Thai PM embraces 'true friend' Russia in troubled times

Thai PM embraces 'true friend' Russia in troubled times

A friend in need is a friend indeed, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday in praising his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, who brought a wide range of co-operation and other deals covering security, economic, energy, culture and science and technology issues with him on a two-day visit to the Kingdom.

The visit by the Russian premier, which concluded yesterday, was the first for 25 years in the countries' bilateral ties and the first by a non-Asian leader to Thailand since last year's May 22 coup, which has drawn a strong reaction from Western nations.

"The meaning of being a friend mostly appears when a friend has a problem and needs support from a friend," Prayut said during a joint press conference after meeting with Medvedev.

"Russia has been long been a friend to Thailand, for almost 120 years. For today's meeting, both parties have expressed their commitment to boost the level of the relationship, enabling ever-closer ties. In so doing, our co-operation will be conducted in all dimensions on the basis of mutual interest and equality," he said.

Prayut's statement was marked by the signing of 10 pacts, of which five were agreements between the countries' private sectors.

At the governmental level, they included memoranda of understanding on energy, culture, the control of narcotics trafficking, economic relationships, as well as 2015-2017 plans for tourism promotion between Thailand and Russia.

Russian officials said earlier that Moscow was looking to sell military aircraft and other defence equipment to Thailand, as the United States and other Western countries had not been comfortable about doing so following the coup.

Meanwhile, agreements between the countries' private sectors cover the exchange of information in business, co-operation in investment in third countries, co-operation in the development of satellite navigation, co-operation on education in hotel and tourism management, market examination and the expansion of Russian products in the Thai market.

In his statement, Prayut stressed that the two parties intended to boost their bilateral trade value to US$10 billion (S$13.5 billion) next year.

The Thai premier went on to highlight the fact that he had asked his Russian counterpart to consider the imports of rubber and other agricultural products such as rice, frozen pork, fresh fruits and vegetables.

This also includes fishery products and the recognition of the Thai standard for inspection and registration of farming industries.

"Thailand is considered to be Russia's oldest partner in Asia-Pacific", Medvedev said, adding that he had also discussed security issues with Prayut. He highlighted that over the last year the level of trade between the countries was around $4 billion, growing 4 per cent from a year earlier.

Russia will encourage more trade with Thailand in high-tech products and seek to put an end to trade barriers, he added.

The two countries have agreed to forge co-operation on industry and Thailand signed a purchase order for two aircraft from Russia last September, the Russian PM said, also suggesting that Russia has potential for energy-development co-operation with the Kingdom.

Medvedev also mentioned the prospects of granting more scholarships for Thai students to pursue their studies in Russia.

He also referred to plans to establish a Russian cultural centre in Thailand.

For his part, Prayut extended an invitation to Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Thailand at an early occasion, while Medvedev also invited Prayut to visit Russia.

The two countries established their relationship in 1897, when King Chulalongkorn visited the Russian empire. Since then, the nations have enjoyed a longstanding friendship, spanning 120 years in two years' time.

Thailand exports rice, cars and spare parts, radio receivers, televisions and TV components, plus canned and processed fruits to Russia, while importing goods such as iron, steel and crude oil from Russia.

According to Trade Negotiations Department data, Russia and Thailand enjoyed bilateral trade valued at around Bt4.3 trillion annually between 2009 and 2013. Two-way trade reached Bt4.9 trillion last year.

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