The Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva made a one-day visit to Hong Kong on 15 May 2009 to reaffirm investors' confidence in Thailand. Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) hosted a luncheon for the Honourable Prime Minister to deliver keynote address to the business leaders in Hong Kong.
Gist of PM Abhisit Vejjajiva's Address at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, Hong Kong (FCCHK), 15 May 2009
Expressing his pleasure to be in Hong Kong for his first visit after assuming office, PM Abhisit noted that this was his first trip abroad since the disruption of the ASEAN Summit in Pattaya and unrest in Bangkok in April. The reason for his visit was to reaffirm Thailand's commitment as a partner and friend of Hong Kong, given the growing and close relationship, particularly on trade, investment and tourism. At the same time, he wished to share his perspective on what was happening in Thailand, knowing that most of the correspondents had been following developments in Thailand not just over the last 3-4 months but the last 2-3 years.
PM Abhisit talked about what he had been trying to do over the last four and a half months and what he hoped to achieve in the coming months. He noted that the twin challenges his Government faced were to lead the Thai economy out of one of the worst financial and economic crises in recent times and to heal the political divisions and conflicts in the country.
Noting that images of Thailand over the last 2-3 years have been of protests and chaotic scenes at Government House, the airports and on the streets of Bangkok, PM Abhisit reassured the audience that his Government's priority was to achieve true reconciliation. He had said from his first day in office that he would pursue this by making sure that the rule of law and justice prevail, and that the Thai political system continue to be developed and reformed so that all voices could be heard and Thailand would have a political system where there was participation from all sides and all differences could be resolved through democratic and peaceful means.
The Prime Minister further said that during the first three months in office, his Government's approach to these problems was to avoid any kind of conflict or confrontation and try to get to grips with the concerns, complaints and grievances that various groups in the society had, in order to begin the process of reconciliation through reforms and fair and non-discriminatory enforcement of the law. It seemed to have worked for three months, he noted, but in April the Government's opponents decided to resort to violence. What followed was the disruption of the summit in Pattaya and chaotic scenes on the streets of Bangkok. The Government had to declare a state of emergency, using the powers entrusted in a special law - the emergency decree. The Government then swiftly moved to restore order. The operations to restore order lasted about 2-3 days with no losses of life as a direct result.
PM Abhisit pointed out that the operations were not about scoring a political victory or trying to clamp down on the Government's opponents. He insisted that they could continue to exercise their democratic and constitutional rights so long that they did not violate the law, such as by inciting violence, blocking streets, or trying to harm people, particularly people in the Government who had been targeted.
Immediately after the events, the Prime Minister called a special session of Parliament for a general debate, where the opposition, government MPs and senators could air their views on how they thought the country should proceed or even raise questions about the events of April, especially concerning the government operations. After an intensive two-day debate, it was agreed that two parliamentary committees should be set up: one to review the situation and events particularly during the days of unrest, and the other to look for a political solution whereby the political divisions and disagreement could be resolved once and for all. PM Abhisit said that for the last couple of weeks, these two committees had been at work. They would report back to the President of the Parliament very soon so that an inclusive process of political reform could begin and concerns about justice or problems in the political system could be addressed for long-lasting peace and political stability.
PM Abhisit noted that more significant was that, despite the turmoil and political challenges over the last few months, the Government was able to implement its economic recovery and stimulus packages on track and on time. The Government had moved swiftly to pass a mid-year supplementary budget to protect the least fortunate and the poorest in society from the impact of the financial crisis. The comprehensive programme - ranging from price support for farmers to income support for low income earners, as well as protecting the most vulnerable people by providing income support for the elderly and beginning a programme of free basic education for children - was passed with the Parliament's approval. 70-80% of the three billion USD programme had now been disbursed. So the Government was well on the way of completing the first phase of the recovery programme.
