China sees the upcoming Asean Economic Community (AEC) as an opportunity for further cooperation with the region, and says Thailand can play a leading role in the strengthening of these ties.
However, there are foreseeable obstacles that all parties have to work together to overcome in order to reap the full benefits from this expected increase in regional integration.
Speaking at the third “Thai-Chinese Strategic Research Seminar”, Wang Yingfan, former Chinese deputy foreign minister, said China and Asean countries must explore and grasp the opportunities from the beginning of a more integrated and dynamic region through the AEC.
The two-day seminar, organised in part by the National Research Council of Thailand and Huaqiao University, kicked off yesterday in Bangkok.
Wang said Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang had proposed plans for further economic integration between China and Asean through focusing on economic development in seven fields. These are negotiations for a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, negotiations on an upgraded version of the China-Asean Free Trade Area, identifying and launching landmark collaborative projects on connectivity between the regions, the setting up of an Asian infrastructure investment bank to provide a financial platform for Asean connectivity, strengthening cooperation under the Chiang Mai Initiative, advancing maritime cooperation, and establishing a mechanism for defence ministers’ meetings.
“The Chinese proposals covered political, economic, trade, financial, cultural, and security fields and they represented an enormous opportunity for the strengthening of the China-Asean relationship,” he said.
Wang said the political issues centring on the South China Sea and the relationship between China and the United States had the potential to affect the China-Asean relationship of negatively. Therefore the parties involved should address the problems through consultation and negotiation while, China and Asean countries should work together to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea by jointly fostering a favourable environment for peaceful settlement of the disputes.
“If problems between China and the US and between China and Japan grow too serious and drag on for too long, it might be difficult for Asean to remain neutral,” he said. “It is in Asean’s own interest to exert its influence and promote peace in the region, and Asean countries have the ability to do it. Asean must be fully aware of this.”
Somkid Jatusripitak, the National Council for Peace and Order’s adviser on foreign affairs, said the AEC represented an opportunity to deepen and widen the relationship between Thailand and China, but the Kingdom also had a role in promoting the relationship between Asean and China. It should do this by spilling over its ties with China to other areas of Asean such as the Greater Mekong Subregion.
“Thailand, as a country with strong relations with GMS countries, has the opportunity to make itself useful by strengthening the ties between China and other countries in the GMS in order to ensure the region’s sustained and prosperous growth,” he said.
Somkid stressed the importance of the relationship between China and Thailand as a driver for this country’s development. He said the new government would increase the activity of the high-level China-Thailand Joint Committee, which he believed was an important platform for the two countries to talk, negotiate, and form policy that would deepen the relationship between the two countries even further.
He explained that the Kingdom was going through a period of reformation and needed cooperation domestically and from abroad, especially from superpowers, to provide help and support in terms of thought processes, manpower, resources and technology, and to work together in terms of development policy in order for Thailand to become one of the world’s developed countries.
Kobsak Pootrakool, executive vice president of Bangkok Bank, said the centre of the world’s economic growth was now in Asia, and Asean was the “third pillar” of growth beside China and India that will become even more important in the future. Therefore there is a need for Thailand to invest in transport infrastructure to increase connectivity within the region and reap the full benefits of greater integration and increased investment opportunity when the AEC comes next year, and China can certainly help with this process.
“This is an exciting period of cooperation between Thailand and China, and if the Kingdom can use the next 10 years to strengthen these ties and work together with China to develop this region to become one of the main pillars in Asia, it will be the turning point for all of us and for the world’s economy,” he remarked.