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Interview with H.E. the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Thailand, Chailert Limsomboon

H.E. the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Thailand, Chailert Limsomboon

 

ASEAN, composed of diverse countries and peoples, has defied sceptics and gone on to become one of the world’s most successful regional organisations… We believe that if ASEAN did not exist, Southeast Asia would not be where it is today.

 

 

 

 

GDL: In which main areas does the foreign policy of Thailand place emphasis upon?

CL: Thailand’s Foreign Affairs Master Plan is named ‘5S Strategy’, because the plan calls for diplomacy and partnerships efforts to achieve substantial gains in 5 key strategic priorities: Security, Sustainability, Standard, Status and Synergy.

Security means to keep Thailand safe and secure from all forms of external security challenges, including transnational organised crimes, terrorism, epidemics and disasters. The plan seeks to step up Thailand’s role in helping to advance stability in the region and to strengthen ASEAN centrality in the evolving geopolitical landscape. Building on the country’s longstanding diplomatic accomplishments in friendly ties to all nations, international cooperation will be expanded and enhanced at bilateral, regional and global levels to ensure comprehensive security.

Sustainability means to strengthen the economy through enhancing competitiveness while ensuring green growth. In addition, the plan seeks to enhance Thailand’s role as an international partner for sustainable development, as shared prosperity is an important principle of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One key principle underpinning this global partnership for development is the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP), which was devised by His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great. SEP is a proven home-grown development model, particularly in enhancing food and water security and has been applied as a pathway towards SDGs in various developing countries across the world.

Standard means to make concerted efforts to enhance all facets of the country’s development to be in-line with international standards. This includes effective implementation of international obligations which are crucial to sustainable development such as the protection of human rights, eradication of human trafficking and forced labour in the supply chain. At the same time, the plan aims at maintaining Thailand’s active and constructive engagement in global norm-setting on issues, which Thailand is well-recognised as champion and has best practices to share with the rest of the world. For instant, on the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which the European Commission lifted in January 2019, the so-called ‘yellow card’ from Thailand to acknowledge that Thailand has successfully addressed the shortcomings in its fisheries legal and administrative systems and delisted Thailand from the group of ‘warned countries’ as recognition of its progress in tackling IUU fishing. Thailand as ASEAN Chairmanship in 2019, places the issue of IUU fishing as one of the priority economic deliverables under our ASEAN Chairmanship to promote sustainable fisheries in the region through an ASEAN IUU Task Force and workshop, as well as an ASEAN General Fisheries Policy.

Status means to enhance Thailand’s status in the international community through its soft power diplomacy. Thailand’s standing will be achieved through worldwide promotion of the unique and legendary Thai culture, sport and gastronomy. The plan seeks to ensure outstanding opportunities for Thai nationals to actively engage in the rapidly inter-connected world. The priority is on enhancing the capabilities of Thais, both at home and abroad, and provide them with opportunities so that they can play a vibrant part in globalisation. Credibility and confidence in the country’s standards together with soft power diplomacy will enhance the status of Thai nationals in the international community, which will consequently advance the nation’s interests.

Synergy means a focus on better coordination, information-sharing and enhanced efficiency through the greater use of new technology. As foreign affairs increasingly involve more players and agencies, it is essential to synergise efforts among concerned agencies and stakeholders in a more integrated manner. This includes engaging and building partnerships with stakeholders in the private sector and civil society, both at home and abroad, to ensure inclusiveness.

 

“Credibility and confidence in the country’s standards together with soft power diplomacy will enhance the status of Thai nationals in the international community, which will consequently advance the nation’s interests.”

 

GDL: In line with the regional contexts, how are the relations of Thailand with neighbouring countries and countries in Southeast Asia?

CL: Over 50 years ago, at a time of a global Cold War and conflict in the Southeast Asia region, the then five Foreign Ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand managed to form a regional organisation called the Association of South East Asian Nations or ASEAN aiming to help to bring about a Southeast Asian region of peace, freedom and prosperity for our people. ASEAN was born in Bangkok, when the Bangkok Declaration was signed on 8th August 1967 at the Sararom Palace.

