Ambassador seeks ways to deepen ties
New French envoy calls for joint effort to promote regional peace
The new French ambassador to Thailand's passion for Asia was immediately evident when he answered why he chose to be posted in Thailand.
"I am the one who wrote the blueprint of France's Indo-Pacific strategy, when I was still Director-General for Asia and Oceania at the French Foreign Affairs Ministry based in Paris," Thierry Mathou told the Bangkok Post in an interview.
"I chose to come to Thailand to implement it because I am convinced that Thailand should be one of our major partners in the region, to implement what I think is a common vision.
"So here I am, on a mission initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron, to remind to everyone that France is a maritime nation in the Indo-Pacific area that is determined to upgrade its relations with Thailand to a strategic level," he said, before describing the goals that he wished to achieve during his tenure as ambassador as "an almost endless list".
France's goals and strategies in the Indo-Pacific region, the ambassador noted, aren't limited to Thailand, but include Asean as a whole.
"France intends to be more involved in Asean's efforts to foster a multi-polar Asia -- becoming a factor of balance, peace and stability for the entire region," he said.
The view reflected the general stance of the European Union, which on April 19 approved the bloc's strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. The EU is expected to issue a joint communique on the matter by September this year.
"The [Indo-Pacific] region will be a priority of France as it assumes the presidency of the Council [of the European Union] in the first half of 2022," he said.
Historically, Thailand is France's oldest partner in Asia.
In 2016, the countries celebrated the 160th anniversary of the relationship, which was established by the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce between Siam and France on Aug 15, 1856.
More recently in 2019, France celebrated the 333rd anniversary of the first visit by an envoy of the Kingdom of Siam, Kosa Pan, to France.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha visited France in June 2018 and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai on April 22 had a video call with France's Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian.
The ambassador said he is here to take bilateral relations between France and Thailand to the next level, by upgrade them into a strategic partnership -- with the main priorities being the joint promotion of peace and security, and the development of a stable regional balance in a multipolar Indo-Pacific.
"France is willing to support the strengthening of its Southeast Asian partners' strategic autonomy. We are in favour of a coordinated regional approach, and we want to seek out multilateral cooperation opportunities within the existing regional security architecture," the former ambassador to Myanmar and the Philippines who also lived in China for almost 15 years said.
"Our priorities in the region are, among others, maritime security and environmental security. As a leading maritime power, France's priorities in the overall Indo-Pacific are to counter piracy, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, terrorism and any kind of trafficking," he said.
France is also ready to support economic, energy and technological transitions with a special focus on encouraging bilateral dialogue between both nation's public and private sectors.
The ambassador said French companies are active in several sectors from infrastructure to energy, innovation and high-tech solutions, agribusiness and services including tourism.
"More than 280 French companies are present in Thailand, creating tens of thousands of jobs," he said.
He added that in the industrial sector alone, French companies employ more than 30,000 people in Thailand, with more new projects starting recently in bioplastics, industrial waste-to-energy conversion, plastic recycling, and aircraft maintenance.
"The EEC [Eastern Economic Corridor] remains of high interest to French industries, in particular in the field of Bio Circular and Green Economy (BCG), as well as in the fields of aviation, rail and logistics," the ambassador said.
Mr Mathou also took the time to appreciate investments and contributions made by Thais and Thai companies in France, with the kingdom now the second-largest Asean investor in France and a leading investor in its agri-food industry.
According to the Royal Thai Embassy in Paris, there were 19,267 Thais living in France between January-May this year.
In addition to strategic and economic cooperation, the ambassador said France is keen to promote cultural and people-to-people exchanges in the fields of education, science, research and innovation, health, language, arts and culture, as well as tourism.
"The French community in Thailand has around 35,000 people, 13,000 of whom are registered with the embassy. This is the second largest French community in Asia, after China," he said.
"Our citizens live mainly in Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya but they can also be found in the most remote countryside areas.
"In large cities they are mainly expats working in big companies, while those living in Chiang Mai, Isan provinces and the islands are mostly retired."
Many French expatriates in Thailand are well integrated into the country, and many have built a new life here and have dual-national children who act a bridge between the two countries, he added.
"France and Thailand are very similar countries. Roughly same size, same population. Great culture and ancient history. Both are travel destinations, with about 800,000 French tourists visiting Thailand every year before Covid-19, so we are open to the world and new ideas but also fiercely independent."