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A Conversation with Thaksin Shinawatra, Prime Minister of Thailand [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service, Inc.]

Speaker: Thaksin Shinawatra, Prime Minister, Thailand
Presider: Maurice R. Greenberg, Chairman and CEO, C.V. Starr & Co., Inc.
September 18, 2006
Council on Foreign Relations New York, NY

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MAURICE R. GREENBERG: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting with our special guest, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand.

The council is pleased to be co-sponsoring this event with the Asia Society. And I’d like to welcome—I’m sorry that Vishakha Desai is not here today. She had a death in her family. But Jamie (Metzl), who represents her, is here. There may be other members of the Asia Society here as well.

Please, would you turn off your cell phones and your BlackBerries and any other device you may have.

Now I’d like to introduce the man who’s the reason we’re here today. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was appointed prime minister of Thailand on February 9th, 2001. He began his career as a police officer and continued his studies in criminal justice. He served in the Royal Thai Police Department before starting Shinawatra Computer and Communications Group, and serving as its chairman. The prime minister entered government in 1994 as minister of foreign affairs, and has since established and led the Thai Rak Thai Party.

The prime minister will deliver brief remarks, and then we will invite you and members to join the discussion with your questions.

There’s also a very comprehensive biography of the prime minister in your packet of materials.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Prime Minister Shinawatra. (Applause.)

THAKSIN SHINAWATRA: Mr. Maurice Greenberg, honorary vice chair of the Council on Foreign Relations, Dr. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Metzl, vice president of the Asia Society, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen.

Thank you, Mr. Greenberg, for your generous introduction. I would like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society for hosting me today. I feel both honor and privilege to be with you, speaking to so many distinguished international leaders, statesmen and scholars. Your commitment toward helping America and its citizens throughout the world better understand today’s foreign policy challenges is a noble and critical mission.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra with C.V. Starr & Co., Inc. Chairman and CEO Maurice R. Greenberg, who presided over the meeting.

This afternoon I would like to speak to you about the future of democracy in Thailand—in Asia. Specifically, I would like to elaborate briefly on what I believe are the key attributes of democracies, the indispensable role that democracy plays in shaping the future of my region, and how the United States can help further democracy in Asia in the 21 st century.

The experience of democracy is conditioned by the history, culture, and experiences of each nation. And yet, the unique experience of democracy in each country does not compromise its universal appeal. All people desire the freedom to choose their own government. Fundamentally, democracy is a government of, by and for the people. Sorry having to remind you of what all Americans already know in your sleep. It is about the confidence of a nation in the will of its people, which is surely the highest tribute one can pay.

Let me suggest that democracy typically has several defining characteristics: respecting the outcome of free and fair elections; freedom of expression and association; rule of law; equality of opportunity; and above all, a firm economic foundation. These principles of democracy are by no means exhaustive, but do seem to me helpful in the role that democracy can play in Asia and throughout the world.

Ladies and gentlemen, as I said, democracy in each region and country has its own quality conditioned by its specific circumstances. Nevertheless, parliaments worldwide, whether by common law or monar common law, still need to comply with the basic principles of democracy. In Asia also, whatever its character on Asia, the functioning of democracy must undergo the same process and be transparent about it. It involves people electing their representatives in accordance with the constitution in their own way.

In Thailand, we have representation by province, with (the main ?) number of voters exercising their votes in the various constituencies. The essence of Thai democracy is ensuring representation of the people, as defined by the constitution, as defined by law.

Much has been said about civil society and its contribution to democracy. I only hope that civil society doesn’t mean societies that exercise voting rights under the constitution in a manner that is not civil.

More seriously, a functioning civil society means having civilized men and women with ideas, who dialogue with constitutional representatives of the people.

In this process, civil society and nongovernmental organizations have indeed a valuable role. However, this does not mean that they should incur special privilege. What it does mean is that their ideas could and should be articulated, with clarity, through constitutional representatives of the people.

As all of us appreciate, democracy in fact is not a new idea. It is much like globalization. Globalization is an age-old ancestral phenomenon that has been present since the first Goths crossed the Euphrates and the first Chinese crossed the Yangtze.

It is the same with democracy, which involves representation and dialogue. What is new is the changing context of society. Dialogue within society can be organized or unorganized, but organized dialogue presupposes civilized dialogue and way of talking to each other.