The Prime Minister further elaborated on the second and more ambitious stimulus package for which the Government was currently seeking parliamentary approval. This involved 45 billion USD of public investment over the next few years. He underlined that there were clear frameworks on how the money was going to be invested by putting particular emphasis on investment in water distribution; transport, communications and logistics; upgrading health centres and schools; and supporting future economic development by focusing more on the service sector and the creative economy. To finance this, PM Abhisit said, Thailand would need to seek additional borrowing as it was running up against the legal limits in terms of the fiscal deficit, but most of the borrowing would be from domestic sources as there was ample liquidity within the Thai financial system, which remained in good health.
PM Abhisit reiterated that despite the headlines and political troubles in the news, the economic programme was proceeding very well and the Government remained focused on that, recognizing that the economy was the number one concern for the majority of the Thai people. By the end of the year, one would begin to see the implementation of such investment, some of which would be financed through the budget, some through loans and some through public-private partnership. The Prime Minister reaffirmed his Government's continued stance to drive the economy through the private sector and market forces.
At the same time, the Prime Minister said that Thailand was also carrying out its commitment as ASEAN chair. In February, the country successfully hosted the 14th ASEAN Summit which saw the new ASEAN Charter put into effect and ASEAN continue on its path toward the vision of an ASEAN community. In October, Thailand would be hosting the 15th ASEAN Summit, Summits with dialogue partners and the East Asia Summit, following up on the many regional and global initiatives to deal with the financial crisis. These include a number of agreements and initiatives from the London Summit of the G20, additional facilities offered by global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and also the regional multilateralisation of the Chiang Mai Initiative, an arrangement to reserve pooling, in which Hong Kong has also participated. PM Abhisit also added that apart from all these challenges, ASEAN continued to be proactive. Last week Thailand hosted the ASEAN+3 Health Ministers' Meeting to meet the challenge of the new Influenza A H1N1.
(Conclusion)In conclusion, PM Abhisit noted that behind the pictures in the media and beyond the headlines, Thailand was getting back to business and the Government was very much focused on the economic challenges. At the same time, a national reconciliation process has begun through parliamentary mechanisms, in the hope of achieving peace and stability in the country.
Q&A Session after PM Abhisit's Speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong (FCCHK) Hong Kong, Friday 15 May 2009
(Monarchy: role in politics and succession)
Q: (IHT - Philip Bowring) In previous Thai crises, His Majesty the King played a rather visible role in bringing people together. On this occasion, nothing has been heard from His Majesty the King for the last many months. Is it reasonable to come to a conclusion therefore that His Majesty is seriously incapacitated' Could you say something about the procedure for the succession when H.M. eventually is no longer with us?
PM: As prime minister in a parliamentary system, I have to report to His Majesty the King regularly. I have presented the most recent report only a week and a bit back. Since then, His Majesty the King has attended some public ceremonies to mark very important occasions for the country. So he is in good health. Obviously, given that I have spent a lot of time reporting to His Majesty, I can tell you that His Majesty is very well aware of all the issues that are pertinent to the country's situation.
Your observation needs to be put in perspective. His Majesty the King's interventions in the past, most notably after 14 October 1973 and in May 1992, were interventions of a humanitarian kind, where there has been violence and conflict up to the point that no other process would be able to stop the violence spreading and causing further losses of lives. They were not political interventions as such. At the moment, we have a situation where certainly the government, and now the opposition and the senators have been invited to provide a political solution, which is what explains why there has not been intervention from His Majesty.
His Majesty has been very clear in a speech given two years ago when there were a lot of conflicts and chaos in the streets that he himself is under the law, under the Constitution, and has no power or right to exercise any power beyond what is given to him according to the Constitution. So at the moment, it is up to us, politicians primarily and the people of Thailand, to resolve our problems. His Majesty remains above politics and will continue to provide inspiration, wisdom and guidance in philosophical terms for the Thai people.
The issue of succession is all in the Constitution. There is a provision that states clearly what happens should there need to be a process of succession, and obviously we have to proceed according to that provision.
