end state where someone in basic training gets their first briefing on Veterans Affairs.

Throughout their career, the leadership particularly, should be able to know and talk responsibly about what services at Veterans will be available for the men and women under their command when they become veterans.

We don’t want to see people spending 30 years or even three years in uniform dropping off the cliff because Veterans Affairs is a mystery and it’s not talked about while people are in uniform. The health, family and career of the veteran—that transition piece—where will I move with my family? What will my next job be? Do I need any medical support or assistance? All of those decisions, all that makes an effective transition, those decisions are made while they’re wearing the uniform.

They don’t wait to say to their partner where will we live when I hang up my uniform? These decisions are made years in advance. Let’s recognize that and let’s make Canadian Forces and Veterans Affairs become seamless in the education and discussion about services, benefits and transition.

If the transition goes well we have remarkable success. He’s going to criticize me immensely for singling him out but a friend of mine Ihor Kozak is in this room today. Ihor was one of the top Canadian immigrants years ago and the reason why he won that award was because within seven years of coming to Canada from Ukraine he was serving Canada in uniform. That’s pretty impressive.

Decorated twice for his service in the Afghan mission and as an engineer supporting Camp Mirage and other services there—he successfully transitioned to a career in aerospace as an engineer. Now he’s a veteran. I serve my friend Igor. His transition has been successful, likely with no assistance from the government.

I met veterans a week ago who said I found out that your government has put several hundred dollars towards resume writing and career assistance for me when I was leaving the forces but I was told about it two days before I left the military. I had a job. I would have loved to know I had some assistance eight months earlier. That second pillar I think is critical. It’s seamless integration with the Canadian Forces.

You’re going to see our language change. Our medical official will now be our Surgeon General. We’ll start learning the language, using the same language. I’ll be speaking to men and women on bases in the future so they have the knowledge to give to their peers and to their subordinates in terms of what their transition to become a veteran will be like.

The third main pillar that I’ve taken up from my learning and listening tour over the last few weeks has been we have to create a culture that strives for service excellence. It is about service. Veterans Affairs has spending in the range of $4 billion. This is a unique department where 90% of that goes to programing support for our veterans.

I think Canadians should be proud to know that. Ninety percent is directly to support and that’s been our focus, try to get more to the veteran, to the family, to the front lines, to rising areas of new needs like mental health.

Because we’re so service focused we have to build a culture that strives for excellence.

Remember the first pillar. If it’s veteran-centric and if every decision relates to how we help the veteran and their family. Service excellence should be something that we never achieve but we always strive towards. Are the operational stress injury clinics that we’re opening up geographically—spread throughout the country—are they meeting the need?

Do we need a roving swat team? Can we work better with the Canadian Forces sharing desperately needed psychologists and psychiatrists who are short in the civilian population? The University Health Network Hospitals here are likely short of these in demand professionals. If the Canadian Forces are short and Veterans Affairs are short, can we work together to address those shortages?

We also have to recognize we have a challenge that Canada hasn’t seen for 50 years, since the Korean War. We have veterans with some serious injuries both physical and mental from service 12 years in Afghanistan, a war. Canada has traditional war veterans. We also have Afghan veterans, Cold War veterans and none of them are identical.

We have to meet the service excellence challenge of serving veterans who are 29 or 89. Nothing is more stark than my friend Ernest Côté. You saw the 101 year old veteran who was terribly attacked over the Christmas holidays. I met Ernest on Juno Beach when I was there with the contingent from the anniversary last June and Ernest was an inspiration.

He parked his walker at the top of the beach and a 101 year old veteran walked down onto the shores that he and his colleagues had landed on 70 years earlier. It was remarkable. People were crying. Are Ernest’s expectations—in terms of service—are they the same as Ihor when he leaves? No. We have to recognize that. We have veterans like my friend Jody Mitic who lost two legs in Afghanistan but almost won Amazing Race Canada, speaks and inspires people on his road to wellness.

He still has challenges but he was just elected as an Ottawa city councillor. Permanently impaired but not permanently limited. He wants to access his benefits and service on an iPhone or BlackBerry. I don’t think my friend Ernest Cote at 101 wants to use his on iPad. Let’s recognize some of the challenges we have and make a plan and strive for service excellence so we meet the needs of those veterans in their 20s and those veterans in their 80s and 90s.

That’s not an easy challenge. Some of our allies are facing the same challenges. Let’s learn from them, recognize if areas need to be fixed and fix them. Doing things the way they were done in 1950 after we set up the modern Veterans Affairs structure, that’s not good enough. Are we striving for service excellence and meeting the needs of all veterans?

Those are our challenges. The way forward is that I will work on the challenges and articulating them but I will need the assistance of everyone in this room and of all Canadians to make sure we have that informed and respectful dialogue because I think all Canadians, all political parties want to support the men and women who have served us and given us the country we enjoy.

As Minister I’m also very comfortable and I’ve shown that in my first few events recognizing where third parties like Wounded Warriors or True Patriot Love or groups like Send Up the Count and Treble Victor. There’s immense diversity in some of the groups advocating and supporting our veterans.

It they’re doing something faster or better than the government I’m going to applaud and thank them because if they’re trying to serve the veteran and their family, I’m there to support that effort. If we can learn from the service dog work that Wounded Warriors and other groups have done and adopt that and get that benefit out to veterans, why would I suggest that government has the monopoly on trying to serve our veterans.

I’m going to need the help of Rotarians who as I said put service above self. This club in particular, I looked at your list of speakers in the last few months, you care. You’re aware of these issues. Brigadier-General Chapman was here. Chaplain Robert Fead was here last week or two weeks ago.

My friend R.H. Thomson, the actor who basically helped us kick off commemorating the First World War with his amazing vigil work and the Churchill Society worked with R.H. as well. You are bringing speakers to tell their story. We need to not just tell the story beyond Toronto. We need to applaud and encourage groups that are there to support military families, veterans and their families.

As I said, my most inspiring part of my tour has been seeing at the heart of so many of these groups are veterans who just got out of uniform. They want to continue to put service to others at the centre of their lives. That’s our way forward. Those are some of the areas we need to work on to show care, compassion, respect to our veterans.

I’m starting and I’m going to continue this work with your support. There’s no better way to end with friends here from the Society and with the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death coming tomorrow than of course a Churchill quote, or adopting a Churchill quote. I will work hard and I will offer blood, toil, tears and sweat in support of our veterans. Thank you very much.

East Asia and the Pacific: Exchange of Views on the Human Rights Situation in North Korea

As Prepared for Delivery

Madam Chair and distinguished Members of the Human Rights Subcommittee, it is a great pleasure to meet with you again to discuss the human rights situation in North Korea and discuss areas in which the United States can work with our European partners. We have deep concerns for the well-being of the North Korean people, and we both seek to improve human rights conditions in North Korea, which is one of the worst human rights violators in the world.

I first want to express our thanks and appreciation for the very important leadership role that the European Union plays in the United Nations General Assembly and in the UN Human Rights Council on the annual resolutions on the D.P.R.K. human rights record. One of the most important developments in North Korean human rights issues was the Human Rights Council’s decision in March 2013 to establish a Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the D.P.R.K. to examine the “systematic, widespread, and grave violations of human rights.” I’d like to thank you for the EU’s role in the resolution which created the COI recognizing the seriousness of the D.P.R.K. ’s human rights abuses.