However, in some Asian democratic societies, you have seen the phenomenon of acceptance of definition of the law of nongovernmental organization and civil society faster than acceptance of the idea of democracy itself.

A free and fair democratic election process must not be compromised by those who do not like its outcomes. When the people have spoken through elections where—which are judged truly democratic, the people’s will must carry the day and must not be compromised by demonstrations in the street. If this were to happen, what can we expect to happen to Asia’s democratic future?

The fact remains that no mature democracy can survive without the following elements.

First, wealth creation and economic development for the people.

Second, when structural faults happen in the country and the democratic system of thought prevails, in a way, this means complete victory of the democratic system in society, especially if the democratic system prevails on the basis of peaceful transition.

The process of maturity in democracy is an analogue process. It means that all elements of society must accept the principle and be prepared to live with it.

Also, no maturity can occur without pain. It is like a child learning how to walk. I, for one, haven’t seen a child learning to walk without bumping his bottom constantly. (Soft laughter.) As adults, we must learn to live with the pain and the pangs of democracy, lest we throw out the baby with the bath water.

Ladies and gentlemen, we believe that democracy is an essential structure for progress of the people. All must acknowledge this reality. Not only does the people expect and hope for a better life under the democratic system, in economic terms, but they also expect that no dark forces will try to take away their basic rights.

The basic problem today for societies in Asia, as elsewhere, is that anti-democratic forces are regrouping. They are learning to use new techniques using the perceived weaknesses—indeed, the generosity—of democracy, namely, rights and recognition. They are hitting back at our system.

Under a democratic regime, one cannot give hope without delivering on the dreams. Then anti-democratic forces would use that to get at you.

Let me elaborate further on this point, the importance of an economic foundation to sustain democratic development. Again, Asia must be especially sensitive to this danger.

Throughout my time in public office, I have given priority to exploring the relationship between economics and freedom. One of the guiding aims of my government has been to create and manage opportunities for the people on equal terms, including those whose priorities were not always heard in the past, for our common challenges in a democracy is to make available to all people the means to realize their human potential.

As someone who comes from the provinces, I am acutely conscious that democracy must serve the needs of the rural poor as surely as it does the urban elite and for all to benefit from growth. As such, the bottom line for all government programs is to reduce expenditures for the people, generate income, and extend opportunities. Although there is much more to be done, we have delivered on that promise.

We have significantly reduced unemployment to 1.5 percent. The 30-baht nationwide healthcare scheme has provided for more accessible health care. When this government came into office, 12.5 million people were living below the poverty line. By the end of 2005, even though the line has been moved up, we still managed to reduce the number of poor people to 7 million.

The improved standard of living throughout the country demonstrates the scale of this achievement in Thailand. The transfer of capital from the central government to the provinces and indeed down to the village level is the achievement of which I am most proud. Through the village fund and microcredit schemes, money is transferred directly to each of the 80,000 villages of Thailand to finance local projects. This has ensured access to capital for the rural poor, who take pride in local ownership and responsibility for managing such funds. Meanwhile, our asset capitalization initiative has further invigorated the grassroots economy. And of course, this progress in stimulating the domestic economy has drawn on the extraordinary wisdom of our beloved king, who is a daily inspiration to all Thais.

Empowering the regions has moved Thai democracy to a new level. Putting more decisions in the hands of ordinary people is certainly a fundamental component of democracy in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia. While many will argue about whether economic reforms drive political reforms or vice versa, I believe that both are essential. Certainly both have gained impetus as an outcome of government policy.

In addition, my government has been promoting greater access to information and knowledge for the masses, conscious that they are the keys to innovation and sustained economic growth as well as being indispensable to an open society and democracy. Creative thinking is essential for value creation and the future dynamism of our economy. A dynamic economy is also an attraction for foreign investment, which in turn can also stimulate economic growth, prosperity and, again, 45 budding democracies.

Nevertheless, as society progresses, democratically elected system must also negotiate with the past. The past must be allowed to negotiate with the present, on the condition that neither the democratic elements nor the past can contravene the principle of democracy and the constitution. If one does not allow the past regime and past actors to negotiate with the democratic system, you will beget violent sentiment. Indeed, for any democratically minded leaders, the priority must be to avoid violent sentiment because if you allow violent sentiment, accusations will be pointed at the system for dictatorial violence and action.

Democratic regimes must be patient and not fall into this trap. This tactic of the opposing forces of democratic society appears in Thai politics, I regret to say, but it’s seen as a normal tactic of those who oppose the democratic way of life in society. We must accept it as part of our path to maturity.

Ladies and gentlemen, democratic principles in governance are part of the politics of contemporary Asia. Japan, South Korea and India, all world-class democracies for decades, serve as pluralist models and inspiration to other nations throughout Asia and the world. Asia is one of the world’s fastest-growing and most important regions, the custodian of half the world’s foreign reserves and home to many of the largest and fastest-growing Fortune 500 companies. But poverty and economic disparity limit Asia from reaching its potential, including its democratic potential.

The economic gap between rich and poor leads to a corresponding democracy gap threatening the long-term political progress of Asia in general. Another necessary step in addressing the challenge of democracy in Asia is regional economic integration. Thailand and other Asian countries have entered into a regional association to strengthen our political, economic, and cultural foundations and to work together for a more prosperous future. The ASEAN countries are working through Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, to encourage trade and investment liberalization, business facilitation and economic and technical cooperation. Meanwhile, a PanAsia partnership is fast-developing through the Asia Cooperation Dialogue or the ACD. With the ACD’s current 30 members reflecting Asia’s diversity, we are seeking build Asia, strength from Asia’s diversity and meet head-on the challenges of democracy, poverty and underdevelopment.

Ladies and gentlemen, the United States has today a vital interest in supporting democracy in Asia. America is a Pacific nation, a global superpower and a trend-setting democracy. It is only fitting that United States and Asia, and specifically the United States and Thailand, as Washington’s oldest treaty alliance, be partners in this noble process. We will continue to look towards the true friendship of the United States as we work to promote open markets and eliminate trade barriers in the region. Thailand also hopes to move forward on a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States after our election later this year.

America’s long history of international, educational and cultural exchanges has been an instrumental component of our region’s democratic development and economic prosperity. Many of my Cabinet members and I, in addition to leading thinkers and business leaders in Thai society, have been educated and trained in the United States. We have been exposed to your system of government, your values, your ideas, and your free-market entrepreneurship. It is essential that such opportunities continue to be extended to future generations of Asian leaders. As I have tried to say today, all of this contributes to the strengthening of democracy in Asia.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to reiterate that economic development and providing opportunities are important buttresses for the democratic system. We have discovered that the political process in Asia without wealth creation will encounter problems, for democracy in itself does not buttress wealth creation. Only with wealth and opportunities—opportunities for all—can we negotiate choice of our democratic regime.

I want to say that I look forward to working with many of you here today as we continue our mutual efforts to advance democracy, economic prosperity and stability throughout Asia. Together, I know that we can make a better future for the generations to come.

Thank you. (Applause.)

GREENBERG: Let me remind you that today’s meeting is on the record. And when we start the question and answer in a moment, please stand and identify yourself before asking your question, and please keep it short—no speeches, just a question—so we can have other people participate.

Let me take the—since I’m the—and I’m chairing this, I have the first question.

The sale of your company, Prime Minister, to Singapore was very controversial. Would you like to comment on it?

THAKSIN: Yes. (Laughter.) Yes. My—the company has been transferred to my children before I become the prime minister, under the old constitution, under the old law. And one day, they want to sell because it had been approached. And I think it’s a good idea so I don’t have to be—alleged of conflict of interest anymore.

So they agreed to sell. And after the sale, I’d been attacked on not paying tax, which is actually, you know, the—a capital gain in Thailand’s stock exchange—we have no tax involved, which Mr. Greenberg know very well, because he (has ?) so many stock there. (Laughter.) Is tax-exempt, no tax.

And someone trying to say that, “Oh, you know if you sell noodles, you have to pay tax. But we sell the companies, why you do not pay tax?” Sale of noodle is—you sell goods, goods is subject to be taxed, but not the capital gains of selling shares. So that is confusing the message. And at that time, I’ve been—really, you know, I’ve been attacked by all the press, and the confusion is there.

And I’m trying to open the Parliament for debate, but the opposition said that no useful, we not participate in that debate because we have to find the “no confidence” motion, which they cannot do it because they don’t have enough votes to do it. So, but I said, I’m generous enough to open the general debate for them to ask me, I can answer. But they don’t agree. So I have to dissolve the house and let the people make decision on their own, whether they want me to come back or not. So that’s why the controversy comes.