Q: (Bloomberg) We are relieved to hear that His Majesty is in good health. In his recent interview with Der Spiegel, M.R. Sukhumbhand Baripatra said that he is now afraid for the first time that Thailand could slip into chaos when His Majesty is no longer around. Nobody lives forever. The King has been on the throne in 60 years, right back to when Truman was in the White House. The investors I have been talking to said they are worried about the succession as they are about the present impasse. You mentioned twin challenges. Isn't the succession actually a greater challenge for Thailand?
PM: If you look at succession issues, there are two things that we should accept. The first is that if there are clear rules for succession. That eliminates a lot of uncertainty around how the succession process will actually evolve or work out. There are clear constitutional provisions, so in that sense, that eliminates some of the uncertainty. The second issue is undebatable. When you have had a leader for more than six decades - and one that has built up so much reverence and respect from the people, there's always going to be anxiety. I don't know of any country or society or even organization - where there has been an inspirational leader who has been there for a long time - that does not have anxiety about succession. But Thailand has to make sure that we are mature enough as a country to deal with changes, economic, political and whatever issues that we need to face. I have no illusion that when it happens, it will be a very difficult time for all of us because we are very much attached to His Majesty. But we have to prove our maturity as a people and as a society and demonstrate to the rest of the world that we can deal with all issues and changes.
Q: (Le Monde) Many critics have been quite vocal about the provisions under the lese-majeste and how they have been detrimental to the freedom of the press. In many occasions, some bloggers have been particularly famous for ending up on the wrong side of the lese-majeste but also in many others, including foreign correspondents in some instances.
PM: On lese-majeste law, let me reaffirm my belief. This law has been in place for a long time. It is not even a special law. It is part of our Criminal Code in the section on national security as a mechanism to protect one of our key institutions which is supposed to be above conflict and therefore has no other self-defence mechanism. We do not want members of the monarchy taking people to court and therefore be directly in conflict with people.
The problem with this law is more with its enforcement over the last few years, where the law has often been abused or too liberally interpreted. The cases that are now proceeding are mostly cases initiated before I assumed office. Since I assumed office, what I have done is that I have asked people involved particularly the police and now I have asked the Justice Ministry to come up with standard operating procedures so that people know exactly what the limits of this law are. Generally, expression of opinions, for instance, academic opinions concerning institutions is not something that would violate the law. But accusing or making allegations that are damaging to the institution or members of the institution would violate the law, just as you and I would be taken to court if you were to defame or cause damages to other people's reputations. So what I hope to do is to get these new standard operating procedures in place. And I will confirm to you that in no case have people been prosecuted for their political views. If the things that they do to the monarchy were done to other people, they would also have been taken to court and punished, and probably they would suffer more because they probably would not be given a pardon.
Q: (...) In line of what you have said, what is the colour that you expect in mixing yellow and red? In other words, what concessions or proposals are you willing to make to entice the opposition to come over to your views? And if you are not able to do so, how much longer do you expect to be in office?
PM: If my knowledge is correct, you put red and yellow together; you get orange. Orange is the colour that stands for innovation and that is exactly what we need. We need the innovative thinking from the political circles to get Thailand out of this trap. I know that politicians often defend their own interest. But my determination is that we cannot let the country down further. We need to move beyond our own narrow interest, prepare to be open-minded and discuss all the issues that are of concern to other people, not our own. This is why the parliamentary committee should open up the process for public participation as widely as possible. So I expect that the process might take a few more months and might even involve the possibility of public hearings or even a referendum on some controversial issues. The Government will do what we can to support this process.
How much longer am I expected to last? I do not think it actually depends on the failure of this process. Maybe the success of this process might lead to the constitutional amendment and also a good time for me to call new elections. I have said that I would decide to call elections when I feel it is best for the country. I think for the country, there are three things that need be done before elections should be called.
First, we need a cooling-off period. We do not want to go into election with feelings high and real risk of having violent election campaigns. That's the last thing we need for Thai democracy.
Second, we need to have a good package in place so we are prepared to deal with the worst of the financial crisis. It makes no sense to have disruptions in the programme to deal with the financial crisis as it will only hurt our people.
