Virachai Plasai, Thai Ambassador to US, Dies at 58

BANGKOK — Thailand’s ambassador to the United States, best known for leading the kingdom’s legal battle with Cambodia over an ancient temple, died early Saturday. He was 58.

Virachai Plasai died at 12:43am at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland, according to Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks. He had been treated there since March 3 for myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare type of cancer that affects the production of blood cells.

Virachai was appointed Thailand’s top diplomat to the United States in June. He was best known for leading Thailand’s legal team in the International Court of Justice in a border dispute over who owned Preah Vihear, a Khmer temple built during the 11th and 12 centuries.

He first delivered an oral argument in the court on April 17, 2013 in a case ultimately decided in Cambodia’s favor.

Though his team lost the case, he was applauded by the country’s nationalists for his performance in court.

Busadee said Virachai’s death is a tremendous loss for the ministry because he was a model diplomat whose knowledge covered international law and foreign affairs.

He previously served as ambassador and Thailand’s permanent representative to the United Nations from 2015 until 2018, when he was named ambassador to the United States.

Prior to that, he had served as ambassador to the Netherlands from 2009 to 2015 after distinguishing himself in a variety of economic, legal and diplomatic capacities on the international stage.

Virachai is survived by his wife Elizabeth Plasai.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Busadee Santipitaks as the Foreign Affairs Minister. In fact, she is the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman.