SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for taking the time to visit the Pentagon today. It is especially good to have you here because Thailand is our oldest friend and Ally in the Indo-Pacific. For decades, our Alliance has bolstered security in this critical region. So I am delighted to announce today that I'll 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 Mr. Prime Minister, I look forward to seeing you again in just a few weeks.
Now the close cooperation between our countries reflects a friendship that stretches back more than 200 years. We faced challenges together as Allies, including the pandemic, where we've cooperated on response efforts and medical research. We also deeply appreciate your continued support for our military operations and exercises. We're grateful for the access that 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 forward successfully this year. And we’re planning to be back to full scale in 2023.
Today I look forward to discussing our access and presence initiatives and further opportunities for joint training and other issues of common concern, including border security. And we will talk about ways to strengthen our Alliance for years to come.
Mr. Prime Minister, it is indeed a pleasure to have you here today and I look forward to our great conversation.
THAI MINISTER OF DEFENCE PRAYUT CHAN-O-CHA: Thank you.
(Through translator): I am very pleased to meet with you today. I think that it is an opportunity for me and for my delegation to pay an official visit. I thank you for the very warm welcome you have extended to us. And I'm pleased to be able to build on our call on the 23rd of February last year. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the U.S. government and President Biden for providing COVID-19 vaccines and other key medical equipment which was of great benefit to our country. This reflects the close cooperation between Thailand and the United States and extending back over 189 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cost the lives of millions of people across the globe. Pandemics are thus a new form of threats that all nations must confront. I wish to commend the United States for its important role in combating COVID-19 with your advanced medical technology and leading vaccine producers. You have helped to provide vaccines for several countries across the world. And 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.
Thailand and the United States have long enjoyed close relations with our military and defense cooperation as a central pillar in those relations. Thailand is the United States' oldest Ally in the region and you have elevated Thailand to major non-NATO Allied status.
I am pleased with the success of the Seventh Defense Strategic Talks between our Ministry of Defence and the 2+2 Strategic Dialogue which were held from 9-10 May earlier this week. I trust that both sides will ensure that the results from these talks will be used to build upon our cooperation to ensure mutually beneficial results. I commend the continued elevation and development of our alliance even further, especially the signing the Joint Vision Statement 2020 for the Thai-U.S. Defense Alliance.
So with regard to military modernization and professionalization, we take account of the current complex security environment. I would like to inform you that the Ministry of Defence must therefore develop and elevate the capacities of our armed forces to repair our readiness to confront all types of threats to national security with an aim to develop a modern, agile and appropriately structured military in line with international standards.
So the standards of the Thai military are actually derived from the U.S. military. And this has been the case for more than 100 years. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank the United States for supporting us, our military hardware and equipment, which has played an important role in ensuring our military readiness and modernization of our armed forces.
The United States has also provided us with support for training on various curricula. And the knowledge and experience from these courses is vital in developing our armed forces and in promoting its professionalization.
With regard to joint training and military education, I'm pleased to note that despite the impact from the COVID-19 pandemic, training, education and other cooperation between our defense ministries have continued unabated. This includes the Cobra Gold Joint Exercises and other key exercises between different branches of our militaries, as well as force maintenance, military hardware support, and the expansion of cooperation into other areas.
I wish to thank the United States government for placing importance on advancing cooperation between our Ministry of Defence and the Department of Defense as reflected by the close military cooperation, especially in terms of 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 both our countries and other countries around the world are confronting at the moment. And as such, the Ministry of Defence has set a target to develop our capabilities in order to be ready to confront key new threats, namely cybersecurity and space threats where we hope to be able to expand our cooperation with the United States in these areas. And I know that we have also initiated some cooperation already in preparation for related conferences and activities.
So with regard to cooperation in the defense industry, our Minister of Defence wishes to study the United States' successful experiences in terms of research and development in the defense industry, including avenues in taking concepts from research to production as well as in setting standards in order to ensure that our defense equipment produced in Thailand is accepted by the international community.
And as close Allies for almost 200 years, Thailand invites the United States and its relevant agencies to consider investing in the Eastern Economic Corridor, or EEC, especially in the defense industry. The Thai government has said this is one of our target industries, and we wish to jointly invest with other countries in order to promote technology transfer and advance Thailand towards self-sufficiency in this area. We also hope that Thailand could be a part of the supply chain in -- for the defense industry.
In addition, the Ministry of Defence of Thailand will organize the 2022 Defense and Security Conference in September, which will be an opportunity to exchange knowledge on technology and defense equipment. And I hope that the U.S. will attend and support us in this conference once again.
Thank you, back to you, please.