Long Live the Queen - The United Kingdom celebrates the Official Birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II - National Day June 16th
Message from H.E. Sir James Hodge KCVO CMG
British Ambassador to Thailand
(This week) we celebrate the Official Birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II... On this auspicious occasion it is appropriate to reflect on the close relationship that exists between Thailand and the United Kingdom, not only today, but throughout the year.
This past year has been characterised in Thailand by difficult economic times. It has been a time when Thailands friends - and we count ourselves as just that - have been rallying round to help. Britains immediate response was through our bilateral contribution to the IMF package for Thailand and technical support given to the Bank of Thailand by the Bank of England. British commercial banks are also major contributors to the EXIM bank revolving credit facility.
More recently we have been expanding our co-operation in the area of privatisation, and we now have a British expert based in the Embassy who is on hand to offer advice learned from the British experience. This sort of co-operation in the "Invisibles" sector is ongoing, and we look forward both to a British Invisibles seminar in Bangkok in July, and to the visit of the Lord Mayor of London in October, when he will be accompanied by senior British businessmen from the financial sector.
Economic co-operation has also been emphasised by visiting British Ministers - both the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, and Economic Secretary, Helen Liddell, have been here in the last year. And Derek Fatchett, a Foreign Office Minister, has come to Thailand twice in the last couple of months, as a personal Emissary of Prime Minister Tony Blair, and as a Representative of the EU Presidency which the UK currently holds. One concrete demonstration of our long-term commitment is the new Business Centre at the Embassy, opened by Mrs. Liddell during her visit. Two further illustrations of our broad partnership with Thailand through the difficult times were our bilateral campaigns, "Britain Means Business in Thailand" and "UK in Thailand". Under these two programmes we brought together activities as diverse as trade missions, early British music, a harp recital, British animation and film festivals, street theatre and mime, environmental and scientific co-operation, and food promotions. I am grateful for this opportunity to thank those members of the British business community who were able to support these events, and to acknowledge the continuing co-operation we enjoy with the British Chamber of Commerce and the British Council, who each had a big hand in both campaigns.
No reflection on the partnership between Britain and Thailand in the last year would be complete without mention of the highly successful Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) held in London in April of this year with Prime Minister Tony Blair in the chair. ASEM was another focus for economic support for the Asian region, including Thailand. The Asia Europe Meeting agreed on an ASEM Trust Fund, new arrangements for European Credit Agencies to help Asia, and the setting up of a network of Financial Restructuring experts.
The ASEM meeting in London would not have been the success it was without the support we were given by our Thai counterparts, drawing on their experience of hosing the first ASEM meeting in Bangkok in 1996. The Thai role as ASEAN co-ordinator made a critical contribution to the preparation for, and success of, the meeting. We were delighted that Prime Minister Chuan was able to be in London for the event and hold separate talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair.
But of course there is much more to the Asia-Europe relationship than economics. Important work is also under way in the areas of Environment, Child Welfare, anti-narcotics work and people to people relationships. These are areas where Thai and British co-operation is already evident. As Thailand sets up an Asia Europe Environmental Technical Centre, the UK has launched an Environmental Disaster preparedness initiative. The ASEM Child Welfare theme has already been put into practice in Thailand, with a joint training course against child abuse, launched by British Home Office Minister Lord Williams in March.
The people to people element is what builds a bilateral relationship, underpins it, and allows it to flourish. That is why we attach so much importance to the large numbers of Thai students who study in the UK. And that is why Foreign Office Minister Derek Fatchett, on his second visit to Thailand this year, launched the British Thailand Scholarship Scheme 1998 last month. Through the scheme we shall be supporting almost 500 Thai students in the UK, with the co-operation of the Thai Office of the Civil Service Commission, British businesses and British Universities. It is but one area in which the work of the British Council with Thai counterparts is so clearly visible. British Educational Institutions are also active in Thailand through joint courses, research collaboration and higher education links. We held an immensely enjoyable occasion for Thai Alumni of the British Education system late last year and are keen to keep in touch with all our Alumni.
People to people work also continues all year in the development field. To pick just two random examples from the last year. We have continued our support of projects tackling HTV/AIDS when we supported "Women Against AIDS Day", and have supported a revolving loans scheme for vocational training for hill tribe groups through a Chiang Mai Based NGO. I could as easily have chosen from many other examples.
Britain is just coming to the close of our six months as Presidency of the European Union. It has been a busy and productive time. Our Presidency of the G8 continues until the end of the year. But partnership with Thailand is perennial. Just two months ago, while Foreign Minister Surin was in London, he and British Foreign Minister Robin Cook signed a Bilateral Action Agenda which serves both to highlight our close relationship, and as a road map to the way forward to an ever closer strategic partnership in the future. That future is bright, and we at the Embassy look forward to continued close collaboration with our Thai friends and colleagues.
Finally, on the occasion of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth IIs Official Birthday we cannot but also think of the continuing warm relations which exist between our two Royal Families. Today I therefore have the honour to offer my humble respects to Their Majesties the King and Queen, as I offer my best wishes to all your readers.
Sir James Hodge KCVO CMG
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A brief his torical introduction to historical ties between the United Kingdom and Thailand
The United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Thailand have had a relationship based on mutual respect and a desire for friendship since the earliest days of contact between the two countries.
The first recorded official contact was that of the English ship, The Globe, which arrived at Siam in 1612. Merchants travelling on this ship presented King Songtham with a friendly letter from James I of England, and later established trading operations at Ayudhya and Pattani. Royal contacts and a desire, on both sides, to benefit from trading opportunities have remained important elements in the Thai-British relationship ever since.
