The cloudy and wet skies outside did little to dampen the anticipation and excitement of those awaiting the arrival of Secretary Clinton at the Thewarat Sapharom Throne Hall on the grounds of the Phyathai Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. I am bleary-eyed and jetlagged, having arrived back to Bangkok in the early morning hours from a week-long trip back to the United States, but the energy surrounding the Secretary’s televised “Townterview” (townhall + interview = townterview) this morning has my adrenaline flowing. There is a buzz in the room. The feeling is electric. Though it is not the first time that Secretary Clinton has visited Thailand, it is clear that Thailand wants to make sure she feels welcome.
Lights. Camera. Action. It is showtime!
The audience of more than 200 erupts in applause as Secretary Clinton steps on stage alongside her hosts, Khun Suthichai Yoon and Khun Veenarat of The Nation Channel. Introductions, some light chatter, and then the questions begin. They dance between personal and policy covering topics from U.S.-Thai relations to the economic crisis in America…from advancing the role of women to the return of democracy in Burma...from broadening educational exchange to what it is like to be a mother...from her run at the presidency to what she talks about at home with her husband. The interview runs the gamut, yes, but there is one underlying message. Thailand is a friend. Thailand is an ally. Thailand is an invaluable partner in the region.
As the event draws to an end, I look over at the university student on my right and see her smile in appreciation and admiration. I can’t help but grin too. I note similar emotion worn on the faces of the Deputy Minister of Commerce and the coordinator of local media activism network with whom I work closely. People are excited. People are happy. People are impressed. But perhaps more than that, people are grateful. Secretary Clinton has come to Thailand. She has shown not just with words, but with actions that Thailand is truly one of America’s closest friends and allies in the region.