Third, as Chair of ASEAN, we should carry out our commitment the best we can and have to chair until the end of the year. I cannot really tell you when the elections would be held, but if you say if I failed my task, my country and my people, I have no doubt in my own mind, the country's interest has to come before my own. I am not interested in how long I stay. I am interested in what I do while I stay which is to achieve reconciliation and recovery for my country and people.
Q: (AP) How can Thailand assure the safety of future international meetings given the government's failure in the past?
There are many who believe that Thailand, to show the commitment to the rule of law, needs to put some of the yellow shirts on trial because it has not happened yet. Do you foresee the time when this will happen soon or not?
PM: - For the first question, we successfully hosted the ASEAN+3 Health Ministers' Meeting last week, I think that is clear that we are ready and we can host meetings of that kind.
- As far as the enforcement of law is concerned, particularly in the cases against the PAD, all cases are proceeding. I should point out that when I assumed the office, a lot of the cases that were pending against PAD were already almost about half a year old, and no actions had been taken. When I assumed office, one of the first things that I asked the police to do was to get the easy ones done like instances of violence that took place during the protests, and subsequently, arrest warrants were issued. Then there was a case of the occupation of Government House. They have clearly made progress with that so there were summonses and warrants issued and the case is now proceeding. The big high profile case that remains is the one that concerns the airport occupation. I have asked them to speed the investigation on that. They say they are now over 90% done so I expect some results very soon.
Q: (TVB) Can you really be confident to reassure travellers to Thailand that there is not going to be future state of emergency or airport closure taking place?
PM: What I can reassure you is that even during those very difficult times and chaotic events, in no case were foreigners targets. The implementation of the law - as far as I am concerned - will be done with the utmost care. We will ensure that we swiftly restore order with minimal, and if possible, no losses at all. The operations during Songkran resulted in no losses of life as a direct action of the Government.
We are always on alert. We want to make sure that order is preserved. Our mistake during April was we exercised what some people called undue restraint because we thought that if the Government exercises utmost restraint, the other side would not escalate violence. Now that we know there are a small group of people who might resort to violent actions, we are much more alert as to their movements. We will make sure that all the political movements now are the exercise of constitutional rights - freedom of expression - and not abusing those rights to become cases of inciting violence or leading people to take illegal actions such as blocking roads or trespassing onto government or other properties.
Q: (IHT) The 1997 constitution was drawn up with very heavy support from the Democrat Party. It is generally believed to be an excellent constitution and it was overthrown by a military coup. Would not the return to the1997Constitution be one way of reconciling the opposing parties?
PM: You are right in saying that Democrats Party and myself in particular were the first group of people to endorse and support the 1997 Constitution. And I do believe it is a good document. The problem is you have also to look back about 3 years ago when after the constitution had been in effect for about 7-8 years, there was widespread abuse and loopholes that were exploited by people with power. All political parties back in 2006 had agreed that it was time to amend the 1997 Constitution in a major way. In that sense the task should not be just getting the 1997 Constitution back but learning lessons from how it was abused and how loopholes were discovered and make sure that those loopholes are no longer there, and that we improve upon the 1997 document. It would not make sense to put back something that has proved not to work and actually at one point produced a consensus that it has not work, and hope that this time around somehow it would work.
(Neutrality of Human Rights Commission)
Q: (Le Monde) Regarding the National Commission for Human Rights which has been recently reappointed, many critics have been quite dismayed by the fact that hardly anyone in the Commission has a background in human rights. Many are former members of the police force. And in one case, in relation to [Myanmar], there is one specific member, Mr. Parinya, who has previously said that western criticism of [Myanmar] amounts to foreign interference in internal affairs. So, the Commission does not seem to be up to the standard to bring about reconciliation.
