BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Royalty and heads of state from around the globe gathered in Bangkok this week to bear witness to King Bhumibol’s generous warmth and deep wisdom.
The stirring sight of royalty from around the world assembled for the cremation of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday attested to the immense respect he garnered for himself and for Thailand during the 70 years of his reign. King Bhumibol understood well the necessity of maintaining good foreign relations, and in his travels abroad was the Kingdom’s ultimate ambassador. When the overseas trips became less frequent, the world came to him, seeking out his guidance just as he, as father of the nation, imparted advice to the Thai people.
The late King’s profound wisdom regarding global affairs helped Thailand survive turbulent times and, for the most part, enjoy peace and prosperity.
So it was gratifying to see foreign royalty and heads of state once again this week gather to honour him, just as they had done in 2006 for the 60th anniversary of his accession to the throne. Representatives of 42 countries were at the crematorium in Bangkok’s Sanam Luang to pay their respects to a fallen friend, a sage counsellor and an embodiment of dedication in leadership.
All countries with which Thailand maintains diplomatic relations have since His Majesty’s death a year ago shown that they too share in the sense of loss. Their embassies in Bangkok have hosted commemorative events to honour him, as have far-flung parliaments and international organisations around the world. Such observances have not been matters of mere diplomacy, but more recognition of the late King’s wisdom in the affairs of nations, and particularly for his supreme achievement – the conception of the “sufficiency economy” theory, which has been globally praised and widely adopted. It is helping countries from Asia to Africa, improving the living conditions of countless people. It is even the basis for some of the United Nations’ development goals.
One visiting member of royalty who was especially welcome this week was His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan, who had become close to King Bhumibol during his visit in 2006 (when he was still Bhutan’s crown prince). King Jigme’s good looks and charming demeanour made him immediately popular here, but when he became a keen student of the sufficiency economy, appreciative Thais came to admire him even more. Having rushed to Thailand within days of King Bhumibol’s death, he saw to it that prayers were said in Thimphu, his country’s capital, at the same time the cremation was underway in Bangkok.
King Bhumibol – internationally applauded as “the visionary king”, “the development king” – oversaw the cultivation of warm relations with a multitude of foreign nations. On some occasions, he was even able to turn foes into friends. The people of Laos, long estranged because of their communist government, were deeply appreciative of his visit in 1994 – his last trip beyond Thailand’s borders – to see the new Friendship Bridge across the Mekong River. The state visit turned a new page in diplomatic ties between neighbours who are, after all, more like brothers and sisters, our opposing political ideologies forgotten.
Age and declining health perhaps prevented King Bhumibol from achieving the same rapprochement with Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar, with which Thailand also shares bittersweet histories. But the example was set, and many more lessons given on a vast range of other subjects, for us to follow.