A New Online Normal

Interview with Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce

By Shi Guang, Chang Xiang

China and Thailand established diplomatic relations on July 1, 1975. Over the past 45 years, the China-Thailand relationship has maintained sound momentum of stability, and the convergence of interests and cooperation between the two countries have deepened and broadened. Thanks to the care and guidance of leaders of the two countries, both peoples have supported and helped each other. Traditional and everlasting friendship has made the two countries as close as family as it thrives in a comprehensive, wide-ranging, deep, and multi-dimensional way. As present challenges posed by anti-globalization wave increase the risk of a slowdown of the world economy, China-Thailand economic and trade cooperation is still going strong.

To mark the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Thailand, China Report ASEAN conducted an exclusive interview with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce of Thailand Jurin Laksanawisit to discuss the prospects of China-Thailand cooperation.

China Report ASEAN: What do you consider the greatest achievements of China-Thailand economic and trade cooperation since the countries established diplomatic ties 45 years ago?

Jurin Laksanawisit: Thailand and China enjoy a long history of friendship and have been close since ancient times. Over the past 45 years, the two countries have maintained frequent high-level exchanges, respect each other, and are committed to developing friendship. Since the 18th Communist Party of China (CPC) National Congress, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have met with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on many multilateral and bilateral occasions.

The royal family of Thailand has made extensive efforts to maintain and deepen China-Thailand relations. Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn has made many visits to China. On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2019, President Xi Jinping awarded Princess Sirindhorn a Friendship Medal, the highest honor in China bestowed to foreigners. It was an honor for all the people in Thailand.

In recent years, bilateral economic and trade exchanges have become more frequent with bilateral value of trade increasing year by year. Bilateral trade increased from US$24.62 million when diplomatic ties were established to US$91.7 billion in 2019, an increase of more than 3,700 times. China has been Thailand’s largest trading partner for seven consecutive years. In 2019, China became Thailand’s largest source of foreign investment, and Thailand ranked as China’s third largest trading partner among ASEAN countries. A China-Thailand working group for promoting unimpeded trade was established between ministries of commerce of the two countries.

Exchanges between the people of the two countries have never been interrupted. In addition to increasing non-governmental economic, trade and investment exchanges, the tourism industry has also made important contributions to Thailand’s economic development. Two-way tourism has played a positive role in mutual understanding between the two countries. China has ranked as Thailand’s largest tourist source country for many years, and the annual volume of Chinese tourists to Thailand has exceeded 10 million for two consecutive years.

China Report ASEAN: What impact do you think the Belt and Road Initiative will have on economic and trade cooperation between the two countries?

Jurin Laksanawisit: The Thai government considers China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) very important and has closely followed its burgeoning success. The Thai government has always been interested in participating in BRI-related cooperation projects, which align nicely with our “Thailand 4.0” and “Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC)” programs. The Thai-Chinese high-speed rail cooperation project is an important BRI development for Southeast Asia.

During my many visits to China, I have been briefed on the progress of the BRI by senior officials from the Chinese government and the CPC. I believe this initiative will enhance China’s political, economic, and social status and power in the world.

China Report ASEAN: How have China and Thailand responded to economic and trade challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic?

Jurin Laksanawisit: The COVID-19 epidemic is raging all over the world. China met the challenge of COVID-19 earlier than Thailand and quickly and decisively controlled the spread, creating a successful model to fight the epidemic for the world. The Thai government has also been committed to effective epidemic prevention measures. With support from medical, public health, economic and social sectors, Thailand has achieved remarkable results in epidemic prevention and control. It has become one of the most successful countries in the world in COVID-19 prevention and control.

Due to the impact of the epidemic, online trade will become a powerful tool for countries to develop their economies and for companies to sell products. Traditional offline trading has been decimated by the epidemic and now struggles with many inconveniences that can be avoided with online trading, which will likely become a “new normal” in the post-epidemic era. Thailand considers development of online trading tremendously important and has actively sought cooperation with China. The Ministry of Commerce of Thailand reached a cooperation agreement with Alibaba Group’s Tmall Global, the largest cross border e-commerce platform in China. I went to Shanghai personally to preside over the signing ceremony. Now, there is a Thailand Pavilion on Tmall Global to showcase Thailand’s famous specialty products and help businesses in Thailand sell quality goods to Chinese consumers.

Recently, I participated in a Tmall Global livestream to promote Thai fruits. Thanks to the broad popularity of Tmall Global, the 15-minute livestream reached 16 million viewers. The great success of this activity must be credited to Tmall Global, which is giving Chinese consumers more awareness of high-quality Thai fruits. More importantly, Chinese consumers are realizing that high-quality tropical fruits from Thailand can be purchased directly through Tmall Global, which helps Thai products smoothly and conveniently enter the Chinese market.

China Report ASEAN: How do you think China-Thailand economic and trade cooperation will develop in the future?

Jurin Laksanawisit: In addition to trade, investment is another opportunity for cooperation that cannot be ignored. Thailand has the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), which is very popular among Chinese investors. Thailand will also develop the Southern Economic Corridor and Northeastern Economic Corridor to attract more Chinese investors.

I greatly appreciate the Chinese government’s policies and measures for poverty alleviation, which have been highly successful. Thanks to precise targets and performance indicators, the expected number of people have been lifted out of poverty. China’s successful poverty-reduction model can be replicated around the world. Thailand, like China, has continued to implement policies to tackle poverty. Although the two countries have different national conditions, they share the same goal and vision: to narrow the gap between rich and poor. Thailand should learn from China’s successful experience and formulate specific indicators and guidelines, including targeted measures, to narrow the wealth gap.

As leader of the Thai Democrat Party, I have maintained a sound cooperative relationship with the CPC. To honor the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Thailand, I hope our friendly relations will last forever and continue producing sweet fruit.

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