U.S. Policy Toward ASEAN
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
This afternoon we have with us Ambassador Scot Marciel who is the United States Ambassador to ASEAN. [The U.S.] was the first of the dialogue partners -- the United States was the first of the dialogue partners to name an ambassador. Ambassador Marciel is also our Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs just for Southeast Asian countries. He’s served quite a bit in the region. And he is here, as you can tell by both your flyer and the announcement behind me, to discuss U.S. relations [and] U.S. policy towards ASEAN in the current administration.
We also have with us - to bring an ASEAN/Thai perspective to the subject - Khun Kavi Chongkittavorn, who all of you I am sure know. Certainly anyone who has followed ASEAN has followed his writings, and [he is] quite a prolific writer on ASEAN and ASEAN affairs, regional affairs.
Recently Secretary of State Clinton visited Asia on her very first trip. And she visited Jakarta, a member of ASEAN, and she signified the U.S. interest - keen interest - in ASEAN by visiting the ASEAN Secretariat. I believe that’s the first U.S. Secretary of State ever to visit the ASEAN Secretariat. But I don’t have to tell you about this; Ambassador Marciel can because he was there for the visit. So I’d like to turn the floor over to Ambassador Marciel.
Ambassador Marciel: Thank you very much. You stole my best line already.
You have to forgive me if I lose track of days. This is country five for me in about seven or eight days.
Secretary Clinton was in Indonesia about eight days ago -- came out as part of her first foreign trip. And as she said, it was no accident that her first foreign trip was to Asia because we’ve got a lot of big problems in the world. And Asia is an indispensable partner for the United States in trying to address all of these problems. And she came to Southeast Asia because Southeast Asia also is an indispensable partner for the United States in trying to deal with the global financial crisis, climate change, and a range of other issues in the world.
She had a bilateral visit to Indonesia where of course she saw the President, the Foreign Minister, and also Indonesia’s very vibrant civil society. And she went to the ASEAN Secretariat, the first visit by a U.S. Secretary of State or U.S. Cabinet member to the ASEAN Secretariat where she saw Secretary-General Surin [and] had a good discussion.
She announced at that time that she would look forward to coming to Thailand in July for the ASEAN post-Ministerial meeting and ARF meeting. She also announced that she was beginning the U.S. interagency process for accession to the Treaty on Amity and Cooperation.
So it was a very positive start for the new administration in its relationship with Southeast Asia and with ASEAN.
The administration’s only been in office for a month, so not every detail of this or other policies has been worked out. It’s still somewhat a work in progress. But I want to emphasize a couple of points.
First, despite some criticism that in the past we have not paid enough attention to ASEAN, the fact is we’ve had a very longstanding and positive engagement with ASEAN for many years. And under the last administration, we developed the U.S.-ASEAN Enhanced Partnership. We moved forward in enhanced cooperation with ASEAN on a range of issues [and] increased assistance to ASEAN, including to the ASEAN Secretariat. We also, I think, overall significantly improved our bilateral relations with most ASEAN members -- certainly with Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia -- and while maintaining already good relations with our longstanding allies like Thailand, Philippines, and friends such as Singapore and Brunei, Malaysia.
Burma remained a little bit of a sore spot. I’ll touch on that in a minute.
So we’re not starting from zero with the new administration. But that said, it’s clear that President Obama and Secretary Clinton intend to engage very intensively throughout the world, including in Southeast Asia and including with ASEAN.
We’re looking to the ASEAN region to be a partner on a whole host of issues. We want to work together on climate change, economics, trade, education, health, and sort of traditional diplomacy and security issues. Again in many of these areas, we already have existing programs and existing cooperation, but the Obama administration wants to do more [and] wants to strengthen those ties.
The approach that Secretary Clinton took in Indonesia and throughout her trip was very much an approach of wanting to be a partner. Wanting to hear ideas. This is not the United States coming and saying this is what you need to do, ASEAN. This is the United States coming and saying there’s problems that we all face; there’s challenges; there’s also opportunities. We may have some ideas but we also know you have a lot of ideas. You have a lot of experience in this region and we want to work with you as good partners. And we want to reach out -- Secretary Clinton was very clear on this -- we want to reach out not only to government but to the people in the region. She made an effort to reach out, as I said, to civil society. [She] had a fascinating dinner conversation with Indonesian civil society members and took a walk on the streets of Jakarta where we have some projects in a certain neighborhood because she wants to interact with people.
Let me maybe last touch on the question of Burma which has, as I mentioned, been a less successful part of both ASEAN and our efforts in the region. Secretary Clinton announced that we would be doing a review of our policy in Burma.
