By Dr. Eva Hager, Ambassador of the Republic of Austria to the Kingdom of Thailand
A country that is as well known for its scenic beauty as it is for its cultural activities, Austria is situated in the Alps. It is not only a very popular place with skiers and hikers, but it is also a country that gave the world an important musical heritage, ranging from the classical composer Mozart to the Strauss waltzes and the Von Trapp family
In 1869, the two imperial and royal navy frigates “Danube” and “Archduke Friedrich” reached the shores of Bangkok after a journey of 6 months. They were travelling on expeditions to Siam, China and Japan. The project did not pursue political or – beware of it – colonial purposes, the intention was to establish trade and commerce with the 3 big sovereign states. The same year, a Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation was signed between the delegations of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and the Kingdom of Siam.
CELEBRATING 150 YEARS OF FRIENDLY RELATIONS
Celebrating 150 years of fertile relations is an auspicious moment for taking a photograph of the past and present state of affairs as well as throwing a glance at future perspectives. The Kingdom of Siam under the reign of H.M. King Chulalongkorn followed the maxim that balanced relations with different European nations would better serve the objective of preserving the sovereignty of the Kingdom than concentrating on a predominant colonial power.
So, in 1897, the Siamese King included Bad Ischl – the town of the imperial summer residence – Vienna and Budapest into his journey to Europe and was received by Emperor Franz Joseph I. with all imperial and royal distinctions.
Musical diplomacy always played an important role in the bilateral relations. This fact was already reflected by the exquisite and ample musical programme offered to the royal visitor in 1897. But it was even more so during the much appraised “State-visit of the year” in 1964, when H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, accompanied by Queen Sirikit, visited Austria.
King Rama IX gave a jazz jamsession together with famous Austrian jazz-musicians at the residence of the Thai Ambassador in Vienna, in the music-hall “Wiener Musikvereinssaal” compositions of the King were performed, and H.M. was formally admitted as the 23rd Honorary Member of the Academy of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna (today University of Music & PA).
Queen Sirikit enchanted the audience by the melodies, she played on the piano of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Salzburg. Today, Austrian and Thai music universities and academic institutions are engaged in vivid exchanges. The classical and contemporary musical culture emanating from Austria played an important part in the anniversary celebrations of the Austrian Embassy Bangkok throughout 2019.
The Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra under the patronage of Her Royal Highness Princess Sirivannavari Ratankanya performed with the participation of three outstanding members of the renowned Vienna Philharmonics on 21st of November compositions of the Princess on the auspicious occasion of the royal coronation and in honour of their Majesties King Rama X and Queen Suthida.
The State visit in 1964 led to cooperation in important infrastructureprojects and the establishment of a technical college, the Thai-Austrian Sattahip College, with Austrian support.
Today, Thailand has hundreds of such colleges across the country, but the Thai-Austrian project of the 70ies – presently endowed with an operating capacity for several thousand students – is still emblematic.
An intense Austro-Thai co-operation in the field of science and research started at the outset of the visit of Her Royal Highness Maha Chakri Sirindhorn in 1982 to Innsbruck. H.R.H. was awarded the rank of anHonorary Senator of the University of Innsbruck as the youngest and first female member of the senate.
The dynamic co-operation between Universities soon required a more systematic approach through the creation of a net-work of Universities. It was first established in the 90ies under Austrian and Thai inspiration as the “Austrian South East Asian University Network”, and soon expanded through the accession of new members to the “ASEANEuropean Academic UNINET” under the same acronym “ASEA UNINET”.
Today, it unites 83 Universities, whereby Austria with 19 and Thailand with 18 are the most active participants. The network is an important pillar for enabling and financing important joint research projects, and its relevance is demonstrated by the several hundred alumni and alumnae, many of whom are in key positions in both countries.
One important partnership on this basis is the co-operation between the Thai Silpakorn University and the Vienna University of Applied Arts in establishing a regional centre for conservation and renovation and elaborating a curriculum for the study courses.
An important sign for the high quality of our relations and the mutual respect and esteem is also that Her Royal Highness Princess Bajrakitiyabha Narendiradebyavati represented Thailand between 2012 and 2014 as Royal Thai Ambassador in Vienna.