PM: This is a commission that we first had when we had the 1997 Constitution, and subsequently the current Constitution continues with this body. The essential thing is that this Commission is separate from the executive branch, which is the Government. The process of selection is in the Constitution and the law, whereby people can apply and there will be a selection committee and then the senate will vote on the nominations. The new Commission has come about according to those procedures, so whether those procedures are up to the standard that you and I see is a different issue because that is what the law specifies as the process of appointing the Human Rights Commission. I would hope to see that the Human Rights Commission would follow the example set by the previous Commission which has been proactive and active on many issues and retained their independence. If my Government or I myself were to interfere or intervene with the process, that would defeat the purpose of having this Commission being an independent commission. If anybody has issues whether the appointment of the Commission is not going according with the Constitution or the law, they can refer that to the Constitutional Court but they have to specify clearly how the process so far has violated these procedures.
Q: (Far Eastern Economic Review - Colum Murphy) Does Mr. Thaksin play a part in the vision that you have on the reconciliation in Thailand. Will the banned politicians from Thai Rak Thai be allowed to reenter the political domain and play roles in the future?
PM: The opposition party which has ties to the former prime minister is involved in this process. So, all the political parties and groups in Thailand are being represented. Reconciliation is about public issues, not about personal issues. We will do whatever is appropriate and right as far as the democratic system is concerned. If that does include, for instance, possible amnesty for the banned politicians, then so be it. But currently, we have not reached that conclusion yet. There are proposals and counter-proposals as to what the appropriate changes should be made to the Constitution, and we will proceed accordingly.
I would reiterate my firm stance that to achieve real reconciliation, personal issues and interests must be put aside. We are here to design a better system that is fair for everybody.
For Mr. Thaksin as an individual, he will be treated as any other Thai would be treated. He has been convicted; he has violated the law; he must accept responsibility. We are talking about amnesty for political violations. Those are being discussed. But I have said clearly that we are not interested in granting amnesty for criminal offences.
Q: (...) Thaksin, the former Prime Minister of Thailand, was very active in Hong Kong. Before you made the decision to come to Hong Kong, did you have any consideration about this? Have you given any pressures to the Government of Hong Kong and the Government of China not to let Thaksin to come to Hong Kong again?
PM: My decisions are based on the interests of over 60 million people in Thailand. That's what guides my decisions. He was not part of any consideration as to when and where I make my trips. As for Hong Kong, and China for Hong Kong, we are actually working on the extradition treaty, and I think we are making progress.
Q: (AFP) You mentioned about the Extradition agreement with Hong Kong and perhaps Beijing. When do you think the agreement will be reached? Supposed that he were watching you speaking here at FCC, what would you say to Thaksin?
PM: I would say he can expect justice in Thailand and he must accept the consequences of his actions because he is a Thai and he cannot have privileges and rights that are above any other Thais. We do not discriminate against him but we cannot discriminate for him.
As for the extradition treaties, the Ministry, the parties concerned are working on it. I am not sure how long the timeframe is but in my discussion with the Chief Executive he mentioned it himself that he is working on it and hopes to see a quick conclusion.
Q: (NY Times) How long do you think it might take for exports to begin to recover? And when they do, do you foresee ASEAN countries rebuilding their reserves with the same heavy reliance on dollars? Or will they consider other currencies including the renminbi?
PM: A lot would depend obviously on how quickly our key trading partners recover. The frustrating thing about dealing with this crisis from the point of view of a lot of Asian economies is that the problem has been caused by the drop in demand from countries that are our trading partners. So we hope to see major economies that are suffering now in the US, Europe or Japan - when their economies pick up that will be when most of the regional economies' exports will also pick up. And in fact even during these times, the one thing you might notice is that the drop in exports for most Asian countries is actually less that the drop in imports. So we actually continue to build surpluses and reserves.
The issue of exactly in which currency these reserves are held is separate. And there have been no clear signs of any change which means the dollar continues to dominate. I think for other currencies to replace the dollar or maybe even complement the dollar will also have to meet two major requirements. One is the willingness of the various countries to hold such currency, which is related to the second issue that that currency would almost automatically have to be freely traded. So these are the challenges for currencies that might either replace or complement the dollar as major foreign reserves.
Q: (ASEAN Magazine) There has been a lot of discussion about approaching development on a balanced approach, i.e. not relying too much on the export sectors. Do you subscribe this view, and what steps are you taking to strengthen domestic consumption?
