A lasting impression

James Kon

Outgoing Thai Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam Wanthanee Viputwongsakul has completed her three-year tenure in the Sultanate.

In her last statement before returning to Thailand, the envoy said that she will miss the people, the blue skies and the majestic sunsets.

“I will be completing my tenure as the Thai Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam on September 30 after nearly three years of being here. As I am ending my tour of duty, I would like to share my experiences and reflect on the bilateral relations of our two countries.

“I am deeply honoured to be entrusted by His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn to represent Thailand in Brunei. It is a great responsibility for me as Brunei Darussalam is an important partner of Thailand. At the same time, I am pleased to be posted in Brunei as it is known for its people’s hospitality and safe environment.”

Since her arrival in Brunei onJanuary 2019, she said, “I have been deeply humbled by the cordial friendliness extended by the royal family to me. As head of mission, I have had the golden opportunity to attend royal audiences and engagements with His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saiffuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam; Her Majesty Duli Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha binti Al-Marhum Pengiran Pemancha Pengiran Anak Haji Mohamed Alam; His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah ibni His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office; His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah; and Her Royal Highness Princess Hajah Masna, Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Among my most treasured memories are the royal banquets and Hari Raya celebration at Istana Nurul Iman.”

Photo taken on April 24 shows the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Thailand to Brunei Darussalam Wanthanee Viputwongsakul in a group photo with Thai students in KUPU SB. PHOTO: THAI EMBASSY IN BRUNEI DARUSSALAM

During her time in the country, Wanthanee Viputwongsakul recalled, “I have been to almost every corner of this beautiful country, from taking a scenic boat ride in Kampong Ayer to spotting the endangered proboscis monkey at the mangrove forest and hiking up the canopy tower of Temburong, from seeing the green paddy field in Kandol to visiting the vast shrimp farm in Penyatang and walking on wooden stilts of the fish farm off the coast of Pelumpong.

“I am constantly amazed by the treasures of Brunei such as the captivating Tasek Merimbun with the unforgettable one-million-dollar view from the museum’s viewing deck. But the thing that stood out the most are the clear blue skies and the beautiful sunsets.”

However, she added, “What has left the deepest impression for me is the warmth of the people. Before the pandemic, I had the opportunity to attend holiday celebrations such as Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Chinese New Year. I find the tradition of visiting family and friends during these celebrations very endearing and it shows that the community here is very tight-knit.

“Anywhere I visit I have been welcomed with hospitality. On one occasion, I visited the Tutong District and was extended with a warm welcome by the District Office. I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity.”

The outgoing envoy also expressed her fortune “to have worked with and made new friends throughout my time here. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to those who have supported and extend their cooperation to my work of enhancing Thailand-Brunei relations.

“My deepest appreciation to honourable ministers, senior officials and many others from the government, non-government and private sectors as well as individuals for their commitment and support. I deeply cherish the strong support of the Thai community and Friends of Thailand who have been the backbone of the embassy’s work in promoting people-to-people exchanges in Brunei.

“And most importantly, I highly value the important work by my media friends in providing coverage of the embassy’s work in fostering the bilateral relations between our two countries.”

The outgoing ambassador noted that the close and cordial bilateral relations between Thailand and Brunei date further back from the formal establishment of diplomatic relations in 1984.

“Over the years, our bilateral ties have progressed steadily through the joint efforts of our two governments which have resulted in the signing of several memorandums of understanding (MoUs) including in the fields of agriculture, health and information and broadcasting. With frequent visits and exchanges, we have seen developing cooperation in other fields including defence and education sectors.

“Together, we have worked closely via the Joint Commission for Bilateral Cooperation (JCBC) to further strengthen our existing cooperation and explore other areas
of collaboration.

“Brunei will host the second JCBC meeting next year. We are hoping to expand our cooperation in the cultural sector, trade and investments as well as people-to-people exchanges through the finalising of the MoU on cultural cooperation, MoU on double taxation avoidance and MoU on OTOP products cooperation. I will pass the baton to my successors to oversee the progress of our cooperation,” she said.

She recalled that, during her tenure, “we celebrated the 35th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Thailand and Brunei Darussalam in 2019, an important milestone which was celebrated with a series of activities throughout the year including a badminton cooperation project which saw a delegation of Thai national badminton players granted an audience with His Majesty and also coaching the local badminton players.

“We also organised a special edition of the annual Thailand Grand Fair and published a Guidebook of Thai Restaurants in Brunei Darussalam which we were deeply honoured to have both events launched by Her Royal Highness Princess Hajah Masna. Prior to the pandemic, I received several high-level delegations from Thailand including Deputy Minister of Education and Deputy Minister of Agriculture Cooperatives as well as the Chief of Royal Thai Army”. She further noted that people-to-people exchanges “are important to promote understanding between our people hence I have organised activities such as Thai handicraft lesson with Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) Sawadee Club, Thai cooking classes, Thailand Day during Religious Teachers University of Seri Begawan College (KUPU SB)’s Open Day, Thai Cuisine Week at UBD and Songkran Festival.

“I also had the opportunity, with the support of Thai community and Friends of Thailand, to give back to the community by organising blood donation drives and giving donations to two NGOs that have become close to my heart – Pusat Ehsan Al-Ameerah Al-Hajjah Maryam and Children’s Cancer Foundation (YASKA).

“I am pleased to support several of Brunei Government’s initiatives including the Brunei December Festival by showcasing Thai movies at Brunei Film Blitz in 2019 and 2020 as well as supporting Brunei’s Green Protocol by organising a tree planting activity in commemoration of His Majesty’s 75th birthday and His Majesty the King of Thailand’s 69th birthday”.

Despite the pandemic putting a halt to everything, the outgoing ambassador said she counts it as good fortune for her to be in the country.

“My time here coincides with a landmark achievement for the country that is the historic opening of the Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Bridge. Furthermore, the Brunei Government has implemented effective control measures during the first wave which enabled us to resume our lives safely with little restrictions.

“I took the opportunity to adapt the embassy’s annual trade fair to Thailand Bazaar, which we organised on three occasions during the pandemic. This trade fair is the embassy’s signature project to promote economic and tourism cooperation as well as people-to-people relations. The total trade between our two countries was worth USD486.77 million in 2020 where the major import of Thailand from Brunei is crude oil while exports to Brunei include refined fuels, motor cars, parts and accessories as well as rice.

“Thailand remains committed in enhancing cooperation and forging closer ties with Brunei for the mutual benefit of our two countries and peoples. Thailand also stands ready as a close friend and partner to support Brunei in multilateral platforms including ASEAN which the country is currently chairing with much success amid the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic.

“Aptly guided by the theme ‘We Care, We Prepare, We Prosper’, Brunei is navigating our region by caring for the well-being of its people, preparing for future opportunities and challenges with the hope of prospering together with no one being left behind.”

In moving forward, she said, “We are finding ways to enhance our bilateral and ASEAN cooperation in the current and post-COVID-19 era, focussing especially on the promotion of public health, food security, agriculture and sustainable development.”

Before concluding, the outgoing envoy expressed her firm belief that Thailand-Brunei relations which are based on mutual respect and benefit will continue to flourish in the future.

“It has been the honour of my life to serve His Majesty the King of Thailand and to conclude my diplomatic career on such a high note as the Thai Ambassador to Brunei Darussalam. I will cherish all the memories and the friends that I made during my time here. Terima kasih atas persahabatan ini dan jumpa lagi!”