Lessons in Development

Pornpong Kanittanon, Thai Ambassador to Jordan

Thailand is an economic powerhouse that’s eager to share its development know-how with Jordan.

Renowned for its sandy beaches, ornate temples, and hospitable people, Thailand is a destination that many seasoned travelers return to again and again.

But on a recent visit to the Land of Smiles, Jordanian journalists were shown what steps were being taken to develop the country’s economy. The trip included visiting Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA), exploring the country’s hospitality and medical tourism sectors, as well as royal initiatives to improve the livelihood of people residing in rural areas.

Closer to home, Thai Ambassador to Jordan Pornpong Kanittanon, said the visit also demonstrated the cooperation between his country and Jordan, including joint-cooperation ventures and how some of Thailand’s development projects can be duplicated here.

TICA, from Thailand to the World

Established in 2004, Thailand’s cooperation agency oversees and implements international development programs with the countries it cooperates with. This includes development projects, volunteer and expert programs, fellowships, scholarships and training programs.

TICA’s Director General Suphatra Srimaitreephithak said Thailand managed to make the leap from a recipient country of official development assistance, to become a small donor country of development cooperation. TICA has been working with around 130 countries around the world, with a special concentration on South Asia and Africa, as well as Thailand’s neighboring countries. TICA specifically promotes the sufficiency economy philosophy while sharing Thailand’s success in applying it and how this helped develop the country on the community and economic levels.

Srimaitreephithak said implementing this philosophy was to be credited for the shift in Thailand’s economy. The philosophy, she added, has three elements and two conditions.

It starts with the reasonableness to understand what causes the problems that a country is facing; moderation, which means that once you know the cause you can see how you can manage with the reason and list solutions to deal with the cause; and prudence, which is being prepared to face the challenges that might occur after finding the right solution.

These three elements, she said, go hand in hand with two conditions, the knowledge and values for sustainable outcomes.

According to Srimaitreephithak, this philosophy can be applied in agriculture, business, public health, water management, and education.  “We have opened all opportunities for other countries to come to us,” she said. “We have international programs and can have bilateral cooperation programs, but it’s up to each country’s needs. The country can make a request if they see that a group of public sector employees can be trained in Thailand on a specific issue.”

The Jordanian government has dispatched Jordanians to attend some of TICA’s 30 international training courses each year, covering everything from climate change to public health. And according to TICA, each year the number of participating Jordanians increases. In the past three years, at least 40 Jordanians from the public sector attended courses on various topics including the rainmaking program and the number is subject to increase further.

Jordan and Thailand signed an MoU whereby Thai experts will help the Kingdom with artificial rainfall, which Thailand has succeeded in implementing for many decades. The Royal Rainmaking Projects, which was initiated by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in 1955, aims to help farmers beat drought.

Thailand: the Medical Tourism Destination

Bangkok’s Samitivej Hospital’s is a leading Thai hospital that has been serving Thai and foreign patients for three decades now. It is owned by the Bangkok Dusit Medical Services (BDMS), which owns 45 hospitals across Thailand and two in Cambodia.

Last year alone, 645,000 patients visited Samitivej Hospital, which provides myriad of medical services including pediatric surgery, cancer treatment, liver transplant, oncology, and cosmetic services, among others. Patients arriving from across the region, Europe, and the Middle East are provided with full concierge services that include hotel booking, transportation and translation, embodying the one stop shop.

Around 25 to 30 percent of international patients are Arabs, a number that used to reach 40 percent but decreased due to the region’s ongoing instability. Most of the Arab patients come from Oman, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait.

Thailand is becoming increasingly popular as a medical tourism destination. The Bangkok Post quoted Kasikorn Research Center as saying medical and wellness institutions in Thailand provided 3.2 million treatments to foreigners last year, mostly medical checkups, cosmetic surgery, and dental services. Kasikornbank’s research house said international patients seeking medical treatment in Thailand will help generate $1.5 billion for private hospitals in 2017, which is a 3 to 4 percent increase year-on-year.

Thailand has taken a number of initiatives to boost its medical tourism revenues further and encourage more foreign patients to seek their medical services. One such procedure was approving a visa extension scheme for visitors from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and China who seek medical care.

Thailand’s main competition comes from the likes of Malaysia and India, which provides cheaper services.

To complete the cycle, Thailand’s hotel industry is also evolving to cater to all needs including Muslims who look for Halal food.

Developing Rural Thailand

The highlight of the visit was exploring two royal initiatives to improve the livelihood of residents of remote rural areas. The first was Chang-Hua-Mun Royal Initiative Project in the Phetchaburi province, which involves improving the area’s soil to allow farmers to aggrandize their agricultural returns.

