Tuesday, 24 May, 2022
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Reflections from Thai King’s Bangladesh Visit

Makawadee Sumitmor

Three decades ago, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn visited Bangladesh in 1992 while he was still the Crown Prince of Thailand. It was the first visit of a Thai royal since Their Majesties King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great and Queen Sirikit the Queen Mother came to Dhaka and Chattogram in 1962. The Crown Prince acceded to the throne in 2016 and the royal visit remains a testimony to the cordial bonds between both nations.

After establishing diplomatic relations in 1972, Thailand had the honour to welcome two Bangladeshi Presidents in 1979 and 1988 while General Prem Tinsulanonda was the first Thai Prime Minister to visit Bangladesh in1983.

The visit of the then Crown Prince was initially scheduled in 1991 but a mutually convenient time could not be finalized; so it was postponed to the following year. The Bangladeshi government recommended that the trip take place in the period from October to December when the country enjoys the best of its cooler months. Finally, the date was agreed on 16 – 21 January 1992.

Sites to visit in the programme were divided into two groups. The first one encapsulated the rich history and culture of Bangladesh while the second group reflected the personal interest of the royal guest.

As Thailand is a de facto Buddhist nation with a majority of its population practicing Buddhism, the host arranged for the King to visit many Buddhist sites in Bangladesh. This includes Paharpur Monastery, the largest ancient Buddhist monastery in the country and a UNESCO world heritage, as well as Mahasthangarh archaeological site. He also paid a visit to Dharmarajika Bauddha Vihara Monastery, the first Buddhist vihara in Dhaka.

In 2010, eighteen years later, the King granted royal patronage in presenting a 38-foot standing Buddha image to the monastery, with support from Songmetta Vanaram Temple in Thailand. The image stands gracefully by the pond of the temple, giving blessings to all visitors and became a landmark of the sanctuary.

Indeed, Buddhism is one of the cultural dimensions that link Bangladesh and Thailand closer. Bangladesh is one of the few countries where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand presents royally bestowed Kathinrobes to monks at a Buddhist temple after the annual lent. This practice was initiated by Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, former Foreign Minister of Thailand and Secretary-General of ASEAN, in order to strengthen cultural connection with Buddhist communities abroad. It should be emphasized that Dr. Surin is a devout Muslim who had a vision to drive Thai foreign policy in all frontiers.

In addition to religious places, the King visited sites of historical value and natural beauty, namely the National Martyrs’ Memorial at Savar where he planted a tree as well as the famous Sundarbans. The itinerary indicated that on 19 January 1992, he travelled on a vessel named Shandhani to visit the largest mangrove in the world and had lunch on board.

The latter group of places in the programme are military-related institutions since the King is a trained pilot with military background. He attended the Royal Military College in Duntroon, Australia and then the Command and General Staff College of Thailand.

During his visit to Bangladesh, the King had the opportunity to meet the Chief-of-Staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force as well as to see their respective facilities. On 19 January 1992, he received a briefing on the Air Force of Bangladesh at Matiur Rahman Air Base in Jessore and visited the pilot training center. In Chattogram, the programme included the Flotilla Base Area where the royal guest went aboard the BNS Ali Haider.

Exchange of visits can make friends become close friends and enable nations to develop a deeper sense of understanding. Once both sides feel at ease with one another, the potential for new areas of collaboration will follow. Milestones in the relations between Thailand and Bangladesh have been adorned with various levels of visits that helped reinforce the dynamics of interactions and paved the way for multi-dimensional cooperation.

Three decades after His Majesty the King of Thailand visited Bangladesh as the Crown Prince, history speaks clearly for itself on how the existing friendship flourished from these auspicious beginnings. And the best way to commemorate such success is to carry on the mutual respect, amity and sincerity onwards to the next generation.

 

The writer is the Ambassador of Thailand to Bangladesh.