Actually, it’s really—you know, all the money is in Thailand. You know, we bring the—the sale brings U.S. dollars to Thailand, at that time about 2 billion U.S. dollars, and the baht, stronger at that time, because of the money flow in. And, actually, that money is going to help build business, the economy in Thailand because we have new money—fresh money into Thailand for 2 billion U.S. dollars.

But it’s very difficult to explain at that time, and I’m in awkward position to explain because my children is the one who own the company, so they are still very young. But anyway, I think this has paved the way that we don’t have to be alleged of conflict of interest anymore because we have no (business anymore ?).

GREENBERG: Thank you for responding to that.

Would you stand up and identify yourself?

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

STAFF: Wait for the mike.

QUESTIONER: How important is tourism to Thailand’s economy—

GREENBERG: Could you identify yourself?

QUESTIONER:—and do you expect the recent insurgency in the south to have any effect on that?

THAKSIN: Yes, tourism industry is one of very important income generation for Thai economy. And now we have 12 million foreign tourists to Thailand. We’re opening up our new airport on the 28 th of this month. We can accommodate more flights to Thailand, and we expect that we will have more tourists into Thailand.

But the situation in the south, especially the recent bombing in Hat Yai, that is a tragic, that, you know, we’re very sad about that. And it really now is a combination between the separatists on the three most-southern provinces of Thailand.

Actually, let me come back to this one. You know, the three most-south most provinces of Thailand, it used to belong to Malaysia. And also, some provinces that used to belong to Thailand is in the Malaysia side. After British colony, they draw the new map for us—(laughter)—and they gave some of Malaysian side to us, and they take some of Thai side to Malaysia. But on the Thai side being with Malaysia, they have no problems; they are quiet, they work, they live their lives happily.

But in the Thai side, we see only that part, a majority are Muslim. Muslim are all over in Thailand, but it’s not majority. They live peacefully with others religion. But in that part, they try to compare with Malaysian side because that part is really underdeveloped. Because of they went to religion school, they don’t want to go to normal school, how can they get jobs? That’s the problem on that province. But, you know, it’s been neglected for many years.

So I think, you know, after reading from Juan Enriquez’s new book, “Un-Tied States of America,” if you were to read, it’s talking about, you know, when the people of the same religion or culture flock together, if they expect something—if you promise something and deliver less, it has become—it has a legitimacy gap there. If that happens, that’s going to be very dangerous. So I think it’s true that we have to more develop in that part to embrace them together with the democratic process. So this is what we are trying to do, both in law and order, and also politics, to be sure that they can be embraced into the society.

GREENBERG: You had a question. Get a microphone.

QUESTIONER: Ralph Buultjens , New York University. Prime Minister Thaksin, the Thai elections are about a month away, yet you have not made any specific declaration as to whether you’re going to run for prime minister or not. This is creating some confusion, and people would like, I think, in Thailand and here, to know why you are delaying this decision and when you will make it.

THAKSIN: Because I am confusing myself. (Laughter.) This is—(laughs)—well, I’m thinking about it because, you know, sometime I want to sacrifice because of I’m here as a prime minister, and the opposition knows that they have no way to win over me because the popularity is still very strong, and the polling showing that we are still very strong.

And you know, the—those who have been—who may not happy with my government because of the—let’s say some business leaders who are not successfully in that restructuring and got mad at me; those who do—drug dealers, those who are the illegal lottery operators are not happy with me. They’ve fought together, including the media tycoons, who have the media just for own interest, not for the sake of the media’s ideology.

So they get together, and they fight—they’re trying to bring me down, which, I think, you know, if I were to step down amidst the process of election, this mean that I sacrifice the democracy for those protestors who lost their own interest. And so I think that if—I’m definitely—I’ll go on the election, but I will keep—I will be on the party list; I will be the chairman of the party, but I’m not sure whether I should accept the prime ministership or not. I’m still thinking and confusing now. (Light laughter.)

So I will have to definitely announce before—probably on the registration day, the election registration day.

Thank you.

GREENBERG: Yes.

QUESTIONER: Herbert Levin. Prime Minister, thank you for being here today. Could you share with us your understanding of what the situation is in Burma?

