Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

14 May, 2022

134-member Thai team off to Saudi Arabia to spur ties across multiple sectors

Bangkok – A mammoth delegation of 134 Thai public and private sector representatives is to depart for Saudi Arabia on 15 May for four days of intensive, multi-sectoral meetings that will give a huge fillip to relations between the world’s two most populous Buddhist and Islamic kingdoms.

The delegation will be led by Mr. Don Pramudwinai, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. It is a follow-up to the ice- and ground-breaking visit to Saudi Arabia by Thai Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-ocha in January 2022. The two sides are looking to make up for lost time covering three decades of frozen relations following a jewellery heist by a Thai worker in Saudi Arabia and the murders of Saudi diplomats and a businessman in Bangkok in 1989-90.

Thai Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai

The joint statement issued after the Thai PM’s January visit had said the two sides will restore diplomatic relations at the ambassadorial level, set up consultative mechanisms to consolidate their bilateral cooperation in key strategic areas and explore new areas of cooperation, such as renewable energy, environment, digital transformation, and cybersecurity. They will also place people-to-people relations at the cornerstone via the promotion of interfaith dialogue and multi-culturalism.

With a population of 35 million, Saudi Arabia is a global energy giant and the largest economy in the Arab world. It is also the headquarters of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) in which Thailand has observer status. In turn, Thailand with a population of 70 million, is an agricultural and tourism powerhouse, a transportation and aviation hub located at the geographical heart of both the ASEAN and Greater Mekong Subregion covering a population base of 660 million.

A look at the public and private sector bodies represented on the Thai delegation and the list of activities during the four-day visit is enough to indicate the direction of future relations. The delegation includes:

(+) Four Thai hospitals, Piyavate, Kluaynamthai, Samitivej Srinakarin and Bumrungrad, plus Chiva-Som International Health Resort. This will be good for the health and wellness sector.

(+) Minor Hotels and the Dusit Thani group, which will boost the Travel & Tourism sector.

(+) The agricultural sector includes the Charoen Pokphand group of companies, Mitr Phol Sugar and Thai President Foods.

(+) The energy and alternative power sector is covered by several units of the PTT Group, Thailand’s national oil and energy company.

(+) The Halal products business is represented by the Islamic Bank of Thailand, Halal Science Center of Chulalongkorn University and Halal Standard Institute of Thailand under The Central Islamic Council of Thailand.

(+) The Board of Investment and the Eastern Economic Corridor project will be looking to attract investments in those areas.

(+) On the security and political side, the delegation includes the Office of the National Security Council, the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre, and National Intelligence Agency.

Other government representatives include the Ministries of Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation; Tourism; Labour; Commerce; Justice; Interior; and Finance, as well as the Export-Import Bank of Thailand.

Amongst the private sector, in addition to the Board of Trade, companies represented include Srithai Superware, Toyota Motors, TRC Construction, Boonrawd Brewery, SeaValue PLC, Panel Plus, Beauty Gems & Jewelry, Toshiba Thailand, Siam Piwat, Inoue Rubber, Thaivivat Insurance, M.K Real Estate Development, Rx Wellness, Creatus Corporation, Planet Communications Asia, World Reward Solutions, True Digital Group, Precise Electric Manufacturing, TOA Paint (Thailand), Indorama Ventures and ThaiAir Asia X.

The programme covers two days of meetings and two days of study trips.

The first two days will include bilateral meetings between the Thai Foreign Minister and Mr. Khalid Abdulaziz Al-Falih, the Saudi Minister of Investment, and Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as the Saudi Ministers of Health, Tourism and Energy. The entire Thai delegation then will participate in an Investment Forum where the Foreign Minister will deliver a keynote speech. He will also attend the inauguration ceremony of the Thailand Halal Food Festival 2022.

The third day will be spent on a study trip at the emerging Saudi tourist destination of Al-Ula followed by a networking dinner with the Jeddah Chamber and Makkah Chamber and a visit to the Jeddah Historical District (TBC). The fourth day will include a study trip to King Abdullah Economic City and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

Both countries and the regions can expect a significant increase in bilateral flows of people, products and finance. Overall the visit is expected to generate:

(+) More Saudi business, leisure and MICE travel to Thailand. A surge can be expected in the upcoming summer months if Thai Airways can launch its flights and the two sides can work out a bilateral visa-waiver agreement. Saudi Arabian airlines already launched flights on Feb 22, just a month after the Thai PM’s January visit.

(+) Increased Saudi investment in Thai real estate and publicly listed companies, such as telecoms and manufacturing.

(+) Job opportunities for Thais in multiple sectors, especially Travel & Tourism, Health and Wellness, and Energy.

(+) Demand for Arabic-speaking guides and workers.

In line with the objectives of the Thai-Saudi joint statement and the Roadmap for Coordination of Relations, the visit will pave the way for an across-the-board upgrade of Thailand’s relations with the Gulf and Arab countries and the entire Islamic world, facilitate the socio-cultural-economic integration of ASEAN via a potential resolution of the unrest in Southern Thailand and set an example for an Alliance of Civilisations led by the Buddhist and Islamic faiths.

The Thai Foreign Ministry says that work is under way to coordinate dates for a potential visit to Thailand by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Thai delegation will depart back for Bangkok on the night of May 18. A special Thai AirAsia aircraft has been chartered by the Thai Foreign Ministry for the trip.

Click here to watch my special report on the Thai-Saudi diplomatic rapprochement, the background to and impact of the 32-year conflict, and the huge benefits now set to accrue for the peoples of both countries and the regions and the world at large.