In Conversation with Tasanawadee Miancharoen


Sunday, July 31st, 2011


 

Tasanawadee Miancharoen, Thailand’s ambassador to Bangladesh, is a soft-spoken but articulate diplomat. Pursuing a long 33-year diplomatic career since 1977, she took up the coveted ambassadorial assignments concurrently in Bangladesh and Bhutan in February 2010.

 

Ms Miancharoen has devoted her time to boosting trade, economic and cultural ties between Dhaka and Bangkok. And she has been quite successful in doing her job protecting her country’s interest.

 

Miancharoen suddenly hit the Dhaka newspaper stand by officially disclosing that BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia’s youngest son Arafat Rahman Koko is no longer in Bangkok where he had gone for treatment on July 19, 2008. She said Koko is no longer in Bangkok, he is now in Malaysia. The ambassador made the brief remarks about whereabouts of Koko in response to a question at a press briefing organised at the Thai Embassy on July 12 on the eve of a Thai Fair in Dhaka.

 

Miancharoen is an avid connoisseur of art and music. On July 22 she came to inaugurate a solo tapestry exhibition at the Cosmos Centre, which also houses the Dhaka Courier. She came with her pretty small daughter.

 

On the sidelines of the exhibition, Shamim Ahmad talked to her about Bangladesh-Thailand political and economic cooperation particularly in the wake of a new government poised to take the office in Bangkok. She also touched upon latest status of bilateral trade and investment and cooperation in tourism sector. During the interactions she also elaborated a bit about Koko.

 

“We’ve very cordial relations. Bangladesh is our good friend. We support each other in international forums, “Ms Miancharoen said.

 

On July 3 general elections Puea Thai party of former Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra clinched a convincing majority, nearly five years after their figurehead was toppled from power in a military coup. Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra, a political newcomer is set to be the first Thai female premier.

 

Asked about the new government in Thailand, she said the Election Commission is working on confirmation of the election results. The new parliament will sit for the maiden session by the next month to formally elect the new prime minister. Asked if she foresees the bilateral ties would be climbing to a new trajectory in a new political environment in Bangkok, she readily said of course, there is no reason of not developing our bilateral ties. She was of the opinion that no matter who is in power, Thailand will remain a constructive partner of Bangladesh in terms of trade and investment.

Ambassador Miancharoen appeared more interested in talking trade and investment, social development, rather than intricate politics. Asked how her country could cooperate in development of Bangladesh, she said Thai has some experiences in development works. We can train people from Bangladesh particularly in agriculture, transport and communication under the Thai International Cooperation Association.

 

She says: “We have set up agriculture training centre at BADC Gazipur. We are imparting training to farmers on how to live on small patch of land say half acre where they can do farming, fishing and rice cultivation.”

 

The ambassador said within three years they could see the results of this kind of pilot project. She says such projects cannot make people rich, but can at least make them self-reliant.

 

Ms Miancharoen said Thai Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn is assisting two schools –one in Gazipur and another in Uttara to teach students about hygiene and teach them how to grow up in a healthy environment. The Thai Prince may visit the two schools this year.

 

Asked if the Thai government would fund the project if the project becomes successful, she said if we see the good results of this pilot project, the Bangladesh government can develop it and ask for money from foreign donors.

 

 

About Thai investment in Bangladesh, the ambassador said a Thai company is planning to invest US$ 1.2 billion to set up a paper mill in Chittagong.

 

“But we are facing some difficulties in getting the required land though money and technology are there,” she said, adding “we met the Finance Minister and the people at the Board of Investment.” She hoped the project may start next year if everything goes well.

 

The ambassador said it will be implemented in 2 phases- 3yrs of first phase and 5 years of 2nd phase. If the project is implemented, Bangladesh will be the biggest exporter of paper in this region. This is the biggest investment from Thailand.

 

Ms Miancharoen said another company is interested in yarn, fabrics, fashion venture here. A team of 30 businessmen came here and they were excited about the prospects of setting up such industry here in this country.

 

“We’ve also a plan to set up a power plant of 500MW. Some of the power will be supplied to the proposed paper mills.”

 

Asked about huge trade surplus in favour of Thailand, the envoy said “I keep telling our businessmen to make investment in Bangladesh. Compared with the trading of consumer goods, we invest more in Bangladesh.

 

“We’re trying to promote Bangladesh as a major investment destination,” she said.

 

She however sounded a stark realism when she noted that the bilateral trade can never be balanced with Bangladesh’s limited products. “You must diversify your products.”

 

Thailand has already allowed 120 Bangladeshi products to enter Thai market duty free. Besides, a list of products they have received for duty free access will be implemented under BIMSTEC. Both Bangladesh and Thailand are the founder members of the BIMSTEC.

 

The two-way trade is increasing every year and it is now nearing one billion US dollar. In 2009-10, Bangladesh’s imports from Thailand stood at $633.36 million while its export amounted only $20.52 million showing 90 percent balance of trade in favour of Thailand.

 

Over the years Thailand has been able to attract foreign tourists who contribute significantly to her economy. Bangladesh also has good potential for developing tourism sector.

 

The ambassador said “We can offer training. We have some good hotels. But you need logistic facilities for travelling. At present people can not go away” due to lack of good communication infrastructures. On the contrary about 70,000 travellers from Bangladesh go to Thailand a year. The number has increased to 70,000 from 40,000. Most of them are going on tourist and business visas.

 

Thai government offers 50 to 100 scholarships for Bangladeshis for imparting training in transportation and tourism sectors. Finally, the matter of Arafat Rahman Koko, youngest son of ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia now facing corruption charges, came up towards the end of the interactions. When asked on what type of visa Koko went to Malaysia, she retorted: “I don’t have any idea if he has got the right visa.”

 

“But I checked with the immigration. He left last October for Malaysia. He is no longer in Thailand.”

 

Ms Tasanawadee Miancharoen is single and has one adopted daughter. She did her Bachelor of Arts from Chulalongkorn University and Masters from Georgetown University. She joined the Foreign Ministry in 1977.

 

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