I want to be clear that our goals and our objectives vis-à-vis Burma remain the same. We want to see a unified stable peaceful Burma that stops moving in the downward direction it has been in for so many years and moves in a positive direction with the rest of Southeast Asia. Specifically that the government release political prisoners, that it reach out to the opposition and begin a genuine dialogue so that the people of Burma can work with the existing government to try and form a better way ahead.
There’s a need for new economic policies because the economy’s in shambles. There’s a need for more spending and new policies on health and education. There’s a need to basically make people’s lives in Burma better, so that - among other things - you don’t have a continuing flow of refugees out of the country, but more importantly, so that the people of Burma who are very capable, very talented, and very patriotic can enjoy a country that’s moving ahead. So we’ll be exchanging ideas. I’ve been on this trip exchanging ideas with colleagues in the ASEAN community, and we’ll continue to do that -- about what we might do new or different to have greater success in our Burma policy.
I’ll stop there.
Ambassador Fitts: Thank you very much. That was short and sweet and good. It will leave plenty of time for questions.
Now if we can call on Khun Kavi to give a perspective from the ASEAN side.
Khun Kavi: Thank you very much, Robert. Thank you Scot for outlining the - I would say -fresh U.S. approach to Asia, particularly to ASEAN.
Certainly much on our mind is the U.S. attitude towards Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which I think Hillary Clinton has made clear that probably accession will happen soon. Now intergovernmental agencies are looking to it.
The second important issue is, of course, Burma. I think for the first time Burma has been given top priority in the sense that America will listen. Because I think throughout the past years the United States has very strong mind and very strong (inaudible), but as you have seen throughout the year by the sanctions. And one would argue that engagement has not yet produced the kinds of outcome that everybody would like to see. In fact one should point a finger to ASEAN since Burma is a member of this community.
I think this is a very interesting development. When the United States says it is reviewing Burma’s policy, it creates - a bit - disturbances in the ASEAN community because (inaudible) for good sense because they think that probably the United States will come up with a new policy only about sanctions. No, the answer is no. Because I think that America is very clever. By saying that we [will] open up for new ideas, we are at this time come here to listen. I think that is a very positive move. It’s rather [a] calculated move by the United States because in the end maybe the United States will never change its policies because you have Clintons, you have Obama which support one of the toughest legislations against Burma. So these are the same group of people.
But I would welcome a Clinton remark that if there is a new idea, that will push ahead this process. One of the things I think that would happen is that now that Scot becomes the ASEAN [Ambassador], he will have direct access in exchanging views with the top leaders of ASEAN --both sides, ASEAN and United States, and the rest of the international community, mainly [the] EU. You do not expect change from America without making sure that EU [is] also on the same page. [The] EU just issued a very strong statement [to] maintain sanctions under the chairmanship of Czech Republic. So you can see that this kind of hard line position will maintain in the foreseeable future unless there is some positive response from Rangoon in the next few weeks, particularly during this upcoming summit this weekend. Otherwise I think the review period will be just an hors d’oeurves that will not follow by [a] main dish.
I think it’s very important that the United States and ASEAN sit down [and] sort of exchange serious views on Burma because there is a new situation. Number one is the economic crisis that impacts on all of us, not to mention Burma. Secondly, the Nargis cyclone [and] the aftermath -- what you going to do -- whether to continue with the three year recovery program or to stop it. This is the issue that will be discussed this weekend. So far Burma has said we would welcome extension of aid without expansion of the [inaudible] Delta region.
So I think these are the issues that the United States and ASEAN can work together [on].
ASEAN has, surprisingly, has given a lot of credit to America for appointing Scot Marciel as the first ASEAN ambassador. Now there are 19 countries that have followed him, but nobody has been mentioned [by] name as much as yours so you should be pleased, because normally ASEAN would not do that.
So [there are] also other issues that come in between [the] U.S. and ASEAN. When you look at the new security architectures [and] how ASEAN would like to engage the United States -- this is a very important issue.
The fact that America has changed its attitude toward [the] Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, I would argue that it’s about 16 years too late. In 1992, when [the] ASEAN Foreign Ministers issued the invitation to the United States along with other members of United Nations Security Council to accede to this treaty, everybody said no. So I think this is very important step because America is the last country of UNSC that will accede to Treaty of Amity. [The] UK [is] already working on that.
It’s important because for the first time a major power has promptly accept[ed] regional codes of conduct, war on terror, that has increased incredibly the confidence of the ASEAN members. This I think is a passport for the United States to not only increase the confidence but expand its securities and political cooperation with ASEAN.
I think I would respond -- there are other issues maybe the audience would like to respond to his comment also. Thank you.
