Thailand will work beyond the "hardware" level to improve its "spiritual" and cultural connection with China under the ongoing Belt and Road Initiative, said Theerakun Niyom, Thailand's ambassador to China.
"Mentioning the initiative, people would first think about the Chinese-Thai connection in terms of hardware, such as railways. However, we want to go beyond that and connect people of the two countries through cultural communication, during which process education will play a key role," Theerakun told China Daily.
"To enhance mutual understanding, we will continue supporting China to establish a Confucius Institute in Thailand, and meanwhile work with the Chinese government to set up more short-term exchange programs and provide more scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students from the other country," Theerakun said.
He made the remarks while attending the eighth China-ASEAN Education Cooperation Week, which was held in early August in Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province.
Acting as an exchange and communication channel between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the event has been held annually in the city since 2008 and has gathered ambassadors, education officials and heads of education institutions from Southeast Asian countries.
Affection for language
Theerakun said there are about 20,000 Thai students studying in China, and the number of Chinese students studying in Thailand now runs between 40,000 and 50,000.
"The numbers are considerable to Thailand, and these students, I believe, will become the hard core of the bilateral relationship, for their intimate knowledge of and deep affection for the language and culture of the other country where they have studied," Theerakun said.
He said Thailand and China have a long history of cooperation in the education field, and friendship between people from the two countries has lasted for a long time.
"They have been willing to learn each other's language and culture and get to know aspects of the other country," Theerakun said.
"I think the communication between two countries usually starts from learning each other's language as a tool. After acquiring the tool, the interest in the other country would then expand to more aspects," he said.
According to Theerakun, 20,000 people in Thailand are now studying the Chinese language, while in China there are also thousands of people studying the Thai language.
Theerakun has been Thailand's ambassador to China since April, but he said China has never been an unfamiliar nation to him.
"We have been informed of China and its culture since we were young, so Chinese people and their lifestyle are not something new for people in Thailand," said Theerakun, who was raised in southern Thailand, where he said there were lots of Chinese people and a strong Chinese cultural influence.
"At school, we learned a lot about China from teachers and textbooks, and we even haddays off on Chinese Spring Festival," he said.
The learning has lasted, and Theerakun said he has gradually acquired some Chinese ways of thinking, since his work has always been connected with China over the years. Now working in China, Theerakun said he has more ways to explore and get to know the country even better.
"I have opportunities to know more by having Chinese food, talking to Chinese working staff and traveling around the country," he said.(Chinadaily)