BANGKOK: Nothing is probably extra symbolic of the fragile steadiness Thailand manages between East and West than the Thai prime minister proposing that Arab Information interviews him on the native Starbucks, in Chinatown, on the day of Chinese language New 12 months — a significant celebration.
However then once more Srettha Thavisin is just not your typical politician. Earlier than changing into prime minister, he was a profitable businessman who is understood to run his schedule like a Swiss clock. In truth, he instantly ignites the dialog by saying that his job is to “promote Thailand,” one thing he says didn’t occur previously, however now — almost six months into the job — the property tycoon-turned-politician says his high precedence is to journey and inform the world that his nation is open for enterprise.
“Folks don’t know the enterprise scene in Thailand as a result of, for the final 9, ten years, Thailand hasn’t been going out to promote Thailand. However since taking up the workplace (in August final yr), the highest, high precedence for me is to journey and inform the world that Thailand is open for enterprise,” he mentioned.
“Whether or not it’s for funding, whether or not it’s for commerce, whether or not folks change like tourism, like schooling, technical help.”
That is no exaggeration (or you may say as a result of the proof is within the pudding, or ought to I say, rice pudding), Srettha got here to the assembly in a purple T-shirt, the standard coloration for Chinese language New 12 months. As we walked out of the American espresso home into the bustling China City, he was swarmed by vacationers and locals alike, some Chinese language, some Europeans and lots of Thai folks. A Danish household left feeling very glad having managed to take an surprising selfie with the dominion’s prime minister.
Srettha jokes as he refers to a neighborhood custom saying that you should not work on Chinese language New 12 months. However he jokes: “Folks say that in case you work on Chinese language New 12 months, you need to work laborious all yr. However I’ve been working. (And) yearly, once I take a New 12 months’s Break day, I nonetheless must work laborious day by day.”
When requested how Thailand manages to steadiness its East and West ties, notably as China (its second-biggest commerce accomplice and which has an ethnic element and cultural affect) doesn’t get together with the US (Bangkok’s high commerce accomplice and which additionally cooperates on safety), he says: “In fact, as a result of we’re a impartial nation. We’re not in battle with anybody right here. You see Japanese Europeans, you see Russians and also you see the Chinese language, you see the Indians, you see Japanese, you see the Koreans, you see Europeans, you see People.
“As a result of (of the way in which) our diplomatic standing is, we aren’t a part of the battle. We consider in lasting peace and customary prosperity.”
Highlighting the benefits of investing in his nation, Srettha mentioned attracting expert expatriate staff requires the supply of excellent facilities.
“It’s essential for the enterprise folks,” he mentioned. “For instance, good worldwide colleges. Expatriates, like your self, if you come, you include households. The place do your children go to highschool? It’s good to ensure you have wonderful worldwide colleges.”
As a former businessman, he’s clear-eyed on the place main alternatives lie, and one nation tops the listing: Saudi Arabia. In truth, this interview with Arab Information was initially requested to mark the second anniversary of the reestablishment of Saudi-Thai relations, which have been suspended from the early Nineteen Nineties till January 2022 as a consequence of a diplomatic incident.
For the reason that reconciliation, the connection has seen large enchancment, with new commerce, funding and people-to-people exchanges. Nevertheless, Srettha says there’s nice potential for deeper ties, having been very impressed by what he noticed throughout a go to to the Kingdom final October.
“I met with SABIC,” he mentioned. “They wish to do all of the agricultural issues. I met with Aramco, the world’s largest oil firm. I met with the PIF, the sovereign wealth fund. I met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“I used to be surprised by the size of what you are attempting to do and by the potential of what the nation has. Once more, the cross-border funding that you’ve got made all through the world is one thing for the world to admire and replica.
“You don’t simply have the monetary would possibly. You’ve gotten the flexibility to learn what you don’t have and attempt to make it safe on your nation. Like, for instance, meals safety is essential.
“The logistics, The Line (NEOM’s signature undertaking), the Riyadh airport — your airport will probably be twice as massive as Dubai airport within the subsequent 10 years. I imply, that’s admirable. Simply, you realize, it truly is.”
Noting Saudi Arabia’s environmental insurance policies, together with the Saudi Inexperienced Initiative, which has got down to plant 10 billion bushes throughout the Kingdom over the approaching years, Srettha mentioned that is an space the place Thailand can provide assist — together with the export of saplings for replanting.
One factor Thailand exports a whole lot of is manpower. Thai staff are discovered all through the world throughout many sectors and are famous for his or her robust work ethic and friendliness. There are at present about 8,000 Thai staff in Saudi Arabia. The warming of relations means this quantity might shortly rise.
In response to him, the latest escalation of the Israeli-Hamas battle has badly shaken one of the profitable markets for expert Thai labor, i.e. Israel. In the course of the Hamas-led assault on southern Israel on Oct. 7 final yr, about 1,200 folks have been killed, together with not less than 39 Thai nationals. The militants took some 240 hostage, together with 32 Thai staff.
To date, 23 of them have been launched in a separate hostage deal between Thailand and Hamas, mediated by third events. Srettha desires the remaining hostages to be freed.
“Are we a part of the battle? We’re not a part of the battle. All we wish is peace and customary prosperity. All we wish is security for our folks. All we wish is the discharge of the remaining eight hostages. Thus far, we nonetheless don’t know whether or not they’re alive,” he mentioned.
“Are we to be blamed? No. We went in there to assist develop the economic system. They’re not spies. They have been within the subject.”
Regardless of the hurt prompted to Thai nationals within the Oct. 7 assault, Thailand has joined different nations in calling on Israel to halt its retaliatory marketing campaign within the Gaza Strip, sticking firmly to its coverage of neutrality.
“We would like a ceasefire,” mentioned Srettha. “(After I converse to world leaders, I ask them): ‘How can the battle be ended?’
“How can we discuss inexperienced power? How can we discuss financial growth? How will you discuss commerce and commerce when individuals are dying? I imply, that’s simply not proper. It’s simply not proper.”
And this isn’t the one regional battle the place Thai staff have discovered themselves in want of extraction. When the disaster erupted in Sudan on April 15 final yr, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace to permit the Royal Thai Airforce to evacuate its residents from the war-torn East African nation.
“We’re grateful for that,” mentioned Srettha.
Round 5 % of Thailand’s inhabitants is Muslim. Yearly, 1000’s of Thai nationals journey to Saudi Arabia to carry out the Hajj pilgrimage. This continued even throughout the lengthy years of severed ties between the 2 international locations.
“There have been many, many hundreds of thousands of individuals going over to Makkah,” mentioned Srettha.
Thai Muslims who spoke to Arab Information say they want the federal government to extend the quota of pilgrims permitted to journey to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage and the variety of flights on provide.
“I’m not conscious that they don’t have sufficient quotas. Clearly, they’ve their flights already there. Being a authorities that comes from the folks, we have to hearken to what folks want,” he mentioned.
The Muslim-majority southern provinces of Thailand have seen many years of unrest. Because of this, Srettha says his authorities is working to bolster the native economic system of the south to encourage stability.
“In case you have been following Thailand for a very long time, within the deep south there was an issue, concerning the three or 4 provinces of the deep south, there was some hassle currently,” he mentioned.
“I wish to see extra people who stay in a rural space get extra earnings from agricultural merchandise.”
Srettha says he desires residents to take pleasure in extra private freedoms and higher prosperity.
“Usually, the well-being of the folks,” he mentioned. “More cash within the pocket. Free your coronary heart to do what they need, be who they wish to be.”