I often write about how Thai businesses could do more to build links with China, its companies and people. Tourism provides a useful cross-cultural bridge for developing such ties. However, perhaps an even better connection is through Chinese expats living and working in Thailand.
Recent research from CBRE Thailand shows the Chinese expat population has doubled over the past five years, making it the second-largest foreign community in Thailand after the Japanese.
Chinese people now hold 13.3 per cent of all work permits issued in Thailand, an increase of almost one-fifth since last year. Japanese expats, however, are declining, albeit slowly. Whereas one in every four foreigners working in Thailand used to be Japanese, the figure has now drifted to 23.8 per cent of the foreign workforce.
There are various reasons behind this trend. Relatively stagnant economies in traditional trading and investing partners, such as the US, Japan and Europe, mean companies from those countries have reduced the amount they spend on sending executives overseas. Technical skills transfer means more Thais can do a job that previously required overseas experts. In addition, China, despite its flagging economy, is in expansion mode and investing heavily in foreign markets, especially those in Southeast Asia.
Rising affluence in China, which is driving the steep rise in outbound tourism, is also fuelling opportunities for Chinese small and medium-sized enterprises to spread their wings, helping put Thailand on the regional map. This position is further strengthened by the relatively short flight times from mainland China and our status as an aviation hub, which provides easy, direct access to the rest of Southeast Asia.
Bangkok is where the effects of these trends are best witnessed, and realtors are commenting on how the influx of Chinese expats is changing the shape of the local property market.
Sukhumvit, Sathorn and Lumpini Park were the favoured residential areas for Western and Japanese expats for years. Our Chinese friends, who often have lower salaries and accommodation allowances, are looking at locations away from downtown Bangkok. Ratchadaphisek is one such area.
It is so popular with Chinese expats that property pundits have dubbed it Bangkok’s “new Chinatown”.
So now we have a situation where we have more Chinese tourists coming for short trips, while an increasing number of their fellow citizens are moving to Thailand for long-term work. This provides a fantastic opportunity for Thai businesses to build stronger relations with our friends from the North.
These stronger relations, however, will require a lot more effort than simply printing signs and promotional materials in Chinese. Thais have the chance to really understand what Chinese visitors are after, as well as develop deeper insights into the vast regional differences that exist in China.
This will not only help us provide better local services for Chinese people, but can also provide a springboard for building partnerships and creating opportunities in mainland China.