Cabinet meeting held early this week as PM’s impromptu visit to Saudi Arabia was announced by Government House officials on Sunday. The visit by Thailand’s PM comes as the United States administration grows increasingly more apprehensive and wary of the Saudi Crown prince and his unpredictable regime.

Prayut Chan ocha will become the first Thai government representative to visit Riyadh on Tuesday in what is being seen as a breakthrough in efforts to mend the relationship between Thailand and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which was severely damaged by the mystery surrounding the theft of diamonds from the Middle Eastern kingdom in 1989 and follow up efforts by Saudi officials to recover them in Bangkok which went disastrously awry. 

Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha (right) called this week’s cabinet meeting on Monday as he flies to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to meet the Middle Eastern kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (left), seen increasingly by the United States as both unpredictable and undesirable.

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha brought forward this week’s cabinet meeting at Government House from Tuesday to Monday after he accepted an invitation from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia to visit Riyadh at short notice over the weekend.

The trip was announced by Government House officials on Sunday and will see General Prayut fly into Riyadh, the Saudi capital, on Tuesday the 25th of January returning on Wednesday to Bangkok.

Breakthrough visit seen as mending a highly strained relationship between the kingdoms for over 30 years

The visit is being seen as a breakthrough in what have been severely strained relations between the countries over the last 30 years linked to the sensational theft of a valuable cache of diamonds from the home of a Saudi prince in 1989, over three decades ago.

Murky and sinister Blue Diamond affair, going back to 1989, is still a blight on Thai Saudi ties

The statement, issued from the Prime Minister’s Office on Sunday, explained that the purpose of the meeting was to explore and strengthen ties between the oil-rich kingdom and Thailand.

Thailand’s 2020 exports to Saudi Arabia valued at $1.68 billion despite the negative economic fallout

In 2020, Thailand’s exports to Saudi Arabia were valued at $1.68 billion but it is widely understood that the fallout from what is known in Thailand as the ‘Blue Diamond Affair’ has severely damaged commercial and economic ties between the two countries.

On Sunday, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the visit and echoed the statement in Bangkok.

‘The visit comes amid consultations that led to bringing views closer on issues of common interest,’ an official communiqué outlined. 

The Blue Diamond Affair refers to attempts by Saudi officials to recover the diamond and other valuable jewellery which were allegedly stolen by a Thai national working in the Middle Eastern kingdom as a household servant. The man brought the haul back to Bangkok, a move that resulted in catastrophic consequences.

‘Blue Diamond’ has never been recovered – a mystery

The famous ‘Blue Diamond’ and other valuable pieces have never since been recovered and a proper explanation to the affair has not been put forward.

The case has given rise to outlandish conspiracy theories after efforts to locate and recover the stolen pieces drew a blank. It remains a mystery to this day.

The search for the booty in Thailand turned into a bloody affair with no less than three Saudi diplomats being murdered in one night in Bangkok.

Not long after that, a Saudi businessman in the Thai capital, Mohammad Al-Ruwaili who, it is believed was present at one of the murders, disappeared.

In 2014, the Ratchadaphisek Criminal Court in Bangkok dismissed criminal charges against five men including a senior member of the Royal Thai Police in connection with the assumed abduction and murder of Mr Al-Ruwaili.

Governments have discreetly tried to foster improved ties with the Middle Eastern Kingdom for decades now

The murky and sinister scandal led to a breakdown in diplomatic relations between the two kingdoms, something successive Thai governments have been trying to redress in the last two decades.

The impact of the affair has damaged trade between the two countries and cut off lucrative streams of revenue to Thailand. 

This includes foreign remittances from skilled and unskilled Thai personnel who were previously hired by Saudi companies on a contract basis.

Veteran MP from the South made it a key goal in 2019

Before the 2019 General Election in Thailand, veteran politician and then leader of the Thai People Justice Party, Pichet Sathirachawala, launched a determined initiative to restore and improve the relationship between Thailand and Saudi Arabia which is of cultural and religious importance to many Muslims in the kingdom.

Mr Pichet whose party’s base is among the Muslim population in the South of Thailand, subsequently won a seat in the House of Representatives as a list MP.

Since then, by and large, the MP has supported the current coalition government despite a series of contretemps and a withdrawal from the ruling coalition in September 2019.

He has lately been associated closely with the Palang Pracharat Party which is currently facing internal turmoil due to the resignation of 21 MPs associated with renegade former minister Thamanat Prompow who was ousted from the party last week after he demanded and was refused a senior cabinet position in the government following two by-election defeats in the southern provinces.

Visit comes in a world where geopolitical ties and alliances are shifting, Saudi Arabia eyes a new role

The mission being pursued by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha will be the first official visit by a senior Thai government representative to Saudi Arabia in over thirty years and is coming in a geopolitical world with shifting alliances including reported strains between Thailand and China as tensions in the Asia Pacific are growing with the kingdom struggling to move forward economically this year as it attempts to leave the COVID-19 pandemic behind it.

Cash-rich Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in an ambitious programme to diversify and strengthen its economy beyond the oil industry while also enhancing its credentials as a regional power player in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

In December last year, Saudi Arabia provided a $3 billion loan and an emergency economic support package to Pakistan with stringent conditions attached including the possibility of a 72-hour demand for repayment if all terms are not assiduously kept.

US has grown increasingly wary of the Saudi prince

The visit is also coming amid unconfirmed reports from Washington that US officials have grown wary of the unpredictable Saudi ruler and wish to see him deposed or replaced.

In October last, US media giant CBS, in its flagship 60 minutes programme, published more disturbing information about the Saudi ruler including allegations that he threatened to murder his Uncle, Saudi King Abdullah who died in 2015, by using a poisoned ring from Russia.

The death of King Abdullah cleared the way for King Salman, the current monarch who is content to let the kingdom be ruled by his son.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was notoriously implicated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the murder of Saudi national, Jamal Khashoggi

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman holds the title of Deputy Prime Minister of the kingdom. He is also, like General Prayut, the Defence Minister.

The prince is a highly controversial and notorious figure on the world stage.

He is acknowledged as the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, a situation confirmed by a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report in 2018 which also directly implicated him in the murder of Washington Post correspondent and Saudi national, Jamal Khashoggi in October that year, at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

The Saudi dissident had gone there to obtain documents to facilitate his marriage to his fiancé Hatice Cengiz. Khashoggi was given assurances from Riyadh as to his safety.

Instead, according to the Central Intelligence Agency, a crack team of Saudi security agents were flown to the diplomatic outpost where they murdered and butchered Mr Khashoggi whose body was never found.

Saudi Arabian officials and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have vigorously denounced the conclusions of the US intelligence service report while the United States has continued to maintain its relationship with the kingdom and the prince on the grounds of overriding national interest and security concerns.

Court refused to admit the CIA dossier as evidence

In September 2020, a Saudi court sentenced eight people to prison terms from seven to twenty years in connection with the murder of the dissident journalist while 26 Saudi nationals are currently being tried in absentia by a court in Turkey following an extensive investigation by Turkish authorities into the murder.

In May last year, despite a plea from the fiancé of Khashoggi, Hatice Cengiz, a court in Turkey refused to admit the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report which implicates the Saudi Arabian ruler, as evidence.

In 2018, one senior US official summed up the explosive report presented to then US President Donald Trump: ‘The accepted position is that there is no way this happened without him being aware or involved.’

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Further reading:

Thai Muslim political party calls for improved ties with Saudi Arabia damaged by 1989 jewel theft

Thailand’s Foreign Minister warns of the dangers of rising xenophobic populism in the world

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