The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific. This post features Dr. Surapong Tovichakchaikul, Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand.
Who is he?
Dr. Surapong became minister of foreign affairs in 2011. He hails from Chaingmai in northeast Thailand and entered politics in 2006 after a successful private sector career. He was selected for his cabinet role from a leadership position in the House of Representatives. Like many senior Thai officials, he was educated in the United States, holding a master’s degree and PhD in mechanical engineering from universities in Ohio.
Why is he in the news?
Dr. Surapong visited Washington last week to conduct the Fourth Strategic Dialogue with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Thailand is the oldest treaty ally of the United States in Asia, a relationship that was elevated to major non-NATO treaty ally by President George W. Bush in 2003.
What can we expect from him?
Dr. Surapong will be positioning Thailand, the only country in Southeast Asia to avoid being colonized, to help balance relations between China and the United States. In recent years, Thailand’s bandwidth for foreign policy narrowed as politicians focused on bitter fighting between political factions. Thailand will become coordinator of the ASEAN-China relationship in July, putting Dr. Surapong on the spot to manage negotiations for a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. Thailand shares a long border with Myanmar and is working to fully integrate Myanmar into ASEAN and is negotiating territorial disputes at Preah Vihear temple and off-shore oil and gas rich waters with Cambodia. Finally, Dr. Surapong will be flying back to Thailand to explain discussions in the United States that focused on Thailand’s interest in making U-Tapao’s airport a major regional hub for humanitarian and disaster relief airlift.