President Bush Speaks in Thailand on Aug. 7
As Prepared for Delivery on Aug. 7, 2008
Laura and I are delighted to be back in Bangkok. We appreciate the gracious welcome extended by His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen.
Above all, I bring America's warmest wishes to our oldest allies in Asia - the people of Thailand. Our friendship began 175 years ago this spring, when President Andrew Jackson dispatched an envoy to Siam. Negotiators soon concluded a treaty of peace and commerce and sealed it with a lotus flower on one side and an eagle and stars on the other. Generations of close friendship followed. At one point, the Thai King offered to send elephants to America. President Abraham Lincoln had to politely decline.
The values of freedom and openness that gave birth to our alliance have sustained it through the centuries. American troops and the Royal Thai Armed Forces have stood united from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. Our free market economies have surged forward on a rising tide of trade and investment. Tourism has boomed, as more people discover this beautiful and ancient land. And some 200,000 Thai Americans now enrich my Nation with their enterprise, culture, and faith.
On this historic anniversary of our alliance, America looks to Thailand as a leader in the region and a partner around the world. I was proud to designate Thailand a major non-NATO ally of the United States. And I salute the Thai people on the restoration of democracy, which has proved that liberty and law reign here in the "Land of the Free."
In many ways, the story of Thailand is the story of this region. Over the past six decades, Asia has gone from an area mired in poverty and recovering from world war to a thriving and dynamic region. America has played a pivotal role in this transformation. By maintaining a stabilizing military presence, we helped to free emerging nations from concerns about security. By pursuing strong diplomatic engagement, we helped once-hostile nations resolve their differences in peace. And by opening our markets to Asian exports, we helped powerful economies to take shape.
America is proud of these contributions. Yet the primary source of this region's success is its people. From South Korea to Singapore, nations pursued economic policies based on free enterprise, free trade, and the rule of law. The results have astounded the world. Last year, trade in goods between the United States and this side of the Pacific reached one trillion dollars. And in a striking change from the pattern of centuries, more trade now crosses the Pacific than the Atlantic.
With the rise of economic freedom has come a dramatic expansion of political liberty. After World War II, Australia and New Zealand were this region's only democracies. Today, the majority of Asian nations answer to their citizens. With this shift, the people of this region have defied the skeptics who claimed that "Asian values" were incompatible with liberty. Free societies have emerged in largely Buddhist Thailand ... largely Hindu India ... largely Muslim Indonesia ... largely Shinto Japan ... and the largely Christian Philippines. As freedom has taken root, peace has followed. And the region has gone decades without a major war.
Some have called this transformation "The Asian Miracle." In truth, it is no miracle at all. It is evidence of universal truths: The passion for liberty transcends culture and faith. Free markets unleash innovation and blaze the path to prosperity. And trusting in the natural talent and creativity of a nation's people is the surest way to build a vibrant and hopeful society.
When I became President, I brought a conviction that America is a Pacific nation - and that our interests and ideals alike require stronger engagement in Asia than ever before. So over the past seven years, America has pursued four broad goals in the region: to reinvigorate our alliances ... to forge new relationships with countries that share our values ... to seize new opportunities for prosperity and growth ... and to confront shared challenges together.
Confident and purposeful alliances are the best way to advance peace and prosperity in Asia. America has five treaty alliances in Asia. We take them seriously, and we have bolstered each of one. We signed a new treaty with Australia that deepens our cooperation in defense trade. We helped the Philippines upgrade its military capabilities. We have strengthened security initiatives here in Thailand. We are improving our force posture in South Korea by working to move our troops out of cities and towns and into more strategically effective positions. And we have reinforced our close alliance with Japan by launching new missile defense initiatives and by transforming our troop posture in a way that preserves our strong position to maintain peace in the Pacific.
All these steps were designed to reassure our allies that America will stand firmly beside them in any test we face. I also worked to develop strong personal relationships with our allies' elected leaders. These friendships are built on a foundation of honesty, respect, and shared values. And when a new occupant moves into the White House next year, America's alliances in Asia will be the strongest they have ever been.
As America has revitalized our treaty alliances, we have forged deeper ties with other free nations in Asia. Countries that share our democratic ideals should be natural partners of the United States. Yet when I took office, our relations with many free nations in Asia were strained. For example, America has dramatically improved our ties with India - the world's largest democracy - including a historic agreement on civilian nuclear energy.
