The friendship between Thailand and the Republic of Korea predates the official establishment of diplomatic ties. In the late 14th century, Siamese envoys were granted an audience by King Gongyang of the Koryo Kingdom. However, due to the difficulty of travelling from Siam to Koryo by sea, it was only when the United Nations requested the Government of Thailand to send her troops to fight in the Korean War (1950-1953) that the two countries made contact again.
Thailand and the Republic of Korea have established diplomatic relations since 1 October 1958. The two countries have continuously developed and strengthened their cordial and constructive ties in the various fields of mutual interest, namely political, economic and socio-cultural areas.
On occasion of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Thailand and the Republic of Korea in 2008, a series of celebration events has been organized both in Thailand and the Republic of Korea throughout this year. In the Republic of Korea, in particular, major activities were held, with collaboration with various local organizations, to celebrate the occasion. On 1 October 2008, the anniversary day was celebrated by the memorable “Concert presented by Bangkok Symphony Orchestra or BSO” and the “Joint Issue of commemorative stamps by Thailand Post and Korea Post.”
Both countries have constantly exchanged visits of high ranking officials and dignitaries. In 2005, Her Royal Highness Princess Sirindhorn visited the Republic of Korea in May. From 2006- 2008, Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn had made visits to the Republic of Korea to sign agreements of cooperation with science and technology agencies of the Republic of Korea as well as to attend academic joint symposium. In addition to those visits, there were more than 50 visits from high ranking Thai officials to the Republic of Korea last year. There were also several high-level visits from the Korean sides during 2006 to 2008. Recently, during 31 May to 2 June 2009, H.E. Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva, Prime Minister of Thailand led the Thai delegation to attend the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Jeju, Korea.
Apart from the exchange of visits, a Thai-Korea Joint Committee (JC), co-chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Korea, was established in 1998, to strengthen cooperation in politics, economics, culture and security etc.
During the Korean War, Thailand dispatched 11,786 soldiers to join other 15 countries to fight alongside the Republic of Korea against the North. It is recorded that 134 Thai soldiers had lost their lives in the War. In 1974, the Government of the Republic of Korea has built a monument and a Thai pavilion in Pocheon City, to honour the Thai soldiers who took part in the Korean War. Recently, on 4 November 2008, the Royal Thai Embassy in Seoul, with the cooperation from the Office of Defense Attache, hosted the opening ceremony of the Thai memorial at the United Nations Memorial Cemetery in Korea or UNMCK to commemorate the sacrifices made by Thai soldiers during the Korean War. Nowadays, the Thai Government has maintained the assignment of one military officer to be liaison officer at the Armistice Committee and six soldiers to be members of the United Nations Command Honor Guard Company in Seoul, in order to contribute to the maintenance of peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula.
Thailand and the Republic of Korea have concluded a Trade Agreement since 1961. A meeting of Joint Trading Committee (JTC) at the ministerial level has been held yearly to solve problems and promote trade and investment cooperation.
In 2008, the Republic of Korea is among the major trading partner of Thailand. The value of two -way trade between the two countries has been growing steadily and it reached 10.53 billion US Dollars in 2008. Thailand has suffered trade deficit for over ten years. In 2008, the deficit rose to 3.19 billion US Dollars. The major exports of Thailand to Korea, among other things, are electrical machinery, rubber, machinery, mineral fuel, oil, Tapioca products. The major exports of Korea to Thailand are electrical machinery and components, iron and steel, machinery and chemicals.
On the part of investment, there are now more than 300 Korean and Korean-Thai joint venture companies doing their businesses in Thailand. In 2008, Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) approved nearly 8.15 billion baht worth of Korean investment projects in Thailand (application approval basis), and nearly half of those projects were in the electronics and electrical industry. While, according to KOTRA, the amount of investment from Thailand to the Republic of Korea in 2008 was 2.2 million US Dollars (arrival basis), and most of the investment concentrated in service sector.
To strengthen further investment relations with the Republic of Korea, the BOI will open the office in Seoul on 2 July 2009. The opening of this new office will facilitate greater levels of investment and cooperation between the two countries, expand business opportunities and competitiveness for our investors and enhance Korean investors’ confidence in Thailand.
There are several universities in Thailand operating courses of Korean study and Korean language such as Chulalongkorn University, Burapha University, Sri Nakarinwiroj University, Kasetsart University and Silapakorn University. Even so, the number of Korean language students graduated from those universities is in short supply, as a lot of Korean-related businesses are still in need of these personnel. At the moment, around 100 Thai students are studying in Korea in various fields.
In Korea, two universities have operated Thai language courses for over ten years, namely Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and Pusan University of Foreign Studies. Both universities have established close relation with universities in Thailand for the exchange of professors and students as well as other cooperation.
