China and Thailand seize opportunities for better future

By Wu Jin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, June 26, 2018
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China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) aims to boost the regional economies of its neighboring countries against the backdrop of an impending technological revolution and world economic reconstruction.

Surasit Thanadtang, advisor to Thailand Defense Studies Institute and director of Thai-Chinese Strategic Research Center (TCSC) National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT) delivers a keynote speech at the First Joint Think-Tank Forum of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and NRCT hosted in Beijing between June 22 and June 23. [Photo by Wu Jin/]

A portfolio of Thailand's economic strategies such as, Thailand 4.0, Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), and Greater Mekong Sub-region Economic Cooperation Program (GMS), have shown the neighboring country's audacious hope for economic revival and its strong desire to extend connectivity between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in which Thailand is scheduled to assume the rotating presidency next year.

During a two-day symposium, entitled the First Joint Think-Tank Forum of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) and National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT), held last Friday in Beijing, research fellows from both countries envisioned the cause of bilateral relations under the framework of the Maritime Silk Road (a maritime section of the ancient Silk Road now part of the BRI) and Thailand's rejuvenation strategies.

Gao Peiyong, deputy director-general of CASS, addressed the forum, saying the history of connectivity between China and southeast Asian countries dates back as early as the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC to 24 AD).

From then on, traditional exchange has continued to influence the bilateral ties, even in modern societies where China has become Thailand's largest trade partner and Thailand is the third largest trade partner to China among ASEAN countries, following the establishment of the two country's comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation in 2012 and Chinese President Xi Jinping's proposal of the BRI in 2013.

Engaged in building a society stimulated by technological innovation, Thailand supports the development of automobiles, smart electronics, high-end tourism and agriculture, ecological technologies, robots, aerospace, logistics, biological fuels and chemistry, data base and medical centers, during its latest economic transformation labeled as Thailand 4.0.

Scholars gather at the First CASS-NRCT Joint Think-Tank Forum hosted in Beijing between June 22 and June 23. [Photo by Wu Jin/]

To implement the strategy, Thailand has carried out the EEC and GMS, partnering with Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and China (Yunnan province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), which has similar objectives as the BRI.

"We expect free and orderly flow of economic elements, and great efficiency in the distribution of resources, thus enabling further market integration," Gao said in his keynote speech.

"With our concerted efforts, we'll collaborate for an open, inclusive, balanced and mutually beneficial regional economy."

Industrialized from an agricultural society, Thailand rode a tide of prosperity during the second half of last century. Its economy accelerated at an average rate of 7 to 8 percent per year, putting the country in line with other middle-income countries in 1995. However, its burgeoning growth terminated as a result of sweeping Asian financial crisis in 1997.

Both the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998 and the Global Financial Crisis 10 years later have drained the national fortune during the past few decades, resulting in sagging exports, depreciated Thai baht, massive exodus of downstream manufacturers, economic slowdown and shrinking GDP growth, which has seen a drop of around 3 percent annually. In addition, the stress of an aging population also challenges the future of the country.

Hoping to recover from the lingering impact of a financial crisis, Thailand is pleased to be involved with the BRI for fair, equal and inclusive development of its regional economic segment.

"China and Thailand share a long history of friendly exchanges," said Surasit Thanadtang, advisor to Thailand Defense Studies Institute and director of Thai-Chinese Strategic Research Center (TCSC), NRCT, "Over the past few years, bilateral relations have maintained sound momentum as people know China and Thailand are like family members."

According to Thanadtang, both China and Thailand are developing countries with similar development tasks, however, in recent years, China has developed fast while Thailand remains slow. Therefore, Thailand should enhance its connectivity with China for innovation-centered development of industrial upgrading.

With ASEAN countries upset by the rise of protectionism and the U.S. President Donald Trump's unilateralism that prioritizes the interests of the U.S. first, China declared its stanch support of globalization at the 19th National Congress of Communist Party of China (CPC) last year.

"The BRI depicts China's vision, both a mid-term solution to domestic overcapacity and a long-term dream of achieving geopolitical partnerships," said Joe Horn-Phathanothai, CEO of Strategy613, a boutique M&A and strategic advisory company focusing on cross-border investments for blue-chip corporations with special interests in Thailand and China.

To better facilitate the regional connectivity, China and Thailand are jointly working on building the first high speed railway as part of a pan-Asia railway network connecting Bangkok with Laos through Kunming (capital of Yunnan province). The trip will take four hours and is expected to extend southward to Malaysia and Singapore in the future.

"The greater connectivity will confirm Thailand's position as a transportation hub allowing easy access to Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore," said Usanee Aimsiranun, assistant dean of International Affairs at Chiangmai University.

"Creating a highly connected regional economy is challenging, especially in the following years when China will start to feel the pressure of its aging society," said Zhang Yi, director-general of National Institute of Social Development, CASS.

According to Zhang, China is undergoing a demographic restructuring signaled by a diminishing rate of young people and increasing migration from rural areas to cities, especially major cities, indicating that the country should seize the precious opportunities in the next few years to full utilize its population and extend connection among the counties involved in the BRI while attempting to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020. 

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