Having been posted in Bangkok for three-and-a-half years, Chinese Ambassador Ning Fukui discusses collaboration between China and Thailand in a Facebook Live interview with Suthichai Yoon, a digital journalist of Nation Multimedia Group.
WHEN WILL CONSTRUCTION OF THE THAI-CHINESE RAILWAY DEVELOPMENT PROJECT START?
This issue interests both Chinese and Thais people. Both governments intended to make the project become true.
The joint committee of the two governments has had 16 meetings and there has been some progress. We [China] intend to talk openly and sincerely with the Thai government and hope both countries will discuss it on a responsible basis.
I’m confident that the project will eventually begin its construction soon. The sooner the construction, the faster the benefit to Chinese and Thai people. I wish the construction could begin in the first six month of this year, and it could take around three to four years to complete the whole route.
APART FROM THE THAI-CHINESE RAILWAY PROJECT, WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT IN THE RELATIONS BETWEEN THAILAND AND CHINA?
To maintain visits and exchanges of opinions between the two governments on major topics under common interests. I have two things to announce. First, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is scheduled to pay an official visit to China later this year, which will be her 41st visit to the country.
The Thai monarchy always pays most attention to the two countries’ relations development. Like the visit of HRH this time, it will [again] also help to enhance the relations. Every time she visits China she will find an opportunity to study education, trade, economics and medicine in order to encourage the exchange of knowledge and cooperation between the two countries and bring benefit to the Thai people.
Second, China and Thailand will hold the third strategic partnership meeting in the first half of this year. We will determine our future direction on joint development and cooperation.
CAN YOU EXPLAIN CHINA’S RELATIONS WITH COUNTRIES ALONG THE MEKONG RIVER, AS NOW THERE IS MUCH OPPOSITION AGAINST THE PLAN TO BLOW UP RAPIDS IN THE MEKONG RIVER?
The decision to manage and develop the river’s navigation route … was jointly approved by China, Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. Experts from the four countries are now working in a joint working group.
Our priority concern is environmental issues. At the beginning of the process, [the experts] assessed the environmental and social impact. They will be very strict on the environmental impact.
Now we are in the process of hearing opinions of people living along the river. Then, the working group will finalise the reports of the environmental impact assessment and analysis and send them to the four countries to discuss and approve.
The project will be able to start only when the four governments give the nod.
The project is aimed at elevating the navigation route in the Mekong River as well as raising people’s quality of life. The project will benefit people of the four countries. I don’t think any government will allow China to destroy the environment. We hope in the beginning of the process, Thailand will support the project to sail through.
WHEN WILL THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT GRANT VISA EXEMPTIONS TO THAI TOURISTS?
Well, I want to ask [you] back: When will the Thai government offer free visas to Chinese tourists? In the past, we [both governments] used to discuss the cooperation. And I hope our concerned agencies will further discuss the proposal soon. Both should try their best.
I believe visa exemption for both countries would help promote tourism. I intentionally want the proposal to be accomplished.
ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THE THAI GOVERNMENT’S CRACKDOWN ON “ZERO DOLLAR” TOURS, WHICH IS AIMED AT CHINESE TOURISTS ON A BUDGET?
The Chinese government does not oppose but understands and supports the policy, starting in the second half of last year. We think it will protect our tourists’ benefit and promote the tourism market. The number of Chinese tourists coming to Thailand gradually increases.
Last year, there were 8.8 million Chinese tourists who came here and it was the biggest number of foreign tourists in Thailand. They generated Bt445 billion revenue for Thailand last year.
Among Chinese’s top-ten most popular tourist destinations, six are in Thailand. Phuket ranks No 1, followed by Bangkok, Pattaya, Krabi, Samui and Chiang Mai, respectively.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT NEW US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’S STANCE TOWARDS CHINA?
Two days ago, Trump sent a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping and today [Friday] the US president had his first telephone conversation with the Chinese president. It shows that both leaders intend to push forward and gradually improve the relations between the two nations.
DO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE A WAR BETWEEN CHINA AND US ON THE SOUTH CHINA SEA DISPUTE?
Before I answer your question I want to explain about Trump’s phone call to Xi. Trump said the US will respect the “One China” policy. Trump realised the importance of the principle in order to foster the development of relations between China and the US. China and the US will further collaborate on discussions on the South China Sea dispute, anti-terrorism and security in the region, as well as North Korea’s nuclear programme. Both of us have closely discussed [those issues] all the time. China wishes to continue to closely talk with the new US government in order to maintain peace, stability and security in the region and the world.
The situation in the South China Sea is easing now. Stakeholders in the dispute have returned to use normal communication channels to find a solution. China hopes the US will help enhance peace in this region.
SO, THE WAR IS UNLIKELY TO HAPPEN?
China and US are two superpowers in the world. Any interaction between them will affect the world and the region.
AS AN ASEAN MEMBER AND AN ALLY FOR BOTH CHINA AND THE US, WHAT ROLE SHOULD THAILAND PLAY IN THIS DISPUTE?
Thailand is a good friend, neighbour and strategic partner of China. Thailand plays a constructive role to help ease the dispute. We very much admire the attempt. But some countries and some people don’t really want the dispute to end. So, we highly hope Thailand will show a strong role to foster peace and stability in this region and encourage talk among the claimant nations.