In March 2014, the Commission presented a comprehensive report of its findings to the UN Human Rights Council, concluding that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the D.P.R.K. , its institutions, and its officials. The report further concluded that in many cases, such violations rise to the level of crimes against humanity. After hearing from the Commission, the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly this past year adopted strong resolutions calling for accountability for North Korea’s human rights abuses. By an overwhelming vote of 30 yeas, 6 nays, and 11 abstentions, the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution praised the Commission’s report and called for accountability in dealing with the North Korean violations. At the UN General Assembly in December, a similar resolution was adopted by a resounding vote of 116 yeas, 20 nays, and 53 abstentions.

Also last month, for the first time, the D.P.R.K. ’s grave human rights situation was taken up as a standing agenda item by the UN Security Council. The inclusion of this issue on the Security Council’s agenda reflects the world’s grave concern and the importance of accountability. This action will ensure that the D.P.R.K. situation will receive the Security Council’s ongoing attention on the egregious human rights abuses, and it reflects the international community’s concern that these systematic and widespread violations represent a threat to international peace and security.

The D.P.R.K. , in turn, has inconsistently reacted to the international spotlight on its deplorable human rights record. In the lead up to the UNGA resolution vote, the D.P.R.K. offered visits to the UN Special Rapporteur and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, but the government immediately withdrew these offers after the critical General Assembly resolution was adopted. The government also sent delegations to attend various human rights events focused on its record and even sponsored an unprecedented human rights press conference in New York, where North Korean government officials acknowledged the existence of reeducation through labor centers. On the other hand, the D.P.R.K. responded to the General Assembly resolution by threatening a fourth nuclear test. D.P.R.K. media also attacked by name the Commission of Inquiry Chair, Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby, and verbally attacked other outspoken activists. These belligerent and personal attacks only demonstrated the desperation to distract the international community from North Korea’s shocking human rights record. Together with the international community, we are using the full range of tools at our disposal to make clear to the D.P.R.K. that abandoning its current course and observing international laws and obligations is the only way to end its isolation.

Coordination between the United States and the European Union has remained strong throughout this past year. Our cooperation helped ensure that when North Korea’s foreign minister and other senior officials traveled abroad on a charm offensive last fall, they heard a common chorus of calls for progress on human rights and denuclearization. And in recent weeks, our international partners have joined us in condemning the destructive and coercive cyberattack on Sony Pictures, by which the D.P.R.K. attempted to suppress freedom of expression beyond its own borders. We are grateful that our partners have joined in calling on the D.P.R.K. to cease such attacks and in supporting a proportionate response.

Today, the D.P.R.K. remains an authoritarian state, which subjects its citizens to rigid controls over all aspects of their lives, including denying them enjoyment of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, religion or belief, and movement, as well as certain worker rights. The government maintains a vast network of political prison camps in which conditions are harsh and life-threatening, and prisoners, including children, are subjected to forced and compulsory labor. North Korean defectors and the international media continued to report public executions, disappearances, arbitrary detention, arrests of political prisoners, and torture. The judiciary is not independent and does not provide fair trials. Refugees who seek to leave the country are sent to prison without any knowledge of the charges against them. Even today entire families, up to three generations, are sent to the prison camps without trial when some official determines usually without trial. There has been no significant progress in the investigation of abductions of foreign citizens by the North Korean government.

We continue to receive reports that border guards have orders to shoot to kill potential “defectors,” and prison guards had orders to shoot to kill those attempting to escape from political prison camps. Secretary Kerry, six other Foreign Ministers, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted these grave injustices this past September in New York City at the time of the UN General Assembly high level meetings.

As we look forward to this year, two things strike me. First, the D.P.R.K. has few supporters left. UN Special Rapporteur on D.P.R.K. human rights, former Indonesian Prosecutor General Marzuki Darusman, spoke to the UN Human Rights Council last June. In the discussion after his presentation, less than a quarter of the countries that spoke were even supportive of the D.P.R.K. , and most of those expressed concern about the singling out of one country and did not comment on the substance of the human rights violations. The countries that defended the D.P.R.K. were among the world’s worst human rights violators – Belarus, Cuba, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. This is not a group of supporters that gives much comfort to the North.

Second, the COI report was a very important step, but it is not the end. It has created momentum for the international community to continue to focus on D.P.R.K. abuses. In particular, both the COI’s report and the UN Human Rights Council resolution recommended the establishment of a field office under the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to preserve and document evidence of atrocities in order to enable future accountability. South Korea has agreed to host this office, and I thank the South Korean government’s willingness to host this field office. This office will play an important role in maintaining visibility on the ongoing human rights abuses in the North. We expect to see this office open in the next two months so that it can continue to build upon the foundation established by the Commission.

The last significant issue that I want to mention is the importance of increasing the flow of information into and out of North Korea. This country is one of the most closed societies in the world. In this era of virtually instantaneous communication, North Korea remains a dark spot – unconnected to the global information network. There are over two million cell phones in North Korea, but these phones connect only domestic users and are closely monitored. Calls to parties outside the country are difficult if not impossible to make and are illegal for most users. Internet access is limited to a tiny circle of elites.

This lack of access to independent information limits what North Koreans know about the outside world, and it also limits what we know about what is happening in the North. But cracks in the information blockade are starting to form. The latest study by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors found that 35 percent of North Korean refugees and travelers had listened to foreign radio broadcasts inside North Korea, even though it is still illegal to possess a radio that can be tuned. Foreign videos are now being seen by even larger numbers – approximately 85 percent of refugees and travelers abroad have seen foreign, principally South Korean, DVDs in the North. North Koreans are increasingly familiar with South Korean K-Pop and have seen movies like Titanic and Bend It Like Beckham.

Information is also trickling out. Civil society has undertaken efforts to examine satellite imagery to gain a more detailed understanding of the prison camp system. Other nongovernmental organizations have developed interactive mapping tools that document the numerous human rights abuses reported by defectors. South Korea-based defector groups are breaking news stories about life inside North Korea faster than ever before. I am hopeful that we are beginning to see changes.

Our deep concern for human rights in North Korea and for the well-being of the North Korean people reflects the American commitment to the rule of law and respect for individual rights. Our country was founded on fundamental principles of human rights, and our support for these rights is an essential part of what defines the American people. These are values we share with the peoples of the European Union.

The world will not, and cannot, close its eyes to what is happening in North Korea. Ultimately, we will judge the North not by its words, but by its actions—the concrete steps it takes to address the core concerns of the international community, from its nuclear program to its human rights violations. I believe we are in agreement that the D.P.R.K. must demonstrate respect for human rights in order to fully participate in the international community. Thank you for this invitation to speak with you.

Member States Promise Big Reforms to the WHO. Can They Deliver?

[Updated] When the Ebola crisis spiraled out of control last spring and summer in West Africa, a number of people wondered why the World Health Organization was seemingly unable to stop it?

The WHO has an excellent reputation for setting global health standards and facilitating the coordination of action between countries. But the ebola outbreak exposed a key deficit of the WHO.  It turns out, the WHO’s capacity for emergency response was actually quite limited. Years of budget cuts undermined its ability to rapidly respond to a large outbreak of an infectious disease. As the CDC director Thomas Frieden put it, “The WHO we have, is not the WHO we need.”

