Foreign affairs: friendship and challenges

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Foreign affairs: friendship and challenges

Kulkumut Singhara na Ayudhaya

Last year was an extraordinary one for Thai people as we celebrated the 60th Anniversary of His Majesty the King’s Accession to the Throne as well as a pivotal point in Thai politics as our political gridlock was untangled.

During Thailand’s prosperous times, our foreign friends rejoice. Through our challenging moments, many show their goodwill and understanding, while others merely point their fingers and preach.

Let me begin with the memory of the grave losses we all suffered when the tsunami swept across the Indian Ocean two years ago.

No one can deny that all Thai people extended their hearts and hospitality to help those affected, regardless of nationality or religion. The Thai government not only promptly accommodated our friends’ requests, but also went all out to facilitate foreign rescue efforts doing all we could from providing surveillance helicopter around the clock, to expediting the opening of foreign consulate offices in Phuket within a few days in order to send our friends and their love ones home. The Thai people have shown their goodwill and sincerity, and yet our benevolence has been looked upon with suspicion by those we helped. It would be such a pity if we were to let our good deeds be marred or diluted by these doubts. In any case, after meticulous investigations conducted by the Thai police, I hope all misunderstandings and mishandled claims will be cleared up in due course so that we are able to regain the confidence of our foreign friends.

Speaking of confidence, from my encounters with those in the European private sector both in Thailand and abroad, I have come to learn that they have much confidence in Thailand’s strong economic fundamentals and continued progress in our political reform process.

After September 19, it is time to move forward toward a strengthened Thai democracy. Some high business representatives from European countries even offered to convey their direct experiences and opinions to their governments about the political situation in Thailand, to let them know that ours was not just another “textbook” coup d’etat and, therefore, cannot be measured by any benchmark set by foreign governments. It is ironic that the duty has fallen to foreign businesspeople, rather than their embassies in Bangkok, to provide an accurate account about Thailand to their governments.

Counting true friends in difficult times, I admire Ambassador Ralph Boyce of the United States and Ambassador Zhang Jiuhuan of China for consistently showing their goodwill towards Thailand.

I also appreciate the efforts of many European representatives who have taken a positive stand on Thailand’s issues during European Union consultations when others have been persistently opposed for one reason or another. Time will prove that Thailand is in good hands and on its way to a full-fledged democracy. Elections are expected before the end of this year.

I believe that Thailand is on the right track and many friends have made an effort to demonstrate their goodwill toward us, such as the recent visits made by three former US presidents and a Thai-style wedding ceremony by a high rank European official. Yet, I am saddened to learn that some foreign VIPs have been advised by their embassies in Bangkok to cancel personal trips to Thailand. Hopefully, positive indications of Thailand’s political progress will convince these people to change their stance before long. In 2007, Germany will assume the EU presidency for the first six months, followed by Portugal. Looking back to our respective histories, Germany and Thailand share some painful lessons that elections do not always lead to so-called “democracy” and, with support and understanding from friends and allies, one can bounce back and be stronger than before. Throughout Germany and Thailand’s long lasting relations, Germany has proven to be our trustworthy European partner.

Therefore, I very much hope that under Germany’s leadership, the relationship between Thailand and the EU relationships will be more constructive than in the past.

Kulkumut Singhara Na Ayudhya is the director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s European Affairs Department. The views expressed in this article are personal and do not reflect the official position of the Royal Thai Government.

Letter to the editor “The Nation”

by the German Ambassador, Dr Christoph Bruemmer

Under “Foreign Affairs: friendship and challenges” (Jan 27) Kulkumut Singhara Na Ayudhya, the esteemed Director General of European Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, offered some remarkably straightforward observations.

Representing the EU presidency and as Ambassador of Germany I feel entitled to a clarifying answer.

Dear Khun Kulkumut: For us Europeans Thailand is (and remains to be) not only one of the most important regional players in South East Asia but also a friendly country. It is only against this basic assumption that you should evaluate the European common reaction to the coup in Thailand (EU-statement of September 29, 2006). If we are not ready to embrace a military take-over as something positive per se you should not blame us but ask about your own realities first. In other words: I would like to hope that our concerns about democracy in Thailand are first of all your own concerns. Lamentations about good and not so good friends are missing the point.

As head of the European Affairs Department you should know: It is the formulated and expressed common EU-policy which counts – as difficult and divisive the decision and expressed common EU-policy which counts – as difficult and divisive the decision making process leading up to it sometimes proves to be. The various groups of EU diplomats including Heads of Mission convening at least once a month also here in Bangkok are bodies and instruments of excellent consultation, co-operation and fine-tuning of common assessments and recommendations to capitals and to Brussels. The highly successful and commendable Finnish presidency just handed over to Germany. I wonder how there could be a “more constructive leadership”.

To you denigrating “any benchmark set by foreign governments”: You should know, that it was PM Surayud Chulanont himself who – in an early stage of his government and in reaction to our expressed interest in a speedy return to democracy in Thailand – told European ambassadors: “Your benchmarks are my benchmarks.”

Needless to mention that we liked this kind of understanding because it reconfirms the common ground and lacks any self-complacency.

Secondly you seem to perceive an overriding “business-as-usual” and affirmative approach in the foreign business community in Thailand. I refrain from lengthy comments. I just would like to ask you not to underestimate growing concern in this field. But again: It is a basically friendly concern and I appreciate very much the Prime Minister having just made it clear that Thailand wants to keep credentials as a country open and friendly towards foreign economic engagement.

Thirdly you are putting the blame on people like me having asked for an independent audit concerning certain allegations about possible misuse of Tsunami-related funds. Dear Khun Kulkhumit, please don’t tarnish the excellent record of Thai-foreign Tsunami related relief co-operation. This was a prime example for what can be achieved by the spirit of sympathy and friendship in times of disaster. And this praise which I would not like to see diminished includes, of course, the highly professional end extremely successful cooperation of international and Thai police forces to identify the victims. In comparison the mentioned allegations and our humble request to clear things up have a very limited proportion.

More important, however, and you should know about it, they were allegations from Thai sources on which we could not close our eyes.

So, my final request to you, Khun Kulkumut: Don’t ask from your friends to close their eyes. But even more important and first of all: Don’t put into question our friendship either.

Yours sincerely,

Christoph Bruemmer,

Ambassador of Germany .