“PROMOTING THE UNKNOWN”
I first met H.E. Ureerat Chareontoh in June 2020 when we launched the special series dedicated to Women Ambassadors. We spoke about the first wave of Covid and looked forward to the return to the new normal. Little did we know about the upcoming second (and subsequent third) wave and the protracted effect the pandemic will have on our further functioning and daily activities. As H.E. Chareontoh’s term is coming to an end, we met again to reflect on her posting. What was the impact of Covid-19 on the traditional type of diplomacy based on personal meetings and connections? How can you promote Thainess on-line? And many travelers keen on visiting Thailand will be pleased to read the update about the current situation.
Mrs. Ambassador, thank you for all your work, touring the Czech Republic, and sharing your passion for Thai cuisine with the wider public. I experienced myself that contrary to many presumptions, cooking pad thai is neither difficult nor time-consuming. And the benefit is that one can get all the ingredients here in the Czech Republic. And spicy tom yum soup with all the herbs can serve as an excellent immunity booster.
Your Excellency, appreciation also goes for the opening of the gardens of your residence to the public. I hope to meet you again. In Thailand. “Swasdee ka”. And to everyone missing Thailand, I recommend cooking pad thai and watching the excellent movie, “The Cave”.
We recently celebrated Chinese New Year. The traditional Thai New Year comes even later in April. What is the typical way to celebrate the Thai New Year?
“Songkran” or Thai traditional New Year is celebrated on 13th April every year, based on the solar calendar. The title comes from Sanskrit, meaning movement or change. The celebration starts when the sun enters Aries according to the sidereal zodiac system. This is called “Maha Songkran” day. The final day marks the new solar year and is called “Wan Thaloengsok”. In the old days, our traditional New Year could be between 13-16 April. But at present, it always starts on the 13th of April. This tradition is shared by many other Asian countries, such as Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia.
Like many other celebrations, including Christmas and Lunar New Year, it is the time of year that we will be with our family, go to temples to pray and offer food for monks. In the case of Christmas, you go to church for example. The difference from Christmas is that in traditions of Songkran and Lunar New Year, we pay respect to our ancestors as well.
For Songkran, we ask for blessings from our elderly by splashing fragrant water on their hands. However, nowadays, it turns into a fun festival that people splash or throw water at each other. As April is the hottest month in Thailand, this feels very pleasant.
You have come to the third year of posting, could you share with us your highlights? I believe that diplomacy based on meeting new people, networking, and organizing events was one of the areas truly affected by the pandemic.
I was lucky that my term started with the official visit to Thailand of H.E. Andrej Babiš, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic. It was the first official visit at the level of the Prime Minister. This visit, to me, definitely opened a new chapter in our bilateral relations. It also provided dynamism and momentum in our cooperation. It was followed by an exchange of high-level visits, including the official visits of Radek Vondráček, the President of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament, Richard Brabec, Minister of Environment, Lubomír Metnar, Minister of Defense, and Antonín Staněk, Chairperson of the Czech-Thai Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group. Those visits clearly demonstrated a firm commitment and close cooperation between our two countries.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic hindered the visit of H.E. General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Prime Minister of Thailand last year. This was supposed to be his first official visit to the Czech Republic. We had scheduled many bilateral meetings, such as the Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation, the Sub-Committee on Tourism, and the Coordinating Committee on Defense Cooperation, to name a few. We were considering also launching a direct flight between Bangkok and Prague for the first time.
As diplomats, we are used to meeting and seeing peoples, organizing activities and events to promote our countries, and advancing relations with the host country. And I am certain that we all love to do it in person because it is us, as a person, that represent our country, our people, our culture, our tradition and make an impression on those who have the opportunity to know and connect with us. But now, due to the Covid-19 situation, events and activities have to be postponed or canceled. Our meetings and gatherings have to be on-line, as we call it “digital diplomacy”. This year, the Royal Embassy will promote “Thainess” online, though I really look forward to doing “business as usual”. However, it is the best we can do for now.
