“We are opening new areas for cooperation between the Czech Republic and Thailand”
When it comes to Thailand, people are typically divided into two categories: those who have been there and keep returning and those who have Thailand on the bucket list so they can join the first group later. As soon as I set my foot over the doorstep of the residence of the Thai Ambassador in Prague, I experienced the concept of “Thainess” myself. The traditional Thai greeting “wai”, display of fresh flowers and lush greenery surrounding the recently reconstructed garden of the Thai Residence in Prague, felt like an oasis and escape from the rush of the busy city. The Czech and Slovak Leaders Magazine is deeply grateful to H. E. Ureerat Chareontoh for becoming the first female ambassador to launch our new regular series of interviews with women leaders in diplomacy and business.
H.E. Ureerat Chareontoh has a long outstanding career in diplomatic service and Prague is her first posting in two aspects, in Europe and at the highest diplomatic rank. Mrs. Ambassador still recalls the moment when she received her accreditation from His Majesty the King of Thailand as one of her highlights, both as citizen and as a civil servant. Serving the Thai government is a family tradition, as the mother to Mrs. Ambassador was also a high-ranking civil servant herself. As soon as one enters the private residence, you can feel the deep gratitude and respect for the Czech Republic, as H.E. Ureerat Chareontoh has displayed her photographs with the three Czech highest-ranking state representatives. We continued discussing women and their role in trade, government, and diplomacy. In Thailand, there are also women present in the highest ranks of the Army. We also reflected on the role of diplomats and diplomacy. From the Cold War and closed residences, Ambassadors are now more and more open to the public. As cooking is a passion of H.E., she has toured the country while presenting Thai cooking in various towns and cities, from high-school students to most recently volunteers and firefighters who worked hard to fight the pandemic, as she joined the initiative of the Mayor of Prague 1. In 2019, she opened the residence to the public and organized presentations of the Thai business community together with cooking classes. This event will be hopefully repeated in 2021. But remember, there is much more to Thailand than Thainess. Explore also other opportunities for cooperation, as H.E. Ureerat Chareontoh has set a purpose to redefine mutual relations beyond the tourism.
Your Excellency, my first question is quite obvious. What is the current situation in Thailand with regards to the pandemic?
The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is a direct and pressing challenge to all countries, notwithstanding Thailand and the Czech Republic. It is more than just a global public health state of emergency, it is an unprecedented challenge facing humanity and human security. Many countries in Europe are experiencing high infection rates, which have come with tens of thousands of fatalities. Fortunately, both of our countries responded to the situation quite quickly and effectively.
Thailand’s economy, like many others that are deeply integrated into the global economy and supply chain, has been affected by the disruption of global economic activities due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The latest estimation of the country’s GDP growth rate of the year 2020 is 1.5-2.5%. At the moment, the Royal Thai Government is focusing on two key areas of work. The first concern is the health issue, meaning the Government
is employing all means to reduce and contain the spread of the COVID-19 and enhance the capacity to treat the infected patients. The second concern is the provision of assistance to all Thai citizens, to support their livings. In response to the effect of COVID-19 on the country’s economy, the Government has approved an economic stimulus package amounted to CZK 1.23 trillion, corresponding to approximately 10% of GDP.
Thailand has been a very popular tourist destination also for many Czech travelers. When can the Czechs look forward to coming back?
Our tourism industry accounts for around one-fifth of Thailand’s economy. In normal circumstances, April is considered the peak holiday season in Thailand, with the Songkran Water Festival as the magnet event to attract tourists from around the world. Unfortunately, this year the Royal Thai Government had to cancel the celebration of the Songkran Water Festival to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. The Government has declared a state of emergency from 26 March to 30 April 2020, which later extended to 30 June 2020, to combat the spread of the virus effectively and efficiently. However, once travel resumes, Thailand looks forward to welcoming foreign visitors, especially Czech friends. I was pleased to hear that many Czechs are planning a visit to Thailand as soon as it is possible – as soon as the European Union opens the borders. At present, the situation of the spread of COVID-19 in Thailand is getting better, the Government has started to implement lockdown relaxation, and people are allowed to resume their daily life activities under the “new normal” and “social distancing”. The low infection rate of COVID-19 in Thailand has clearly reflected Thailand’s strength and capacity in the medical and healthcare sector.
Thai people and their culture are known for the concept of Thainess. I admit that my country lags in the areas of service and fresh food. Have you found any means or places that at least slightly commemorate Thainess?
I think that Thainess is all about Thai hospitality, which is a unique characteristic of Thais and cannot be duplicated elsewhere. It is what makes people want to come back and visit Thailand again and again. What I miss the most is Thai food, especially street food in Bangkok, or fresh seafood, cooked by the seaside in any beach town in Thailand. It is not only the food itself but also the ambiance. But here in Prague, I love the farmers’ markets, both in Prague 6 and Náplavka, that I go almost every Saturday if the weather is nice. I love the ambiance there. It is so lively and relaxing plus the food there is also good and fresh.