As was usual in those days, however, it took time for the early contacts to develop into a lasting relationship. Modern means of communication did not exist. Siamese ships did not sail to Europe and English ships were infrequent visitors to the ports of Siam. So much so that it is recorded that King Songtham, who had replied to King James Is letter in October 1615, was so eager for a response that he wanted to detain an English ship, The Fortune, until he had word from his brother in England.
In the late seventeenth century two entrepreneurial Englishmen, Mr Burneby and Mr. White, joined the court of the King of Siam from the East India Company and administered the port of Mergui in the King of Siams behalf. However, this initiative did not immediately lead to a wider English presence in Siam.
It was not until the nineteenth century that a concerted effort was made to develop the bilateral relationship. Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, recognised the importance of Siams influence in the region, noting in 1819 that the advantage of a good understanding with that court is obvious.
In 1821 John Crawford was sent on a mission to the Court of Siam, and in 1825 the British Indian Government appointed Captain Henry Burney as emissary to Siam. The Treaty of 1826, which Burney negotiated for the British, defined the boundaries between Siam and British Burma, and recognised Siamese possessions. The trade elements of the Treaty led to a huge increase in trade between Siam and Europe.
The next landmark in the development of closer relations was the arrival of Sir John Bowring. The Treaty of 1855, which he negotiated, dealt with import and export taxes and the rights of British citizens in Siam. This became the blueprint for other treaties which Siam subsequently signed with other foreign powers, including the United States of America and France. The Siamese King at that time, King Mongkut, happily established a close personal relationship with Queen Victoria through the exchange of letters and gifts.
King Mongkuts successor, King Chulalongkorn, is well remembered for his diplomatic skills at a time of great competition among European powers for influence in South East Asia. Despite pressure from France and from Britain, he managed to steer a middle course and maintain Siams independence. At the same time he had great respect for Britain, and for British people. By the end of his reign over 100 British experts were employed in government posts in Siam. The most senior of these held the post of Financial Adviser, in which a succession of British officials served from 1898 until the late 1910s.
King Chulalongkorn was also the first King of Siam to visit the United Kingdom, in 1897. By then another important foundation stone of the Thai-British relationship was in place: education. There were more than 50 Thais studying in Britain at the time of King Chulalongkorns visit and by 1924 there were over 200.
In 1932 Siam moved from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. British-educated King Prajadhipok, who occupied the throne at the time of the transition, was sympathetic to the cause of democratic reform. In 1939 Siam first changed its name to Thailand (although it was Siam again from 1945 to 1949).
The Thai-British relationship this century has been influenced by world and regional events. During the First World War, a Siamese expeditionary force was sent to France to fight with the Allies. In the Second World War Thais served in the British Army. London was the base for the Free Thai resistance movement, many of whose members, including Prince Subhasvasdi, subsequently received awards from King George VI in recognition of their services to the Allied cause.
In the 1950s the United Kingdom was a founder member of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) and a co-signatory of the Manila pact, at a time when Thailand was perceived to be at risk from external forces. In the 1970s, Thailand had to deal with a massive influx of refugees from neighbouring countries. Britain provided much practical assistance to help Thailand cope, very successfully, with this major challenge. Britain also supported the formation of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), in which Thailand has always played a leading role.
Today, relations between Britain and Thailand are reflected in links and contacts across the spectrum of human activity. Britain has become a second home for many Thais, and Thailand similarly for many British expatriates.
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International Day at ISR
On Thursday, 4 June the International School of the Regents (ISR) opened its doors to the community for the celebration of "International Day". Students and parents alike bore witness to a cultural potpourri of display, song, dance, costume and sporting events.
Classrooms played host to some thirty-one nations who claimed diplomatic status for the day: visitors armed with passports thus began the quest of collecting thirty-one entry visas whilst inspecting sovereign fare. Displays ranged from the sublime to the even more sublime; whilst France invited allcomers to consider the merits of a history rich in architecture, cuisine and the arts, the United Kingdom dwelt upon pop culture and the cult of the "Carry on..." film team. Greeces room presented an authentic taverna whilst Thailand offered insight into local traditions familiar to us all. Many of the participants were dressed in national costume: the vibrancy of the Korean girls costumes, the elegance of the Japanese kimonos and the refinement of the shud-thais and saris all suggested that mums had been hard at work. For the adventurous, food and drink a-plenty was on view and ready for sampling: gimchi, oden, croissants, foytong, tzetziki, pago-pago, dhosa, pakora, steak and kidney pie, and vegemite sandwiches - some potpourri!
Meanwhile, for those in need of entertainment, a full show of dance and song continued in front of the school building. Cheun Pra Khwon was performed beautifully by mixed nationalities from the junior school in Thai costume; the Canadians performed a skit proving that the Mounties always get their man; a troupe of Greeks from the junior school ran through an elaborate and well executed Sirtaki; Madagascars traditional dance was as delicate as it was delightful, whilst New Zealand Hakka terrified the audience and had small children diving for cover. The dances were finally capped with a "speed painting" by Professor Chamni Suwanchang who proceeded to complete a mural in the flick of a brush.
For athletic types, rare and strange sports were demonstrated on the playing field. Not for the faint of heart this, there was sumo (ouch), cricket (crash), kendo (bang) and Aussie Rules (wallop) - the latter waited in vain for a chant of "Id like to see that!"
The afternoon was rounded off by a "march of nations" as banners and flags were unfurled to create a circuit of colourful pageantry. Marchers then stood to attention as the ISR concert band played a medley of some twenty-seven national anthems which had been composed for the occasion. ISR Headmaster, Mr. Simon Leslie, was able to thank everyone for making the event such a splendid success. To be sure, these days, when nationalism all too often grabs the headlines, it was comforting indeed for the united nations of ISR to celebrate nationhood. The message was as loud as it was clear: "strength in unity", but perhaps with a caveat thrown in, vive la difference!
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