Smart cities and digital innovation with help from China

opinion June 26, 2017 01:00

By Suwatchai Songwanich
Chief executive Officer,
Bangkok Bank (China)

Chinese investors are taking a keen interest in Thailand’s smart-city initiatives and digital-innovation parks, part of our government’s Thailand 4.0 policy to use new technologies and industries to pull the country out of the middle-income trap.



As a reflection of this, Shenzhen’s municipal government recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Thailand’s Digital Economy and Society Ministry to enhance Thailand’s digital economy. The agreement covers support for a range of innovations from digital parks, smart cities and the Internet of Things to local tech start-ups and national broadband infrastructure. Phuket, Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen have been identified as the first places to launch smart city initiatives while a digital park will be built in Sri Racha, in Chonburi province.

Thailand has much to gain from such partnerships. We have many urban environments where younger, more digitally connected people are looking for fresh opportunities. These “digital natives” view technology as a great enabler of their lives and will help us move up the technology value chain. 

Investing in Thai technology will enable our nascent start-up scene to flourish and improve the future for our younger generations. Digital innovation parks and the development of smart cities will help improve our quality of life and the local environment while enabling us to use resources more efficiently. 

Partnerships are a key feature of Silicon Valley-era collaboration, and we are lucky to have such strong partners coming from the Chinese public and private sectors. 

Navigant Research, a market research firm, estimates US$174.4 billion will be spent globally on smart-city projects by 2023 and China will account for a significant portion of this. For example, more than 500 Chinese cities are looking at developing urban-sensor networks that can be used for a range of purposes from managing traffic to monitoring air quality. By working with our friends from the north, we can benefit from their experience and know-how.

Of course, Thailand cannot afford to be a passive partner. Our companies and public entities must collaborate to come up with their own ideas for smart cities, with solutions tailored to both local and regional needs. 

The government is doing its part to attract investment from foreign enterprises and many Chinese companies have expressed interest in working in Thailand, not only for the local opportunities, but as a hub for accessing regional markets such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. We can use our regional footing to form successful relationships across Asean.

These developments are highly significant as they mark the beginning of a bold journey which could see Thailand emerge as a world-class center of innovation. We need to work together to create a smarter future.