PM: It is important to have, one, a strong domestic economy. Thailand has a fairly decent size domestic economy but it can be enhanced, so a number of sectors, particularly the agriculture sector, should be beefed up. Secondly, I don't think people should shun opportunities to trade. So if there are opportunities there for export, import, trade investment, they should take them with the understanding that there are risks. The job of the Government is to protect the people from the risks of having their lives absolutely ruined by the volatility of the global economy. To me, the action we now take is to strengthen domestic economy, plus strengthening our social safety net and welfare system, so people are better protected. I would not recommend people turning their backs on the opportunities that come from abroad.
Q: (...) Thailand has always been very sensitive to the shift of power balance in the region. Some people say that is the reason why it is the only country in the region that has never been a colony. Recently, what we see now is that China is having a military build up on the one side and on the other side the US influence in the region is declining a little bit. Especially to this question is with respect to the South China Sea. Where is Thailand situating itself?
PM: [Part] of the charm and the untold success of ASEAN is that the Association was formed precisely to strike a right balance among the major powers in the world, which is why Thailand has been very active in supporting the role of ASEAN in providing a stabilizing factor as far as security is concerned, given the shifting in the balance of power between the major players of the world. ASEAN has the ARF. ASEAN now reaches out so we now have the Plus 3 and the EAS. There are even talks and proposals of other and similar fora so that everybody can be involved, so we can build trust and confidence rather than seeing the emergence of powers as something of a threat.
Q: (Financial Times) You mentioned your Government's economic programmes. Your Government was quoted this week that the planned, rescheduled East Asian Summit will not be happening next month, and it might not happen until October. Amidst what may be the greatest economic crisis that the region has ever faced, is it not some sort of marked failure for the region as a whole that it could be a year of passing by without being able to convene the leaders together to work on the common programme or effort to fight this?
PM: I want to put things in perspective. We were supposed to have had the 14th Summit and also the East Asia Summit back in December last year. It was moved from Bangkok to Chiangmai and was subsequently cancelled. Then there was a change of government. I came in. My determination was to get things back on track, but the logistical issue of finding a convenient time for 16 leaders have proved very difficult. When we went ahead with the Cha-am Hua Hin 14th Summit - or what is seen as the first half of it - without waiting for the EAS, it was because we could not find a time convenient for all 16 leaders and we did not want to wait. So we went ahead with that.
We then found a narrow window in April, where India was not able to attend because of the elections in the country. But we decided that we had to go ahead. It was unfortunate that the disruptions took place in Pattaya following the protest but I have to put safety of other leaders before everything else
So we tried to find a time between April and October. Because we felt it would be good to have it as soon as possible, we looked for June. We knew it was difficult, and in the end what happened was that the Korean president had engagements in the US, Brunei also could not reschedule a foreign trip and New Zealand, India and Indonesia have engagements concerning internal elections. So we could not go ahead in June.
In July we have the Foreign Ministers' Meeting, the Post Ministerial Conferences, the ARF and the Economic Ministers' Meeting as well, so the whole of July is full of ASEAN and ASEAN and dialogue partners' activities anyway. And by the time we move to August, questions are being raised that do we want two East Asian Summits within the space of two months. So what we are now doing is that we ask the senior officials of the EAS, or the ASEAN+6, who will continue to meet next week in Phuket, and they will recommend to the leaders on how we should proceed. But the likelihood is that we would then move to October for the 15th ASEAN Summit and Related Summits.
I would say that in the meantime, it does not mean we do nothing. Just as we have proceeded and now succeeded in getting the Chiang Mai Initiative expansion to multilateralization agreed upon, there could be statements issued by ASEAN and ASEAN+3 and ASEAN+6 on other related issues. And I think a number of initiatives in the minds of China, Japan, Korea - they might announce such initiatives at other international forums. So cooperation continues. For problems concerning logistics, we had to postpone the meeting.
