Most Thai experts think that Thailand is likely to be only indirectly affected by US policy changes under the new administration, after Donald Trump was sworn in as the new U.S. president Friday.
Trump’s pledges to boost U.S. economy and make America first in his unusual speech has been well noted by Thai experts.
“Trump’s America First’ policies will only matter to the U.S. domestic affairs,” said Viboonpong Poonprasit, a political science lecturer from Thammasat University.
“Barack Obama’s Pivot to Asia’ will likely be reduced significantly. Only economic talks will persist, which will actually fit ASEAN’s main activities and its diverse nature.”
Meanwhile, Washington’s impending abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade compact would allow Thailand to engage in more direct, bilateral talks with the western power.
“The US’s exit will be a fair reason for Thailand not to jump into it,” Viboonpong said.
Trump has outlined a bold plan to create 25 million new American jobs in the next decade. He would also start his trade policy by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and making certain that any new trade deals are in the interests of American workers, according to the White House website updated as he took the oath of office on Friday.
Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand Somkid Jatusripitak believed the U.S. potential refusal to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement could be beneficial for Thailand.
According to Somkid, the TPP requirements were rather hard to meet, especially in the spheres of the pharmaceutical industry and agriculture, while it would create risks for Thai small businesses in those spheres.
Somkid said that without TPP, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will become vital to world trade.
Though “risks from president Trump on trade and rates” is one of the most important factors for Asia this year, Thailand is among a few Asian countries that are less exposed, according to Credit Suisse’s analytic research.
“In short, we are constructive on growth in Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand,” the research said.
Many research houses expect the Thai economy to grow by 3-3.5 percent this year with export expansion of 1-3 percent.
With Trump’s “America First” policy, and the lack of interest he has shown in Southeast Asia, political scientists and analysts expect less pressure from the U.S. on Thai politics.
“For Thailand, we should be Trump-neutral”,said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor and director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University.
He said that as Thai-US relations under Mr Obama’s tenure were practically at their nadir, Trump will recalibrate and reprioritize values and interests that affect the bilateral alliance. Human rights and democracy as the Obama values agenda will not be abandoned altogether but interests will become more front and centre.
According to Thitinan, Trump is a transactional deal-maker, after all, not necessarily wedded to core principles and ideals.
He also believes that a Trump administration may be more understanding of Thailand’s profound transitional and adjustment requirements under a new reign and a new constitution. Thailand’s electoral roadmap still matters but it may be more determined from within than outside.