- The Washington Times - Monday, May 28, 2007

What a longtime friend and ally of the United States needs is a hand up, as it tries to regain its health. Thailand will soon celebrate 175 years of cordial relations with the U.S., a record perhaps unrivaled by any other nation.

Today we are a partner in the worldwide fight against terrorism. We have strong trade ties, both export and import. U.S. businesses invest profitably in Thailand. We support each other militarily. Thailand is a favorite travel destination for millions of Americans.

Yet recently the Kingdom of Thailand has received criticism, much of it unwarranted, from some individuals and lobbies trying to influence the policy direction of U.S. government agencies toward Thailand.

This has largely followed the military intervention of 2006, and ignores the necessary adjustments of our government since then, as we work to return to free elections and democratic institutions, for which a clear timetable had been announced and is conscientiously followed. This was a short-term military intervention to break through a dangerous political stalemate in Thailand, and our political process and development now continue at a rapid pace.

Many of the attacks on Thailand stem from our government’s decision, acknowledged as legitimate, to seek affordable prices for lifesaving drugs against HIV/AIDS and another major disease. Some of these attacks are bizarre, as in one advertisement that took a joke quite seriously and literally. It seems a Thai official had remarked, facetiously, that we should kidnap tourists for ransom to buy the drugs needed for our people’s health. One would think that, just as leading U.S. politicians occasionally make jokes that backfire, a critic would realize this is only a misguided attempt at humor. Yet, there in black and white, was the quite-serious allegation that Thailand’s government had threatened to kidnap tourists.

In fact, after initial disagreement, Thai officials and representatives of the leading drug companies sat down and made progress in resolving the dispute.

Other inaccurate information has been a distortion — why, we don’t know — of our government’s budget expenditures. We don’t, for example, spend more on defense than on education or health, as has been charged. The Thai government’s education budget ranks first in our country, more than $10 billion, or 22.7 percent of our expenditures. Our health-care budget is the second-largest item: $4.4 billion, or 9 percent of total expenditures. Defense is fifth or sixth at $3.4 billion, or 7.3 percent of the budget.

Thailand is well along the route promised for our return to democratic government. We have drafted a new Constitution that will be submitted to voters in a plebiscite. If for some reason it isn’t approved, we will work on another Constitution, and another, for we are committed to our historic democratic principles. Elections are pledged to be held by the end of this year, and we are committed to holding them.

The Thai government and the Thai people are strong supporters of the United States, not only in Asian affairs but in every international respect. There is a large diaspora of Thai-Americans in the United States. We continue to enjoy a high level of trade and investment. We welcome American visitors, a most important segment of our tourism and travel industry.

In turn, Thailand needs and wants the support of the United States as we move purposefully and speedily in our return to democratic government and institutions.

Such is the norm for Thailand, and we believe the people and government of the United States will now respond to Thailand, as always, with true understanding, interest, friendship, mutual respect and support. Our historic relationship has earned no less.

Krit Garnjana-Goonchorn is the ambassador of Thailand to the United States.

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