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Thailand's top diplomat: Ties between Bangkok and Moscow become highly dynamic

Thailand's Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai has spoken to TASS about Bangkok's growing trade with Moscow and prospects for future cooperation
Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai  EPA/NARONG SANGNAK
Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai

- Your Excellency, Russia and Thailand are celebrating the 120th Anniversary of diplomatic relations in 2017. Considering the fact that this date was repeatedly mentioned during the recent meetings between the leaders of our countries, the event will not go unnoticed. Could you please tell us how the preparations are going and what activities you are planning for the celebration?

- Thailand attaches great importance to the celebration marking the 120th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Thailand and Russia, as agreed upon by the prime ministers of the two countries during the official visit to Russia by the prime minister of Thailand in May 2016. Subsequently, each side has set up a committee responsible for the organisation of the commemorative activities and events.

The Thai and the Russian sides have announced plans for year-round activities in 2017 to jointly celebrate this historic occasion in Thailand. The main event under the theme “Sharing Our Past, Forging Our Future” will be held between 14 – 16 July 2017 at one of Thailand’s most renowned department stores in the heart of Bangkok and represents collaborative efforts between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, Thai agencies and stakeholders from all sectors as well as the Russian Embassy in Bangkok. The event will not only serve to further reinforce all aspects of our close and cordial ties but also offers a glimpse into the opportunities for future cooperation in various fields. Divided into five zones, it will showcase the following exhibitions and performances: historical relations; economic relations; cooperation in education, science and technology; cooperation in culture, sports and tourism; and  a range of performing arts and activities on stage. We will also organise a quiz for Thai schools to compete on the topics pertaining to Thai-Russian relations and general knowledge on Russia. Additionally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs plans to publish a compilation of historical documents dating from 1971 to 1991 from the archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. This is part of a project encouraged by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn during her visit to Russia in 1993 and is the third publication following previous compilations that cover invaluable documents from 1865.

The Thai side also intends to host a Khon performance, Thailand’s traditional masked dance, and an exhibition on Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s role in the conservation and promotion of traditional Thai arts and cultures during the royal visit to Russia by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in October 2017. It is expected that Her Royal Highness will also visit leading Russian educational institutions where further cooperation in education and science and technology could be explored with the Kamnoetvidya Science Academy, a special high-school for talented students in mathematics and science to nurture future researchers and innovators. The academy is a new educational model pioneered by the PTT Group, Thailand’s leading petrochemical group of companies.

- Are there any highest-level visits scheduled for the Anniversary?

- Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn will pay a royal visit to Russia in October 2017 and will also attend events co-organised by the Thai and Russian sides to commemorate the celebration of the 120th anniversary of our diplomatic relations.
Furthermore, the Thai side will host the 7th Thai – Russian Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation Meeting later this year. I have also invited H.E. Mr. Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, to visit Thailand as a guest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand as well as to participate in the joint activities held to mark the occasion.

What chapter in our shared history is most important personally for you?

- The ties between us have gone from strength to strength for over 120 years with all the chapters in the history of our relations playing a constructive role in contributing to the existing close and cordial relations between our two countries. The relations between Siam and Russia were established in 1897, following the special friendship of King Rama V and Tsar Nicholas II. The great wisdom and abilities of the two monarchs had led to unique foreign policies that benefited the people of both nations. Indeed, the State Visit to Thailand of President Vladimir Putin in October 2003 and the State Visit to Russia by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit to represent His Majesty the Late King Bhumibol Adulyadej during 2 – 11 July 2007 also highlighted the deep and distinctive bonds between the two countries.
Through the ebbs and flows of history, Thailand and Russia have always been committed to using diplomatic mechanisms in furthering our relationship. At present, the ties between Thailand and Russia have become highly dynamic, with frequent exchanges of high-level visits and cooperation in many areas. Most recently, the prime minister of Thailand paid an official visit to Russia in May 2016. The two sides agreed to advance our relations and cooperation in a comprehensive manner involving all sectors from public to private as well as people-to-people ties.
Over the past 120 years, we have maintained our strong bonds of fellowship in a sincere and sustainable manner albeit with occasional lapses. Based on mutual respect, cooperation and non-interference, Thailand and Russia are true friends whose relationship has stood the test of time. On this note, the two sides have never been more committed to developing closer cooperation for mutual benefits of our two countries and peoples.