Ambassador Fitts: Thank you very much, Khun Kavi.
Now we have a very large and seemingly quite enthusiastic audience. We’re ready to go to the question and answer period. I’d like to ask you for two things. One, several people are recording and there will be transcripts made. So, if you would, use a microphone when you ask a question, so that becomes clear for the people that are recording the session. Secondly, with the understanding that what you say will be recorded and written down, give a tiny bit of thought to your question before you formulate it because I suspect there’s going to be an awful lot of questions. And maybe if they’re a little sharper and a little more focused it will be easier for us to get from subject to subject to subject.
With that, I’ll now open up for questions.
Question: My name is Mitchell Moffitt. I’m with CEO, International Police and Medical Advisors. U.S. citizen.
I have a question. I’d like to know if there are any future plans -- I see a lot of problems -- when America jumps into a situation, we tend to wait until it’s not necessarily too late, but in trouble. In the security problems, if we would just jump in a little sooner, especially in the ASEAN countries, for example Burma. Are there any plans to provide police assistance, police training such as that for Burma, for all the other ASEAN countries? I have a lot of love for Taiwan. I’m in Taiwan -- that’s where I’m speaking from. I help with the Royal Thai Police.
I see the America that sits back and waits for things to go too far. Look at a lot of the problems that we’re having around the world now, and if we would get in just a little bit sooner, provide education, provide training. We don’t need to hardball it; we just need to be there to help. I want to know if there are any plans for that throughout the ASEAN nations.
Ambassador Marciel: Thank you. In fact we do provide extensive assistance and training to a number of countries in ASEAN, including to police in a number of countries. We do not do that in Burma, nor do we plan to do that in Burma because of the extremely poor human rights record. We wouldn’t, I don’t think, have much confidence that that would be a useful thing to do.
But we do have, as I said, a lot of cooperation. We’re heavily engaged throughout the region and have been for many years.
I think the key is, for us, we need to balance a number of factors here. We want to be helpful. And if we have equipment or assistance, technical knowledge, what have you, that we can provide that’s helpful, that’s great. But we also have to remember that these are sovereign countries with sensitivities about extensive foreign involvement, particularly - in some cases - U.S. involvement. So each case is different. We have to balance.
I would point to, for example, Indonesia, where we have provided some assistance to the Indonesian police. But it’s the Indonesian authorities and the Indonesian police that have done a lot of work on police reform and some very successful work to capture and prosecute terrorists.
So it’s an example of where we can be helpful, but we need to be careful not to come in too heavy-handed.
Question: I’m with Voice of America.
I was wondering if you could tell us what the Obama administration would like to see at the upcoming ASEAN Summit in regards to Burma.
Ambassador Marciel: First, I guess I would stress that when we talk about ASEAN and wanting to work with ASEAN, it’s really up to the ASEAN members to decide what’s on their agenda and what they want to focus on.
What we have said to ASEAN members - and I think what we’ll continue to say - is that the situation in Burma is bad. It unfortunately has a negative impact not only on Burma but on the entire region and on ASEAN’s image. So what we hope is that ASEAN as an institution - and individual ASEAN members - will use whatever influence or contacts they have with the government in Burma to encourage progress -- to encourage certainly release of political prisoners and dialogue and broader openness and reform.
Again, we don’t want to be too prescriptive here because different governments in ASEAN, different countries have different connections, have different styles, and since, as we said earlier, none of us have been overly successful so far. I think we want to leave it up to ASEAN to decide the, sort of, right tone and the right approach. But we hope the substance of the message will be to highlight that ASEAN as a whole feels strongly that Burma has not responded to either ASEAN or international calls for dialogue and progress. And to continue to push and make it clear that this is a very high priority for ASEAN.
Question: (Inaudible) from (inaudible) Asia and Singapore.
Ambassador, Senator Clinton’s recent trip to Asia has caused a bit of consternation here in Thailand since Thailand was not on her itinerary. It has devolved into some local political football with the government and specifically the Prime Minister saying that she was visiting countries with the larger economies of Asia and the opposition saying that her non-attendance was because security couldn’t be guaranteed or else she disapproved or was displeased with the airport closures that took place last year.
I seek from you some kind of official clarification about this considering that it continues to be an issue in the newspapers and in the political discourse here in Thailand.
Ambassador Marciel: Whenever a Secretary of State travels there’s only a certain number of places you can visit on a trip, a one week trip. She decided to go to Indonesia not because of negatives in Thailand or anywhere else, but because we have a very big and important agenda in Indonesia and she thought it would be useful to go there. She also noted that that’s where the ASEAN Secretariat is, so she could send a signal.
