The current bilateral political, economic and cultural relations between Turkey and Thailand do not reflect the real potential between the two countries and reciprocal steps should be taken to increase cooperation, experts and officials said. Stressing that Turkey and Thailand are standing in similar positions in international politics and the world economy as developing powers, Berk Esen, an academic in international relations at Bilkent University, said that the two countries have a lot to gain from collaboration with each other.
"They face very similar challenges and problems. Two countries will able to overcome problems regarding the late development with more bilateral cooperation," he said Monday at a session on Turkish-Thai relations at Thammasat University in Bangkok.
As a country that gives more weight to cooperation with Asian countries every year, Turkey introduced its new Asia initiative called "Asia Anew" during the 11th Ambassadors Conference held in the capital Ankara earlier this month. In it, the country laid out new goals for expanding political and economic relations with Asian countries, including Thailand.
Established in 1958, bilateral relations between Turkey and Thailand have been developing in recent years with various frameworks of cooperation: The Joint Committee on Economic and Technical Cooperation (JETC), the Turkey-Thailand Inter-parliamentarians Friendship Group and political consultations. In 2018, Turkey and Thailand arranged various activities to commemorate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations including a business forum, a 60th year anniversary concert, a seminar on bilateral relations and exchange of cultural performances during the "Year of Culture." Turkey also applied to become a sectoral dialogue partner for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2015, of which Thailand is also a member, and its application was accepted on Aug. 5, 2017 during the 50th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting held in the Philippines.
Speaking on the economic relations between Ankara and Bangkok, Gülsüm Akbulut, a PhD student at Middle East Technical University, said the Business Council and Joint Economic Commission (JEC) were established to enhance cooperation between the two countries, adding that the bilateral trade volume and investments remain below expectations.
"Turkish investors in Thailand and Thai investors in Turkey have opportunities to diversify their market potential. The number for both is significantly low compared to other investors," she said.
In 2018, bilateral trade stood at $1.4 billion and while Thailand's exports to Turkey were nearly $1.1 billion, Turkey's exports to Thailand remained at $350 million. Also, to support the relationships among small enterprises, an action plan between the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Organization (KOSGEB) and the Office of Small and Medium Enterprise Promotion (OSMEP) was developed.
The General Director of the Thai Foreign Ministry's European Affairs Department, Sasiwat Wongsinsawat, said that Ankara and Bangkok should look further for more sustainable economic cooperation with more investment and trough developing human resources, which will be a "win-win" situation for both countries.
Turkey and Thailand are also in negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) to increase economic cooperation. Earlier this month, Turkey's Ambassador to Thailand, Evren Dağdelen Akgün, said that the negotiations between Ankara and Bangkok on the issue are maintaining an efficient course, adding that the bilateral trade volume is projected to increase by 40% with the FTA.
Besides political and economic aspects, the two countries have also been pushing efforts to develop better cultural relations. Education stands as one of the main pillars of this collaboration; Turkish scholarships for undergraduate and graduate levels have been given to Thai students since 2004. On the Thai side, a Turkish Studies Center was established at Songkla University in 2013. Also, in 2018, about 90,000 Turkish tourists traveled to Thailand with a 99% increase compared to 2017, while 54,000 Thai tourists traveled to Turkey with a 76% increase.
Emphasizing the significance of the role of media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) besides other fields in bilateral relations, Gülgün Erdoğan Tosun, a professor at Ege University, said that media instruments such as popular Turkish TV series can play a key role in enhancing cultural interaction between the two countries.
Turkish TV series have been exported to more than 150 countries and ranks second, right after the U.S., with over $350 million in annual revenue and have more than 500 million viewers worldwide.