We have also turned around our relationship with Indonesia, which is home to more Muslims than any other nation on Earth. We have partnered closely with Indonesia's freely elected government to help develop the institutions of a vibrant democracy after decades under military rule. We have signed a landmark agreement with Mongolia to help boost democratic development. We have enhanced cooperation with the thriving countries of ASEAN, which is now chaired by the great nation of Thailand. And we have joined with free nations throughout the region to establish a new Asia Pacific Democracy Partnership - the region's only organization whose sole focus is promoting democratic values and institutions in Asia.
Overall, America has improved our relationships with all of Asia's major powers at the same time. Experts would have said this was impossible because of the historical tensions between these nations. But something has rendered the old patterns obsolete: In an era of integrated markets and common threats, the expansion of freedom in one nation benefits all other free nations. This change marks a sharp departure from the zero-sum mentality of the past. And this change provides a clear charge for the future: Every nation in this region has a stake in ensuring that Asia continues to grow in liberty, prosperity, and hope.
One of the most powerful drivers of liberty, prosperity, and hope is trade. When I took office, America had free trade agreements in force with only three countries, none of them in Asia. Today we have agreements in force with 14 countries, including Australia and Singapore. We have concluded a promising agreement with South Korea, which I am pushing the United States Congress to pass. We have begun negotiating a free trade agreement with Malaysia and a bilateral investment treaty with Vietnam. We look forward to resuming trade negotiations with Thailand. And we have supported the vision of a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific, which would bring down trade barriers across this region. The nations of the Asia Pacific now have more vibrant trade and investment ties than ever. And workers, consumers, and entrepreneurs across this region will reap the benefits for years to come.
Unfortunately, America sometimes sends mixed signals about the openness of our economy. Voices of economic isolationism do not represent the interests of the American people. For decades, America has maintained a bipartisan commitment to flexible, open markets. This must not change. I urge people across this region to reject protectionism in your own countries. Together, we can lead the world toward more growth, more jobs, and more opportunities by staying open to investment and trade.
For all the gains we have made, our nations still face challenges, and we are working to confront them together:
Together, we are confronting the threat of terror. With partners across this region, we have captured or killed some of the world's most dangerous terrorists. We are also working to counter the hateful ideology of the extremists with a more hopeful alternative. We strongly support democracies like Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia, which are making determined stands against extremism and showing that Islam and tolerance go hand-in-hand. Many of America's friends in Asia have also stood with us in Afghanistan and Iraq, where newly free people are replacing decades of fear with a future of hope. America is proud to stand with so many brave partners in answering the calling of our time. And no matter how difficult the task may be, we will not relent until this ideological struggle is won.
Together, we are confronting the threat posed by North Korea. The nations of Northeast Asia all have an urgent stake in ensuring that Pyongyang does not threaten the region with nuclear weapons. Yet when I took office, there was no way for these nations to approach North Korea with a unified front. So America joined with China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia to create the Six-Party Talks. Faced with concerted pressure from all its neighbors, North Korea has pledged to dismantle its nuclear facilities and give up its nuclear weapons. Recently the regime submitted a declaration of its nuclear activities. Now the North Korean regime must commit to help us verify the declaration and address outstanding concerns about its behavior, including its proliferation and uranium enrichment. The other five parties will stand united until we reach our ultimate goal: a Korean Peninsula free of oppression and free of nuclear weapons. And the United States will continue to insist that the regime in Pyongyang end its harsh rule and respect the dignity and human rights of the North Korean people.
Together, we seek an end to tyranny in Burma. This noble cause has many devoted champions, and I happen to be married to one of them. Today, Laura is traveling to the Thai-Burmese border, where she is visiting a resettlement camp and a medical clinic. America reiterates our call on Burma's military junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners. And we will continue working until the people of Burma have the freedom they deserve.
Together, we are confronting other serious challenges to our people and our prosperity. Governments across the region have coordinated efforts to address pandemics like avian flu. The major economies of the region are working for a global climate agreement that improves energy security and cuts greenhouse gases without cutting economic growth. And the region has come together to respond to natural disasters, from the tsunami of 2004 to this year's cyclone. With all these partnerships, we are deepening trust and openness among our nations. And we are ensuring that whatever challenges the future may bring, the nations of the Asia Pacific will meet them together.