Since then, ASEAN, composed of diverse countries and peoples, has defied sceptics and gone on to become one of the world’s most successful regional organisations. The ASEAN Way, with its emphasis on consultation, cooperation and consensus, allowed Member States to work together slowly but surely to find common solutions based on mutual respect and interests. This has worked well for all countries in the region and allowed ASEAN to move to its next stage, as more of our neighbouring countries, namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao PRD, Myanmar and Viet Nam decided to join and become members in the following years.

ASEAN has helped create an environment of peace and stability in Southeast Asia that has facilitated economic growth, sustainable development and cooperation in all areas of mutual interests. When ASEAN ratified a Charter in 2008 and became a rule-based Community in 2015, we moved to a higher level of cooperation and integration. ASEAN evolved from an Association of five to a Community of ten. We believe that if ASEAN did not exist, Southeast Asia would not be where it is today.

Since ASEAN’s inception in 1967, the GDP per capita of ASEAN countries has grown 33 times. Today, ASEAN is the sixth largest economy in the world with a GDP of more than 2.7 trillion US Dollars and a population of 642 million.

Thailand has always attached great importance to ASEAN which remains as one of the central pillars of Thai foreign policy since ASEAN was established. Our strategic goal with regard to ASEAN is to promote the development of a people-centred ASEAN Community that leaves no one behind and that looks to and is prepared for the future. We urge all ten countries to collaborate even more closely, on the foundation of ASEAN unity and the principle of 3Ms, namely, mutual trust, mutual respect and mutual benefit to create concrete deliverables and sustainability for ASEAN in all dimensions. Therefore, our theme of Thailand’s ASEAN Chairmanship in 2019 is ‘Advancing Partnership for Sustainability’.

Thailand’s theme seeks to promote Sustainability of Things (SOT) or sustainability in all dimensions, whether it be sustainable security, sustainable economic growth, which includes the green economy, and sustainable development. In our efforts to realise sustainable development, Thai people have been guided by the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, which teaches us that development must be home-grown and rooted within each citizen in order to be sustainable.

Sustainability would require Advancing, which means ASEAN will look toward the future and move forward together dynamically, making use of technological advances from the 4th Industrial Revolution and enhance our competitiveness. It should also build immunities from disruptive technologies and future challenges, especially for MSMEs, to advance towards a Digital ASEAN.

Sustainability would also require Partnership. In strengthening ASEAN various partnerships, one of the most important drivers is the promotion of connectivity in various dimensions, including infrastructure, rules and regulations and people-to-people links. Connecting the various connectivity strategies within the region to become a Seamless ASEAN is important. Partnership means not only among ASEAN member countries, but also partnership with Dialogue Partners and the international community by strengthening the concept of ‘ASEAN Plus One’ and reinforcing the ASEAN-centred regional architecture to enhance the role of ASEAN on the international stage in addressing important global issues. We wish to see that ASEAN can play a proactive role in promoting a peaceful, stable and prosperous Asia-Pacific region in order to enhance the welfare and interests of the people of ASEAN.

 

“In our efforts to realise sustainable development, Thai people have been guided by the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej The Great, which teaches us that development must be home-grown and rooted within each citizen in order to be sustainable.”

 

GDL: Over the last decades, Thailand has made remarkable economic progress. More recently it has laid out its long-term economic goals in its 20-year National Strategy for attaining developed country status and transitioning to a digital economy. What are the key components of this strategy?

CL: The National Strategy (2018-2037) is the country’s first national long-term strategy, developed pursuant to the Section 65 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand. It shall be pursued to ensure that the country achieves its vision of “becoming a developed country with security, prosperity and sustainability in accordance with the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy”. The National Strategy sets as the national development goals: 1) national security; 2) people’s happiness; 3) steady economic development; 4) social justice; 5) sustainability of natural resources. And, it shall be employed as a framework for formulating consistent and integrated plans in a congruous drive to achieve the aforementioned goals in accordance with the rules and procedures enumerated by national strategy legislation.

