SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for taking the time to visit the Pentagon today. It’s especially good to have you here because Thailand is our oldest friend and ally in the Indo-Pacific. For decades, our Alliance has strengthened security in this critical region. I am therefore delighted to announce today that I will be making my first visit to Thailand as Secretary of Defense next month. This will be my fourth trip as Secretary of Defense to the Indo-Pacific, and Prime Minister, I look forward to seeing you again in a few weeks.
Today, the close cooperation between our countries reflects a friendship that dates back more than 200 years. We have faced challenges together as Allies, including the pandemic, where we have cooperated in response efforts and medical research. We also deeply appreciate your continued support of our military operations and exercises. We are grateful for the access Thailand has provided to Utapao Naval Airfield and other key sites, which has supported critical operations in the region. And despite the pandemic, Exercise Cobra Gold went off successfully this year. And we plan to return to full scale in 2023.
Today, I look forward to discussing our access and presence initiatives and other joint training opportunities and other issues of common interest, including border security. And we’ll talk about ways to strengthen our Alliance for years to come.
Prime Minister, it is truly a pleasure to have you here today and I look forward to our excellent conversation.
THAI MINISTER OF DEFENSE PRAYUT CHAN-O-CHA: Thank you.
(Through Translator): I’m very pleased with you today. I think this is an opportunity for me and my delegation to make an official visit. Thank you for the very warm welcome you have given us. And I am happy to be able to continue our appeal of February 23 of last year. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the US government and President Biden for providing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical equipment that has been of great benefit to our country. This reflects the close cooperation between Thailand and the United States and dates back over 189 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of millions of people around the world. Pandemics are therefore a new form of threat that all nations must face. I want to commend the United States for its important role in the fight against COVID-19 through its cutting-edge medical technology and leading vaccine producers. You have helped provide vaccines to several countries around the world. And this is an area where the Thai and US military can also cooperate to further protect our society and strengthen our infrastructure in this regard.
Thailand and the United States have a longstanding close relationship with our military and defense cooperation as a central pillar of this relationship. Thailand is America’s oldest ally in the region and you have elevated Thailand to a major non-NATO ally.
I welcome the success of the Seventh Strategic Defense Talks between our Ministry of Defense and the 2+2 Strategic Dialogue held on May 9-10 earlier this week. I am confident that both sides will ensure that the results of these talks are used to strengthen our cooperation to ensure mutually beneficial results. I salute the continued elevation and development of our alliance even further, especially the signing of the 2020 Joint Vision Statement for the Thai-American Defense Alliance.
Thus, with regard to military modernization and professionalization, we take into account the current complex security environment. I would like to inform you that the Ministry of Defense must therefore develop and elevate the capabilities of our armed forces to repair our readiness to face all types of national security threats with the aim of developing a modern, agile and structured army. appropriately in line with international standards.
Thus, Thai Army standards are actually derived from those of the US Army. And it has been for over 100 years. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank the United States for supporting us, our military equipment and equipment, which has played an important role in ensuring our military readiness and the modernization of our armed forces.
The United States has also given us support for training on various programs. And the knowledge and experience of these courses are essential to develop our armed forces and promote their professionalization.
With regard to joint training and military education, I am pleased to note that despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, training, education and other cooperation between our Ministries of Defense has relentlessly pursued. This includes joint Cobra Gold exercises and other key exercises between different branches of our armies, as well as sustaining force, military material support and expanding cooperation in other areas.
I would like to thank the United States government for placing importance on advancing cooperation between our Department of Defense and the Department of Defense, as evidenced by the close military cooperation, especially in this regarding the International Military Education and Training, or IMET, program which plays an important role in promoting networking between our two armed forces.
We take note of the new security threats that our countries and other countries around the world are facing at this time. And as such, the Ministry of Defense has set itself the objective of developing our capabilities in order to be ready to face the new key threats, namely cybersecurity and space threats where we hope to be able to expand our cooperation with the States United in these areas. And I know that we have also initiated some cooperation already in preparation for conferences and related activities.
Thus, with regard to cooperation in the defense industry, our Minister of Defense wishes to study the successful experiences of the United States in research and development in the defense industry, including avenues for to bring concepts from research to production as well as to set standards in order that our defense equipment produced in Thailand will be accepted by the international community.
And as close allies for nearly 200 years, Thailand invites the United States and its relevant agencies to consider investing in the Eastern Economic Corridor, or EEC, particularly in the defense industry. The Thai government has declared this to be one of our target industries and we want to jointly invest with other countries to promote technology transfer and move Thailand towards self-sufficiency in this field. We also hope that Thailand could be part of the defense industry supply chain.
In addition, the Ministry of Defense of Thailand will organize the Defense and Security Conference 2022 in September, which will be an opportunity to exchange knowledge on defense technology and equipment. And I hope that the United States will be present again and will support us in this conference.
Thank you, back to you, please.