So, on Sunday the WHO’s executive board, a group of 34 member states, took a hard look at these issues and proposed a sweeping set of reforms to bolster WHO’s capacity as an operational emergency response organization.

The New York Times has a good rundown of some of the key reforms.

Critical provisions of the resolution adopted Sunday include the creation of a global cadre of emergency public health workers, the establishment of a fund that could be tapped quickly, and stepped-up support for the development of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for emerging infectious diseases. These steps were all recommended but not put in place after a review of the response to the 2009 influenza pandemic.

The board also asked the organization’s director general to ensure that the W.H.O.’s in-country staff members were selected for their expertise. Some critics have said the early response to Ebola was hobbled in part because some W.H.O. workers lacked important qualifications or had been chosen largely for political reasons.

The proposals would push the WHO in a brave new direction. But it’s not yet clear whether or not member states are willing to walk the talk and contribute the funding and political backing required to implement these reforms.

One positive indicator, so far, is a decision by the United Kingdom to contribute 10 million pounds toward the proposed contingency fund. Other member states need to follow suit. The level of new financial commitments will be single the clearest indicator of whether or not member states are prepared to back up this ambitious plan with the funding that is needed to execute against it.

Another indicator will be in future personnel decisions taken by the WHO and its regional organizations. In many ways, the WHO is structured more as a loose confederation of regional health organizations than a centrally directed body. The directors of these regional health organizations (there are six in total) are elected by the member states of their region. They do not report directly to headquarters in Geneva, but to their own region’s member states. This can inject a level of politics into the health organization, which has the potential to manifest itself in staffing choices. Indeed, one of the key criticisms of the WHO’s response to ebola had less to do with the “WHO” per se than its African regional subsidiary, and the performance of country-level WHO staff.

In her address to the Executive Board, WHO director Margaret Chan highlighted some operational challenges of a structure in which there’s a “WHO” in Geneva, a “WHO” in the region, and a “WHO” in the country. 

We need to apply the “one WHO” approach, whereby all three levels of the Organization use the same standard operating procedures, tools, and frameworks for risk assessment, monitoring, and accountability during emergencies.

The severity of the outbreak underscores the need to enhance crisis management and field experience during emergencies in WHO country offices.

Again, the early signs are encouraging that member states are stepping up to the this challenge. The WHO Executive Board, acting on the nomination of African member states, replaced the former African Regional director who has served in the post for 10 years. The new regional director, Dr Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti is a respected public health veteran with years of experience working for national health systems in African and also serving in top posts in various UN agencies.

It’s exceedingly difficult to devise an ambitious reform agenda for a large, member state directed international institution. It’s even harder to implement those big reforms. The WHO’s executive board deserve a great deal of credit for recognizing the potential value of a WHO capable of rapidly responding to large scale health emergencies. It’s now up to all member states to actually empower the WHO to do so.

Discussion

comments…

East Asia and the Pacific: Remarks at the Institute of Security and International Studies

Date: 01/26/2015 Description: Assistant Secretary Danny Russel delivers remarks the Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. - State Dept Image

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Professor Thitinan, thank you so much for that kind introduction. Hello Bangkok, Sawadee krap. It’s really great to be back in Thailand and it’s really an honor for me to be here at Chula — a great, great school with a wonderful reputation. Let me start with a public service announcement. The bureau I’m responsible for, the East-Asia Pacific Bureau, now has a Twitter account, in large part thanks to former Ambassador to Thailand Kristie Kenney, who has come back and joined our Bureau. So I want you all, if you would, to follow us on Twitter “@USAsiaPacific.” So I got that commercial out of the way.

I first visited Thailand many years ago in the early 90’s as a junior officer; stayed for at least a week or so at the home of a Foreign Service friend who was serving here, and like all Americans — like all visitors to Thailand — I fell in love. The warmth and the hospitality of the Thai people made a huge impression on me. I experience it every time I come back.

I also had the great honor while working at the White House at the National Security Council to accompany President Obama when he came to Thailand in 2012 in November. And the extraordinary experience of visiting Wat Po, the honor of being received by His Majesty the King, similarly made a profound impression on the President and has stayed with him.

So, I come here as a friend. I’m in the middle of a trip through Southeast Asia. I also have stopped already in the Philippines and Malaysia. When I leave here, I’m on my way to Cambodia. Now I didn’t bring the President of the United States with me this time, but I am here for the same reason that President Obama came to Asia twice last year and has come on an annual basis prior to that.

I came here for the same reason that so many students and business people are flocking to the Asia-Pacific and the reason that our merchant ships and our navy ships, frankly, call on ports here. It’s because the United States is also a Pacific nation. We are a resident Pacific power, and our prosperity and our security is closely linked — inextricably linked — with that of Asia. Our communities are connected by trade and travel and family ties.

And our fates are closely linked by the many global challenges that face us from climate change to pandemic diseases to violent extremism. One thing that I have learned is that no nation, however strong, can solve these problems alone. So first I’ll talk about the regional system — the regional architecture — that that United States and our allies and partners, including Thailand, have worked on and built to meet them. And then I’ll spend some time talking about U.S.-Thai relations and what we see as the pathway forward.

For many decades — 2015 is in fact the 70th anniversary of the end of the World War and the creation of the United Nations — the U.S. has worked with Pacific and Asian allies. We’ve worked with partners like the ASEAN members to advance security, prosperity, and democracy through the region. And together, we’ve built an architecture, a system of regional rules and institutions that aim at strengthening the rule of law.

This architecture, this system, has helped to keep the peace in the region, and many many nations have taken advantage of the space provided by this peace and stability to develop both politically and economically. We see this in the many vibrant democracies that have risen over the decades in places as diverse and as different as Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan.

Looking closer to this neighborhood — while significant challenges remain in Myanmar — we’ve seen a historic opening up of that country after decades of isolation. And next door in Cambodia, the agreement between the government and the opposition party last year has now created some real opportunities for reform and for strengthening democracy. And in all of these places, democratic progress and economic progress have gone hand in hand. And we’ve often seen success in one country inspire progress by a neighbor.

The Obama administration has supported this region’s progress in many ways, such as increasing our direct engagement with ASEAN, which we see as a pillar of the international order. [The President] decided to join the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. He appointed our first – and now our second — U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN. And he, year after year, has personally and actively participated in the East Asia Summit.

The U.S. strongly supports building up that summit – the EAS- as the premier forum for allowing leaders to address regional political and security issues, and that includes challenges like the disputes in the South China Sea. And we also strongly support the ASEAN Economic community that is set to launch at the end of this year as well.

We support, have hosted, and actively participate in APEC which is the economic pillar of the Asia-Pacific region. And APEC has done a lot to further the recovery from the global financial crisis, to empower women economically, and to ensure that growth is inclusive, that its benefits are helping people out of poverty and helping to grow the middle class throughout the region.

And in APEC this year in Manila, we intend to explore how we can help expand the practice of Corporate Social Responsibility to promote more inclusive economic growth.

Now, the oldest, the most venerable pillars of the regional order are our alliances, including our alliance between the United States and the Kingdom of Thailand, and the United States and the Republic of the Philippines. That’s true for Australia, it’s true for Japan, and it’s true for the Republic of Korea. This system of alliances and security partnerships is not a legacy of the 20th century. It is an investment in the 21st century. It is essential. And that’s true for a number of reasons.