MIN. THAKSIN: Good question. It’s very difficult to answer as the immediate neighbor of Myanmar. And you know, Thailand, we are in between. We’re trying to not be—not to be—(inaudible)—because we understand the poor, we understand the rich, we understand the under-democracy countries and the really well-developed democracies.

In the situation of—in Myanmar, I think—I’m not happy on what has happened now. I keep going and talk to them, even recently I went there. I’m the first leader that went to the capital, and I talked to them finally, that I don’t want you to isolate from international, and I doesn’t want international—I don’t want international to isolate yourself. So I think you better keep international informed of your democratic development. Otherwise, you know, it just—the imagination is, despite that, you know, what happened with Aung San Suu Kyi; what happened with the government; what happened with people; how about HIV/AIDS; you know, the human rights, we worry about what happening here.

I talked to him finally. Then—you know, they—I don’t know. They hear what I said, but I don’t know what they will reason or not. But anyway, I try my best, and I tried to convey the message of international to them and convince them. And I even offered Thailand to be a place that we—you—we open once a Bangkok process for them to explain to international. Once the minister of Foreign Affairs explain already—he (been there ?) already.

So I don’t know what’s next—is going to happen, but I really offered Thailand as a venue for them to explain to international. But how—how progressed you are, and what is your destination. And they have an excuse that they have too many minorities. The country solidarity is important. So they want to hold the country together, not to be fragmented into small countries. So that’s the problem because they have some armed minority as well. So we trying to convince the armed minorities to negotiate with the government. So that’s what we have done.

GREENBERG: Yes.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

GREENBERG: Whoa, whoa, whoa.

MIN. THAKSIN: Lady first. Yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: All right. I’m a journalist as well and perhaps I’ll ask a question that you are also wondering. My name is Sherri Prasso (sp), and I’ve been writing about Thailand for quite a long time.

I wonder, given all of the very good things you have done in Thailand in terms of increasing wealth in the provinces, going back and looking at the sale of your deal, even though taxes were not owed, do you somehow wish that your legacy were not tainted by this, by perhaps having paid taxes anyway or made a charitable contribution?

MIN. THAKSIN: Oh, yeah, I—the family have the foundation which we start to donate part already, and we will do a lot of activities related to poverty eradication and education and science and technology to help the people to lift up their life.

So that is what we are doing. And we will donate more, donate more and more for this purpose, and not just donating in our own country, but in other countries if it really benefits the people in general. So we will do a lot of donation on that.

And I’ve been thinking about if I were to retire, that’s part of my life that I will do, the donation, contribution, helping people.

GREENBERG: Prime Minister, can I ask you a question on Thai-China relations? How do you see them, and how do you see them developing in the future?

THAKSIN: Thai-China relations, we are like relatives, you know. The history of migration of the Thai, part of the ancestral Thai has migrated from China. Even myself. On my father’s side, I’m the fourth generation that migrated from China. On my mother’s side, I’m the third generation. I even went to China to pay respect to the tomb of my ancestor there in China. So we are really close, and so far the relationship between Thai and China are very cordial and very high—(inaudible word).

And China is growing. China, someone look at China as a threat, but I think where there is threat, there will be opportunities. Where there is not opportunity is threat, as well. So you cannot think only one-sided. So it will be threat and opportunity; why don’t you turn the threat into opportunities? China has become our big market. Our trade volume with China increased tremendously. So I think I would recommend that U.S. also should try to penetrate the market in China; but don’t compete in the same products. (Laughter.)

GREENBERG: Yeah?

QUESTIONER: Sawatdee-kha. Elizabeth Toder, American Jewish World Service. (Speaks in Thai language.) I was a US Peace Corps volunteer in Nam Makphrang fourteen years ago.

THAKSIN: (Responds in Thai language.) Phitsanulok

GREENBERG: You want to share that with us? (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, in northern Thailand, from 1991 to ‘94.

My question relates to the 30-baht healthcare plan that you talked about, which is incredible for people, and it also promotes providing universal access of AIDS treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS. Yet the free-trade agreement that you’re pursuing with the U.S. will basically undermine critical therapies needed for first- and second-line therapies for HIV-positive people. So I wonder if you can please comment on that inconsistency.

THAKSIN: You know, sometimes the negotiation point has been reviewed before the agreement reached. So negotiation point may be A on a side and B on another side, but we never agree on A or B. If we were to agree on A or B, either one side must be stupid. So it must be somewhere that you find a C, a good location for C, a good point, a good position for C.

