The Federal President is visiting Southeast Asia and is also stopping in Thailand. Relations with the country should improve. The only problem: the king.
The last Federal President was in Thailand in 2002; his name was Johannes Rau. He planted a tree and said: “Your country enjoys a great reputation because of its ancient culture and because of the hospitality and friendliness of its people.” In 2011, there was still a foreign minister here: Guido Westerwelle. But then there was peace for a long time, 13 years to be exact.
But now Frank-Walter Steinmeier has traveled to Bangkok. And it is quite possible that chancellors and ministers will soon follow. The Federal President was a kind of advance commando. He had to explore what kind of relationship Germany should have with the country in the future. In addition to the fact that the Thai king likes to stay at the Hotel Sonnenbichl in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. We’ll get to the king later.
First of all, the relationship: It was largely dormant, just like the relationship with most other Western countries. The fact that Steinmeier is here means a lot for the country. The country’s widest-reach newspaper printed a text about him on the cover of his visit.
This difficult relationship is actually surprising, as Thailand is a country that is closer to Europe in terms of lifestyle than most other Asian countries. Trade relations and tourism also connect Germany and Thailand. But there was a political crisis, at the latest when the military came to government in a coup in 2014 and remained there until last year. During this time, Germany relied primarily on one Asian country: China.
What are the new guys like?
Now Germany wants new partners and Thailand has had a new government since 2023. So is there anything to be had? What are the new guys like?
After his discussions, Steinmeier seems convinced that a new opportunity could arise here. “My impression is that the political culture in Thailand is changing,” he says at the end of his trip. The newly elected Prime Minister is a compromise candidate; he was previously a real estate entrepreneur. Because two parties were able to agree on him, the top candidate of the party with the most votes, Move Forward, was prevented.
For him, there was good news the day before Steinmeier’s arrival: the Constitutional Court acquitted him. He was accused of having shares in a media company, which would be a violation of Thai electoral law. However, the company has not published anything since 2017. Nevertheless, he could have lost his seat in parliament. The acquittal could also have contributed to Steinmeier’s optimism.
The only problem for Frank-Walter Steinmeier: the king
But there is one thing, or rather this one person: the king. Just a few days before departure there was another report that a Thai man had been sentenced to 50 years in prison for alleged lese majeste. He’s not the first and probably won’t be the last to feel this way. When the Federal President visits the country, he of course has to meet the head of state.
And so there is a mysterious date in the program. Steinmeier and his wife meet the king and his wife. Nobody except the two of them is allowed into the room, photos are only taken by the palace photographer, and you don’t really want to tell anyone about the conversations. The only thing Steinmeier said publicly about the meeting after the trip: “He assured me that his love for Germany would remain intact.” He couldn’t help but grin slightly.
Either way, Steinmeier emphasized on the trip: “These are partners who are different from us, but with whom we also have common interests.” Southeast Asia has been underestimated for too long. Even though Thailand has a king who cannot stand criticism and therefore restricts freedom of speech, the advance command has decided: good country, good partners. So it probably won’t take another 22 years until the next Federal President comes.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.