I would say a couple of things. One, Thailand is the country with which we have the longest relationship in Asia. It’s a close friend, a treaty ally, a country we have tremendous respect for and enjoy very good relations with. And Secretary Clinton has made it clear she is very much looking forward to coming here in July. So I can assure you that that had nothing to do with security or any other concerns, it was simply you can’t go to all the places you would like to. And of course she was aware that she would be coming here shortly.
Question: I’m one of the organizers of ASEAN’s Civil Society Conference that took place this past weekend. During Secretary Clinton’s trip in the region last week, as was mentioned, she made several statements about both China and Burma. And it would appear there would be a hierarchy of issues that the U.S. State Department wants to deal with in the region like that especially vis-à-vis the economic crisis and the collective response to that.
It would also appear that issues like human rights, democracy, good governance are unfortunately lower on that hierarchy than many of us would like. I was hoping you could clarify where issues like I mentioned would stand vis-à-vis any engagement the United States has in the region dealing with the economic crisis.
Ambassador Marciel: We can do more than one thing at a time. Certainly the economic crisis is huge. It’s a top priority for all of us, and we want very much to work with the countries of Asia to address it, along with a lot of other issues. That doesn’t mean that we don’t also care about and work on other issues including human rights.
Secretary Clinton, if you read the full text of her remarks, was very clear on that. She did raise human rights in a number of meetings in China.
So we’re not choosing among issues here, but the fact is we do have a range of issues: dealing with the economy, dealing with climate change, [and] dealing with regional security - we have to do them all, and human rights is a part of that.
Question: My name is Phil Robertson. I’m the Technical Advisor on Migration and Worker Rights for CERCHA, a Canadian group.
In looking at the economic crisis as it impacts ASEAN, one of the significant impacts has been on migrant workers. There are a very significant number of migrant workers in places like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand here and also Brunei, who are losing their jobs and facing a difficult situation.
ASEAN has said as they’re economically integrating [and] that they’ve done an ASEAN declaration on migrant workers. They’re saying they want to have some sort of regional agreement to sort out these migration issues.
What thought has the United States given to these larger, sort of, more practical grassroots issues on economic integration as it impacts the people of ASEAN, for instance the issues of labor and migration?
Ambassador Marciel: I’m not sure I have a great answer for you on this. I would say this: economic integration of ASEAN is an ASEAN issue. It’s not a United States issue. We support it. We try to be helpful. But it’s really up to the ASEANs to decide how they design it. Certainly if ASEAN moves ahead and tries to work on arrangements to deal with migrant workers and provide protections for migrant workers, we would certainly support that. But beyond that I don’t think I have anything else to say.
Khun Kavi: I’d like to ask you one question, a follow-up from (inaudible) News Asia.
Certainly Hillary Clinton is coming to Bangkok in July. My question to you is, is there any serious discussion to revive the ASEAN + 1 which the United States has proposed from September 2007? That framework will allow the President of the United States, Obama, to visit the host of the ASEAN Summit.
Ambassador Marciel: I didn’t think we got to ask each other questions, but -- (Laughter)
We haven’t had extensive talks about that in the United States. I think certainly we think it would be valuable to have a U.S.-ASEAN Summit, and I expect that we’ll be talking about that in Washington. But to be honest, it’s early days yet, and we haven’t had a full-on discussion about that. But in principle, we certainly like the idea of a U.S.-ASEAN Summit. Yes.
Question: About becoming (inaudible). We have a precondition that we have [inaudible] Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and (inaudible) TAC (inaudible) of no interference with other countries. How will the U.S. deal with the (inaudible) issue?
Ambassador Marciel: This is why Secretary Clinton when she announced that we were beginning the interagency process for accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation -- we’re beginning the process. We have a team of lawyers who are looking at all of the issues. Not just because of Burma, but in general. That’s part of the process we’ll be going through. Looking at the treaty, looking at how it affects us and so on. But I’m quite confident that we will continue to be able to be active on Burma policy even after acceding to the TAC.
Question: Roger Arnold, World Picture News. My question is about the Hmong issue in Thailand and in Laos. I realize it’s a complicated issue that the Thais have become quite sensitive to because it relates to refugees and they’re very tired of hearing about this. But the U.S. and the Thais have always had a very strong relationship with the Hmong, and there’s been a lot of forced repatriations. There’s an ongoing insurgency. If you want to call it a war in Laos. It’s not really a war, but a very low level, small war still going on.