One question on the minds of many here in Asia - and many around the world - is the future direction of China. I have been fascinated by China since my first trip there in 1975, when my dad was head of the United States Liaison Office in Beijing. At the time, the country was just emerging from the Cultural Revolution. Poverty was rampant. The streets swarmed with bicycles. People were wearing almost identical clothes. And it seemed unimaginable that three decades later Beijing would be sprinting into the modern era - covered in skyscrapers, filled with cars, home to international businesses, and hosting the Olympic Games.
Over the years, America has had complex relations with China. When I took office, I was determined to set our relationship on a sturdy, principled footing. The four goals we have pursued in Asia - reinforcing our alliances, forming new democratic partnerships, deepening our economic ties, and cooperating on shared challenges - have given America and our allies valuable new platforms from which to confidently engage China. A peaceful and successful future for this region requires the strong involvement of both China and the United States - so America's engagement throughout the Asia Pacific must be purposeful and enduring.
China and the United States share important economic interests. The growth sparked by China's free market reforms is good for the Chinese people, who are building a confident middle class with a stake in a peaceful future. China's new purchasing power is also good for the world, because it provides an enormous market for exports from across the globe. The key to ensuring that all sides benefit is insisting that China adhere to the rules of the international economic system. So America strongly supported China's accession to the World Trade Organization, where we are able to contest trade practices that we find unfair. We are disappointed that the Doha Round of trade talks has stalled, and we will continue to engage China and other nations to help reach a successful conclusion.
America has also established a new strategic economic dialogue with China, where we discuss ways to ensure long-term growth and widely-shared prosperity in both our economies, as well as issues like currency exchange rates and intellectual property rights. Through these discussions and others, we are making clear to China that being a global economic leader carries with it the duty to act responsibly on matters from energy to the environment to development in Africa.
America and China have found other key areas of cooperation. We are partnering to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and China has played a critical leadership role in the Six-Party Talks. America has also stressed our determination to maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait. From the beginning of my Presidency, I have stated clearly that America's approach to Taiwan would be based on our longstanding "one-China" policy, our three joint communiqués, and our steadfast commitment to the security of Taiwan's democracy under the Taiwan Relations Act. I have also articulated a principle that there should be no unilateral attempts by either side to alter the status quo. As a result of this frank engagement and firm diplomacy, the tensions that once roiled the Taiwan Strait have calmed, and we are witnessing a new period of stability and peace.
Our constructive relationship in these areas has placed America in a better position to be honest and direct on other issues. I have spoken clearly, candidly, and consistently with China's leaders about our deep concerns over religious freedom and human rights. And I have met repeatedly with Chinese dissidents and religious believers. The United States believes the people of China deserve the fundamental liberty that is the natural right of all human beings. So America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates, and religious activists. We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China's leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential. And we press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs, but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs. As Chinese scientist Xu Liangying has said: "Human nature is universal and needs to pursue freedom and equality."
Ultimately, only China can decide what course it will follow. America and our partners are realistic, and we are prepared for any possibility. I am optimistic about China's future. Young people who grow up with the freedom to trade goods will ultimately demand the freedom to trade ideas, especially on an unrestricted Internet. Change in China will arrive on its own terms and in keeping with its own history and traditions. Yet change will arrive. And it will be clear for all to see that those who aspire to speak their conscience and worship their God are no threat to the future of China. They are the people who will make China a great nation in the 21st century.
This is my last trip to East Asia as President. I have great confidence that Asia will continue to grow in opportunity, achievement, and influence. I am confident because I know the creative and enterprising spirit of this region's people. I am confident because the forces of freedom and hope that unleashed the transformation of Asia can never be turned back. And I am confident because I know the bonds between America and our friends in Asia will never be broken.
When forces from Imperial Japan entered Thailand during World War II, the Thai ambassador in Washington was directed to declare war on the United States. He bravely refused to deliver the declaration. In turn, America refused to recognize Thailand as our enemy. Instead, we helped Thais in America band together in a movement called Seri Thai. They deployed across the Pacific, infiltrated behind enemy lines, and gathered intelligence that helped speed the liberation of this great land.
Several members of the Seri Thai movement are still with us. They have the lasting gratitude of the American people. And all in this region can count on a solemn promise from the United States: America stood with the free people of Asia in the past. We stand with the free people of Asia today. And we will stand with the free people of Asia long into your bright future. Thank you, and may God bless you all.