By Bhakavat Tanskul
Overview of Thailand-Nepal Relations:
Thailand and Nepal established diplomatic relations on 30 November 1959 and it has been 58 years that our countries have developed close bonds of friendship based on mutual trust, respect and understanding.
Our commonalities in religion and culture as well as economic interests have served as great tools that contribute to the increasing people-to-people contacts between Thailand and Nepal. I can honestly say that we are more similar than we think. Even when our people meet, we greet each other the same way with our two hands combined. Or even in our religions, while 90 percent of Nepalis are Hindus and 90 percent of Thais are Buddhist, our belief and practices in both religions have been perfectly blended since the ancient time. In Buddhist ceremonies there are also many Hindu elements and we have to always invite Brahmin gurus to conduct our worship of gods like Shiva, Ganesh and Vishnu. These reasons therefore assure us that our friendship and culture will continue to deepen and prosper in many more years ahead.
On bilateral relations, our governments have been very cordial and close and we can see this fact from the frequent visits between our VVIPs and high-ranking officials. Since 13 October 2016, when His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away, Thailand has been in the deepest grief but we have also received immense moral support from many dear friends all over the world, including Nepal. When a book of condolences was opened for signing, a large number of Nepali officials and people across all levels and sectors came to the Royal Thai Embassy to express their condolences, which reflects the genuine care and support Nepal always has for Thailand.
On behalf of the Royal Thai Government, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to President Bidya Devi Bhandari for visiting Thailand to pay tribute to the late King Bhumibol in May 2017, as well as to the Bhimsen Das Pradhan, Minister of Defense, as representative of Nepal to attend the Royal Cremation Ceremony on 26 October this year.
Every year on 5 December we celebrate three important events: the Birthday Anniversary of the His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the National Day of Thailand and Thailand’s Father’s Day.
On a related note, I would like to also thank the Government of Nepal as well as all authorities concerned for your support which led to a successful visit to Lumbini of Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn on 20 October this year.
As we can see, such high-level visits have greatly contributed to stronger political relations between our countries and I would like to encourage the continuity of these visits in the future. To further deepen our political ties, we should plan official visits for other important dignitaries and also to organize the Fifth Joint Commission (JC) Meeting between Thailand and Nepal. It has been 13 years since the 4th JC Meeting in Kathmandu.
As for the current Nepal’s election, it is commendable that more than 67 percent of registered voters came out to cast their ballots which indicate the enthusiasm of the Nepali public to express their desire and freewill. I congratulate Nepal for the smooth and successful election and I wish that this political achievement will soon lead to a formation of the new government which will bring stability and prosperity to the nation and people of Nepal.
The earthquake in Nepal in 2015 truly affected the heart of the Thai people. It also raised awareness of the people throughout Thailand to stand by our dear friend, Nepal. In response to that earthquake, the Royal Thai Government immediately sent rescue teams, doctors and nurses as well as volunteers to relieve the situation and save the earthquake victims. The Thai Government also set up the “Thai Hearts for Nepal” fund to allow Thai people to donate for Nepal. The first sum of $ 4 million USD fund was rendered to the Nepali Government, World Health Organization, UNICEF and UNOCHA ($1 million USD per organization). At the same time, the Thai Red Cross Society also sent $4 million USD fund to the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) to support the building of the new NRCS National Blood Transfusion Center facility in Kathmandu and for capacity building and other support areas in blood transfusion service.
Through our effort at both the government and the people-to-people level, currently the existing donation in the “Thai Hears for Nepal” fund stands at $7 million USD. Out of the this final fund, $1.5 million USD will be spent on acquiring medical supplies as officially requested by the Nepali Government and another $1.5 million USD will be donated to the Nepali Government to be used as a relief fund. The remaining donation of $4 million USD will be donated to UNDP project on Livelihood Recovery through rehabilitation of community infrastructure in earthquake-affected areas and IOM project on People to People Support for Building Community Resilience through Recovery and Reconstruction of Nepal. Thailand views that these two UN projects are exceedingly important for the post-earthquake reconstruction in Nepal as they will help to restore the living conditions of Nepali people in areas affected by the earthquake and prepare the local community for any natural disasters that may arise in the future.
The two countries have always been good economic partners and there is real potential for expansion of bilateral trade and investment, particularly in tourism industry, agro-business, consumer products, energy and infrastructure.
Currently, our bilateral trade volume stands at $67.25 million USD and Thailand has gained trade surplus of more than 98 percent (or roughly $66.05 million USD).
