Imagine stepping off a long flight and being enveloped by the warm embrace of a foreign land, with officials welcoming you with excited smiles and open arms. This was the scene at Suvarnabhumi airport on a balmy September 25th, when AirAsia X flight XJ761 from the bustling metropolis of Shanghai touched down in the Land of Smiles, Thailand. Vibrant snapshots and delighted chatter filled the air as passengers disembarked, anticipating the adventure that awaits. (Image courtesy of the astute lens of Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
Beneath the surface of Thailand’s tropical charm, there simmers an earnest desire to repair and enhance its standing with the people of China. One could say that Benjamin Sukanjanajtee, the astute charge d’affaires of the Royal Thai Embassy in Beijing, is something of a guardian of Thailand’s image, charged with the mission of restoring the sheen to Thailand’s reputation. The Bangkok Post recently caught up with him to delve into his ambitious plans to strengthen cultural ties with China and elevate the perceived quality of Thai exports – a testament to the kingdom’s multifaceted allure.
The tragedies and stories that spread through media, such as the untimely demise of a Chinese tourist in the Siam Paragon incident or the gritty Chinese crime thriller “No More Bets” with its insinuations of human trafficking purportedly in Thailand, have cast long shadows. Mr. Benjamin, however, articulates a vision anchored in hope and action. He envisions stronger connections – a web of alliances and strategies to reframe the narrative and saturate it with the true spirit of Thailand.
Enlisting local Chinese influencers and engaged Thai students in China as cultural ambassadors, Mr. Benjamin’s endeavor seems to take the form of a gentle yet persistent campaign. It’s about spotlighting the sunlit beaches, the intricate flavors of Thai cuisine, and the vibrant festivals that bedeck the calendar. The embassy goes to great lengths in ensuring that short video vignettes, effervescent in nature, capture the zest and appeal of Thai tourism, cuisine, and cultural spectacles, engaging the curious and the wanderlust-filled.
In addressing the concerns that a visa exemption policy for Chinese travelers might inadvertently open floodgates of criminal activity, Mr. Benjamin assures us that there are concerted efforts underway to stymie such transgressions. He steadfastly believes that such initiatives, though seemingly vulnerable, pave the way for a resurgence in tourism. The visionary diplomat underscores a crucial waiting game – a pandemic-induced economic drought in China, leading to a preference for domestic or nearby travel. And yet, according to his intelligence, Thailand’s allure remains undiminished, topping the travel lists of many Chinese citizens, suggesting that patience with the visa exemption policy may very well yield a tourism renaissance.
A feather in Thailand’s proverbial cap, the kingdom’s exports – from the skilled craftsmanship of its artisanal wares to the succulence of fresh tropical fruits – have found a place in the hearts (and stomachs) of the Chinese populace. Mr. Benjamin speaks with pride about the embassy’s continuous efforts to trumpet these exports, a symphony of the kingdom’s offerings. In his closing thoughts, Mr. Benjamin underscores the collective journey towards resuscitation of Thailand’s image, implying that the quest of elevating Thailand in the hearts and minds worldwide is a shared odyssey, one that calls for a celebration of Thai ingenuity and authenticity.