Seeking a fresh start
Exclusive interview: Thawing of Saudi ties a win-win for both sides
Two months have passed since Saudi Arabia and Thailand agreed to fully restore diplomatic ties, a move that followed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's visit to Riyadh on Jan 25.
By doing so, the two countries opened a new chapter in their relations, creating opportunities for economic and diplomatic cooperation.
The Bangkok Post spoke to Saudi Arabian Charge d'Affaires to Thailand Essam Saleh Al Getale about this new chapter and the work being done by the two countries to advance their ties.
Can you give an overview of key initiatives both countries are to advance relations?
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Thailand were established in 1957. Both countries have long and historic relations. However in 1990, our relations turned sour following some incidents. It was 32 years ago.
Today, the two countries have opened a new chapter in their relations since Gen Prayut visited our country on Jan 25, following an invitation of His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, the crown prince, who also serves as deputy prime minister and defence minister.
Regarding the visit, both countries issued a joint statement which detailed a roadmap discussing the importance of building our new relationships in various fields. At present, the nations are working and coordinating closely.
Representatives from both countries have travelled back and forth regularly. The Saudi Arabian Embassy in Thailand is also closely working with Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And shortly, representatives of the Saudi Arabian government will travel to Thailand to hold talks with their Thai counterparts.
We can say that we have missed the opportunity to deepen this bond since our relations went sour 32 years ago. So, the two leaders agreed to restore the full ties of the two countries in various fields.
According to Gen Prayut, the countries can expect to benefit in nine key areas, such as tourism, energy, labour and trade and investment. Which areas will produce the most tangible results?
Actually, there are so many issues yet to be discussed under these nine key areas, especially in the economic area, which also covers exports. On tourism, national airlines of the two countries are cooperating more closely to operate flights between the two countries.
So, it is important for the countries to cooperate with each other, especially in economic areas. In 2020, the two countries had total trade value of about US$5 billion (168 billion baht), which was not a high figure.
I see that both countries actually can make use of existing resources with enhanced potential for multiplying increasing economic value and trading volumes with one another.
I am confident that people of the two countries will feel a sense of progress in cooperation. Officials of the two countries are also speeding up their work.
Before 1990, Saudi Arabia was the largest foreign job market for Thai workers with its number over 200,000. What types of Thai workers does Saudi Arabia need and why?
Saudi Arabia is moving forward to develop its economy. It is categorised as an emerging market economy. The kingdom is a member of the G20, a forum for global financial issues whose members include major developed and developing economies.
Our country is building megaprojects under its Vision 2030, which was launched as a roadmap for the country's economic development. Saudi Arabia will be a more developed country in the industrial sector instead of being heavily dependent on oil to distribute income to non-oil sectors.
The megaprojects under this vision require diverse experiences and knowledge to build high-performance teams from different countries.
We believe in the potential of Thai labourers because they are diligent and of high-quality. Saudi Arabian delegates in charge of labour recently came to Thailand. They met their Thai counterparts from the Ministry of Labour to discuss labour exports and employments.
What is the minimum wage for Thai labourers in Saudi Arabia? Are there job placement companies in Thailand which can act as a third party with the embassy to help workers find jobs?
Saudi Arabia wants Thailand to find skilled workers in different sectors. They are housekeepers, technicians, mechanics, constructional workers, healthcare workers and physical therapists.
Before relationships between the countries turned sour 32 years ago, Saudi Arabia was the largest labour market for Thai workers, and of course, Thai workers are still in great demand in the Saudi Arabian labour market.
As for the minimum wage, officials from both countries are discussing the matter. Much progress has been made in the labour sector.
The Saudi Arabian embassy is coordinating with Thai businessmen and investors in bringing them to visit Saudi Arabia to find investment opportunities for their businesses there. We are working on the matter.
Gen Prayut has invited the crown prince to visit Thailand. Will he visit Thailand?
It's true that the prime minister extended an invitation to our crown prince for a visit to Thailand. And our crown prince accepted his invitation. The countries are now considering the best time for the leaders to meet.
On tourism, is it hard for Thais to travel to Saudi Arabia now the countries have improved relations?
Those who want to visit Saudi Arabia can submit online tourist visa applications. As for the number of days they can stay, it depends on the programme bought from tour companies.
The tourism industry is becoming a trend in Saudi Arabia. We have now learned to apply knowledge and experience about the industry from other countries to develop our tourist attractions, both land and sea.
Saudi Arabia sets a goal of welcoming over 100 million visitors annually by 2030. To this end, we have implemented measures to develop the country's tourist places.
Our government has also made amendments to laws involved to keep up with the current tourism sector and welcome visitors.
In addition to the country's tourism industry sector, we are opening a faculty of tourism at a university in Riyadh.
Tourism issues will be raised for talks during the visit to Saudi Arabia by Tourism and Sports Minister [Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn] later this month.
I want to say that when it comes to hospitality, Arabs are well-known for being masters in the art of welcoming people.
Our society honours every guest who comes. It is our culture, and it can help draw foreign visitors to travel to the country.
Do you know when Riyadh will appoint an ambassador to Thailand?
The appointment of ambassadors will be made in the near future.
Do you have a plan to organise a big event to mark 65 years diplomatic ties between the countries and celebrate the fully restored diplomatic ties?
We have not yet held a celebration for diplomatic ties. However, both countries are discussing issues to make our relations yield results as soon as possible.
How do you see the future of the Thai-Saudi relations in the next five years?
With the high potential of the countries in various fields, I think that the next five years is too far. Our relations will develop into a number of cooperation ventures in just one year.
I feel very happy that relations of the two countries have fully restored while I hold the position of the Saudi Arabian Charge d'Affaires to Thailand.