I view that we should seek new strategies to fix the high imbalance in our bilateral trade volume. One way is to increase trade and investment promotion between our countries and to achieve this, we must provide our businessmen with easier accesses to information on economic and investment opportunities in our countries. I highly recommend that exchanges of business delegations between Thailand and Nepal be held regularly to expand contacts between our businessmen which will boost the dynamism between our private sectors, leading to more business matching and partnership between both sides.
At the 15th Handicraft Trade Fair and 13th Craft Competition organized by Handicraft Association of Nepal last month in Kathmandu, I saw many beautiful and interesting products from Nepal on display and discovered that there are great potentials for Nepal to expand handicraft businesses to a greater volume. Hence, Nepali business owners should find more channels to display their handicrafts abroad as it will certainly result in more business matching and deals in the long run.
I am pleased that an event like Nepal Chamber Expo 2017 was held during 30 November – 4 December 2017 in Kathmandu at which a good number of young Thai entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to participate to promote some of our popular products in Nepal such as Thai food and snacks, cosmetics, stationery, home appliances to name a few. Likewise, I would like to encourage Nepali entrepreneurs to grab more opportunities to participate in other expo events worldwide.
At policy level, Thailand is delighted that Nepal’s One Village One Product (OVOP) is heading in the same direction as that of Thailand’s OTOP or One Tambon (meaning sub-district) One Product. Given Thailand economic success and development of local product, derived from this policy, Thailand is willing to share our knowledge and experience in OTOP with Nepal, particularly how we have managed to improve local product quality and marketing as well as provide a local and international stage for the promotion of these products.
Thailand has now become one of the popular destinations for Nepali tourists. According to statistics of Tourism Authority of Thailand, in 2016 more than 40,000 Nepali tourists visited Thailand. Popular destinations for Nepali tourists are Bangkok and other coastal areas of Thailand such as Pattaya, Hua Hin, and Krabi to name a few.
Approximately, the same number of Thai tourists come to Nepal every year for cultural exploration and trekking along the Himalayan area. These facts indicate that our countries are mutually attracted to each other through our tourist preferences and destinations. Therefore, more tourism promotion between Thailand and Nepal must take place so we could expand the dynamism between our tourism industries and our people-to-people contacts.
This year, Thailand expects the number of international tourist to Thailand to reach 35 million, which will help generate our gross income of more than $36 billion USD. Such accomplishment steams from coordination of our national policies and projects gearing towards tourism sector, such as “Discover Thainess,” “Amazing Thailand,” and “Thailand 4.0.” Therefore, as Nepal’s good friend, Thailand is willing to share our experience and expertise in tourism and hospitality management with Nepal.
In addition to regular tourism cooperation, we should focus our efforts in deepening religious travels and cooperation between our countries, particularly in the scope of Buddhism which has always been the key to our synergies and the most important area in our bilateral relations.
Since Lord Buddha was born in Lumbini, all Buddhist Thais consider Nepal a very sacred place. Therefore, the ties between Thai and Nepali people have always been deep and innate owing to our shared faith in Buddhism. Every year more than 50,000 Thai pilgrims travel to Lumbini to visit Maya Devi Temple, where they could pay respect to the birthplace of Lord Buddha. Undeniably, Lumbini is the heart of Thai-Nepal relations and that is why Thailand has been contributing a great deal to the development of this holy area.
In 1995 the Royal Thai Monastery in Lumbini was built in honour of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Monastery has also served as Thai people’s goodwill to preserve and fortify our Buddhist faith. Through collaboration between Royal Thai Embassy and Royal Thai Monastery in Lumbini, Thailand has also helped renovate various areas in Lumbini, construct a school for local students as well as organize charity projects to help the local people.
Our Buddhist activities not only take place in Lumbini but also in Kathmandu. Every year Royal Thai Embassy organizes a religious ceremony on Visakha Bucha Day (Buddha Jayanti) to promote Buddhism among local Thai community and Nepali people. During the Kathina period, the Embassy also organizes the Offering of the Royal Kathina Robe which has been successfully held in Nepal for the tenth time and participated by hundreds of Buddhist Nepali.
Our collaboration in Buddhism also leads to a long-term partnership in providing medical assistance to Nepali patients with cataracts. Since 2010, Royal Thai Embassy, in collaboration with Royal Thai Monastery, Thai Airways International and eye surgery teams from Ramathibodi Hospital and Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology have organized Cataract Microsurgical Workshop in Lumbini to treat Nepali patients suffering from cataract. Until present, the Workshop has already provided free cataract surgeries to more than 5,500 Nepali patients who lack financial resources.