(Influenza A H1N1)
Q: (TVB) We had a hotel closed here for a week because of the swine flu, and it has just reopened today. Would you be confident to book a room and spend a night in this hotel? What do you think about how Hong Kong is dealing with swine flu?
PM: Yes, but unfortunately I have to go back.
Q: (RDHK) The world is really concerned on the outbreak of swine flu. As you have repeatedly said you are trying to boost Thailand's economy, what will be the impact of swine flu to Thai economy and are you concerned?
PM: We are as concerned as everybody and we have had two cases reported and confirmed: they were people who travelled back from Mexico. But they are now cured, healthy, sent back, and there are no reports of any contagions while they are in Thailand. We have measures still in place, in terms of thermo-scans, screening, monitoring the movement of people who travel from countries where there is an outbreak and we will continue to take appropriate actions against those suspect cases. It is still too early to conclude one way or another about how serious this is going to be. What we will watch is how quickly the numbers in Mexico and the US stabilise. If those numbers become stable, at least it is an encouraging sign as to what kind of limits the problem will actually reach. If it is contained to the current level, we think that it would have some effect but it is at a level where WHO is not recommending any kind of travel restrictions so the impact would be more limited. The worst case scenario would be if the situation got worse to a point where travel restrictions were being officially sanctioned or imposed by the authorities.
(Thai-Cambodia border dispute)
Q: (Voice of America) What is the current status of talks with Cambodia with regards to the border dispute?
PM: I have met with Prime Minister Hun Sen twice and a number of ministers who have direct responsibilities several times. We agreed that this is the issue that should be resolved according to the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed back in the year 2000, which means we have a joint boundary commission that works on this. The commission continues to meet. It is really a technical problem that needs to be sorted out, and we will leave it at that. PM Hun Sen and I are in complete agreement that we will not allow this issue to distract us from the various issues of cooperation that we could continue to pursue on a number of fronts, whether economic, cultural, or political. So at the moment, the issue is referred to the JBC according to the MOU that we signed. It is unfortunate that every now and then clashes do happen. It is something that is not unexpected. PM Hun Sen and I had very frank talks on that. These things happen when we have a common border and disputes over where the border is. But as I say, we leave it as a technical issue; we have a framework and mechanism to resolve it; and we will not let that dominate the relationship between the two countries.
Q: (IHT - Mark McDonald) As the holder of the ASEAN Chair, is it not time for you personally, as a Prime Minister of Thailand, and ASEAN overall to speak out against the rather alarming treatment of Aung San Suu Kyi in [Myanmar]? And barring any comment, is it acquiescence by silence on the part of ASEAN?
PM: Yesterday, I already expressed my concerns about what has been happening in Myanmar because at the last ASEAN leaders' meeting, Myanmar briefed us on her plans to achieve the roadmap and we had clearly issued the statement, chairman's statement - and also in our discussions - on the desire to see an inclusive political process that would be accepted by the international community and we have encouraged Myanmar to work with the United Nations because we have expected the United Nations, maybe the Secretary General, to pay a visit and try to resolve the issues.
Obviously, what has been happening over the last couple of days or a little longer is of real concern. The Foreign Ministry, since Thailand is the Chair, is now seeking the views of all the other ASEAN members.
Q: (Reuters) You mentioned that the situation of Aung Sang Suu Kyi is of real concern to yourself and ASEAN. Could you elaborate on that - your concern about manner of her detention, her health being denied of a doctor in the past. What time frame do you think you will be able to get a collective answer from the members on this?
PM: Clearly her health situation is of concern, and that should be a concern to everybody. The second thing is the bigger picture of what this means as far as the implementation of the roadmap. And I have already said ASEAN has expressed our desire to see what we called an inclusive process that would be key to the acceptability of the political process. So clearly the events raised these concerns, health concerns and concerns as to what this means for the future of the implementation of the roadmap.
The Foreign Ministry is asking for views of other ASEAN countries, and it went out yesterday, and because I'm here today I cannot tell you how quick the response we can expect, but I will certainly follow up on that with my Foreign Minister when I get back.