Number one – our alliance system is the backbone of cooperation in the region and around the globe. And it stands for the rule of law when it’s challenged — and that applies for example to problematic actions to unilaterally change the status quo in the South China Sea. We work regularly with our allies to make sure that our forces can operate together in a crisis at a moment’s notice.

And America’s enduring 182-year and counting close relationship with Thailand is no exception. In fact, together we’ve addressed humanitarian crises, together we’ve responded to natural disasters, we’ve combatted piracy, advanced public health, protected refugees, collaborated on counter-terrorism and law enforcement efforts to fight threats to international security. This cooperation is important to both of us, the region, and the world, and it will continue.

But our relationship with Thailand is defined by more than the number of years that we’ve been allies, or even more than our common interests or our aspirations. Our friendship, founded so long ago, has been constantly refreshed over time — by Prince Mahidol’s time in the U.S. studying at Harvard; by the birth of His Majesty the King in Massachusetts; by His Majesty’s significant contributions to American culture, by many many connections.

Our broad, enduring friendship is refreshed year in and year out by the thousands of Thai students who come to study in the United States every year, and I hope you will soon be among them. Similarly by the many Americans who come to Thailand to study here. So for over two centuries, Americans have lived in and contributed to Thailand in various ways just as the Thai have done in America.

We stood as partners in WWI, supporting democratic ideals during the conflict in Indochina. We fought the scourge of terrorism as partners for decades and continue to do so today in facing the new and virulent threat of radical jihadism. And we’ve been partners to bringing stability and prosperity to the people of Thailand and more broadly, the region.

For over half a century, the Peace Corps and USAID workers have helped with teaching, helped with rural development. And our health care workers and scientists have collaborated on research to combat malaria and HIV/AIDS. Our law enforcement officers tackle trafficking in persons, narcotics; trafficking in wildlife. And this will continue.

We’ve also enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial economic and trading relationship. The United States is Thailand’s third largest trading partner. American companies are major investors in Thailand, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs here, bringing leading technologies, bringing high standards, and I think that the experience of these U.S. companies shows that it’s not just the quantity of trade and investment that’s important — although the quantity matters — it’s the quality.

Doing business with America means more training and more skilled development for Thai workers. It means better labor and environmental standards that promote growth. It means an engagement that is helping Thailand to escape the middle income trap and to improve the lives of regular people.

And I particularly want to pick up on Professor Thitinan’s reference to a way in which we are planting the seeds for the future, investing in the future of our relationship today, which is the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative — YSEALI, definitely not silly. Now I understand – am I right in thinking there are some YSEALI members in the audience today? Let me see. (Pause.) Alright, welcome, welcome. Well, I’m a fan. Good for you.

I hope that the numbers will expand and that pretty soon all the students will be raising their hands. Because not only is YSEALI a project that President Obama has personally invested a great deal of priority to… as somebody who, himself, was a young person in Southeast Asia for a few years himself, he feels a very powerful connection. He’s a believer in this program. I’ve been with him repeatedly in Southeast Asia when he’s hosted town hall meetings with YSEALI members here in the region, including some Thai students who asked him questions — tough questions.

And we’ve brought YSEALI members to the United States as well, and we do so on a regular basis. It’s one way that we’re engaging with young leaders and helping you to engage with each other and to engage across national borders within the ten ASEAN countries, to help promote an ASEAN identity. With your help, YSEALI is creating a cadre of young leaders here that work in partnership with each other and the United States to tackle the challenges that you have identified as important, things that matter to you and that you see as challenges: economic development, environmental protection, education, civic engagement.

I’ve been impressed and I know that President Obama has been tremendously impressed by the quality of the people, of you, of YSEALI members and it’s great to be able to interact with you and I strongly support what you’re doing.

Now more broadly, beyond the students and beyond YSEALI, I know that this is a thoughtful group and you follow the news and you’re interested in bilateral relations. So while I’ve spoken at some length about what defines our partnership, both historically and prospectively, I also need to say something about the political developments here in Thailand and the impact that has on U.S.-Thai relations over the course of the past year.

The fact is, and it’s unfortunate, but our relationship with Thailand has been challenged by the military coup that removed a democratically-elected government eight months ago. This morning, I had a chance to sit down and hold discussions with first, former Prime Minister Yingluck, then former Prime Minister Abhisit, and then with the interim Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister Tanasak.

And in each case, I’ve discussed the current political situation in Thailand with each of them. And all sides have spoken about the importance of reconciliation and their commitment to work to achieve Thailand’s democratic future.

Now I understand this is an extremely sensitive issue, and I bring it up with all humility and great respect for the Kingdom of Thailand and for the Thai people.

The United States does not take sides in Thai politics. We believe it is for the Thai people to determine the legitimacy of their political and legal processes. But we are concerned about the significant restraints on freedoms since the coup, including restrictions on speech and on assembly, and I’ve been very straightforward about these concerns.

We’re also particularly concerned that the political process doesn’t seem to represent all elements of Thai society. Now I want to repeat, we’re not attempting to dictate the political path that Thailand should follow to get back to democracy or take sides in Thai politics. But an inclusive process promotes political reconciliation, which in turn is key to long-term stability. That’s where our interests lie. The alternative — a narrow, restricted process — carries the risk of leaving many Thai citizens feeling that they’ve been excluded from the political process.

That’s the reason why we continue to advocate for a broader and more inclusive political process that allows all sectors of society to feel represented, to feel that their voices are being heard. I’d add that the perception of fairness is also extremely important and although this is being pretty blunt, when an elected leader is removed from office, is deposed, then impeached by the authorities — the same authorities that conducted the coup — and then when a political leader is targeted with criminal charges at a time when the basic democratic processes and institutions in the country are interrupted, the international community is going to be left with the impression that these steps could in fact be politically driven.

And that’s why we hope to see a process that reinforces the confidence of the Thai people in their government and their judicial institutions and builds confidence internationally that Thailand is moving towards stable and participatory democracy.

Ending martial law throughout the country and removing restrictions of speech and assembly – these would be important steps as part of a generally inclusive reform process that reflects the broad diversity of views within the country. And we hope that the results of that process will be stable democratic institutions that reflect and respond to the will of the Thai people.

So the message that I’m bringing to all of the people that I’m meeting with today and to you, to the Thai nation, is the same: for the United States, Thailand is a valued friend and important ally. Thailand is a country with whom we’ve got a long-standing history of broad cooperation on the range of issues that I’ve outlined, issues that are important not just to our two countries but to the region and to the globe.

We care deeply about this relationship.

We care deeply about our friendship with all the Thai people.

And we care deeply about Thailand’s prospects for success, and we wish you well.