Royal Thai Embassy also makes yearly donation to the Youth Eye Service (YES) which organizes free eye check-up and surgery camps in Kathmandu and other distant cities of Nepal. Such attempt to treat cataract patients without charge should be further supported by more entities from both government and private sector of Nepal. Therefore, I invite all interested parties to participate in these charities as we could help prevent complete blindness from cataract in Nepali people and give them the opportunities to see the world again with better vision.
As partner for development, Thailand has been providing technical assistance to Nepal since 1977 through short-term trainings and degree programs. Every year 20 – 30 scholarships are granted to Nepali government officials, professionals and students to participate in 5 different programs namely Annual International Training Courses (AITC), Thailand International Postgraduate Programme (TIPP), Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC), Trilateral Cooperation and Third Country Training Programme (TCTP).
Until present, Nepali scholars have studied and received trainings at many prominent universities in Thailand in various fields that are crucial for development of Nepal such as Public Health, Medicine, Tourism, Environment, Food Security, Disaster Management, Climate Change and Sufficiency Economy, to name a few.
As we look into the future of our technical cooperation, in addition to the yearly scholarship assistance, I propose that we collaborate on technology transfer as well as experts and scholars exchanges in beneficial fields. For instance, as a country that has had a long experience in developing agriculture sector, Thailand can help Nepal improve land and agricultural activities through various Royal Projects of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej whose lifetime experience was devoted to agricultural research and projects that improve the livelihoods of Thai farmers.
One leading project is His Majesty’s New Theory which advocates diversification in managing agricultural land to sustain soil health and protects farmers against market risk. To prevent soil erosion farming, His Majesty also initiated the cultivation of vetiver grass or often referred to as “miracle grass,” which is the most natural and economic plant that helps to prevent soil erosion and at the same time turns the land productive and useful for other agricultural activities. Vetiver glass also helps stop landslides which have become prevalent problems in Nepal. Therefore, Thailand is ready to cooperate with Nepal and share our knowledge of growing vetiver glass to prevent landslides in any appropriate areas of the country. I also recommend that we discuss in further details about other Royal Projects that can be applied to the agricultural context of Nepal to help Nepali farmers tackle their farming and agricultural challenges.
Organizing cultural activities is the most effective way to promote a better understanding of one’s culture in foreign countries. In the past year, Royal Thai Embassy has been promoting our Thai culture in Nepal through our hosting of cultural events which are the Thai Food Gala, a week-long event, aiming to widespread the real taste of Thai food and cooking in Nepal. Another important event is Thai Festival 2017 held at my Residence to promote Thailand in every possible dimension be they traditional Thai performances, Muay Thai, Thai cuisine, Thai handicrafts and Thai imported products.
Given our people’s commonalities and shared religious belief, I do not foresee immense obstacles that will bar us from deepening our already excellent relations and expanding our cooperation in all dimensions.
Perhaps, one of our possible challenges is Thailand’s very own desire not to prosper alone. It is our wish to see Nepal prosper together with us. Though Thailand does not share borders with Nepal, our ties have remained very cordial and close for a very long time. Therefore, we want new progress and advancement to take place in this country. However, our wish will not come true if we do our part alone. Thailand is willing to share our experience, technology and successful stories in areas of our expertise, but we will certainly need collaboration, commitment and the real willingness to prosper from the Nepali side.
Lack of access to information about Nepal could also be one of the challenges that we need to attend to. News about expo events, local festivals and tourism information, should be made more prevalent to the public in every possible way, particularly to foreigners such as tourists and businessmen. In Thailand’s case, our distribution of information starts right after passengers stepping out of the aircraft, as they could easily grab leaflets about hotels, restaurants and any popular tourist destinations in Thailand. They could also direct their questions to any information desk officers at the airport. Providing easy accesses to information to everyone, is, in other words, a simple way to create new businesses for your country. Therefore, I recommend that both the government and private sector of Nepal discuss more extensively on this issue and how Nepal could market itself more to the world so as to let people know the beauty and opportunities Nepal has to offer.
To conclude, our two countries have created many successful dimensions in our bilateral relations. Forever, Thailand and Nepal will be very good friends and continue to drive all of our cooperation to higher levels. Our ties, friendship and strength of our people-to-people contacts have far exceeded the definition of ‘friends’ for we are very good and close friends. As Ambassador of Thailand, I am very honored to serve as a bridge between our nations and loving peoples and witness our relations flourish day by day.
(Excerpts of the address by Thai ambassador Bhakavat Tanskul on Nepal-Thai relations at a programme organized by Nepal Council of World Affairs in Kathmandu.)