First politically appointed US ambassador visits CM for first time

The United States’ first political appointee to Thailand in more than 40 years, US Ambassador Michael DeSombre, visited Chiang Mai this week, for the first time since his arrival earlier this year.

DeSombre has previously said about his position on Thai politics that, “taking sides in Thai politics is not the way to go,” preferring to focus on “promoting businesses, with energy and digital ventures, infrastructure and manufacturing projects also on his radar,” according to an interview with the Bangkok Post.

This morning he held a very brief press conference following a meeting with Governor of Chiang Mai Charoenrit Sanguansat at the provincial hall where he touched on some of the questions asked by local reporters, CityNews included.

“This is my first visit to Chiang Mai and it has been interesting to learn about the almost 50 years of counter-narcotics operations between our two countries in the north,” he said in an opening statement, describing his helicopter ride around the Golden Triangle yesterday with Pol Lt Gen Chinapat Sarasin, head of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, remarking on how the ride game him a deeper understanding of how hard it is for Thailand to patrol its uncontrollable long borders, especially with Myanmar. He said that he would like to get to the source of the problem and work on how to stop advanced precursor chemicals from China from entering Myanmar. He said that he had been in talks this morning with the governor on the challenges of and finding solutions for the annual burning season and will be discussing ways the US Department of Agriculture may be able to assist, though he also said that Thailand’s crop burning problems are very different from the US where heavy machinery can be used because corn is grown on flat lands rather than our mountainous slopes. “As to pollution, there are a lot of challenges in terms of balancing various interests,” said DeSombre, “the embassy will see if we can help and support the farmers to diversity from production techniques which require burning and I will be working with my embassy to see if we can help cooperate between the department of agriculture and others to help develop and propagate those different types of farming. We would be happy to work with the government on working to develop environmental protection laws such as the clean air act which is being discussed.”

“The governor and I have also discussed how Chiang Mai can diversity its economy from mass market tourism as well as talking about how our consulate is over 70 years old and how we are currently building a new consulate here in Chiang Mai.”

CityNews asked the ambassador about the inconsistent and at times even xenophobic immigration policies which is seeing an exodus of expats from Thailand and asked what the US embassy could do to help, to which he replied, “The wellbeing and safety of US citizens in Thailand is a priority and the embassy is very focused on ensuring that those who wish to return and remain can do so. We are in constant talks.”

“The next concrete actions in Thailand in terms of US investment is an area that I am spending a lot of time on,” he continued. “As the first US ambassador from the private sector I have spent 25 years helping companies around the world and understand what sorts of policies and procedures are necessary to attract their investment and I am working with the royal Thai government to see how we can revise certain rules, whether through the board of investment, through commerce, taxes or others to put Thailand in a position to attract more investment and manufacturing here in Thailand.”

“What sort of investment belongs to the north of Thailand is about various companies deciding where to invest. I will be investing the Pepsico Lay plant tomorrow. They are a long term investment and have a substantial investment here in northern Thailand. I will talk to them and see what we can do to emulate that with other investments in Thailand.”

When asked whether there will be any impact on ASEAN countries from the current situation between the US and China, the ambassador said, “President Trump’s administration is obviously the first US administration which is seeing China for the way it is, not the way that we wish it were. As I said recently in an op-ed I put out on the South China Sea, China’s behaviour in the South China Sea is similar to its behaviour on the Mekong River, damming and manipulating the water flow on the Mekong River. We are not asking Thailand to choose between the US and China, we want Thailand to understand the nature of China’s activities.”