Let me stop there, and with Professor Thitinan, let me try to respond to some of your questions. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Good afternoon Mr. Assistant Secretary. I am Wasit Bantong from Thammasat University and my question is, in your opinion, what are the skills needed in the 21st century for young people because in our generation I believe that we are going to face several challenges including climate changes and cyberterrorism and these kind of things. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well thank you. What I tell young students and officers who join the State Department and join the Foreign Service is that the number one most important attribute, the most important thing to have to succeed is passion. Now, you could argue that that’s not a skill. But what distinguishes people who are truly successful, I believe, is that they are doing something that they believe in, something that’s important, and something that they love. It is certainly my experience that people who have a passion get good at what they’re doing, and people who are good at what they’re doing have a lot of fun. Now, more specifically, I think that in Southeast Asia which is increasingly well-wired electronically thanks to the IT revolution, it goes without saying that the ability to master social media and high-tech platforms is essential. Language skills are a major asset, and of course English is very much the language of commerce and diplomacy. The United States has strongly supported English-language training programs throughout Southeast Asia. I think it gives students – young people in this region – competitive advantage to be functional in English. I also believe that gaining a perspective on one’s own country and own society comes most easily when you leave it. It was true for me – it’s true for many people – that you don’t necessarily understand or appreciate your own country and your own culture until you have seen it from a distance. And while I recognize that it can be expensive and it’s not always easy – even if you’re not going far – I see great value in having some experience living in another culture and seeing your own society through someone else’s eyes. Thanks.

QUESTION: Hi. Good afternoon. My name is Caitlin Stark-Bonmeyers (sp?), and I am visiting PhD student here at Chula from Purdue University and I’ve spent the last three years living in Asia Pacific, in Japan and now here, and as an America I get asked a lot of questions about American foreign policy and politics and things like that. When you live abroad you’re kind of the representative of your country. And a question we get asked a lot is, Why…(pause). So you talk a lot about bringing democracy to other countries, and a lot of people think that for some countries, democracy isn’t right for everyone. So I don’t have the answer when people ask me that and I was wondering what your take is.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you. If everyone heard, the question is what makes America so sure that democracy is right for everyone. Well, first of all, there’s a wonderful and famous saying attributed to Winston Churchill that goes something like — “Democracy is the worst system of government, except for all the others.”

Boiled down to its essence, although there are many forms of democratic government and there will always be debates about the extent to which elections mean democracy, you can’t go anywhere on Earth and show me a citizen of a country who says “my voice doesn’t matter”, “I don’t care about the future of my family, or my village, or my town, or my county, or my country”. Everyone — every citizen — has a voice and those voices should be heard. Now, there has to be compromise and there has to be order and law. But democracy and the rule of law go hand in hand.

There’s another saying that “Power corrupts.” And the great strength in my view of democracy is that it forces societies or allows societies to build institutions — institutions that will regulate the behavior of citizens according to compromise, not according to absolute principles. Abraham Lincoln was famous for saying in the heat of the Civil War that we should dedicate ourselves to government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Democracy is imperfect, but it gives a voice to all of its citizens. It builds institutions that defend the weak, and it has a resilience and a self-correcting mechanism to it that allows the voters to decide that they’ve had enough, to make their views known, and to take a different tack when there is consensus among the majority. That would be my answer. Thank you.

QUESTION: My name is Nor Fahm and I work for the BBC. Last week at the dialogue in Manila, you and the Philippine counterpart said a lot about the South China Sea, and after that the Chinese spokeswoman said that the third party countries should not get involved and should not instigate tension in the Sea. What is your reply to that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, I have regular and very constructive dialogues with my Chinese counterparts as does, of course, Secretary Kerry and as does President Obama. And we have been clear and consistent in conveying to the Chinese the area where we are neutral, and the areas where we take a position with regard to territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The United States isn’t taking one country’s side against another when it comes to the matter of how the dispute over sovereignty will ultimately be resolved. We fully agree that that is an issue that should be resolved among the claimants themselves. But we believe strongly that it should be resolved peacefully and through diplomatic means. Where we do take positions, however, is on matters of international law and international rights such as freedom of navigation, freedom of overflight, the right to unimpeded commerce.

We oppose unilateral actions that aim to advance a claim by changing the status quo or coercing or threatening another country or claimant. That’s a principle that the United States will always support, and I believe that Thailand and other countries in the region support and value that same principle.

So our encouragement of the parties to exercise self-restraint, to apply the golden rule of not doing things to each other that they don’t want done to them, our advocacy of the principle that universal principles and law apply equally to big countries and to small, and our push for constructive, peaceful management of disputes is by no means interference. That is part of our contribution to the stability and the security of the Asia-Pacific region that, among other things, has been instrumental in China’s extraordinary growth.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. My name is Boontida, I am a fourth year student from Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, majoring in International Relations. In our studies, we have been reading a lot about the retreat of democracy and the upsurge of the authoritarian rule. So in our region here, it is a mix between the two. We have more or less democracy, or even none at all. So I would like to ask your opinion about the outlook of democratization in Southeast Asia, with special reference to Thailand and Myanmar.

QUESTION: A privilege [to be here] because I was alumni of Chula too. My question is about Thailand. You have been talking about the “un-necessity” of martial law. You have been talking about compromise and the rule of law. And I guess that you also talked to Foreign Minister this morning too. So I would like to hear how he responded to these issues. And how do you measure so far, from left to right, where we are standing now? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well let me start with the specific question and then go more broadly to the issue of the advance and retreat of democracy in Southeast Asia. I will leave it for the Deputy Prime Minister/Interim Foreign Minister to speak for himself. It’s a well-established diplomatic principle that one does not either disclose details of a diplomatic conversation, but certainly one does not speak for the other side.

I have no hesitation, though, in telling you that I think that I got a serious hearing. I came to Thailand on behalf of my government, both to listen — listen to the government, listen to the political leaders, listen to civil society, and listen to you — but also to convey our views and our hopes for Thailand. And I said to the Foreign Minister as I have said to the political leaders and to you today in the speech that the United States has a huge interest in Thailand’s success.

A strong, economically thriving, influential, politically-stable Thailand is an essential element of a thriving and growing region. We believe that the curtailment of civil rights, the restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, don’t in the long run contribute to stability.

We believe that taking steps soon to end martial law, to allow for legitimate and peaceful voicing of views, and to promote an inclusive process in which all sectors of society feel that they have had a hearing, will generate institutions and outcomes in which all members of society, all sectors of society believe that they have a stake.

And it’s important for all citizens to have a stake in the political process and for them to have respect and trust in the political and the judicial institutions. Now that brings me to the broader question. There is no on and off switch that takes you to democracy in one step.

Democracy is about allowing the citizens actively to participate in shaping the decisions and the future of their own country. It’s a tough job and all of us are constantly seeking to refine and improve our systems. No system is perfect, certainly not the system we have in the United States. But the push for democracy, the push for justice, the push for accountability, the push for equality doesn’t come out of a textbook. It comes out of people’s hearts. It comes out of people’s belief and conviction that they can create a better life and a better system for their families and for their children.

I believe that the push for justice and for democracy is inexorable, that it is unstoppable. There are obstacles, there are setbacks, but that fundamental quest for opportunity and that fundamental sense of justice is universal, not an American value, not an Asian value.

Now in the case of Myanmar, after 40+ years of authoritarian rule, we have seen an extraordinary process of economic and political reform. It’s been dramatic and it’s been difficult. There are still significant challenges ahead. But I don’t believe that the citizens of Myanmar, who have experienced access to communications, who have found new opportunities, who have been able to voice and make common cause with like-minded neighbors and friends, I don’t think they are willing to go backwards. I don’t think that they want to retreat, and it is both an opportunity and a responsibility for the international community, for Myanmar’s neighbors, and for partners like the United States to help them to succeed.

