August 24, 2019

Duckworth forges ties between Thailand, US

Thai-American senator touts political diversity

Source: Bangkok Post


Four years ago when Thai-American US Senator Ladda "Tammy" Duckworth visited Thailand, she was still a member of the House of Representatives.

This time, in her new post as a senator, she accepted an invitation from the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy to visit Thailand. The US congresswoman had an audience with HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, and also met with Thai politicians including Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and House Speaker Chuan Leekpai, along with visiting her mother's hometown in Chiang Mai.

She took a break from long-distance trips after a pregnancy in order to take care of her two children. As her second child is now 15 months old, she has resumed her long-haul trips once again.

But what she has never stopped doing is promoting diversity in politics.

"The more diversity the better. As the saying goes, if you don't have a seat at the table, then you are on the menu," she said. "The government needs to look like its people.

"In the US, women account for 51% of the people but only account for 20% of the holders of power in the government," she said, adding that more legislators should be black, Hispanic, Asian and disabled.

"For example, in the United States Senate, there are more white men named John than there are women of colour or Asians," she said.

In 2016, the Thai-born Duckworth unseated Republican Senator Mark Kirk in the US elections, becoming the second woman to represent Illinois in the chamber.

Sen Duckworth attributes her success as a politician to always keeping in mind that politicians are "public servants".

While talking to Thai media in Bangkok on Friday, she mostly spoke in Thai.

"My Thai heritage is very important to my performance as a public servant. Because my international background helps me have a greater appreciation of America's role in the world," she said.

"I am very proud to be American but I don't assume that we're the leader of the world just because we are the best," she said.

"I bring appreciation of the diversity of our culture. I bring appreciation of America's responsibility to stand with our partners around the world to my job.

"And so I think that makes me a better senator, especially on committees like the Armed Services Committee and the Commerce Committee because without economic cooperation with our Asian allies, America's economy could not thrive or survive," she said.

The former military officer lost both of her legs when the helicopter she was co-piloting in Iraq was shot down in 2004.

She said that her military experience helps her serve as a senator.

She worked to help disabled people and war veterans, and when she became a mother, she made an effort to learn about mothers' problems and helped pass laws to address those issues.

Among those laws is the requirement that breastfeeding rooms must be made available at all airports in the US.

As someone who is half Thai, Sen Duckworth knows more about the Indo-Pacific than many other US senators.

"I know and understand that the Indo-Pacific is very important for world peace. It is also very important for the prosperity of the US. Therefore I will visit [the region] and bring other senators. I will make them understand that yes, the Indo-Pacific is so far from the US but our futures are connected, and the US must remain committed to the region, especially to Thailand as we have been friends for over 200 years already," she said.

Talking about the changes she saw in Thailand, Sen Duckworth said she noticed more certainty. "I feel like things are more certain now and I think it probably has to do with the successful elections. And I think people are ready to move forward, whether it's with doing business or with taking care of family," she said.

When asked about whether she was concerned about the contentious state of Thai politics, she replied: "As for the political situation here, I want to give you a very Thai answer which is jai yen yen kha.

"Because I'm just going to give you an example from my country. One hundred years after we became a democracy, we had a civil war that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans and literally ripped the country apart," she said, adding that luckily, Thailand has not gotten to that point.

"I understand the frustration of those who want things to move faster here in Thailand and I agree with you. But I'll just say that you have to take it a little easier, because what I see is a democracy that is actually trying very hard to work, and more importantly, I see a Thai population that is very passionate about democracy and that, I think, says a lot about the future of this great nation," she said.

By:  Kornchanok Raksaseri