Saudi Arabia and Thailand restore ambassadors after three decades of tensions

Saudi Arabia and Thailand resume full diplomatic relations after decades of tensions sparked by the blue diamond affair.

Thailand Prime Minister and Saudi Arabia Crown Prince
Thailand Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha (left) and Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right) | © Thailand Ministry of Foreign Affairs

After 30 years of tensions marked by the blue diamond affair, Thailand and Saudi Arabia will resume full diplomatic relations.

Prime Minister of Thailand General Prayut Chan-o-cha went to Saudi Arabia on January 25 and 26 and met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It was the first official meeting between the countries in more than 30 years.

Both countries agreed to normalize their relations, thirty years after the blue diamond affair that created vivid tensions between both countries since 1989.

In 1989, a Thai houseworker stole 91 kg (200 pounds) of jewelry and gems worth US$20 million from the palace of the Saudi prince Faisal bin Fahd Al Saud. He flew back to Thailand where he tried to sell the gems, including a 50-carat blue diamond.

The case and its aftermath led to tensions between the two countries.

Thailand hopes to welcome Saudi tourists

The janitor was finally arrested, confessed to the robbery, returned what he hadn’t sold yet and cooperated with authorities. He spent three years in prison.

But some gems are still missing today, including the 50-carat blue diamond, and Saudi Arabia has been blaming Thailand’s investigations. Pieces of jewelry would allegedly be owned by high-ranking Thai officials.

Several Saudi diplomats went to Thailand in 1990 but got murdered and a businessman trying to find information went missing. The cases have not been solved but Saudi Arabia saw a link with the lack of results in the investigations.

Thai police once said they had found the gems and sent them back to Saudi Arabia. But most of them were fake, including the blue diamond.

The head of the Thai police team in charge of the investigations tried to extort the Bangkok jeweler who bought the gems for a ridiculous price. He spent 20 years in prison for having murdered the jeweler’s wife and son.

In light of the blue diamond affair, Saudi Arabia stopped granting working visas to Thai workers and discouraged its population to travel to the country. It also refused thousands of Thai Muslims to perform the Hajj pilgrimage.

After the meeting, both countries announced they would appoint ambassadors and also discussed political, economic and trade cooperation. Relations were at the chargé d’affaires levels, the lowest diplomatic rank.

Thailand aims at sending workers to Saudi Arabia while in return it expects to receive more Saudi tourists. Thailand officials expect Saudis would add at least 5 billion baht (US$152 million) per year to the country’s tourism industry.

Thailand supports Saudi Arabia’s candidacy for hosting the World Expo 2030 for which Russia, South Korea, Italy, and Ukraine have also submitted bids to hold the event.

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