QUESTION: I believe that General Tanasak has briefed you on measures taken by the government to fight human trafficking so I’d like to know if you could assess these measures and hear your recommendations as well. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much Daniel Russel. I have two questions. Can you tell me, apart from Cobra Gold, what are the new activities you plan for Thai and U.S. Secondly, when the new Ambassador is coming to Bangkok? Thank you.

QUESTION: About this time last year, your Ambassador in Myanmar said that there was a target to delist at least one person from the sanctions list in Myanmar. One year on, there has been no progress along that. Is that an administrative issue, or does that reflect a change in policy towards Myanmar due to the violence in Rakhine State? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I’m here as I said to listen and to communicate. The United States uses our Embassy to do the same thing on a day to day basis. That diplomatic engagement is critically important for us, particularly in an important country like Thailand. Now we’re blessed to have a very distinguished Chargé d’affaires Patrick Murphy and a really first-class Embassy team. Trust me that there are a lot of officers who beg to be posted to Bangkok.

It’s also not unusual to have a gap of a few months in our system between the departure of the U.S. Ambassador and the arrival of his or her successor. We are working and know that the White House, when they can, will announce the appointment of a new Ambassador to the Kingdom of Thailand in order to continue our work.

On that regard, with respect to trafficking in persons, this is one of the many areas including law enforcement, counterterrorism, global health, trade and investment and so on where important work continues at the working level, at technical levels, because this is very much in the best interest of both countries and essential to the region. The scourge, the tragedy of human trafficking is one that cannot be ignored.

We are mindful of and appreciative of the commitments and the pledges made by the interim government with respect to trafficking — that includes the sexual trafficking of women, trafficking of labor in industry, etc. What we are seeking to do is to, in partnership, generate more measurable progress and real results. This is a topic of ongoing conversation between us in an area where we think it’s important to achieve further progress.

Cobra Gold is a regional, multi-national exercise involving not only the U.S. and Thailand but many of our important neighbors including now India, including China, and it is this year re-calibrated and scaled appropriately in the wake of the political events here. But it is proceeding and it is focused on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, which are top priorities for all of us. I don’t have anything further to announce in terms of U.S.-Thailand events or programs.

And lastly on the issue of U.S. sanctions in Myanmar, whether it is in Myanmar or elsewhere in the world, the sanctions and including the SDN — the Special Designated Nationals list — that identifies individuals who stand in violation of important laws, we add people when the information presents itself and we remove people from the list when we are able to document behavior that warrants it.

We believe that showing how to get off the list, what kind of behavior constitutes a path to redemption, is a very powerful and positive device in encouraging reform in Myanmar as well as elsewhere. And so we’re committed to the principle of delisting — it’s a matter of making an assessment and having the appropriate authorities concur with that judgment.

QUESTION: Good afternoon Mr. Russel. I am Patriya from Chulalongkorn University. I’m studying fourth year student, political science. Over the last few years, we have been hearing about the U.S. engagement in Asia. But recently, with much going on around the world and the U.S. involvement in, for example, in the Ukraine and in the Middle East. So is the U.S. still committed to its pivot to Asia and rebalance policies? Is it still on? Can you convince us?

QUESTION: I actually been studying in the United States for my undergraduate degree. One of the things I experienced is that people with disabilities actually get more chances at education and as well at equality. There is not much here. So do you think is it possible for the United States to have engagement on that? Because as you said in your speech, there is actually a lot of things you do to actually improve the lives of people. But you have never mentioned about people with disabilities. Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you very much, great question. Let me start there. First of all, sharing our experiences and encouraging progress on civic programs, for example, to assist and to fight discrimination against people with disabilities, or for that matter, discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, or for that matter on the basis of gender, is a top priority for the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, as it is elsewhere. And the State Department is active, as is the White House.

We have a special envoy on disabilities. We have a special envoy on women’s empowerment. And these are programs that are integrated in our diplomatic efforts. I don’t want to sound just like a cheerleader for democracy, but the fact of the matter is that the reason that the U.S. government spends time, energy, and money in promoting these programs, in raising awareness, in sharing our know-how and expertise, and encouraging the development of good programs worldwide is because it’s important to our citizens.

This has been a grassroots movement and it’s a place where government has been responsive to what people want and what people care about. And as I said earlier, what people want is a fair chance. People want an opportunity. People want respect. People want justice. And according opportunities and justice to people that are different than us, people with disabilities, people from ethnic minorities, women, or LGBT folks, is not only worthwhile but an important objective.

More broadly with regard to the engagement in the Asia-Pacific by the United States against the backdrop of tremendous challenges and crises, not only in the Middle East where they are pretty formidable, but also in Africa, for example, which is facing terrible threats from Boko Haram and fundamentalist groups on the one hand, and infectious disease like Ebola on the other. The pursuit of our interests as the United States forces us to deal with these crises. We have no choice. That’s why Secretary Kerry has just gone to the Middle East and gone to Africa. That’s why President Obama is on his way soon to Saudi Arabia.

But what keeps us engaged in Asia — and I think that the simplest and clearest answer to whether you can believe in our continued engagement — is the fact that it is in America’s national interest. The East Asia region is the most dynamic, economically-thriving part of the world. We want to be part of it. We are part of it. The demographics, the youth figures, and the growth of the middle class in Southeast Asia is extraordinary.

We want to get to know you. We want to work with you. We want to study with you. We want to trade with you. This is essential to our economic security as well as our broader security interests. So it’s not because America is generous. It’s not as a passing fancy. It’s not because we’re afraid of China. It’s because America is a Pacific nation whose economic and security interests are so closely tied with your future and your decisions that we need to be part of your life.

And I would say that if you look at the number of times that President Obama has visited Asia, that Vice President Biden has visited Asia, that Secretary Kerry has visited Asia, you would see the evidence of how high a priority the U.S. government places on our relationships throughout this region. Thank you.

East Asia and the Pacific: Interview With Nattha Komolvadhin of Program: “Tob Jote”

Date: 01/26/2015 Description: Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel's Interview With Nattha Komolvadhin of Program: ''Tob Jote'' - State Dept Image

Introduction (Thai)

Eight months after the May 22, 2014 coup in Thailand, reactions have come from western countries such as the U.S. and EU that have degraded diplomatic and military relationships in Thailand. But today, eight months after the coup, a senior diplomat from the U.S., Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel, is visiting Thailand. What would this mean to Thai-U.S. relations, as well as regional stability and the Thai-U.S. alliance in its 182nd anniversary? Tonight on Tob Jote, I’ll be talking with Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel.

(end Thai)

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel, thank you for joining me.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Thank you very much for having me, Khun Nattha.

QUESTION: Before we are moving forward to see the current situation and future situation between Thailand and U.S. relations, I just want to bring you back to our recent past of the past eight months. You were here in Thailand last year in April. Then 44 days later it was the coup on 22nd of May last year. Were you disappointed that the coup happened?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, without a doubt the coup was a setback to U.S.-Thai relations but let’s remember that we have a very rich and deep history of more than 180 years and we have a very rich and important future. The U.S. and Thailand cooperate on a broad range of issues that are really important to each of us, to the region, to the world. Whether it’s law-enforcement or counterterrorism or whether it’s economic development, trade, and investment. It’s science and technology, it’s regional security, it’s education. These are big and important agendas for each of us. That hasn’t ended although, of course, we have made adjustments and the coup in May had an impact on our relationship.

