By Maxmilian Wechsler
HIS Excellency Sheikh Jassim Bin Abdulrahman Bin Mohammed Al-Thani is not only the Qatar’s Ambassador to Thailand, but he is also a member of his country’s Royal Family. The BigChilli was, therefore, doubly honoured when he graciously accepted our invitation for an exclusive interview.
The conversation took place at the Qatari Embassy offices occupying the entire 14th floor of Capital Tower, All Seasons Place in central Bangkok. The interior décor of the embassy can be described as lavishly elegant, which will come as no surprise to anyone who has visited or seen photos of Doha, the country’s shining, ultra-modern capital on the Persian Gulf, or flown with Qatar Airways. At the outset of the interview the Ambassador said the State of Qatar is making a big effort to bring about progress, even a renaissance, in the country. Because of its large natural gas deposits, Qatar is a very wealthy nation and is using that wealth to fund innovative and sustainable development projects in many areas.
The Ambassador’s last position before coming to Thailand was Assistant Director with the Ministry’s Directorate of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), from August 2015 to August 2016.
He visited Thailand for the first time in 2007 on a 10-day vacation to Phuket and Bangkok. Like so many others from the Middle East, the Ambassador enjoys Thailand’s amazing beaches and other natural attractions.
“Qatar and Thailand enjoy an excellent relationship in all spheres. Everything is perfect; we have no problems whatsoever. I was appointed by the Emir of Qatar in August 2016 to come here and work to strengthen the relationship even further based on recommendations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs led by His Excellency Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Bin Jassim Al-Thani, Minister of Foreign Affairs. My primary objectives are to increase bilateral trade, continue to provide care and assistance for our citizens here and preserve the excellent reputation of Qatar in Thailand.
“Diplomatic relations between Qatar and Thailand were formally established on August 7, 1980, and they have blossomed with the exchange of our resident embassies. Thailand inaugurated its embassy in Doha in December 2002, and Qatar established its embassy in Bangkok in October 2004. We have about 40 people working at the embassy. Four are Qatari diplomats, including myself, and the rest are locals.
“Thailand and Qatar support each other in regional and international legal frameworks and regularly exchange high-level visits. There have been a number of agreements or MoUs signed between our two countries. Qatar is an important trade partner for Thailand and the main destination for our energy exports.
“In 2016 the trade volume both ways amounted to US$2.7 billion, according to Thai statistics. The trade balance favours Qatar; Thai exports to Qatar amounted to US$278 million while Qatari exports to Thailand reached US$2.4
“Qatar’s major imports from Thailand include cars and spare parts, air-conditioners, jewellery, furniture, electronics goods, canned food products, machinery and metals, while Thailand primarily imports petroleum products, especially liquefied natural gas (LNG). There is a long-term agreement between Qatargas and PTT Public Company. The agreement states that Qatargas will export two million tonnes of LNG to Thailand annually for 20 years, starting from January 2015. Every two weeks a ship carrying LNG arrives at a Thai port from Doha. Qatargas has company offices here. We also export various chemical products to Thailand.
“Qatar Airways is well known here, and the airline’s expansion has coincided with the rising status of Thailand as a tourist destination. The airline has five flights a day to Bangkok. We fly twice a day to Phuket, and we have four flights a week to Krabi. From December 12 onward Qatar Airways will launch a new route from Doha to Chiang Mai and U-Tapao,” said the Ambassador, adding that the trip from Doha to Bangkok takes about six hours.
Qatar Airways’ fleet includes Airbus 380 and Boeing 777 aircraft used for long distance flights. Doha’s Hamad International Airport, which opened in 2014, was rated second in the Top Ten International Airports in the Travel and Leisure World’s Best Awards 2017 readers’ survey.”
The Ambassador said his government is committed to
promoting sustainable development. “The statement
outlining Qatar’s approach, presented at the Asian
Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) held in Bangkok on August
21 this year, highlights the many important pillars to
achieve sustainable development promoted under the
leadership of His Highness Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Bin
Khalifa Al-Thani, the Emir of the State of Qatar.
“Qatar seeks to support and diversify the economy
by strengthening national institutions that contribute to
advances in development, and also by opening doors for
all our citizens, as well as foreign investors, to participate.
We believe that peace, security and human rights are
prerequisites for national and international prosperity.
“The Qatar National Vision 2030 policy stipulates the
principle of strategic planning for economic, social and
environmental progress in order to improve the quality of
life and well-being of everyone living within our borders.
Europe. For example, we own around 30 percent of the
tall buildings in Canary Wharf, a major financial centre in
London. We bought Harrods, the luxury department store,
as well. We are also buying real estate in Italy and France.”
“Around 30,000 Qataris visit Thailand each year, but
the number of Thai tourists in Qatar is low. We expect
more for the World Cup. We want to show Thai and other
tourists from around the world that we have a lot to offer.
We have a long-standing cultural heritage with numerous
fascinating attractions such as the Islamic Art Museum,
which contains the largest collection of Islamic Art in the
world; Souq Waqif, regarded as a social and civic hub in
the heart of Doha. The Corniche, a waterfront promenade
extending for several kilometres along Doha Bay; Aspire
Park, a huge and beautifully landscaped green area in the
heart of Doha; and Katara cultural village.