Around 2006, 2007, whether it’s stated or not, it’s very obvious that there was a shift in U.S. policy against the Hmong, in my opinion. But I’m just curious: is there going to be a shift towards actually helping these people? There are some people in the camps that deserve to be protected, and there’s no transparency going on between the UN, the U.S., the Thais, or the Lao government. You can’t really tell what’s going on. The Thais say that they’re screening them, but there’s no real screening process going on.
Lastly, I just have to say, I’ve been to the Nonki jail 14 times to visit the people that have been held there for over two years. They’re being treated very inhumanely, and I’m just curious if you guys are doing anything to stop this. There’s no reason for them to be treated like this. It’s just, it’s horrible.
Ambassador Marciel: First, there was no shift in U.S. policy against the Hmong. The U.S. has been, I would say, very welcoming to Hmong refugees over many, many years.
As you said, it’s a very complicated issue. You have some people, some Hmong who have left Laos recently. From afar it’s very difficult to know their exact circumstances.
What we have continually over many years sought to do is one, encourage the Lao government to allow greater access to the Hmong, particularly repatriated Hmong, in Laos. That’s very important. We’ve urged the Thai to have a transparent screening process as well.
I would say my own view is that, of course Thailand has faced inflows of refugees, large numbers of refugees, for a very long time. I think overall their record has been very good. There have been times when it’s been [that] they fall a little bit short I would say. We have a good dialogue with the Thai government on this, when we have raised concerns [and] when we see things that we think aren’t going as well as they should and we continue to do that. But it’s a very complicated situation I would say.
Ambassador Fitts: For those of you in the audience who aren’t reporters, you don’t have to be a reporter to ask a question.
Question: My name is Andre Yukoschenko. I’m from the Russian embassy in Bangkok.
Can you please tell us do you have plans to join in an East Asia Summit? And what is the U.S. attitude towards (inaudible) idea of Asia-Pacific community? Thank you.
Ambassador Marciel: The good thing about being early in an administration is we can say the administration will be looking at these things. The new administration has not made a decision on the EAS. I think generally whether it’s Prime Minister Rudd’s idea or existing fora, we want to hear ideas from people. We’re open to different ideas and are just really in the process of looking at everything. But the Obama administration has not made a specific decision on EAS either way.
Question: My name is John Brand, and I’m with the Asia Foundation in Washington. But I just happen to be in Bangkok for a few days. Thank you both very much for your comments.
Khun Kavi during his comments mentioned that after the U.S. appointed Scot Marciel as ambassador to ASEAN that 18 or 19 other countries announced they were having ambassadors to ASEAN. I was wondering, Khun Kavi, how best do you think these ambassadors can work with ASEAN? And perhaps maybe in other words, is there some type of coordinating mechanism between these ambassadors that can be developed? If so, do you have a sense of how that might look? Thank you.
Khun Kavi: Thank you. I’m a journalist, I’m not from ASEAN Secretariat.
From what I know there is some confusion because all the 19 countries that have presented credentials -- there’s a policy according to the charter that they have to present their credentials to the Council of Ministers, especially the Foreign Minister, but so far they have presented their credentials to Secretary General Dr. Surin Pitsuwan.
At the moment I don’t think you have a clear protocol yet. But I think it will come in the next few months when all the ASEAN countries appoint the permanent reps. So for the time being it’s rather confusing.
But the appointment of ASEAN’s ambassadors are very (inaudible) for ASEAN image, and also it boosts the ASEAN confidence that from now on they have to really engage the dialogue partners, particularly those who have set up the envoys to look and handle this issue. And the fact that all ASEAN affairs will be conducted through the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, it also implies there will be less hassles of traveling from one place to the other. Last year ASEANs conduct around seven (inaudible) different meetings that average 2.7 something days, and a lot of countries have not attend throughout.
So I think this system will save time and of course plane tickets and money.
Question: My name is (inaudible) from (inaudible) University.
I have a question regarding the likelihood of the U.S.-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement. As you know, in the upcoming EAS Summit, they will confirm about FTA being [a] major component of ASEAN, like Japan ASEAN, China ASEAN, Australia ASEAN, New Zealand ASEAN, and even India, Korea. What is the possibility of U.S.-ASEAN FTA and how the (inaudible) is issued? Or if the U.S. may be interested more in becoming a member of the EAS first rather than considering the FTA with ASEAN? Thank you.
Ambassador Marciel: Two comments on that. One, we don’t have a U.S. Trade Representative in place yet in the new administration, so a lot of trade policy questions are still to be answered.
Second though, I would say that while we’re certainly interested in enhancing trade and investment relations with all of ASEAN, U.S. free trade agreements are very comprehensive and require quite a bit. At this stage there are some ASEAN countries that would need to make fairly significant changes in their trade policies and in laws and in some cases their constitutions for us to be able to even begin a process.
