Tourism not affected, says Thai envoy
Updated: 2013-12-05 01:30
By Mike Peters and Zhao Lei (China Daily)
Demonstrators sweep streets around Bangkok's Democracy Monument on Wednesday after weeks of protests and days of clashes with police in the Thai capital. The government says it wants to avoid more violence and ease tensions for King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 86th birthday on Thursday, a traditional day of prayer and celebration. DAMIR SAGOLJ / REUTERS
As Thai people at home and abroad prepare to celebrate the 86th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday, clashes between anti-government protesters and Bangkok police diminished.
Thailand's Ambassador to China Wiboon Khusakul said the capital was safe for visitors, noting that as of last week, the embassy was still processing between 2,000 and 3,000 visa applications for Chinese visitors at its eight offices around the country.
Wiboon said the king's birthday would continue to ease political tensions after the holiday. "The king is the soul of the nation," the ambassador said.
Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra ordered the police to lift barricades on Tuesday "to reduce tensions", and Wiboon said "she is more than willing to talk to the people who took to the street recently. So I think that's a good sign".
Meng Qingfu, a publicity officer at China International Travel Service, said the turbulence in Thailand has not affected his company's operations in the tourism-dependent nation.
"We have not found any disturbance to travelers with our groups to Thailand, and tourism authorities in both countries have not asked us to take extra measures," he said.
"Nevertheless, my company has made plans in case of any possible emergencies."
His words were echoed by Li Zhi, manager of Southeastern Asian tours at China Youth Travel Service, who said the political strife had not had any influence on tourists traveling in Thailand.
"The places we choose for our tourists are usually located far from the venues where the protesters stage their rallies or demonstrations," Li said, adding that there are nearly 100 Chinese tourists in Thailand currently taking part in his company's group tours.
"My colleagues and I have been closely following the situation in Thailand and the notices from tourism authorities in both nations. As far as I know, at the moment, there is no need to worry about the issue of safety in Thailand."
However, tensions are running high because protesters have vowed to continue their "battle" on Friday after the king's birthday.
Although they pledged to march peacefully on Wednesday, demonstrators knocked over concrete barriers, cut barbed wire and tried to scale the fences at the police compound in central Bangkok, which is across from some of the capital's biggest and fanciest shopping malls.
The Hong Kong government raised the travel threat level in Bangkok on Monday to "red", the second-highest warning. Travelers should consider changing their existing plans or to avoid all non-essential travel to Bangkok, the security bureau urged, according to the South China Morning Post.
Thailand has long been a favorite destination for Chinese vacationers.
"Last year we had 2.7 million tourists from China, and this year, after 10 months, we have had 3.3 million. So I am confident it will exceed 4 million by the year's end," said Wiboon, who is Thailand's first Chinese-speaking ambassador.
While getting a visa to Thailand is quite easy for Chinese people, he said, negotiations began last week to establish a visa exemption agreement between the two countries. "It will take some time to achieve that, of course," he said.
Wiboon has been in China for a total of about 13 years. He came back as consul-general in Kunming in 2002, before being appointed to the same role in Shanghai. After serving as trade and economic representative in Taipei, he was named ambassador to China almost two years ago.
On Thursday, he will host fellow diplomats at a reception celebrating the king's birthday, followed by a party for Thai nationals in China.
"I really want to focus more on cultural exchanges, such as our Durian Festival and the Thai Film Festival this year," he said.
"It's important to reach out to the younger generation here, to enhance their understanding about Thailand."
Wiboon said Thailand will set up a cultural center in Beijing this year.
"Last year, when former premier Wen Jiabao visited Thailand, China set up a very big cultural center in Bangkok, and now it's our turn," he said, adding that the center plans to have dynamic food events and other activities year-round.
Food is key because agricultural products are as important to China-Thailand trade as tourism. "Bilateral trade stood at $69 billion last year," he said, "making China our biggest export market. More than 25 percent of the trade volume is agricultural products."
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AP contributed to this story.