WASHINGTON -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III welcomed Thailand's Prime Minister and Defense Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to the Pentagon yesterday to build on the more than 200-year-old history between the two countries.
Thailand is America's oldest friend and ally in the Indo-Pacific, and for centuries the two nations have worked closely together to bolster security in the region, Austin said.
Austin also announced that he will make his first trip to Thailand as defense secretary next month.
Austin thanked the prime minister for the help Thailand has provided the United States over the years. He singled out access to Thailand's U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield. He also thanked the Thai people for hosting Exercise Cobra Gold — one of the largest military exercises in the region. Austin was pleased that the COVID-19 pandemic did not stop the exercise and said the United States will be back at full scale for the 2023 exercise.
"Today, I'm looking forward to discussing our access and presence initiatives, further opportunities for joint training and other issues of common concern — including border security," Austin said. "And we'll talk about new ways to strengthen our alliance for years to come."
Both the secretary and the prime minister mentioned the cooperation between the two countries on COVID-19. "We've faced challenges together as allies — including the pandemic — where we've cooperated on response efforts and medical research," Austin said.
The prime minister thanked the United States "for providing COVID-19 vaccine and other key medical equipment which was a great benefit to our country. This reflects the close cooperation between Thailand and the United States, extending back over 189 years."
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The prime minister further said COVID-19 is an example of the "new form of threats that all nations must confront. This is an area in which the Thai and U.S. military can cooperate as well to further protect our society and strengthen our infrastructure in this regard."
The Thai government is also working to modernize and professionalize the armed forces in response to the increasingly complex security environment, Prayut said. He said they will base the standards for the military on American forces. "I would like to take this opportunity to thank the United States for supporting us on military hardware and equipment, which has played an important role in ensuring our military readiness and modernization of our armed forces," he said. "The United States has also provided us with support for training on various curricula, and the knowledge and experience from the courses is vital in developing our armed forces and in promoting its professionalization."