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Better infrastructure, connectivity urged

Boost needed to ongoing appeal for Thailand to become the centre of investment in Asean, seminar hears

China is coming to Asean in a big way through investments in transport infrastructure, information and communications technology (ICT), and services, and Thailand has the potential to be at the heart of it all if it can improve its connectivity with its neighbours and China, business leaders said yesterday.

Speaking at the "China: Connectivity with the Asean Economic Community" seminar that was arranged by The Nation, Bangkok Bank and others, Yang Shu, Huawei's president and chief executive officer for Southeast Asia, said the demand for ICT and electronic products in China had greatly increased over the years, and there was no reason this development could not happen in the Asean region.

He said Asean was a key market for Huawei based on the rapid increase in demand for smartphones and high economic growth. The company is confident that demand for ICT and telecommunication products will continue to expand in the future.

Rustom Vickers, group director of development at Dusit International, said China was very important to the hospitality market in Asean as the number of tourists from the country had increased dramatically.

He said the number of tourists from China had increased from 29 million in 2004 to 100 million last year, and it is forecast that the number will increase to 200 million by 2020.

"It has long been talked about that the Chinese are taking over the tourism industry in terms of travellers coming, and it did come for quite a while and now it is coming in a big way and in a very different form from group tourism - through individuals and their different ways of travelling," he said.

Vickers also said Chinese tourists had become more sophisticated in the past few years as seen in the increase of their numbers at beach destinations, and Thailand had benefited from these changes. The increase of number of Chinese tourists coming to this country had soared from 1 million in 2010 to 5 million last year. Michael Yeoh, CEO of the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute in Malaysia, said Asean was China's third-biggest trading partner and had the potential to be the largest in the future under the AEC and Beijing's policy of increasing strategic partnerships with Asean countries.

"China-Asean relations will continue to grow, and data have shown that economic and trade relations have continued to expand rapidly in the past years," he said.

Yeoh said that after the establishment of the Asean-China Free Trade Area, the value of trade between China and the region had grown substantially.

Chinese investment in Asean has also shown steady growth over the years, from US$1.2 billion in 2008 to $7.85 billion in 2013, and this only accounted for 10 per cent of its total foreign direct investment worldwide.

Therefore a lot more can still be invested by China in this region, he said.

Chula Sukmanop, director-general of Marine department, Ministry of Transport, said the Kingdom would have to continue to invest in transport infrastructure and connectivity to keep attracting investment.

He said the country already had a good network of road, sea and air transport routes but still lagged behind in terms of railways, which would be improved via the latest investment projects such as double-tracking.

"With improved connectivity, Thailand can act as a platform or a springboard from which you can jump to the rest of the Asean countries, especially in the Grater Mekong Subregion, and we are investing in development of several modes of transport to make sure that Thailand is attractive enough for foreign direct investment," he said.


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