- How do you see the future of our bilateral relations? What kind of issues would you like to discuss with your Russian counterpart, if a meeting were to take place in the near future?

- The most important issue to be expedited and concretely realised is the various agreements jointly reached upon by our two prime ministers during their most recent discussion in May last year, especially their aim of increasing the bilateral trade turnover by five times in five years. Being mindful of the current global economic situation, the ability to cooperate closely in order to enhance our competitiveness and to seek new means of economic cooperation that are mutually beneficial will allow us to overcome the challenges by moving closer to achieving such targets.

In this regard, Thailand stands ready to cooperate with Russia in the field of science and technology to successfully implement Thailand 4.0 policy. With the ultimate goal of circumventing middle-income trap through innovation-based economic development, the policy sets to advance certain target industries, the First S-Curve and New S-Curve industries, relating to nanotechnology, electronics and computer technologies. As a major food producer and exporter, Thailand stands ready to render our full support to Russia in its endeavour to ensure food security. We also hope that Russia can contribute to Thailand’s energy security through cooperation in research and development in the near future.

- In the interview last year you said that Thailand regards the Eurasian Economic Union as another potential trading partner. However, Thailand had yet to go through an internal process before it can apply to launch the FTA negotiations, you said. What has changed over the past year on this issue? How do you assess the level of trade between Thailand and Russia over the past year?

- Thailand believes that the EAEU has vast potential to be our important trading partner. In this connection, we have already taken a further step to forge closer partnership between Thailand and the EAEU by submitting to the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) a letter of intent to start a joint feasibility study for the FTA negotiations. We hope that it will be considered favourably in due course by Member States of the EAEU. Thailand looks forward to Russia’s support on the matter.
We have seen a significant development in the level of trade in the past year and the future looks promising. According to our statistics, the trade volume between our two countries in 2016 was $1,964 million. Russia was ranked as Thailand’s 33rd largest trading partner and remained Thailand’s largest trading partner from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Meanwhile, Thailand was Russia’s 45th largest trading partner. In addition, bilateral trade during January and February 2017 remarkably increased by 108.85% to $460.73 million compared to the same period of the previous year.
Moreover, there are currently more than 15 Russian investment projects in Thailand in various sectors including software, research and development, electronics, e-commerce, and jewelry. Major Thai companies have also made significant investments in Russia.

Under Thailand 4.0 Policy, Thailand aims to become a modern economy through knowledge and innovation and an indispensable part of enhanced ASEAN connectivity. Thus, the Government is enhancing the competitiveness Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard to become the next generation of transport hub, known collectively as the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), for the next 30 years. We have made continued efforts to promote development in manufacturing and transport infrastructure projects with a view to making the EEC the most efficient gateway to the region through air, maritime, road and railroad transport links. Thailand will, thus, serve as an economic conduit that furthers connect Southeast Asia with the world economy. The EEC can also provide opportunities and incentives to Russian businesses to expand their investments in the fields of high technology and innovation, such as pharmaceuticals, advanced agriculture, telecommunications, infrastructure and renewable energy.
Thailand sees plenty of investment opportunities in the Russian Far East, particularly in joint projects within the advanced Special Economic Zones and the Free port of Vladivostok. Thailand will continue to promote and facilitate investments between the two countries through closer and more substantial cooperation at all levels.
It is without a doubt that the ties between the two countries go deeper than diplomatic relations. For 120 years, we have experienced the cultivation of friendly relationships based on mutual respect from highest-level visits to people-to-people connectivity. With strong bilateral foundations and promising prospects of closer cooperation in all dimensions, I am certain that both countries will be able to pursue our respective cooperation agenda while deepening the already close relations between our peoples. The milestone of 120th Anniversary of diplomatic relations symbolises the long-standing cordiality between Thailand and Russia that will continue to flourish for generations to come.