QUESTION: But the press statement by Secretary John Kerry was very strong in condemning Thailand after the coup. Did you try to stop him because you came and saw the situation in Thailand or did you support him to issue that statement?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, this is the way that I hope you and Thai people will look at it. America is your friend. I’m here as a friend. Secretary Kerry spoke as a friend. And when you think about it, it’s really your friends who will tell you honestly what they think and what they see as your real interests. Part of the reason that Secretary Kerry sent me here is to make sure that we are communicating directly and openly. We have a wonderful embassy here led by a great Chargé d’affaires but it’s also important for the leadership, for the political parties, for civil society to hear directly from a Washington official and to be able to speak and know that they are being given a full hearing directly by Washington. That’s my mission.

QUESTION: Given that Thailand is still under martial law and we are still moving toward roadmap for the next election, but to have you here even though under martial law, does it mean the situation between Thailand and the U.S. is getting better?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, what will ultimately allow the U.S.-Thai relationship to reach its full potential will be the restoration of a credible, democratically-elected civilian government. And part of what concerns us and one of the main messages that I brought to all of my meetings, to both of the political parties; to the government; to civil society. Is that only an inclusive process, a process that allows each segment, not just a few, but each segment of Thai society to feel that their voice is being heard and that they have a role to play in designing the new constitution or the next government. Only an inclusive process will lead to long-term stability and long-term stability is important not just to Thailand but it’s very important to the United States because Thailand is such an important ally and partner.

QUESTION: You came to talk with different parties. Talking to former Prime Minister Khun Yingluck Shinawatra, Khun Abhisit Vejjajiva, and current Foreign Minister General Tanasak Patimapragorn. What’s the view that you’ve got from talking to at least three parties?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Well, I’d also add that I’ve talked more broadly than that to a number of representatives of civil society and academia, etc. Making sure that we have a balanced picture of views because what’s on the minds of the Thai people matters a lot to us. There’s no doubt that all of the people that I met love their country. I think that there is a common theme, an understanding, that there should be peace and there should be reconciliation although there may be different views about what exactly reconciliation looks like and how to get there. I think that the importance that all of the people that you mention place on their friendship and partnership with the United States and the good opinion of the international community gives me confidence that our messages are being heard. I believe that I got a very fair and open hearing from former Prime Ministers Yingluck and Abhisit as well from Foreign Minister Tanasak. And that dialogue, that exchange of views, is, I think, one of the things that can contribute to improvement in the situation. As the situation improves so too will the U.S.-Thai relationship increasingly normalize.

QUESTION: You told me after discussion with different parties everyone seems to have the idea of moving toward reconciliation but still have different views. How do you think they can reconcile or move towards reconciliations and to move towards inclusive process like what the U.S. would like to see? Do you think it would be probable?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Different parties have different roles. Right now I would offer that there is a key role to be played by the government in creating more political space that will allow not only the political parties but the different parts of Thai society more freely to express their views and to participate actively in the discussion about what kind of government is best here in Thailand. I was very direct and very candid in my discussions with the Foreign Minister about our concerns regarding the continuation of martial law. I was very direct and very open about the importance that we place on inclusivity, on inclusive political process. And I was also very direct in sharing our concerns that the restrictions on freedoms, and these are universal freedoms, like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and so on. That those restrictions in the long term work against the best interests of stability in Thailand. They are certainly problematic in terms of Thailand’s international reputation and Thailand’s international influence.

QUESTION: You raised the issue of your concern on martial law. Do you have a timeframe in mind for how long you can think of the U.S. can tolerate the situation of martial law in Thailand?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: The way to think about this issue, I think, is holistically. So clearly the sooner that democratic and civil rights are restored to a broad spectrum of Thai citizens, the better. Timing matters, the timing of elections matter, but timing is only one aspect. The inclusive nature of the dialogue is another. Adherence to universal principles, international principles, is yet another. So the key thing, I believe, is for all Thai citizens to be allowed to give voice to their beliefs and to their hopes in a constructive way because I think that you want all Thai citizens to feel that they have a stake in the process. If people are presented with a fait accompli, something that they don’t feel reflected their views in a…and certainly in a democratic system there will be problems.

QUESTION: If the timeframe is not the issue it means that the roadmap of the current government to have elections, perhaps early next year, is still bearable?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: The timeframe is certainly, timing is certainly one issue. My observation is that the longer that martial law remains in force, and the longer that it takes for the inclusive dialogue to occur, the longer that it takes for a constitution draft to be developed that reflects the views of not just one segment of society, but the broad-spectrum of society. And the longer it takes to get to elections, the harder it is for Thailand to convince the international community that this story will have a good ending. That the government is, in fact, committed to the full restoration of democracy. I worry about the impact on the Thai economy, which is significant. 2015 is a hugely important year partly because of the ASEAN Economic Community but also because the TPP, the Transpacific Partnership Agreement, will be concluded this year and it represents 40% of global GDP. Thailand is not now a member of the TPP negotiating process, but Thailand’s neighbors are. Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei. And when that TPP free market opens, the competition will increase not decrease. My point is: the world is changing. There are many, many challenges that mean that the US and Thailand should be cooperating more actively, not less. So, the sooner that these steps are taken, the better.

QUESTION: What’s the answer you got from Foreign Minister in order to keep martial law? He must be telling you that to keep peace and order in Thailand is still very essential at this moment.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: There’s a long-standing principle of diplomacy that you don’t read out to the press what the other person said in a confidential diplomatic meeting so I will leave it to your Foreign Minister and to Foreign Minister Thanasak to decide what he wants to say about his message. However, I feel that he listened very carefully to me. I tried to be respectful but clear and direct in conveying Washington’s views and concerns. I thought I got a very respectful hearing. Secondly, let me say that maintaining peace and order in a country is, of course, the responsibility of any government but it very seldom requires recourse to martial law or to tough measures. As a friend of Thailand, I believe that the sooner that martial law is lifted…the sooner that democratic space and civil rights are restored, the faster the healing process, the smoother the reconciliation process. That’s my heartfelt advice from a friend.

QUESTION: But personally how do you see the situation has changed from previous trips that you were here before the coup and right now? Do you feel that the atmosphere is moving toward reconciliation? What do you make of the situation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: In April when I came I urged dialogue among the parties. I still think that it’s important to have dialogue, but frankly the dialogue today that will do the most good is a dialogue among the people of Thailand; among the citizens and the voters, not only the adherents of one party or another. And not only between the party leaders, but a dialogue within the society to really come to terms with what it is that Thailand seeks to achieve in political stability.

QUESTION: In terms of timing, people must be wondering whether you come at this juncture is like to show support to former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra because just last week she was impeached on corruption charges on rice pledging scheme. What do you see the situation that people raise this concern that perhaps you are showing support to former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I came here to show support for the people and the Kingdom of Thailand, not for any political party or for any political actor. My trip was planned and confirmed, my meetings were arranged long before the decision on former Prime Minister Yingluck. The impeachment only occurred a few days ago. I’ve been on the road for almost a week, so it’s definitely mistaken to suggest that the impeachment is behind my visit here. It’s equally mistaken to suggest that the U.S. supports any political actor or any political party. We have a long, long history that offers abundant evidence of our commitment not to a party but to the people and to the Kingdom.