The economic relations with the total exchanges in both directions of 900 mio€ are important. Of course, Thailand being a world champion as exporter, sends the bigger part of the cake, which consists – to and fro – of sophisticated industrial goods. Around 100 Austrian companies are represented in Thailand, and some 40 are doing important productive operations, some of them with more than 10 000 employees.
The cumulated investments of Austrian companies of around 600 Mio € might soon reach the 1 billion threshold with the important new investment of the Austrian bio-fibre giant Lenzing. It will establish its biggest production site at global level with an investment of up to 400 million € over the next years on Thai soil. Austrian companies in the railway- and mass-transit sectors are traditionally very successful on the Thai market.
In the celebrations during the commemorative year 1869 – 2019 activities regarding innovation, sustainability and intelligent solutions were high on our agenda. There is an excellent and close co-operation between the capital cities of Vienna and Bangkok in the field of twinning the innovation districts of both countries.
An important inter-active exposition about the results of this co-operation was shown in October 2019 in Bangkok. There is great potential for increased co-operation in the field of architecture and design, also triggered by the Austrian flagship project of holistic sustainability, epitomized in the new Austrian Embassy building in Sathorn, which has won already several international prizes for its architectural excellence.
In 2019, Vienna was present at the annual fair of the “Association of Siamese Architects” with two expositions, one on the works of Viennese design- and landscaping offices, and another one of “Vienna smart city”.
For the first time, we also featured with a contribution at the “Bangkok Design week” in 2020. Bangkok has attained by this major annual event the distinction of being “UNESCO creative City” and we are proud of having contributed to this forum for the first time.
I believe that in the field of science, research and education, including dual vocational education, there is still scope for improving our co-operation in meeting the new challenges by joining hands: the need for increased internationalization of studies and curricula, the need for up- and reskilling; for University staff exchange programmes, for the improved networking between alumni and alumnae, the need for commercializing the results of joint research works and a lot more in this direction.
In January, the Embassy organized together with Thai public and private sector an academic forum between Universities of both countries. And in February, the Eastern Economic Corridor Office and other Thai agencies as well as the Embassies of Austria in Bangkok and of Thailand in Vienna organized a comprehensive work-shop on educational and economic co-operation.
I consider these explorative endeavours springboards for increased and improved educational and economic co-operation.
1,05,000 Austrian tourists visit Thailand every year, and we have a confirmed number of 40,000 Thais visiting Austria according to our visasection.
However, given that many tourists visit Austria on a combined trip via other countries, we guess, that as many Thais as Austrians visit each other’s country every year.
Austria, in comparison to Thailand, is a smaller country. But you will be surprised by its great variety of beautiful landscapes: crystal clear lakes with drinking water quality ringed by deep green hills and domineering mountains, hilly forests rising out of lush farmland, Alpine peaks reaching for the sky, peaceful pastures and quaint villages resting at their feet as well as vineyards on rock terraces and ancient castles and grand abbeys.
All this invites to a great diversity of activities and leisure: skiing, horseback-riding, water-sports, hiking, biking, relaxing and detoxing in spas with natural mineral waters. One of the main gifts of Austria is also its heritage cities with their wellpreserved splendor of the past and contemporary architectural highlights, and a rich and varied offer of classical and contemporary culture.
Vienna and Salzburg are the Cities of Music. An array of internationally acclaimed opera- , theatre- and music festivals are on offer throughout the year.
Floating stages on lake Constance in the West, or lake Neusiedlin the East and innumerous concerts in castles and monasteries are magnets attracting music-lovers to a special summer experience. Finally, do not forget to experience the Austrian ‘Gemütlichkeit’!
The cosiness and laid back atmosphere of the famous coffee houses, the jolliness of beer gardens, bucolic wine taverns, or alpine huts are unique. Viennese cakes and pastries and other delicacies such as the crispy Viennese Schnitzel tempt everybody’s palate.
I extend to all Thai and Asian friends who want to visit Austria a heartfelt welcome. Arrive and revive in our beautiful country.