So we worry about that. We have to be taking good care of that. We should not allow that to happen. So it’s on the negotiation caution that we will have to be careful on that one.

GREENBERG: Allison after this.

QUESTIONER: Stanley Roth, the Boeing Company. I think the greatest concern for American friends of Thailand, and I think everyone in this room is in that category, is the need for a return to political stability so that Thailand can get on with its business. And you’ve discussed a lot of that business.

THAKSIN: Yes.

QUESTIONER: But the question is, is there any reason for us to believe that the next election process will be any more acceptable to the same forces that disrupted the first election process? We all accept the polls that you’ve said, the outcome seems likely to be as you described, you may not be the candidate for PM. What’s different about this next go-round? Can you assure us that political stability will come back?

THAKSIN: You know, the last election, on April the 2 nd, it should not happen that way because, you know, the opposition parties they have no democratic legitimacy to boycott the election. As a political party, you have to go to election every time we have election. But they know real well that they’re going to—lost one election, and they boycotted.

But anyway, you know, the Thai ways of getting out of that by having the new election again, by using the constitution with it to consider that okay, the past election may not be democratic enough—so we have to apologize that we pronounce democracy wrongly. Instead of we pronounce “democracy,” we pronounce—(changes pronunciation)—“democracy.” So it’s a bit of crazy in that—(laughter).

So—but anyway, the opposition already tell the public already that they will participate in next election. If next election is held by—every party is participating, there shouldn’t be any problems. And the election will be by the end of November. And the new government will be coming to work on the beginning of New Year—after—right after New Year. So I think from the—within three months, things will be back to normal. So it’s time to invest now. (Laughter.)

GREENBERG: Allison.

QUESTIONER: Graham Allison from the Belfer Center at Harvard. Mr. Prime Minister, I’d be very interested in your assessment of the Asian front in the war on terrorism. If you look inside Thailand or if you look at Malaysia or Indonesia, the region as you know it, what’s getting better and what’s getting worse? And what lessons?

THAKSIN: Well, we have to take good care of our house first, keep our house clean.

And that’s a problem in the southernmost province, that we have to—I think the—most of the—the root cause of the problem on the terrorism in Asia comes from the education and economic sides. If they have less education, they cannot participate in normal economic activities, under a capitalism economy. So they turn fundamentalist, because they keep—they went to—they’ve been—gone through religious school, and they all—they (stick ?) with all the religions. And if they have no hope or no opportunity to engage in normal economic activities, they turn fundamentalist. That’s the problems on what we—we think we should—we should tackle that through better education and better opportunities for them to create their income. I think that’s what I said on my speech, that wealth creation is one of the problems of democracy or even in development in other areas.

But terrorism in Asia are different, you know, are different. But sometimes they—what happened in Indonesia—I think now the Philippines has a better militia; it has no problems—that much. And Indonesia still has some problems, but it’s better because this government—Susilo Bambang, he is very, very decisive man, and he has a very good dialogue and flexible—I think he—I think it should—we should not breed more—any more terrorists through internationals. We’re not going to breed any more. But anyway, we’re trying to protect—solve our own problems.

But I don’t know much about what happened in Africa. That’s what—I worry happened in Africa—Afghanistan—sorry—Afghanistan is a worry, and also, you know, Iran.

GREENBERG: Back there.

THAKSIN: Ladies first again?

QUESTIONER: Lyndsay Howard, the Dilenchneider Group. Mr. Prime Minister, wealth creation is, as you know, not always a path to democracy. Thailand has a unique history in that the royal family has played an usually positive role in the evolution of political systems and social benefits. And traditionally they have also provided a check and balance on a very ambitious class of generals, many of whom would stretch the limits of trends towards authoritarianism, if given the chance, many of whom who have become rich businessmen.

In your vision of a Thai democracy, who provides the check and balances on the military and security class?

THAKSIN: Well, I think now the Thai democracies are very transparent, and the confusion that we are using now provide a lot of checks and balance in the system itself, because we have so many independent bodies to do the checks and balance. But for the military itself, you know, they have the old system of select people. They have their own system. They have the what we call the defense council to overlook how they pick up the (general rule ?) and those things.

And now the role of military in Thailand more on civilians than more of the politics. Their help in developing the countries is, in terms of—let’s say, like (the centers ?) and also the development in the rural area—and they do some security part, but not so much as before.

