By Wang Fengjuan
Korn Dabbaransi is the former Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, and is currently President of the Thai-Chinese Friendship Association. He spoke with China Report ASEAN about his experiences in the development of Chinese-Thai relations over the past 40 years at his office in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.
Korn started his political career in his twenties as a secretary in Thailand’s Foreign Ministry. He was later appointed Thai Deputy Prime Minister three times, and led six ministries, including roles as the Minister of Industry, Minister of Energy, Minister of Science and Technology, Minister of Culture, Minister of Tourism and Minister of Public Health.
Korn has served as President of the Thai-Chinese Friendship Association since 2003. For the last 40 years, he has been both a witness and a promoter of the development of friendly exchanges between Thailand and China.
An Old Friend of China
Korn is the grandson of Phin Choonhavan, who also spent time serving as the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, and the nephew of Chatichai Choonhavan, Thailand’s 17th Prime Minister. Born into a political family, Korn was a natural in politics from a young age.
When China and Thailand signed a joint statement on the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1975, Korn was a member of the Thai delegation present at the signing. This marked the beginning of his career as an important politician in Thailand. Since then, he has made more than 100 trips to China, witnessing its tremendous changes over the past four decades.
“I always ask myself how China did it,” Korn said.
Korn’s dedication to Sino-Thai friendship covers economic exchanges at both state and public levels. Through his work, he has been trying to unearth the secret behind China’s rapid development.
“I think the keys to China’s development have been a stable government and a liberal economy,” Korn said. “I’ve learned that if similar policies could be implemented in Thailand, it would greatly promote Thai economic development. China’s development strategies should be closely studied. They have succeeded in supporting a population of 1.4 billion and maintaining strong momentum of growth. This proves that the current political system in China is the one best suited for the country. The Chinese government also has valuable experience to share with Thailand in combating corruption. In spite of different political systems, Thailand is faced with many of the same problems that China has encountered, particularly in regards to improving people’s well-being and fighting corruption.”
According to Korn, China now plays an increasingly important role in the international community, especially in transnational organizations like BRICS (an association of five emerging economies), the Boao Forum for Asia and the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation Program. With a far reaching influence on more than half of the world’s population, these international mechanisms allow developing countries a new and greater role to play on the world stage. China’s extensive participation in global affairs is significant to both Southeast Asia and the world as a whole.
Korn believes that politics is for the present, but friendship is for eternity. Now that he is no longer an official in the Thai government, he focuses on his duties as President of the Thai-Chinese Friendship Association. He has participated in various events promoting cultural exchange between the two countries.
Now aged 70, Korn remains eager to learn more about Chinese culture and help Thai citizens better understand their neighbor. As China-Thailand relations have continuously improved since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1975, Korn has made frequent trips to China and become close friends with many people in China.
China and ASEAN established dialogue relations in 1991. That year also marked the 16th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Thailand. According to Korn, China and ASEAN member countries should push for further progress in bilateral cooperation in the fields of culture, education, sports and public health.
In 2000, Korn made an important breakthrough in expanding Sino-Thai cooperation. It was during his time as Thai Minister of Public Health and his second term as Deputy Prime Minister that Thailand and China signed an agreement to work together on projects related to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). From that point on, TCM was legalized in Thailand, and began to thrive. Today it is widely recognized as an alternative medicine separate from traditional Thai medicine.
Before the agreement was signed, many people in Thailand who practiced TCM were forced to label their practice as traditional Thai medicine. Thanks to Korn’s efforts, such misdirection was no longer necessary. About 500 people applied for the Chinese medicine qualification test that was made available after TCM was legalized, and 218 of them eventually obtained the necessary license required to practice TCM in Thailand. Korn invited experts from China to judge all applicants’ proficiency in clinical treatment. He also helped establish Thailand’s first TCM university and its first TCM hospital. Now, TCM has taken root in Thailand as a popular alternative medicine option.
Hua Chiew Hospital, founded in Bangkok with Korn’s help, has been a pioneer in promoting TCM in Thailand. Apart from hiring several senior Chinese practitioners, the hospital has been extremely active in encouraging Thai students by launching programs in collaboration with Chinese universities, including Huaqiao University in Fujian Province. Four-year bachelor’s degree programs in TCM are now officially recognized by the Thai Ministry of Education.
In addition to the promotion of TCM, Korn is also devoted to cultural exchanges between China and Thailand. As the President of the ThaiChinese Friendship Association, he has worked with China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International to establish Thailand’s first Confucius Institute, a non-profit public education organization. Since then, the number of Chinese teachers sent by the Office from its headquarters in Beijing to Thailand has increased from 500 to about 2,000 per year. These teachers give lessons on Chinese language in 14 Confucius Institutes and 18 Confucius Classrooms set up in secondary schools across all 76 Thai provinces. Thanks to Korn’s efforts, Chinese language study is growing among young people in Thailand.
Korn is aware that among Chinese tourists, Thailand is a particularly popular travel destination. Lost in Thailand, a 2012 Chinese comedy film about three Chinese men traveling in Thailand, was the most watched film in China in 2013. Korn remarked that the movie’s success is partially down to the long-standing friendship that exists between China and Thailand, and that most Chinese people are interested in Thailand’s beautiful scenery and its unique folk customs.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of dialogue relations between China and ASEAN. As a senior diplomat and lifelong promoter of Sino-Thai friendship, Korn points out that the development of the relationship between the two countries is in large part owed to the sound environment created by successful ChinaASEAN cooperation. He believes that Thailand, as an ASEAN member state, will make great contributions to the deepening of China-ASEAN relations, and the Thai-Chinese Friendship Association will continue its efforts in realizing the same objective.