So I actually think we’re quite some ways away.
Question: I’m (inaudible) correspondent.
You mentioned that the situation in Burma is bad and that America does not want to be prescriptive. What happens if the ASEAN (inaudible) come up with yet another watered down statement on ASEAN (inaudible), because given that you want to be a partner and not prescriptive, (inaudible) mentioned the release of (inaudible).
My second question is what is the thinking with this administration with regards to the freedom agenda as compared to the Bush administration? Does it not have anything clear coming out from the Obama administration (inaudible)? Thank you.
Ambassador Marciel: When I said we didn’t want to be overly prescriptive, what I meant is that we don’t want to be overly prescriptive in terms of suggesting to the ASEAN governments that this is how they should approach Burma [and] the Burmese authorities. Each ASEAN government has its own relationship, its own connections with the Burmese government.
However, that’s not to say that we don’t have fairly clear ideas about the results that we’re looking for in Burma, and those have been consistent for some time. We certainly think -- and this is also I should say consistent with what ASEAN and the UN Security Council has said -- release of political prisoners, beginning of a genuine dialogue between the regime and the opposition.
We would also welcome, of course, other positive steps including reforms across the board [and] increased openness to the international community. So again, just to stress, we don’t want to be overly prescriptive in terms of trying to say to each ASEAN member this is what you must do. But the goal remains very clear.
On your second question, I don’t believe that the Obama administration has spoken specifically on the freedom agenda. I think what’s clear is that we will continue to work in support of democracy and respect for human rights. But the exact manner in which it’s done may be somewhat different.
Question: (Inaudible) political science, (inaudible) University.
This is not a question, but I just would like to add one more dimension to the U.S.-ASEAN relations. Ambassador Marciel has (inaudible) strains of relations between the two areas, and we have added that United States would listen more to us. I’d like to add that the United States should treat ASEAN as equal [and] treat other countries in this part of the world on equal terms. Asia is very important for the United States to work with.
You may recall Henry Kissinger speaking in the year 2000 when (inaudible) and what he said was that we, means the United States, should recognize its preeminence but the United States should conduct its policy as if it were one of the great powers. But with the financial crisis at this time and (inaudible) great power status, I think it’s perhaps time for you to treat Asia and ASEAN on equal terms. Thank you.
Question: (Inaudible), University.
My questions are directed at both Ambassador Marciel and Khun Kavi.
ASEAN charter has the (inaudible) of the ASEAN human rights (inaudible). So my question is: I would like to know your expectations to what this regional human rights party, what should be (inaudible), what should be (inaudible) in future, and what (inaudible) be the correct or (inaudible) regional committee. Thank you very much.
Khun Kavi: I think ASEAN charters involve all of us from ASEAN. When you talk about the term of reference of [the] human rights bodies, the official title should be TOR of Human Rights Body to promote and not to protect the human rights in ASEAN. Because the draft of the TOR gives emphasis to the promotion only, with strong reservation on protections. As you obviously understand, the outstanding principle [that] has been used since ASEAN was created 43 years ago is the consensus approach and also the non-interference.
So these actually have slowed down the ASEAN’s setup of a very effective mechanism. So what you will see this Saturday when the draft of the TOR will be presented to Foreign Minister, it will be a very mild coming from the bottom line of our government of ASEAN. It represents the smallest common denominators. So I think that’s one of the features.
But for me there is no turning back for ASEAN. In the past, there is no such thing as human rights, let alone talk about it. Now it’s like you were giving two poles to create a ladder that you can climb up. This is why civil society organization is so important here. The fact that the Thai is the chair of ASEAN Summit [is important. In] the past we have been a series of meetings by civil society from 59 organizations. This is one of the most intense debates and discussions on issues that affect the grassroots, the community throughout Southeast Asia as never before seen. That I can guarantee. I think Thailand is a little bit in (inaudible) when it comes to this kind of arrangement, much to the chagrin of some of the much closed society of other ASEAN countries.
But so far that kind of input has not yet opened up the terms of reference. So the terms of reference that you see is a set of criteria that all ASEAN countries have accepted. So emphasis on the promotion.
For me as a member of an ASEAN citizen, it depends on [whether] the country like Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, and also Malaysia will have national Human Rights Commissions to apply, interpret, and use these criteria in the most liberal and maximum ways. That is the only things that will push this mechanism forward.