And the role of military is (reducing ?) in terms of involving in politics. So we don’t need a check and balance system on that part anymore because the system is—this is 21 st century. It’s not—sometime the question—the memory is still about the 20 th century. This is 21 st. I think things is changing a lot.

Thank you.

GREENBERG: Yes, back there.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, I’m—(name inaudible). I’m a member of the council. Several central banks in Southeast Asia are sitting on trillions in trade surfaces. As you know traditionally, (smaller surfaces ?) have been used to I guess underwrite the American trade deficit. In effect, is this not a way of your region holding America hostage? And how would you advise the American Treasury to deal with this deficit problem?

Thank you.

THAKSIN: (Laughs, laughter.) Oh, good question. (Laughter.) Difficult to answer. (Laughs.)

Well, you know, now, if you notice that in the past three years, all the Asian countries—Polynesia is increasing quickly. And we now, instead of investing in only in U.S. dollars, now we invest in both Euro dollars, Japanese yen. And besides that, we are trying to create a bond market—Asian bond market so we can use the wealth in Asia to provide ability to create wealth in Asia as well, and that’s what we are now developing the Asian bond market for.

And as for U.S., I don’t know. I—small countries, they’re not to advise U.S. (Laughs, laughter.) I’m a very small country. I think, you know, the U.S. has a (low fall ?) many roles related to international, and the U.S. is generous to provide assistance to many countries, but luckily that Thailand, under my leadership, we just asked to be equal partners. So I don’t know. I’m just trying to say that Asia, we develop Asian bond markets for U.S. to invest or for us to invest as well. So we invite U.S. to invest in our Asian bond so we can use that capital to create wealth in some areas that still have a lot of poverty, that need fresh cash to develop.

Thank you.

GREENBERG: Yeah.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Prime Minister Thaksin, you once—

GREENBERG: Would you identify yourself, please?

QUESTIONER: Sorry?

GREENBERG: Would you identify yourself?

QUESTIONER: Oh, sure. My name is Jonathan. I’m from the Open Society Institute. Prime Minister Thaksin, you once said that democracy is not an end in itself, but a means. So I wonder if you could clarify that statement, particularly in regards to Thai elections. Are they an end or a means?

And then a question about Burma. Last week, the United Nations Security Council concluded by vote by 10 to 4 that Burma was a threat to peace and security. Your support for the junta is well-known, and in light of this new development, will Thailand end its support for these thugs, who have absolutely no intention of bringing democracy to Burma, despite your many promises to the contrary; or rather, is Burma’s natural gas more important to you than sanctioning genocide, rape and the detention of a Nobel Prize winner?

(Audience reacts.)

THAKSIN: You know, you—sometime you understand democracy, but, you know, don’t (suboptimize ?) on democracy only. So you have to think about the people. Democracy for what? For the people. If your democratic system is not (merely ?)—happy about being to your people, it’s no use.

So if—you know, if—we have the people at the center. We do everything for the people. If your democratic system can provide happiness to your people, it’s fine. And I keep telling that sanctions in some country it works, some it does not really work because the people themselves just suffer. The ruling power is just hanging there and they just don’t care and they want to hang onto power regardless. But the people get poorer and poorer. People have no opportunities.

You know, I just came back from Cuba. I saw the (press of those ?) the past. But it’s really unfortunate that Cuba and America doesn’t have good relations. Otherwise, you will have a lot of tourists from U.S. to visit Havana, beautiful cities, and they can have more money to create wealth, create jobs. You don’t have to have a lot of Cubans here in U.S. So that is what I think, you know.

Democracy is part of it for the people. Democracy is for the people. You have to consult with Montesquieu what does democracy mean. Democracy is the power that the people give you. If you look at “Social Contract” by Rousseau, you know that we agree that those who are staying together will elect someone to work on behalf of them and work for them to stay together peacefully and they have the opportunity for a better life.

So that is what I think (about) the Myanmar situation. You know, I keep telling friends from Japan, from Europe, from America that if you want to do something in Myanmar, deal with the ruling power, don’t—if you sanction it, the people with HIV/AIDS, they suffer, no one helps them. If you say that, okay, you will help them in humanitarian, how can you get there? They don’t give you visa.