The country’s six key strategies, as stipulated in the National Strategy are: 1) creating national security for public contentment; 2) enhancing national competitiveness to ensure continuing economic growth; 3) developing and strengthening human capital in all dimensions and at every stage of life to manifest good, competent and qualified citizens; 4) broadening opportunities to improve social equality; 5) improving quality of life based on eco-friendly development and growth; and 6) rebalancing and developing public sector for a people-centred governmental administrative services.

Here one can see that the Strategy has set, not only long-term economic goals, but it clearly stipulates that national development during the Strategy’s time-frame shall focus on an appropriate balance between social, economic and environmental development.

In respect of long-term economic growth, the key development elements, set by the National Strategy on National Competitiveness Enhancement, are:

  1. Exploring value-added agriculture in order to increase productivity both in terms of quantity and value, as well as to increase variety of products, by: (1) farming that reflects local identity; (2) safe farming; (3) biological farming; (4) processing agricultural products through innovation; and (5) smart farming.
  2. Developing future industries and services through advanced innovations and technologies in areas of: (1) biological industry; (2) integrated medical industry; (3) digital, data, and artificial intelligence industry and service; (4) transport and logistics industry and service; and (5) national security industry.
  3. Creating diversity in tourism to preserve the nations’ world-class tourist attractions and increase the proportion of high-quality tourists in the following tourism sectors: (1) creative and cultural tourism; (2) business tourism; (3) health, beauty and traditional Thai medicine tourism; (4) maritime tourism; and (5) regional cross-border tourism.
  4. Developing high quality infrastructure to connect Thailand with the world by: (1) creating seamless inter-regional transport networks from East to South Asia; (2) developing more special economic zones (SEZs); (3) expanding new economic areas and cities in provincial areas; (4) developing modern technological infrastructure; and (5) maintaining and enhancing macroeconomic stability, through flexible fiscal and monetary policy.
  5. Developing a modern entrepreneurship-based economy in order to promote and encourage modern entrepreneurs who are equipped with required skills, entrepreneurial spirit, the sense of competitiveness and clearly recognised identity by (1) developing ‘smart’ entrepreneurs; (2) facilitating easier access to financial services; (3) improving access to markets; (4) facilitating information access; and (5) adjusting roles of public sector and facilitating access to public services.

 

“The RCEP, which was built upon the existing ASEAN+1 FTAs and established by the leaders of 16 participating countries, will be the largest FTA in the world in terms of population and GDP, with almost half of the global population and 31.6% of global GDP.”

 

 

GDL: Thailand is the 23rd largest export economy in the world and it enjoys a positive trade balance. Which are the most notable exports and what efforts have you undertaken to preserve an export sales growth?

CL: Thailand’s total foreign trade amounted to 501.71 billion US Dollars in 2018.

Thailand exported goods in the value of 252.48 billion US Dollars and imported goods in the value of 249.23 billion US Dollars from our trade partners. Thailand’s top 10 exports are: (1) auto parts and accessories; (2) computer, equipment and parts; (3) precious stones and accessories; (4) rubber products; (5) plastic pellets; (6) refined fuels; (7) chemical products; (8) electronic integrated circuits; (9) machinery and parts; (10) iron, steel and products. And our top 10 exports destinations are: 1) China; 2) United States; 3) Japan; 4) Viet Nam; 5) Hong Kong; 6) Malaysia; 7) Australia; 8) Indonesia; 9) Singapore; 10) the Philippines.

To boost trade flows with its trading partners, Thailand has concluded both bilateral and regional Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with its major trading partners, such as the 10 ASEAN member countries.

The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) was launched in 1992 to eliminate tariffs and integrated member economies into a single production base. In addition, ASEAN has free trade agreements with 6 partners namely the People’s Republic of China (ACFTA), Republic of Korea (AKFTA), Japan (AJCEP), India (AIFTA), as well as Australia and New Zealand (AANZFTA) to boost trade and economic relations with third countries in East Asia region. The latest Free Trade Agreement was signed between ASEAN and Hong Kong, China in 2017.