As it appears in the term of reference, is very mild. Certainly when you read the first portion, the purpose is great. It makes reference to universal declaration, (inaudible) declaration in human rights in 1993. And then the whole thing collapsed. Because items were mentioned as one of the principles that will consider by ASEAN countries -- that other countries reserve their national sovereignty and to live independent without interference from other countries. And all these characteristics of ASEAN make protection of human rights difficult. So the monitoring, the follow-up investigation [and the] annual report is going to be difficult. So don’t expect that.
What you can expect, instead, [is] the ASEAN civil society, which I think at the meeting in Bangkok this time has established a clear channel at the national level and also at the regional level to give it to the ASEAN leaders. But whether they will take up this input or not, I don’t know.
So with that, civil society must do the monitoring, must give teeth to this mechanism, and turn the common lowest denominator to the broadest bigger common denominator. That’s the only way to deal with ASEAN human rights mechanism.
They spent hours and hours for the past several months. They could not agree on even the name, so they decided to turn the phrase ASEAN Human Rights Body into the name because they could not agree whether it should be council, consultative, forums, or commission because ASEAN is so afraid whenever you come, the fear that they will give up their national sovereignties.
Ambassador Marciel: I would just make a couple of comments.
First, the U.S. wants ASEAN to succeed. We want ASEAN to achieve its goal of being an effective, important entity in this region. For ASEAN to do that, it has to implement its charter and meet its ambitious goals. And it’s going to have to work hard and make a lot of tough decisions. It takes a lot of political leadership to do that.
Part of that, I think, if ASEAN wants to be successful, is to have a human rights body that’s considered a serious, credible body. It’s not the United States’ place to say this is what the human rights body should do. That’s up to ASEAN to decide. But as a friend of ASEAN, I think what we will do - whether it’s the human rights body or other aspects of the charter or integration - is maybe remind our friends from time to time that you are the ones who set these ambitious goals. And we applaud ASEAN for doing that. If you want to meet those goals and you really want ASEAN to be a premier organization, then you have to move.
I would agree very much with what Khun Kavi said about civil society. In my view, public opinion and civil society is going to drive this. Governments will follow.
Ambassador Fitts: We’re starting to come toward the end so I’ve already told a couple of people I’d call on them. But everyone get their hands up if they want and I’m going to have to choose.
Question: My name is Billy (inaudible), a freelance journalist.
A big issue over the past several weeks of course has been the Rohingya issue. I was wondering, Ambassador, if you could comment on the U.S.’ position toward this group of people as well as the specific allegations of their mistreatment here in Thailand.
Ambassador Marciel: When the Rohingya or any other refugees leave their homeland and come to Thailand, or some have landed in Ache, we hope they’ll be treated humanely and that there will be a transparent process to determine whether they are qualified as asylum seekers.
We’ve also said that we oppose the forcible repatriation of them back to Burma.
The other point I would make is that the root of the problem is of course inside Burma. And I think it’s an area where we - but more importantly I think the ASEAN countries - would want, I think, to talk to the Burmese government and highlight that what’s happened is that the situation in Burma is creating regional security problems and regional problems which Burma as a member of ASEAN should try to address.
Question: (Inaudible), a student from (inaudible) University.
My first question, I’m not suggesting that the United States interfere with the sovereignty of Thailand. But given the local political instability in Thailand and the potential political instability in the near future, perhaps potentially maybe a military coup, is the United States willing to work with an undemocratic government or have diplomatic relations with an undemocratic government in Thailand?
My second question is, if there are two governments asking to be recognized as the legitimate government of Thailand, what would be the criterion for selecting such government?
Ambassador Marciel: I know I’m far too jet-lagged to answer that last question. (Laughter)
Let me try to make a couple of broad points. One is that when we recognize a country, we recognize the country, the nation, rather than an individual government. We work with, of course, governments. Second, we certainly have no plans to interfere in Thai domestic politics. Thailand is, as I said earlier, a very treasured friend of the United States. We understand Thailand’s gone through some difficult times politically.
But this is something that the people of Thailand are just going to have to work out in their own way. This is not something that the foreigners can or should try to work out. And I’m very confident that the people of Thailand will work this out. I don’t know exactly how it’s going to proceed, but I think the people of Thailand will work this out. I’m confident they will. I think democratic values are firmly rooted in this country, and I’m very confident in the end Thailand will continue to move ahead.
Question: My first question, is the United States going to work with an undemocratic government if such government, if such political change happens?
Ambassador Marciel: I don’t really want to answer a hypothetical. We’re happy to work with the current democratic government of Thailand.
Ambassador Fitts: If you intend to ask a question in the remaining six minutes, please register with me now, and I’ll try to get around, to as many as I can.
Question: Good afternoon, thank you. Robert Kanir of (inaudible) Innovations.