So but I think better talk, dialogue is important. You know, we are human. Whether you like me or not, whether we like you or not, if we talk, we start to understand each other. And when we understand each other, we’d find a way to get out of the conflict, get out of what we don’t like. I think, you know, dialogue is something that I really want to see.

But if it were to be sanctions, you have to have a measure to help the people of that poor country how they can have a good education, how they can have good health care, how they can live their life. If you sanction the government, fine, sanction the ruling power, I (support it ?), but don’t sanction the whole country, because the poor are getting poorer and weaker.

GREENBERG: Yes?

QUESTIONER: Prime Minister, I am a reporter from Hsuan Meng from World Journal, a Chinese language newspaper here. You mentioned about the Asian democracy. But the Asian democracy—democratic leader, most of the new democracy, their leader are very unpopular, like in Korea, President Roh is under 20 percent, in Taiwan is 20 percent, in Philippines is under 20 percent. And the dictatorships in Asia, from Hu Jintao on to Vietnam, they’re all very popular. And you’re (not ?) very popular, too. And what do you think the Asian democracy value? Why do they respect their democratically elected leaders? The only democratically elected leader is from Singapore. Singapore is not a democracy, according to most—

GREENBERG: Would you ask your question, please?

QUESTIONER: Yeah. So that’s the reason. Why do you think the democratically elected leaders are not popular in Asia?

THAKSIN: (Laughs, laughter.) Well, you know, finally—finally it’s come—countries (are not an organization ?). You have to have a right management. If you have a proper management team, the organization successful.

My country—you know, the management style may be different. It may be—suit in one organization, it may not suit in another organization, and some certain stage, you need some level of democracy.

So in China, (where it’s official ?), in Vietnam, where it’s (official ?), even though they are not really a Western-style of democracy.

So really, do you have a blueprint for democracy? That blueprint is supposed to be one size fits all for every country? It’s not. Actually, democracy or any political system is the way to get the management team to run that country for the better life of the people, of the whole people. But democracy is good because it allows the dialogue, it allows you—allows the people to voice their—exercise their right to voice their opinion of whatever so you can hear more.

Like in this (net ?), you are now custom center—customer center. You have to understand the customer. You hear the customer, you can sell. If you don’t hear what the customer wants, you cannot sell. So exactly democracy is merely—you hear more from the people. So when you hear more, you know how to solve the problem better, and then you can serve them better.

But if you promise and you don’t deliver, then your popularity is down. So it’s—exactly. You know, but—like Singapore—even—yeah, they are elected leaders—democratically elected leaders, but they promise and they can’t deliver what they promise, so that’s why they’re hanging the power scope for so long.

So I think it’s actually—you know, democracy is the people. It’s about the people. If we do things for the people, for their well-being, then, you know, you stay in power.

GREENBERG: Time for one more question.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your remarks. My name is Roland Paul. I’m a lawyer. If my reading is correct, Thailand has made great success in its program to prevent HIV, and I would wonder, if I’m correct in that, what are the one or two major reasons that you’ve forged such success in the program?

And also, you might—what progress are you making against child prostitution?

THAKSIN: For the HIV/AIDS, we do a lot of prevention as well as the treating.

The prevention, we give the—we provide education to the young generation, and also I think—(name inaudible)—is one of the—a very good promoter on that one to prevent the HIV/AIDS through the condom—the use of the condom. And also, we have a really good working relationship with the WHO and some many NGOs in that sense. And also now, after my government come in, we used the policies of access to all. We provide all the access to those (with ?) HIV/AIDS. And we produced the—(inaudible)—drug that can give it to those who have the—(inaudible)—and 400. And they can live their life almost like a normal people, and we done that treatment to many—several—probably hundred thousand of them per year. That’s a lot of money, but we think we should—we can afford to do so.

And for the child prostitution, it’s—now in Thailand we have less and less on this one, I think. But maybe they may have the pregnancy before a certain age because sometime they—just between friends and, you know—but we’re trying to give more education on sex, on the pregnancy protection. And also the prostitution in Thailand is much less now, much less.

I think the economic development is very important, providing them and their parents with a better income, so they can send the students through school. And we provide the loans, the loan, the education loan, and provide the education loans and free scholarships to the children, especially in the—for the—from the poor families. So that will help.

GREENBERG: Please join me in thanking the prime minister. (Applause.) Thank you. Thanks a lot.

 

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