Despite domestic challenges during the COVID-19 health crisis, the US government continues to demonstrate its resolve and commitment to its Indo-Pacific partnerships. The Department of State announced on March 31 that additional health assistance funds in the sum of $18.3 million are being delivered across ASEAN. Of the assistance en route to the region, $1.2 million has been allocated to Thailand, the country with the second most reports of COVID-19 in ASEAN. These emergency health and humanitarian assistance funds will help the Thai Ministry of Public Health ramp up pandemic detection and response efforts.
Formal relations between the United States and Thailand reach back to 1818, and Thailand maintains one of the only seven military treaties between the US military and its allies. While complications from the May 2014 military coup have presented challenges to governmental cooperation, Thailand remains a key regional security ally and hosts six recurring major US military exercises. Although military cooperation has faced challenges in the last decade, health and science cooperation has flourished. The Scientific and Technical Agreement (STA) was first signed in 2013 and renewed in 2018, facilitating formal avenues for best practice exchange in areas from natural resource management to public health for another five years.
This cooperation has manifested in a number of ways, from student exchange to medical research networks. College students from across the United States have benefited from exchange medical learning opportunities from the National Science Foundation. University connection programs resembling the Asia One Health Network have allowed the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to help train the health care workers for pandemics such as the one we face today. An additional area of cooperation for USAID and the Thailand Ministry of Public Health surrounds the creation of a Regional Public Health Laboratory (RPHL) network across ASEAN in November 2019. In the face of COVID-19, the RPHL’s effectiveness and fledgling capacity will be tested. However, with longstanding trust and cooperation, we should expect bilateral efforts against COVID-19 to show measurable success. These efforts in conjunction with the US Embassy, USAID, and Center for Disease Control (CDC) efforts on the ground will help ensure concise implementation of US assistance.
Charity Borg is a research intern in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a Captain in the United States Air Force, and graduated from Northeastern University with a Master of Science degree in international relations in 2019.