Blue Diamond Affair At An End: Saudi Arabia, Thailand Restore Diplomatic Relations After 30-Year Feud

The Blue Diamond Affair reached a diplomatic resolution last week when Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomed Thai prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to Saudi Arabia for the first time in more than 30 years. The restoration of full diplomatic relations is a historic event with many implications for Saudi and Thai citizens and represents a moment of calmness in the chaos of 2022.

Both countries agreed to appoint ambassadors soon and strengthen economic and trade relations upon opening their borders, according to a joint statement released by Saudi state media. “This historic step is the result of long-standing efforts at different levels to re-establish confidence and friendly relations,” the statement said.

Saudi Airlines announced that flights to Thailand will resume in May, and both states indicated a labour resource agreement will come to fruition shortly. Saudi Arabia is seeking eight million skilled workers in the hotel, healthcare, and construction industries, and the Thai government suggested it has the human resources to contribute towards filling Saudi Arabia’s labour needs. This indicator of labour sharing comes as a shock given the history of the Blue Diamond Affair.

In 1989, Thai cleaner Kriangkrai Techamong stole $20 million worth of precious gems from the home of Saudi Prince Faisal, the eldest son of former King Fahd. Techamong claimed that he sold the gems without realizing their value. Thai police returned some of the jewels, but the Saudi government said most of them were fake. One of the gems, a rare 50-carat blue diamond, still has not been found. The ensuing diplomatic severance was thus named after the gem.

For the past 30 years, Saudi Arabia has accused Thai police of meddling in the investigation, according to Reuters. The nation believed that top Thai police officers found and kept the stolen gems. None were ever convicted. Techamong and one police officer were the only two individuals imprisoned, according to the B.B.C., but Techamong served less than three years for what came to be a 30-year scandal. Saudi Arabia also claimed that Thailand aided in the assassination of three Saudi diplomats in Bangkok a year after the jewel theft, Reuters says. In 2014, five men charged with murdering Saudi businessman Mohommad al-Ruwaili, a witness in the assassination of one of the Saudi diplomats, had their case dismissed by a Thai criminal court.

The events cost Thailand billions of dollars in trade and tourism revenue, and an estimated 300,000 jobs for Thai workers. 30 years later, however, Saudi Arabia seems to have let go of the scandal. In the joint statement released after the meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Prime Minister Chan-o-cha expressed “sincere regret over the tragic events in Thailand between 1989 and 1990.”

Although there has been no sign of the eponymous blue diamond, the affair’s resolution marks a phenomenon rarely seen in international politics: forgiveness. Whether the Thai government or police force interfered in the investigation thirty years ago remains unsolved, but the current Saudi need for labour overshadows the priceless loss of one of the rarest gems in the world. Moving forward, Saudi Arabia’s and Thailand’s economies should benefit from the restoration of diplomatic relations, providing jobs for thousands of Thais and filling gaps in the Saudi job market.