On a positive note, the COVID-19 situation has given us the opportunity to promote people-to-people relations. We are delighted to be invited to participate in the International Travelling Exhibition Helpful Art in COVID promoting artworks created from around the world during the pandemic, including several Thai artists. Those artworks helped people survive through this hard time and we are more than happy to be part of it. And during this difficult time, the Royal Thai Embassy in Prague together with the Tourism Authority of Thailand cooperated with local authorities and agencies, including the Mayor’s Office of Prague 1 in preparing Thai food for healthcare workers, firefighters, and volunteers, and in contributing Thai food products for those in need through the Federation of Czech Food Banks. Our contribution and support, although in a small way, reflected our thanks and strong commitment to join hands with Prague and the Czech Republic in fighting against the pandemic.
I recall our first interview when you spoke about your mission to promote other areas for cooperation next to tourism. What is the legacy you are leaving behind?
I am not sure if this should be branded as a “legacy”. But I am doing my best to promote the “unknown”, if you can recall my first interview. I have been promoting Czech potentials to Thailand and Thai potentials to the Czech Republic, rather than we know each other only as beautiful tourist destinations. I have organized the Thai Market for the first time at the Residence, which was open to the public. It was well attended by thousands of those who love Thailand.
What is the current situation in Thailand? I cannot refrain from asking, as your country is on my bucket list.
The spread of COVID-19 is more than just a global public health emergency. It turned into an unprecedented challenge facing humanity and human security. Thailand, like many other countries, has also been affected by the pandemic since the beginning of 2020. We have been closely following the World Health Organization’s Situation Reports and have aggressively implemented proactive measures to fight the pandemic by expanding contact tracing and testing to identify possible infections before they unknowingly spread the virus. The Government has decided to declare a state of emergency and implemented lockdown measures from time to time.
We are heartened by the fact that John Hopkins University’s 2019 Global Health Security Index placed Thailand as the 6th most prepared country in the world for the pandemic, while PEMANDU Association placed Thailand as the 1st in the world for the ongoing recovery effort 2020.
When looking into our economy, which is deeply integrated with the global supply chain, it has been affected by the disruption of global economic activities. However, the Thai Economy is improving gradually starting from the third quarter of last year and it is expected that the economic growth will resume by 3.5 – 4.5% this year, which is corresponding to the Czech economic recovery trend.
In terms of Tourism, 22% of Thailand’s economy relies on tourism and it generates approximately 8 million jobs. In 2019 Thailand welcomed almost 40 million tourists. Even though Thai tourism is experiencing a temporary downturn, we can expect to see a gradual recovery soon.
The Royal Thai Government has targeted both domestic and international tourists to visit the country. At present, Thailand welcomes all international tourists, however, restrictive and quarantine measures have to be strictly observed by all travelers. The Royal Thai Embassy in Prague has received a significant increase in tourist visa applications. For the Czech tourists, the renowned tourist attractions in Thailand, such as Pattaya, Phuket, and Krabi have always been on the top of the list.
In addition, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), in collaboration with the public and private sector partners, has introduced an “Amazing Thailand Safety and Health Administration: SHA” certification aimed at elevating the country’s tourism industry standards and developing confidence among international and domestic tourists against the virus. I believe that with the effectiveness of the vaccination program, global travel will gradually resume in the near future. For Thailand, we are fully prepared for the return of tourism as well as to offer visitors new tourist experiences with regards to “the new normal”.
I am not very good at saying good-bye, so I prefer to use farewell… What are your final words for the Czech and Slovak Magazine readers?
As I am leaving Prague very soon, I wish that bilateral relations between Thailand and the Czech Republic will continue to grow to a greater height. I, as Ambassador, am proud to be part of this progress and happy that I have contributed to the advancement of our bilateral relations and cooperation. I wish to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support, cooperation, and hospitality, which has made my post here very fruitful and pleasant. I have met many wonderful people, some of them became close friends. Though in sadness, I will definitely leave the Czech Republic with fond memories. Till we meet again. Swasdee ka.
By Linda Štucbartová