Deforestation has led to arid lands, which prompted the late King of Thailand to intervene in the mid-noughties, buy the 323 donum plot and start improving the soil, something that can be duplicated across Thailand. The King divided the land into three areas, a reservoir, a land for farming, and another for animals to guarantee self-sufficiency. The products and vegetables and fruits that the lands produce are then marketed and sold to Thai companies.

The second project was Laem Phak Bia Royal Project, also in Phetchaburi, and involved the self-purification of wastewater and solid waste and the use of the clean resulting water in farming.

These royal initiatives had one goal in sight, to achieve a balance in the country’s development process. This has resulted in an improved environment and livelihood, something the Thais are hoping would rub off on other countries they are trying to transfer this knowledge to.

Thai Ambassador to Jordan Pornpong Kanittanon

How can Jordan duplicate Thailand’s development projects and customize them to suit the local environment and people’s needs?

His late Majesty King of Thailand implemented many projects for the people living in rural areas. I may say that not all the projects are suitable for Jordan but the reason why I invited all the media was to see how His Majesty the King was thinking about the people. Some might be suitable for Jordan, such as for example improving the soil. Even though the climate is different in both countries—we are tropical and Jordan is dry—there are some areas that might be the same. You can benefit from some of the techniques that were implemented in Thailand.

As a Thai Embassy do you encourage Thai businessmen to invest in Jordan and vice versa?

Certainly. One of our priorities is to bring the two communities closer, not only government-to-government but business-to-business and people-to-people. We are a little far so we have to do it step by step by finding the right products and common interests for both sides. The food industry is of benefit to both business people. The market here is still small for Thai businessmen to come and invest. But we have to understand the nature of the people, what they want and what they need. I met with the Amman Chamber of Commerce and we are discussing how to bring the Thai investor to Jordan to invest in some of the businesses that we are strong in like textiles and food processing. I’ve been talking to Thai businessmen and they are considering it.

But doesn’t the fact that Jordan has an FTA with the United States and other agreements with other major markets like the EU, look interesting to Thai investors?

Yes but unfortunately Jordan is in a region that is unstable. Hopefully if the situation around Jordan becomes more stable I’m sure that more Thai businessmen would like to come here, also because you are a gateway into Syria and Iraq. The FTA is certainly an advantage and so is the agreement with the EU. We are strong in textiles but the labor is expensive at the moment so we are shifting our textile business to other countries, mostly our neighboring countries like Cambodia and Vietnam. And looking at Jordan, you are correct the business community needs to look at the whole package, Syria, Iraq, and even the U.S. and Europe.

How has the Thai development agency, TICA, been cooperating with Jordan?

TICA has been providing scholarships to countries for a long time and Jordan is one of those countries. It provides Jordanian officials with scholarships to visit Thailand to train in the areas that we are experts in. I believe that each year TICA provides at least 20 scholarships to Jordanian public employees to attend training in Thailand. I met the Minister of Planning who said it benefits Jordanian officials who can come back and extend their knowledge to their departments. We expect more scholarships to be given to Jordanians.

Many Jordanians go to Thailand for tourism. What types of tourism mostly attract Jordanian tourists and are you helping to promote Jordan as a potential destination for Thai tourists?

I’m quite new here but there are three types of Jordanian tourists visiting Thailand. First are the businesspeople that combine business with leisure. Second are the honeymooners who visit the beaches. The third are the adventure tourists. You have a direct flight with Royal Jordanian to Bangkok which means that business is booming. Some also use Bangkok as a hub to transit to other counties in the Far East like China, Japan, and even Australia. On the other hand, the number of Thai tourists coming here is also increasing. You have wonderful natural resources here, many UNESCO heritage sites like Petra and Wadi Rum, and these are unique and are quite new for Thai tourists who are always on the lookout for new destinations to visit.

Thailand has also been helping Jordan with the rainmaking process because of Jordan’s dry nature. How is that going and when will we see a successful attempt?

The two governments have signed the MOU last year to implement the rainmaking project, which is still in the initial phase. It takes between three to five years for it to succeed because we have to collect the data and study the environment here, only then can we find a way to implement the project. You also have to invest in an aircraft. At the moment they use a military plane. We have more than 20 planes in Thailand that we use to make rain wherever there is a need. And we do it throughout the year but again the climate there is different to Jordan and it is quite humid compared to rain only in winter in the Kingdom. But it can be done in Jordan too.

As a Thai Ambassador what would you like to achieve during your time in Jordan?

My role is to be the bridge between the two countries. I would like to see closer ties between people, which would guarantee a long lasting relationship unlike the businesses who will be gone once the profit is gone. I would also like to tell the Jordanian people that when thinking about Thailand they shouldn’t only think of beaches, there is more than that including mountains, heritage, business opportunities, and we provide high standard medical care that attracts many from the GCC. The same goes for Thais coming to Jordan. We currently have 700 Thai students studying here and more can come because it is a safe country that teaches moderate Islam and Arabic language.