By Wang Fang
The draft of the Foreign Investment Law was a hot topic of this year’s Two Sessions held in March. The newly-adopted law is an innovation in the legal system on foreign investment and serves as the basic law on foreign investment as China continues to open up in the new era. Thai enterprises were among the first foreign companies to enter China after the introduction of the reform and opening-up policy. On the sidelines of the Two Sessions, China Report ASEAN conducted an exclusive interview with Vithit Powattanasuk, Consul-General of Royal Thai Consulate-General in Chengdu.
China Report ASEAN: How is the development situation for Thai enterprises in China?
Vithit Powattanasuk: China is considered an attractive market for Thai investors and businessmen to explore possibilities of making investment and expanding business. Thai businessmen have invested in several provinces in China in the North, South and West as well as the East. As Consul-General of Royal Thai Consulate General in Chengdu, I oversee related affairs in Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality. So the bulk of my work has been in southwestern China, where many Thai investors have been focused for many years.
These days, I still see Thai companies entering Sichuan and Chongqing to make direct and joint investment and set up new businesses. A notable Thai success story in this region has been CP (Charoen Pokphand) Group, which arrived in Sichuan 40 years ago when China began reform and opening-up. It set up a factory to process animal feed in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan, and in another city of China. CP Group’s operations not only cover animal feed products but also tea, wine and a supermarket branded “Lotus.” CP Group is a flagship company of Thailand that helps Chinese people become more familiar with the country.
Another impressive Thai company has been ECI-Metro. This company is the sole agent of Caterpillar construction equipment and set up a branch in Chengdu in 1985. With 1,200 Chinese employees, it has contributed a great deal to local wellbeing.
A third is Kasikorn Bank, which provides a wide range of financial services for investors in both countries. It opened a branch office in Chengdu in 2018. Kasikorn Bank serves as a bridge to facilitate cooperation on trade and investment between southwestern China and Thailand, and even the rest of Southeast Asia.
The Chinese market is still very attractive for Thai investors. They perceive China as a big opportunity for them to explore. I predict this situation to last for some time because the Chinese economy is still growing, though at a slower pace than in past years.
China Report ASEAN: What do Thai entrepreneurs say about China’s business climate?
Vithit Powattanasuk: As I mentioned, Thai businessmen still see China as having great opportunities for investment and doing business. They feel China is a big market where they can do a lot of business and earn profits that return to Thailand. However, some Thai businessmen have encountered difficulties or challenges in entering the market.
First, Thai businessmen have difficulties with the Chinese language. Though many Thai people today can speak Chinese, very few can read Chinese, especially text related to Chinese commercial law and contracts. They also need more skills to comprehend the nature of Chinese law.
Second, business and investment practices in China also present challenges that Thai businessmen and investors have to navigate in different provinces in China. The challenges will be resolved once Thai businessmen and investors begin to understand the nature of doing business here.
China Report ASEAN: As a diplomatic officer, what do you think of the investment environment in China? What have you observed to have changed in China’s business climate in recent years?
Vithit Powattanasuk: I have only been in China for three years. It is still difficult for me to understand China comprehensively. Simple logic has shown that every province in China has its own characteristics. It would be wrong to look at every province in China the same way.
If I were to return to Thailand and say something about investment environment in China, I would say to Thai businessmen “Please do come to China.” This is a big opportunity for them. This is something that they should not miss in this period when China’s economy is still growing, whether at a slow or fast pace. Thailand can share profits and prosperity with China. It is very important for Thailand and China to remain good friends and neighbors. Increasing land and air connectivity, especially in Sichuan and Chongqing, marked by the R3A plus road and stronger air links, will eventually enable people of both sides to do more activities together.
China Report ASEAN: Which part of China’s Foreign Investment Law have you studied closest? What improvements were made on this new law compared to the Law on Foreign-Capital Enterprises?
Vithit Powattanasuk: For Thailand, I welcome the draft of Foreign Investment Law which was submitted to the National People’s Congress on December 23, 2018, for consideration by concerned Chinese authorities. I hope that the National People’s Congress will adopt this new law and enact it as soon as possible.
This law will expand on President Xi Jinping’s opening up policy that endeavors to provide more advantages for foreign enterprises investing in China and more protection for enterprises’ copyrights and trademarks. It should be considered a big leap forward for China in increasing confidence in foreign investors. This new law will enhance the confidence of Thai businessmen and investors in Sichuan and Chongqing to make the decision to invest in the southwestern region of China.
China Report ASEAN: How significant is the Foreign Investment Law? What changes do you think it could make?
Vithit Powattanasuk: I consider the Foreign Investment Law very important. This new law will definitely mark a big step for China’s commitment to world economic communities. It will be a very good encouragement for foreign enterprises to invest in China. It will bring more benefits not only to the foreign investors, but also to China as it gains more trust from world communities.