“A few months ago Qatar announced a new rule that
allows citizens from 80 countries to obtain a one-month
visa upon arrival at the airport.”
Thailand is a popular destination for Qataris who enjoy
its tourist attractions and also those seeking medical care.
“Our government has a Medical office to serve Qataris
who come here for medical treatment. The office will send
them to an appropriate hospital.”
The Ambassador said that in addition to Thais coming
to Doha for business purposes, approximately 4,000
Thai citizens are residing in Qatar; around 2,500 of these
are skilled and semi-skilled workers in the construction
sector. The rest are working as Qatar Airways’ cabin crew,
technicians and executives, and there are a handful of
entrepreneurs, housewives and students.
Recently, some well-publicised and highly controversial
allegations were made by the government of Saudi Arabia
against the state of Qatar. Some countries also want Qatar
to close Al Jazeera, the state-funded broadcaster.
“There’s no way we will close Al Jazeera down. Al Jazeera
was established in 1996 and from that time, the world has
had a way to get good information about the Middle East.
Before that no one knew what was really going on in the
region. Al Jazeera is now the number one regional media
organisation, with an office in London which opened three
years ago. Al Jazeera broadcasts in Arabic and English.”
Love for Thailand
he Ambassador had a lot of praise for Thailand:
“I love Thailand, I love this place, and I love the
Thai people. They are very kind. The food is
great as well. My whole family is here, my wife
and five children, four sons and one daughter,
they all enjoy life in Thailand.
“This country is very safe. You can walk anywhere with
no problem. I have no bodyguards. Everything is good and
quiet in this country. My family and I feel safe and at home
here. Sometimes my daughter, who studies at a university
in Bangkok, comes to see me at the embassy when she has
a break, and we will have coffee. She really enjoys her life
here, as does my wife. She has many friends in Bangkok,
and she often gets invited to see them. She also stays busy
looking after our five children.
“This is my first ambassadorial post. I have been here
now for over a year,” said the Ambassador, adding that his
term here would probably be three or four years.
“I am very busy every day a lot of meetings, receptions
and other activities. There is plenty of social life for a
diplomat in Bangkok, which I like. It is better to go out
than to sit at home. I enjoy walking as well. In my free
time, I like to spend time with my family and to swim.
“I travel out of Bangkok often. I’ve visited with my family
Phuket, Krabi, Pattaya, Koh Samui, Hua Hin. They enjoy
these trips very, very much, and even when I have time to go
back to Qatar, my family will say, ‘no, we want to stay here.’ ”
The Ambassador said that in general Muslims can feel
at home in Thailand and Bangkok. “I meet members of the
Muslim community in Bangkok at receptions or when we
go out eat. The Thai government is also helping Muslim
people a lot. You see a lot of mosques in Thailand. There is
a mosque near my home in Sukhumvit Soi 49.”
The Ambassador is a sharp dresser, and when asked
about brands he likes he said: “I usually buy suits from
Giorgio Armani, Zeina and Belzaerelli this brand is the
best. I wear the Qatari national dress every Friday or if
I am meeting with Thai officials,” said the Ambassador,
adding that it is well suited to the desert climate of Qatar.
“The summers in Qatar are very hot in the day and night.
Winters can be pretty cold, especially in the desert.”
He remarked that as in Thailand, most cars on the road
are Japanese brands. “A lot of people drive Toyota Land
Cruisers or Lexus, and people with a lot of money might
prefer Rolls Royce or Lamborghini. You see many of these
cars in Qatar. We have very tough traffic laws. The top
speed in Qatar is 130km/h, and even if you are from the
Royal Family, you will be punished if break traffic laws. No
UN speech by the Emir of Qatar
Following are excerpts from a speech made by Emir Sheikh Tamim of Qatar at the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 2017.
Maintaining the regional and international peace and security is a priority in the State of Qatar’s foreign policy, whose principles and objectives are based on the United Nations’ charter and the rules of international legality.
“At this time, I stand here while my country and my people are subjected to a continuing and unjust blockade imposed since June 5th by neighbouring countries. The blockade involves all aspects of life, including the intervention by these countries to rip off family ties. The blockade was imposed abruptly and without warning, prompting Qatar to consider it as a kind of treachery.
“It seems that those who planned and implemented it had envisaged that their move would cause a shocking and direct impact that will bring the State of Qatar to its knees and capitulate to a total tutelage imposed on us. And what is worse, the blockade planners found it necessary to rely on fabricated quotes attributed to me and posted on the website of Qatar News Agency after hacking it.
“This illegal blockade was not confined to the economic aspect and the breach of the WTO Agreement, but it exceeded that to violate the human rights conventions by the arbitrary measures that have caused social, economic and religious harm to thousands of citizens and residents of the GCC countries.
The blockading countries went beyond that to chase their own citizens by imposing penalties of imprisonment and fines on them for the mere expression of their sympathy with Qatar, even if that was on the social media, in a precedent never seen before in the world.
“Terrorism and extremism are among the most serious challenges facing the world. Countering them require us all to carry out a concerted action against terrorist organisations and their extremist ideology in order to maintain security for humanity and stability for the world.”