In Order to Achieve a Well-Balanced Cooperation: "Thailand Will Continuously Work Hand-in-Hand with Korea"
Official ties between Thailand and the Republic of Korea can only be dated back to 47 years ago. Prior to that, substantive and close contacts had already been established between both sides. Since then, smooth relations have been maintained and strengthened. At present, both countries have concluded 21 agreements as tools for the promotion of their relations. In this article, only some major aspects of our bilateral relations are elaborated. Many Korean people might first know about Thailand when Thailand dispatched soldiers to join the United Nations Command Force during the Korean War in the years 1950~1953. However, historians tell us that Thailand, then Siam, and Korea made an earlier contact six centuries ago. Prof. Cho Hung-guk of history discovered that the first contact between Thailand and Korea, recorded in the official chronicle of the Koryo Dynasty (Koryosa), was published in the reign of King Kongyang (1389-1392). The document revealed that Xienluohu (or Siam) sent the envoy along with its native products and a letter to present to the King of Koryo. The King gave them an audience and comforted them. Unfortunately, a promising start to the diplomatic relations was disrupted by sea pirates who killed all members of the second envoy from Siam. Fear of sea bandits ended contact between the two kingdoms for over five centuries. The contact between Thailand and Korea was renewed when the United Nations requested the Government of Thailand to send its troops to the Korean War. Thailand immediately responded to the plea for help and was the first country to deploy 4,000 soldiers to Korea on July 23, 1950. During the period of the Korean War (1950~1953), Thailand dispatched 11,786 soldiers to fight for peace and democracy in the Korean Peninsula. 124 Thai soldiers sacrificed their lives during the period of the Korean War (from June 25, 1950, to July 28, 1953) to attain these goals. Later on, diplomatic relations between Thailand and the Republic of Korea were established on Oct. 1, 1958. Since then, the two countries have continuously developed and strengthened their cordial and constructive ties in various fields of mutual interest. The close political ties and strong bonds of friendship between the two countries were reflected by the significant visits of the members of Royal Families and head of government such as HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorns in 1992, HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhon in 1991 and 2004, HRH Princess Chulabhorn Mahidol in 1993, 2004 and 2005, and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinnawatra in 2003 and 2005.
During the past few decades, trade and investment have played crucial roles in forging closer ties between Thailand and the Republic of Korea. The two countries have successfully reached various agreements for the broadening and strengthening of trade and investment cooperation such as the Agreement of Trade, the Convention for the Avoidance of Double Taxation, the Agreement of Scientific and Technol-ogical Cooperation, the Agreement for the Promotion and Protection of Investments and the Agreement of Air Services. Trade relations between Thailand and Korea increased every year since the two countries emerged from the financial crisis. During 2004, the trade volume between the two countries reached US$5.57 billion with Korea having a favorable balance of trade of around US$898 million. During that year, Thailand's exports to Korea accounted for US$2.3 billion while Thailand's imports from Korea were around US$3.24 billion. This amounted to a 20% increase in trade compared to the previous year. This year, the trade volume between Thailand and Korea during the first three quarters has reached US$5 billion. An impressive growth by the end of the year could be predicted on the basis of that figure. Major export products from Thailand to Korea between the year 2004 and 2005 include electrical machinery, rubber (natural rubber), computers and components, organic chemicals, paper products, wood products, sugar, crude oil, frozen shrimps and plastic. Major import products from Korea to Thailand of the same period are electrical machinery, iron and steel, organic chemicals, machinery, integrated circuits and plastic. Over the past two decades, cumula-tive South Korea investment in Thailand amounted to US$1.5 billion. Although the said amount does not constitute a high proportion in the overall foreign investment in Thailand nor that of Korean investment overseas, Thailand is positive that excellent key factors for investment in Thailand will attract more Korean investors in the years to come. Those key factors are as follows; (1) As situated in the heart of Southeast Asia, Thailand could serve as a gateway to Southeast Asia and the Greater Mekong sub-region; (2) Thailand enjoys uninterrupted social and political stability as well as a growing economy; (3) Thailand has good infrastructure ready for foreign investors such as guarantees against nationalization and price control, competitive tax incentives and other services; (4) Thai peoples friendly attitude toward foreigners. By those factors, Thailand was ranked as the Worlds fourth most attractive nation for foreign investment in a survey by the United Nations Commission for Trade and Develop-ment in the year 2004. Currently, about 130 Korean firms are operating in Thailand. Some prominent companies are Thai Samsung Electronics, Samsung Elector-Mechanics (Thailand), POSCO, SNC Pyongsan Evolutin Co., The Face Shop, Halla Climate Control (Thailand), Sung Moon Woory Industrial (Thailand) and Sung Ju (Thailand).
During the 9th ASEAN-Republic of Korea Summit in Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 13, 2005, Thailand joined other ASEAN member countries in signing the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation between ASEAN and the Republic of Korea. As this Framework Agreement produces the same effect of an FTA, Thailand and the Republic of Korea will no doubt enjoy better relation in both trade and investment. In the same agreement, ASEAN countries have agreed in principle to the inclusion of products from the Gaeseong Industrial Complex of the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK). Thailand has been one of the staunch supporters of this issue. Due to Thailand's diverse natural resources plus other favorable conditions, it attracted 890,000 visitors from Korea in 2004. Among others, Phuket is the most popular destination for Korean honeymooners. It is a dream of the young couple in Korea, on this memorable occasion, to have a good time on this paradise island. Others enjoy playing golf on different golf courses of world-class standard with extremely reasonable fees. Thailand is fully committed to support South Korea's efforts to attain long-lasting peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula to lead peace and prosperity into the East and Southeast Asian Regions. Thailand also ap-preciates South Korea's active participation in regional security and economic forums such as EAS, ASEAN+3, ARF and ACD. Thailand will continue to work hand-inhand with the Republic of Korea in order to achieve a well-balanced cooperation in the years to come.