Interview With Khun Nina of Puying Teung Puying
Secretary of State
QUESTION: First of all, Madam Secretary, we would like to thank you very much for showing your support to the Thai people. It’s very kind of you. And, well, how did you feel when you were in the shelter next door, visiting flood victims?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say that I love Thailand and I love the Thai people, and I’ve been very distressed about these terrible floods, which are a historic, horrible event for your country. And I wanted to come to show solidarity and friendship with the Thai people.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And I was so pleased to come to this very bright, cheerful complex where people are being well taken care of. I got to visit with some of those who have been displaced and hear a little of their stories. But I am very confident that Thailand is going to come back in even stronger ways. So I’m here to show not only solidarity and sympathy, but confidence and optimism.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. And do you think the U.S. will be able to help Thailand in any way after – especially after the floods have gone?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. And last night I announced some additional ways we intend to help. We’re just at the beginning of our help, because Thailand’s one of our oldest allies in the world, and we care deeply about what happens to your country. So what we have done is to put together both our civilian experts, our military experts. We have a ship in the harbor that has helicopters to work with your military to survey what’s going on. We’re going to try to reopen one of the airports, the Don Mueang Airport, so that can be useful again. We obviously have been providing survival kits, boats, generators, those kinds of immediate emergency responses.
And we are also looking at helping you recover some of your cultural and religious sites that have been inundated. I saw pictures of beautiful temples and statues surrounded by water. So we have a whole plan, but I feel strongly that we will only do what the government and the people of Thailand wish us to do, so we’re good partners.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for your kindness.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.
QUESTION: And earlier this year, we understand that you were also badly hit by the Mississippi River floods, right?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: How did you go through it, and any advice to Thailand?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we’ve had a lot of floods in the last 10 years. The most famous, perhaps, is the Katrina flood in New Orleans. And that’s why I believe floods – I mean, you have typhoons and cyclones and hurricanes and earthquakes and tornados and fires. There’s many different kinds of terrible natural disasters, as we just saw in Japan. There’s something about a flood, though, that is so hard because it takes so long.
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s there for weeks, even months, before it drains. And that can take a toll on people’s spirits. The few people I had a chance to talk to – they don’t know when they’re going to get to go home. One said maybe two weeks; one said maybe a month. That’s hard. And children are out of school. I saw some beautiful little children. I asked a nine-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy if they liked school, and they do and they want to get back to school. So it’s very draining, so to speak, debilitating.
And it’s particularly hard on everyone, but women and children, who have to keep all the family together and have to repair what has been damaged while their husbands are trying to get back to work and try to rebuild – it takes a toll on everyone. So I urge that people get prepared, be patient, but be very determined. And even some of our private companies are contributing money to try to help rebuild houses. So there’ll be a lot of work to do.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: And how have you found it? Have any of you been personally affected by the floods, or have you been --
QUESTION: Filamae -- her house is flooded.
PARTICIPANT: My house.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, still right now?
SECRETARY CLINTON: And how much water?
PARTICIPANT*: Higher – far from knees. And black water.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, the black water. It’s terrible, isn’t it?
SECRETARY CLINTON: And you have to keep your children away from the water because there’s so much disease and pollution in the water. And you have to be prepared to, unfortunately, throw a lot of things away because they can’t be salvaged.
I’m so sorry. When do you think you’ll get to go home? When will you get to go home to your home?
PARTICIPANT: I stay in the condo near my office.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah.
QUESTION: She’s got another place to stay.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Good, good. Well --
QUESTION: Maybe in a month or so?
SECRETARY CLINTON: In a month maybe. I looked at a map as to where the water has to drain out, and I think there’s the immediate problems we have to deal with. But what we found in our big floods of the last 10 years is that we did some things in our country that made it worse.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, because, like for example, around New Orleans we put up a lot of levies, which are barriers to the water and trying to keep the Mississippi River and flood waters in a channel. Well, Mother Nature is more powerful than that, and it used to be that the water could go into the farmland and then it would dissipate. But it was kept channeled, and so it would just rush down and then it would flood. And so we’ve had to look at flood control; we’ve had to look at how we manage our rivers.
And there are so many great rivers in Southeast Asia – Mekong, for example – that as you develop and you have more businesses and more factories and more homes you take away land that used to be drainage land, wetlands. So we’re having to do this around the world, and it’s a big wake up call for all of us.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah.
QUESTION: Well, Madam Secretary, a lot of people in Thailand are suffering at the moment.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I know.
QUESTION: Anything you’d like to say to them?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I first want to tell our Thai friends that our hearts go out to you and to all of you who are suffering and to everyone who has been affected by this flood. But we are not just offering sympathy. We’re offering friendship; we’re offering support. I want to thank the many, many Thai citizens who have come to help. As I was coming in, I saw people volunteering as medical workers, as haircutters, as babysitters for babies. There’s so many things that the Thai people are doing to help each other.
And I want to tell you that we will be with you, not just now, but in years to come, because we believe in Thailand. We value greatly the Thai culture and the alliance and partnership we’ve had over so many years.
QUESTION: Well, actually, for now can we please get into women issues, for a big year?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Sure. Of course.
QUESTION: Well, these days we see more and more female world leaders.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes.
QUESTION: How do you feel about that?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I am thrilled. And more female broadcast leaders as well. (Laughter.) I have worked on behalf of women’s opportunities my entire life. And in my life, I’ve seen so many positive changes. And I think young women today have such opportunities, if they’re educated, if they’re willing to work hard, if they’re willing to make the commitment. And it’s complicated, because many of us want to have families and work, and trying to get the right balance in your life is still not easy. But so many more young women are doing it, and more determined.
I met with your prime minister last night, and I’m very proud of her, because, boy, she came into office and – wham – I mean, just really faced a big set of challenges. And it’s hard. I’ve been in politics. I’ve been in leadership positions. It’s hard for men or women, but – let’s face it – women are held to a different double standard. And therefore, we feel like we have to work even harder, do even more, to prove ourselves. So we’re making progress, but there’s still a long way to go.
And Thailand is a place where women have played roles outside the home for many years. There are still places in Asia where that’s not true, and there are certainly places in South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa where women are still denied basic rights. They don’t have the right to an education; they don’t have the right to vote; they don’t have the right to drive a car; they don’t have the right to get credit. They just – they’re not yet even legally viewed as equal to men. So we have our work still ahead of us.
QUESTION: One very, very last question, Madam Secretary. What are your future plans in the world of politics?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’ve announced that I am not going to serve another term as Secretary of State and I am not going to return to political life. I think I’ve been doing this for 20 years. It’s been incredibly exciting, a great honor for me. But I want to focus on women and girls and do everything I can to make sure that I do what is possible to give more women and girls opportunities, and there are other issues that I’m interested in. But I think it’s time to take a bit of a break.
It’s very maddening to come to Thailand – not during this emergency, which was a very specific visit – but when I come as Secretary of State, I go to meetings. I go do official things. I don’t get to walk around. I don’t get to travel around the country. I did that when I was first lady. I went to the north. I had a wonderful experience. So I’m looking forward to spending some time in different places that I’m interested in, like Thailand.
QUESTION: Thank you very much for your time, Madam Secretary.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you.