You said earlier that you would care to reach out to civil society. I just wonder how far that reach would go. Perhaps to the people in remote villages (inaudible) and particularly the Ho Chi Minh Trail that were heavily bombed during the Vietnam War 40 years ago when America was paying a great deal of attention to this area.
To put that into context, America did not sign the Oslo Treaty against (inaudible) last year (inaudible) which was particularly focused on cluster bombs. The new administration, are they going to review the policy on certain munitions given that $60 trillion U.S. dollars were spent so far on the Iraq war, whereas only half, $500,000 is spent annually in clearing up (inaudible) in Laos? So does the new administration feel there might be any moral obligation, as this does affect countries in the ASEAN region? Thank you.
Ambassador Marciel: I have been out to remote villages on the Ho Chi Minh Trial. We’ve had a program, a UXO program in place for quite some time. I think it’s doing good work. We certainly hope to continue that program.
As for the Oslo Court, I honestly don’t know about that.
Question: (inaudible) from Japanese Newspaper Company, (inaudible) newspaper.
I have two quick questions. As far as I understand TAC is the condition for any country to become a member of the EAS, and I wonder if the U.S. is also seeking membership in the East Asian Summit or East Asian community?
My second question is, do you have any concern or do you worry that more U.S. involvement or engagement here in this region might create friction with China, which enjoys a strong relationship here? Thank you.
Ambassador Marciel: Secretary Clinton said that the U.S. decision was to begin the process of accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. That was done on the merits of the treaty itself, not with the idea necessarily of joining the EAS.
As I said earlier, the administration is still looking at regional architecture issues in East Asia and hasn’t made any decisions about whether to consider pursuing membership in the EAS. Of course we would have to be invited to be members as well.
Second, no, I don’t worry at all that increased U.S. engagement in Southeast Asia will create tension with China. We’ve been active in this region for a very long time. We will remain very active in this region. I’m not worried at all about tensions with China.
Question: My name is Ube. I’m also from (inaudible) University. (inaudible) for our questions. But we are students. We would like to hear some good information from the ambassador.
I would like to know how the United States defines human rights. So if the United States is not willing to work with Myanmar because of poor human rights implications, so how about Israel? Israel, this war which was going on in Gaza, so the United States basically was blocking this resolution which was for the ceasefire. The United States was not willing to vote for it to stop this killing or this military occupation in Gaza.
So I would like to know how the United States defines human rights.
Ambassador Marciel: I’m going to pass on that one.
Question: You have passed this question. I think maybe it’s a good thing but it’s not the nature of that (inaudible).
What I’m asking is, that Burma for instance has an extremely long record of human rights violations, is a generator of conflict in the region. You have diplomatically said let’s leave it to ASEAN. But it appears that ASEAN has no decisiveness to do anything there. The charter looks very nice. I would have one in my room. It’s fitting well in the pocket, beautiful design. But nothing is happening.
The United States has a history of not being passive towards some procedures and processes overseas. Take Iraq. Iraqi is a 50/50 solution. There were false (inaudible) but the people say now it’s better that dictatorship is gone.
My question, particularly in light of your statement versus China, why wouldn’t the U.S. liberate Burma military and install an obvious option to me at least as an observer. (Inaudible) as the Prime Minister. All problems will disappear in such case. Thank you.
Ambassador Marciel: First, if I left the impression that we were simply washing our hands of the Burma issue and leaving it to ASEAN, then I wasn’t clear enough.
What Secretary Clinton said - and what I intended to get across - was that we will remain very involved on trying to define ways to encourage progress in Burma. Part of that is to work with our ASEAN colleagues, including exchanging ideas with our ASEAN colleagues about how we can be more effective together.
I don’t think anybody has the magical solution to the problem in Burma. People have been working on it - people a lot smarter than me have been working on it - for decades.
So the intent of the United States is to continue to work with ASEAN partners and with other countries to try to come up with a better approach that has the greater chance of bringing about positive change in Burma.
I don’t know anybody, seriously, in Washington who has ever contemplated invasion as a solution. I think the cost of that would be tremendous, and nobody is contemplating that.
Ambassador Fitts: We have reached four o’clock, our appointed time. I’d like to thank the audience for posing many questions, some difficult, but all pointed and concise.
As Ambassador Marciel said, it’s early on. The administration will have time to look at many of these issues. And we all know, anyone that reads the newspaper, there’s plenty on the American administration’s plate. But I would say from an academic tower out here in Thailand that there really is a welcome sense of anticipation to the administration’s expression of interest in dialogue and interest in listening.
I’d like to thank you all for coming to our forum.