In the past years, the Korean wave has shown its great influence in Thailand. Korean dramas become popular among the Thai television-viewers. When the popular drama of Dae Jang Guem was on the air, Korean food has started gaining popularity in Thailand as well. To contribute to our cultural relations, the Thai side also introduced some popular Thai films to Korean people and Thai food has gained popularity among Korean peoples.
To further strengthen our cultural ties, Thailand and Korea have signed an Agreement of Cultural Cooperation on 25th August 2004.
Due to hospitality of Thai people, ancient culture and diversity in historical, cultural as well as natural tourist destinations, Thailand attracted 607,071 visitors from the Republic of Korea in 2008. In 2008, Korean tourists became the 4rd largest group of foreign tourists visiting Thailand. Among others, Phuket is the most popular destination for Korean honeymooners. It becomes a dream of the young couple in Korea, on such memorable occasion, to enjoy their jolly good time on this paradise island. Others enjoy playing golf in different golf courses of world-classed standard with extremely reasonable price.
Number of Thai tourists to Korea is also on the rise since the spreading of Korean wave. In 2007, there were 105,742 Thai tourists traveling to Korea, with the number exceeding 100,000 for the first time. In this connection, the Thai side has proposed to conclude an Agreement on the Cooperation of Tourism with Korea.
At present, THAI Airways, Thailand’s national airline, serves 28 flights per week between the Incheon and Bangkok including 4 flights between Busan and Bangkok, bringing people of two countries closer together.
Since 2001, Thailand has been sending Thai workers to work in the Republic of Korea under the Industrial Training System (ITS). In 2004, the Republic of Korea has introduced the Employment Permit System (EPS) to replace the ITS system. Thailand is one of eight countries signing the Memorandum of Understanding for EPS with the Republic of Korea. Presently, there are about 29,728 Thai workers in the Republic of Korea. There is no doubt that these workers have not only been contributing a great deal of economic development in the Republic of Korea but also helped enhance people-to people exchange between the two countries.
Relation on Science and Technology
Thailand and the Republic of Korea concluded a Memorandum of Understanding for Scientific and Technical Cooperation between the Ministry of Science, Technology and Energy of the Kingdom of Thailand and the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Republic of Korea on 25th March 1982 and later an Agreement on Scientific and Technological Cooperation between the Government of the Kingdom of Thailand and the Government of the Republic of Korea was also concluded on 11th June 1985. No significant result was produced from those agreements, except the exchanges of visits of the officials concerned. However, a breakthrough was made by the visits of Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn, who is currently the President of the Chulabhorn Research Institute in Thailand. After a Memorandum of Understanding was concluded between the Chulabhorn Institute and the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) on 17 May 2005, tangible plans of cooperation on biological research have been actively pursued. It is expected that fruitful result from the cooperation will bring about benefits for both sides. In 2007, HRH signed another MOU with the Kwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) to cooperate in the field of environmental technology. Recently, during 7-14 June 2009, Her Royal Highness Princess Chulabhorn made a visit to Busan to attend the 3rd WHO International Conference on Children’s Health and the Environment: from Research and Knowledge into Policy and Action.
Thailand and the Republic of Korea are both active members of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Thailand played host to APEC Summit in 2003, while the Republic of Korea did in 2005. The Republic of Korea is also a valuable member of the ASEAN + 3, which will jointly determine the establishment of the East Asian Community in the future. As for ASEAN- Republic of Korea relations, the cooperation in various fields has been strengthened through close dialogues. During 1-2 June 2009, ASEAN and the Republic of Korea had ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit in Jeju in commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of relations between ASEAN and the Republic of Korea. During the Summit, ASEAN and the Republic of Korea signed Joint Statement of ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit. Moreover, both sides completed their Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation with the signing of the ASEAN-Korea Investment Agreement in Jeju Island.
Thailand and the Republic of Korea have also worked closely in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) to promote trust and confidence among major countries. Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) is another forum in which our two countries have taken part and made joint efforts in promoting cooperation between Asian and European countries. The Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), which is a body created in 2002 to promote Asian cooperation in a continental level, is also an important forum of cooperation between Thailand and the Republic of Korea.
Future Direction of Relations between Thailand and the Republic of Korea
At present, Thailand is seeking to become a closer partner of Korea, both in bilateral and multilateral contexts, in all fields of mutual interests. However, our focus of future relation development will mostly be placed on the people-to-people relation. In the multilateral cooperation, ASEAN-Korea Centre will promote not only trade and investment between the two countries but also mutual understanding through people-to-people contact and cultural exchanges. It is fervently believed that the promotion of people-to-people relation would create a solid foundation in order that Thailand and the Republic of Korea could go hand in hand to work for the peace, prosperity and progress of our two countries, our regions and the mankind as a whole.