Where the Rubber Meets the Road: PD As It Is Practiced Abroad

Our public diplomacy strategy focused on several fronts. Because of the crash of the Thai economy and currency, many of the 8,000 Thai students then in American higher educational institutions were suddenly without the financial means to continue their education. For the U.S. this meant well-publicized and immediate assistance from both public and private sector sources to provide work-study and loan opportunities for Thai and other Asian students, and the Institute for International Education and a host of American higher educational institutions took the lead.

USIS Thailand proposed to Washington that a special high profile scholarship program be established for 165 students selected by the Thai Government for three years to attend U.S. universities. The 165 were linked to the 165 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and the total funding for the scholarship program provided through Economic Assistance Funds and administered by USAID came to about $3 million. This is a tiny sum when compared to the $4 billion in loan guarantees provided to Thailand or the nearly $1 billion in debt cancelled by recalling the F-16 contract, but because it involved people, not hardware or loans, it registered with the Thai public as real help from America. Other smaller exchange programs, too, were augmented, like the Fulbright Program and other government-funded internships, but the 165 scholarships made the biggest headlines.

Determined to demonstrate that the U.S. had not abandoned Thailand, the Embassy encouraged as many high level visitors as possible to visit Bangkok. For its part the U.S. Information Service used each of these cabinet level or equivalent visits to get the message out that the U.S. was interested in Thailand and would do whatever it could to ease the burden during a difficult economic time. Every high level visitor held a press conference and interviews with Thai media, made highly visible public appearances, and consistently expressed the deep concern of the U.S. for Thailand and the Thai people. It was a rare week in 1998 when a U.S. cabinet-level official, congressional delegation or senior military officer did not visit Thailand with a full public diplomacy program.

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