Let us talk about the new tomorrow. You have been working on extending the areas of cooperation between the two countries beyond tourism, which seems to be obvious.
Indeed, there are many other possibilities for future cooperation, such as defense and security industry, health or research and development (R&D), to name a few.
In terms of R&D, especially in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), I believe that the COVID-19 situation will help accelerate the momentum of bilateral cooperation in this field as STI is vital in fighting against the COVID-19 pandemic and the “new normal”
of social distancing will also accelerate digitization as the key to bringing about global progress and development. The Czech Republic is renowned for being very advanced and having rapid developments in STI, thus, sharing and exchanging knowledge and best practices in STI between our two countries is one of the key cooperation that should be further promoted in the post-COVID era.
For defense and security cooperation, since Prime Minister Andrej Babiš visited Thailand on the occasion of the state official visit in January 2019, there have been many follow up high-level visits between the two sides, which led to the establishment of the Coordinating Committee (Working Group) for Cooperation in Defense Industry in order to work on the potential projects and details of cooperation, especially in aerospace, military vehicles, weapons and ammunition, disaster relief, and cyber and information technology. Thailand has also extended its invitation to the Czech private sectors to consider investing in Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) in which many companies from the Czech sides have shown interests.
Regarding the health sector, the two countries place importance on health security and aim to promote more on this aspect. A few Czech companies, such as Linet, are doing business in Thailand but currently, with the pandemic and the growing capacity of the Czech business in the health industry, the Embassy will encourage more cooperation and more Czech companies to consider investing further in Thailand in this field, as well as in medical and pharmaceutical sciences. In addition, the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chulalongkorn University of Thailand, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute (ICCI), situated in Prague, to promote cooperation in the use of cannabis extracts for the treatment and development of cannabis and cannabis extract research projects. It is the first collaboration between ICCI and a country in East Asia and South East Asia as well as an important step for the ICCI’s international cooperation with countries outside Europe.
On another related note, there are also approximately 30 Thai students currently pursuing medical studies in the Czech Republic, mostly at Charles University. At the same time, around 10 Czech medical students participate in internship programs at several hospitals in Thailand each year.
Finally, technical cooperation in third-world countries, to promote human security and empower the underprivileged, women and children is also a potential endeavor that Thailand and the Czech Republic could expedite in the near future.
We are launching the new series of women ambassadors and thank you very much for being the patron and the first leader to be featured. What is your message to women professionals?
First of all, I would like to thank the Czech and Slovak Leaders Magazine for this initiative. Right now, there are approximately 20 of us, women ambassadors in the Czech Republic, covering all continents and I hope that the number will increase. We now have a “WhatsApp” group of “Prague Women Ambassadors” thanks to my dear friend, the Ambassador of Canada, who created it. Recently, we participated in a project raising awareness about World Bee Day, initiated by the Ambassador of Slovenia. I admire each and every one of the women ambassadors, and actually all women professionals, for doing their job the best way, while balancing it with their personal lives. Just do your best and have no regret for the outcome.
How do you manage to maintain a work-life balance? What are your passions and hobbies?
As a working woman, I learned how to balance my work and my personal life a long time ago. But I also had been helped by my family, my parents, and my brother. In the past, when work demanded and I had to work during the weekend, I chose to bring work home and did it together with my children while they were doing their homework. Three of us were in front of our laptops at the dining table. Some of my colleagues prefer to go to the office finalizing their report over the weekend, while I prefer bringing work to my home. At least I could be with my kids. I could say that once you are doing things you love and have passion with, I mean both work and family, it is easy to balance it.
As a woman and as a mother, I was always happy to cook for my children from when they were very young. I love to explore recipes, learning new ones from friends and colleagues, or try some new recipes from YouTube. It was fun and my children loved it. Now as they are all grown up and we do not live with each other, I still enjoy cooking, especially during the weekend.
I also like to travel. I think it is the best way to learn about the country you are living and working in. Since I arrived in the Czech Republic a year and a half ago, I have visited many cities here, Český Krumlov, Karlovy Vary, Telč, Liberec, Znojmo, Mikulov, even Ještěd, to name a few. And I will continue to do so during my term here.
What is your final message to Czech and Slovak Leaders readers?
Visit and experience Thailand yourself and not only the major and well-known cities like Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket. There are many other provinces in Thailand to be explored and we are looking forward to welcoming you all. Also, think of Thailand as a perfect destination for investment and business with regards to many future-oriented sectors. Thailand and the Czech Republic have great potential to cooperate in security, automation and robotics, smart electronics, next-generation mobility solutions, medical and comprehensive healthcare, and last but not least food industry. Doing business in Thailand will allow you to experience “Thainess” not just during vacations.
By Linda Štucbartová
Photos: Jitka Tomečková