While Free Trade Agreements have enabled duty-free access to billions of consumers, critical industries have also been liberalised, logistics streamlined and regulations on foreign investments further relaxed. The Free Trade Agreements have also provided investors with competitive advantages in the importation of raw materials, components and other production inputs by reducing or eliminating import duties.

The Free Trade Agreements have harmonised customs codes and product standards, thereby speeding trade flows and led to a significant increase of exports.

Thailand as the Chairman of ASEAN in 2019, places a very high priority to conclude the framework of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in 2019 in order to strengthen economic linkages and to enhance trade and investment related activities, as well as to contribute to minimising the development gap among the 16 countries. The RCEP, which was built upon the existing ASEAN+1 FTAs and established by the leaders of 16 participating countries, will be the largest FTA in the world in terms of population and GDP, with almost half of the global population and 31.6% of global GDP. We are confident that with the conclusion of RCEP, the trade relations between Thailand and its trade partners will undoubtedly expand in the years to come.

 

“With the General Elections, the Coronation of King Rama X and the Thai ASEAN Chairmanship 2019, it is indeed a very important year for Thailand.”

 

GDL: Thailand is one of the world’s great famous tourism destinations. What are they key elements of your marketing strategy and what has been the recipe for success so far?

CL: Thailand’s success is based on the rich assortment of attractions and wide array of landscapes, which make the country a unique vacationing locale. The diversity, which Thailand has on offer, ranges from legendary beaches to verdant jungles, cultural extravaganzas, culinary delights, unforgettable shopping and vibrant nightlife.

In addition, Thai people, like Greek people, are renowned for their friendliness and hospitality, our gracious welcoming of guests and a can-do attitude, whereby nothing is too much trouble, ensures that travellers are comfortable while visiting the country. The outstanding accommodation at hotels and resorts in major tourist destinations, make visitors feel as if Thailand really is their home away from home. I believe that these have contributed to the continued success of the Thai tourism industry over a number of decades.

Thailand also has long been a favourite destination for international filmmakers. The Thai Government and the Tourism Authority of Thailand also realise the importance of promoting the country as an ideal film location, with its highly experienced technical crews, relatively low production costs and most importantly, stunningly beautiful, diverse and colourful cinematic backdrops. Portrayals of Thailand in popular culture have naturally helped enhance our country’s reputation as the ultimate travel hotspot.

I should also mention health and wellness tourism and sports tourism, which are other aspects of the Thai tourism industry that have flourished in recent years.

“Thai people, like Greek people, are renowned for their friendliness and hospitality…”

 

GDL: Thailand and Greece established diplomatic relations more than 60 years ago. What is the level of cooperation between the two countries?

CL: Thailand and Greece established our diplomatic relations in 1958. Throughout the period of more than 60 years, our countries and peoples have developed long-standing friendships and good cooperation. But, since Greece is a member of the European Union, the cooperation between the two countries has shifted gradually over the years to the Thailand-EU and ASEAN-EU frameworks from a bilateral Thailand-Greece cooperation. This means that there are possibilities and opportunities in the bilateral cooperation that should be explored.

For example, bilateral trade between Thailand and Greece is unfortunately very marginal. According to trade statistics from the Thai Ministry of Commerce, the two-way trade in 2018 amounted to only 187.06 million US Dollars. Furthermore, if compared with ten years ago, the two-way trade value between Thailand and Greece has dropped drastically from 369.14 million US Dollars in 2008.

But I am still quite optimistic, because when we look at it closer, we can find that while, on one hand, exports from Thailand to Greece declined more than 60%, on the other hand, Greek exports to Thailand steadily increased more than 100% during the same period. And, with the recovery of the Greek economy, one can see a slightly increasing trend both in exports from Thailand to Greece and imports from Greece to Thailand between 2017 and 2018. This means that the potential for the bilateral trade expansion between Thailand and Greece and room for improvement obviously exists.

As a first step, I, therefore, highly welcome the initiative of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) to organise a business delegation to visit Thailand in May this year. The visit was very timely, because, with the General Election, the Coronation of King Rama X and the Thai ASEAN Chairmanship 2019, it is indeed a very important year for Thailand.

 

Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life

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