QUESTION: But what is your concern of the judicial process under this government toward former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: The way that I would put it, taking a step back, is this: In a modern society like Thailand, it’s critically important that the people, the citizens, have faith in their judicial and political institutions. It’s important that people believe that the decisions that are taking place in those institutions are objective and are without political agendas. From an international point of view there are clearly questions raised in this action but the opinion that matters in the long run will be the opinion of the Thai people and the opinion of the Thai citizens. My hope is that there will be a process of inclusion. That doesn’t mean that it will favor the party of former Prime Minister Yingluck or for that matter Khun Abhisit, but an inclusive process that allows everyone to say “Even if I didn’t get my way, I got my chance to have my voice heard.”

QUESTION: But did you not see the issue that the former Prime Minister has to go through judicial process and being impeached that was because corruption charges or corruption actions which were inspected by National Commission on Corruption in Thailand, which has shown evidence.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: My purpose here today is not to critique the pros and cons of a particular decision, let alone the impeachment proceedings. It’s to make the broader point: As long as there is a major segment of Thai society that feels utterly excluded, that feels that the treatment that they and their representatives receive is unfair, whether that’s justified or not, there will be a division in Thai society and Thai politics. That is not a recipe for the kind of long-term stability that will help the Thai economy grow. That will help Thai students succeed. And that will allow the government to focus on the things that it should be focusing on. Right now the people in authority are concentrating on internal political challenges. The world is presenting Thailand and the United States with global challenges; with challenges from infectious diseases; from natural disasters and climate change; the challenge of economic competition and the IT revolution; the challenge of instability and tensions in the South China Sea and in the region; the challenge of making ASEAN into an effective and unified institution in the region. These are the things that we should be working on.

QUESTION: Let me carry on some questions on U.S.-Thailand relations before East Asia affairs. Is it the form of punishment on Thailand that the US hasn’t appointed a new Ambassador to Thailand since Ambassador Kenney left Thailand in November of last year or because the U.S. doesn’t have a top diplomat who has expertise on Thailand? What’s the situation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: Both of those suggested answers are completely wrong. The United States is not in the business of punishing friends and allies, let alone Thailand. The United States has a deep bench of immensely qualified diplomats and it’s by no means unusual for there to be a gap between the departure of one Ambassador and the arrival of another. We will, as soon as the White House makes an announcement, be proud to send a distinguished man or woman to represent the United States in Thailand. We’re very proud not only of our former Ambassador but also of the current chargé and really outstanding team in Bangkok. In addition to their work, my visit here is to insure sure that we maintain good lines of communication.

QUESTION: And with Cobra Gold joint military exercise, after the U.S. has suspended military assistance for 4.7 million dollars but still Cobra Gold is still going on. What do you see is the form of closer cooperation as the military exercise was scaled down?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: As you point out, in the aftermath of the coup, we scaled down and refocused the Cobra Gold exercise. But let’s remember that not only have we conducted this exercise for over 30 years, it’s a multinational exercise that includes something on the order of 30 countries. It’s not only the U.S. and Thailand. Moreover, this year we are welcoming India’s participation for the first time. So what we think is appropriate in terms of our focus in Cobra Gold and certainly an important area for cooperation between our two militaries is humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. Whether it is super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or the tragic typhoons and tsunami that Thailand and your neighbors have experienced, the fact of the matter is that global weather patterns are changing and creating huge strains and challenges in the region. Ensuring that we have the ability to move quickly together to coordinate in a crisis is exactly what the U.S., the Philippines, and our partners, should be doing and that’s what Cobra Gold seeks to exercise.

QUESTION: On the TIP report, trafficking in persons report, last year Thailand was downgraded to Tier III. What’s the situation this year? Do you think, because the government has to submit a revision report, what will be the possibility of a new revision of the U.S. on Thailand?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: I’ve followed closely the statements by the government regarding trafficking. I think I’m hearing and seeing a political commitment to take this challenge, and it’s a global challenge, it’s something that threatens all of us and it’s a problem that we all have. I think I’m seeing a commitment to take this challenge seriously. But I’m also monitoring very closely the actual results, the actual facts on the ground. And there I have to say that I’m still looking for measurable progress. We both need to see progress in arrests; arrests of traffickers, not of trafficked individuals. I think it’s important to see more prosecutions. It’s important that action be taken against police or other officials who are not doing their duty or who are, in fact, abetting and aiding trafficking. Whether the issue is trafficking in industries like the seafood industry, which has very negative implications for an important economic sector in Thailand or whether it’s the horrific trafficking of women for sexual purposes, which is a terrible human rights violation and also undermines the empowerment and development of women within the Kingdom. Whatever kind of trafficking we’re looking at, the important thing is showing real results not just pledging to do a better job.

QUESTION: On East Asia affairs, you see growing military friction on China, South Korea, Japan. Do you think it’s…what’s the concern of the US on East China Sea?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: On the East China Sea? In November in Beijing during APEC, Prime Minister Abe of Japan and President Xi Jinping of China announced an agreement, a four point agreement, that represents a significant political step forward both in their relationship and their approach to the differences in the East China Sea. Now, it’s true that we haven’t seen a change for the better in terms of the behavior and the activity of Chinese vessels that are increasingly pushing into territory that has been, and is, administered by Japan. But at least there is a meaningful dialogue underway between Japan and China. And they have managed to reach an agreement as well as some practical steps on the military to military side. In the South China Sea, however, we see problematic behavior but there hasn’t been the conclusion of a binding code of conduct between China and ASEAN, even though they committed to do that twelve years ago. And they’ve been working very intensely over the last few years. Now, Thailand has a special role has a special role to play. Like the United States, Thailand is not a claimant country. Like the United States, Thailand has very close relations, of course, with the ASEAN claimants but also with China. But unlike the United States, Thailand is the country coordinator for China and in that respect it is our hope that Thai diplomacy and ASEAN unity will bring about agreement on the Chinese side, finally, to come to an agreement on a code of conduct.

QUESTION: And let me bring you to the last question. Do you see China’s power on sea control in this region as a threat to the U.S.? Growing capability of China of sea control?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: There are two ways of looking at this issue. One is simply as a matter of maritime power. The United States has by far the most capable military and the most capable navy in the entire world. And we have close security cooperation with our allies. And now our partners. The right way to look at the issue is one of universal principles and international law. There is no reason why it should matter how big one navy is versus another country’s navy. That should not be the issue. The issue should be this – the Asia-Pacific region is the economic driver of global growth. What has made this region prosperous has been stability and adherence to the rule of law. The principle that it isn’t big versus small, it’s all of us playing by the same rules. The recipe for stability and increased growth in the Asia-Pacific region is for each country to respect international law; to respect the rights of their neighbors, and to accept the principle of self-restraint.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel, thank you very much for joining me. (Thai) Khap khan ka.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY RUSSEL: It’s my pleasure and thank you very much Khun Natcha.

Closing (Thai)

And these are the reflections of U.S. senior diplomat Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel during his visit to Thailand eight months after the coup on the stance of the U.S. government towards the situation in Thailand and the Asia-Pacific region. That’s all Tob Jote for tonight. Sawaddee ka.