FEATURE: Close bond with China inherited from ancestors

BEIJING (China Daily/ANN) - Thai politician Korn Dabbaransi recalls meetings with top Chinese leaders over four decades. 

It was during Thai politician Korn Dabbaransi’s second meeting with Deng Xiaoping, in 1978, that he first learned of China’s reform agenda.

“China will open up, step by step,” Deng told a visiting Thai delegation led by deputy prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan. Dabbaransi was part of the delegation as a vice-minister.

After the “cultural revolution” (1966-76) which led to instability in society and brought production to a halt, China shifted its focus from politics to economic growth.

Deng stressed that China would no longer keep its doors shut, and was ready to learn from other economies. “All things were being refreshed in China, Deng emphasised,” Dabbaransi said. “He told us to visit Shenzhen and we did later that year. But Shenzhen at that time was almost empty, with lots of paddy fields.”

Back then, the city in southern China’s Guangdong province was a cluster of fishing villages. However, Shenzhen was designated one of the country’s four special economic zones for opening-up on Aug 26, 1980-a historic change that would benefit a billion lives.

Since then, investments from overseas, including Thailand, have turned it into China’s most successful economic zone. When Dabbaransi visited Shenzhen again in 2018 for the 40th anniversary of the “Shenzhen Success Story”, he said the city was “living proof right in front of your eyes”.

“Deng said Thailand and China will certainly be more than friends,” said Dabbaransi, adding that Deng was carrying on the vision of late premier Zhou Enlai, who died in 1976.

Dabbaransi met both Deng and Zhou for the first time in 1975. As secretary to Thai foreign minister Chatichai Choonhavan, the group visited Zhou in hospital in January that year.

“I will never forget the welcome greeting from Premier Zhou to General Chatichai, who had never met each other before,” he said.

“The premier told my foreign minister: ‘Welcome, son of my old friend.’” Zhou was referring to field marshal Phin Choonhavan, who fought in World War II as Zhou did.

“That fateful meeting was truly extraordinary,” Dabbaransi said. Diplomatic relations between China and Thailand were soon established, beginning on July 1, 1975.

Later, Zhou suggested to Chatichai that another “people to people” channel should be established. That idea led to the birth of the Thai-Chinese Friendship Association in Thailand in 1976. It was headed by the general until 1998, and is currently led by Dabbaransi.

Dabbaransi recounted his meetings with top Chinese leaders during his long career. Among the high-ranking Chinese officials he met were presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, premiers Zhu Rongji and Wen Jiabao, and President Xi Jinping, who was then vice-president.

He said the Chinese leaders since Deng’s time have pushed for brotherly co-operation with Thailand and their collective and successive efforts over the years have led to China’s successful development.

“The success of China has caused ripples in all the seven seas of the world today,” he said.

Corruption crackdown

As someone who witnessed firsthand China’s economic evolution, Dabbaransi made a few personal observations of the country that other developing nations could learn from.

“Number one on my list is the strong determination of the leaders, especially President Xi Jinping, to crack down on corruption,” he said.

“China has adopted a top-down crackdown against corruption and moved to build systematic ‘cages’ that aim to prevent and punish corruption.”

Serving in the Thai cabinet for decades, Dabbaransi understands the subtlety and difficulty of fighting corruption. China’s top-down approach has won admiration from around the world and he said it was a “key element behind China’s success”.

“This kind of message, cracking down on corruption, should be spoken to everyone,” he said.

Second, the opening-up 40 years ago was the reason why Chinese economic strength and stability have been sustained. “China has indeed grown,” Dabbaransi said.

The discipline of the people is third on his list. In his eyes, the Chinese are among the most disciplined people in the world.

“You have to obey the law,” he said. Dabbaransi added that this made China capable of opening to the outside world and going global, because only through common law accepted by all parties could different businesses come together.

“There are bound to be differences in any emerging economy,” he said. “You don’t have to agree with me, but we must abide by the same rules so that we can live together peacefully.”

Another personal observation is the importance of sharing and exchanging ideas.

“There should be no blocks between people to people (exchanges),” he said.

“You have to reach out to other people and they reach out to you. We respect every country’s culture. You have your own opinion and I have mine, but we can share dinner together.”

Just as representatives of the six Lancang-Mekong countries did at the Kunming expo in November, Dabbaransi said that “we should all be sitting together”.

“We share the same river,” he said. “We can together draft out common rules in agreement.”

While he was Thailand’s deputy prime minister, Dabbaransi once took a boat from Jinghong, in the south of China’s Yunnan province, to Chiang Mai in Thailand to acquaint himself with the people living along the river.

He said the China-led Belt and Road Initiative in the region is about “one belt, one river”, as it is of huge importance to the Lancang-Mekong nations and should be called “a river of friendship and a road to prosperity”.

Dabbaransi, a fourth-generation Chinese-Thai, said he inherited the close bond with China from his ancestors.

“The first generation came from Chenghai, in the Chaoshan area in eastern Guangdong province by boat. The second generation, born in Thailand, rose to produce deputy prime minister Phin Choonhavan, and the third generation-prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan.”

Dabbaransi, a nephew of Chatichai, was deputy prime minister of Thailand three times.

TCM in Thailand

Among Dabbaransi’s many achievements, a significant one that has earned him high praise and admiration in both China and Thailand was the decision to legalise traditional Chinese medicine in Thailand. During the 25th anniversary of China-Thailand diplomatic relations in 2000, Dabbaransi and China’s health minister, Zhang Wenkang, co-signed an agreement on TCM-related projects.

“He and I inaugurated TCM in Thailand together,” Dabbaransi said. “The first TCM license in Thailand was signed by me. I believe in that.”

That policy is still widely cherished today. “The real beneficiaries of this policy are the people,” he said.

Health tourism in Thailand has become popular with people around the world, as the country has become a one-stop destination for modern medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and traditional Thai medicine.

Dabbaransi also helped to establish Thailand’s Confucius Institute, a nonprofit public education organisation, and has continued to make efforts to bring the people of China and Thailand closer together, saying “jong tai e jia shin”, which means China and Thailand belong to one community of kith and kin.

He was a keynote speaker at the fourth Yao Traditional Chinese Medicine World Conference in Beijing on Dec 23, on his 146th visit to China in the past 43 years.

One memorable visit to China for Dabbaransi was to Sichuan province, when he visited Lin Bing, who in 2009 became the first giant panda born in Thailand.

Lin Bing’s name is a combination of her mother’s family name and the name of a major river in northern Thailand, which flows near the zoo where her parents have lived since 2003.

Her name was chosen after a nationwide selection contest in 2009 that attracted some 22 million votes-around 32.8 per cent of Thailand’s population-Xinhua reported. When Lin Bing was sent to her parents’ hometown in Sichuan to find a mate in 2013, her fans even chartered two planes to escort her.

Lin Bing gave birth to twins in 2017. In early August last year, Dabbaransi visited Lin Bing and her two cubs at the Wolong National Nature Reserve as an ambassador for giant pandas. It was one of the happiest moments of his life, Xinhua quoted him as saying.

He is now eagerly anticipating another visit to China. “I look forward to coming to Beijing in October 2019 to say happy birthday to China,” he said, adding that he would be “honoured and happy” to be in the capital during the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

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