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Under pressure

Openness, inclusiveness will help promote Thailand-China relations


Cooperation between China and Thailand has deepened remarkably since the establishment of their comprehensive strategic partnership in 2012. Especially in the fields of economy and trade, China has been Thailand's largest trading partner and agricultural products export market for nine consecutive years.

China and Thailand are enjoying their best ever relations, but against the backdrop of global changes, opportunities and challenges will coexist in the bilateral strategic cooperation in the next decade.

First, the two countries need to properly cope with the ongoing geopolitical tensions and build a more balanced and stable triangular relationship among China, the United States and Thailand amid the fast-changing international political landscape.

In the past 10 or more years, the strategic competition between China and the US has continued to escalate. From the Barack Obama administration's Pivot to Asia and Asia-Pacific rebalancing, to the Donald Trump administration's "Indo-Pacific Strategy" and the Joe Biden administration's advancing of that strategy, the US is trying to suppress China's influence in Southeast Asia, and the region has become the core area of the strategic competition between the two sides, which led almost all the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, including Thailand, to fall into the pressure of taking sides imposed by the US and the West.

In contrast, guided by the concept of building a community with a shared future for mankind, China has always respected Thailand's right to choose its own development path, thus winning a positive response from the administration of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. In September 2017, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on the joint construction of the Belt and Road, consolidating the foundation for their cooperative partnership.

As the Biden administration began to soften its "values-diplomacy" toward Thailand, the rebalancing trend of China-US-Thailand triangular relations has increased significantly. In that case, whether Thailand can withstand the geopolitical pressure to take sides and continue to maintain its autonomy in cooperation with China has become the top issue of China-Thailand strategic cooperation.

The healthy and stable development of relations between China and Thailand will not only jointly drive the sub-regional development of the Indochina Peninsula, but also provide an effective model of innovation and an intermediate path for South-South cooperation under the situation of great changes, and help ASEAN countries to ease the "taking sides" pressure.

Second, Thailand and China need to continue to cooperate in various fields to overcome difficulties, seek innovation-driven growth, and stimulate new endogenous momentum in the face of global economic changes.

In recent years, the economic and trade cooperation between the two countries has maintained a high growth trend. At present, over 98 percent of Thailand's cassava, 70 percent of tropical fruits, one-third of rubber and 10 percent of rice are exported to China. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the bilateral economic and trade cooperation has deepened, going against the trend. In 2021, China and Thailand saw their total trade value rise to $131.2 billion, which not only doubled what it was 10 years ago, but also crossed the $100 billion mark for the first time.

After the opening of the China-Laos Railway in 2021, the Thailand government, on the one hand, seized the opportunity to expand a new channel for the export of Thailand's tropical fruits to China, and on the other hand, has stepped up the construction of the China-Thailand Railway, and actively docked with Malaysia, striving to further extend the China-Laos-Thailand Railway to Malaysia and Singapore, in a bid to build the trans-Asian railway network and a land passage of the Indian Ocean in the Indochina Peninsula.

In the next decade, China-Thailand strategic cooperation needs to rely on multilateral cooperation to escort their bilateral ties and to enhance endogenous momentum through industrial innovation.

When Thailand assumed the rotating presidency of ASEAN in 2019, it promoted the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, claiming to maintain the core status of ASEAN and buffer the geopolitical pressure from the US and the West to "take sides" with a group approach, thus maintain the ASEAN countries' autonomy in their cooperation with China.

At the same time, Thailand is actively promoting the Eastern Economic Corridor development strategy to synergize with China's Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area development plan, and trying to promote the "Thailand 4.0" economic vitalization strategy through high-tech and high-value added innovative industrial cooperation, thus stimulating new endogenous impetus for bilateral strategic cooperation.

These two plans of the Thai government are not expedient, but are rooted in the country's demands for independent development. Thailand has assumed the rotating chairmanship of the APEC this year, and it is focusing on the theme of "Open, Connect, Balance", actively advocating the concepts of the Bio-Circular Green Economy Model, and striving to promote global governance, regional and sub-regional cooperation and inject new vitality into the social and economic recovery of all countries through the multilateral cooperation platform of APEC amid the increasing uncertainties brought by the US and the West.

Thailand's appeals for development coincide with the strategic deployment made by the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China for the new era, which fully reflects the consensus of China-Thailand strategic cooperation in terms of openness and inclusiveness, and integrity and innovation.

The 29th APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting opened in Thailand after an interval of 11 years. President Xi Jinping recently attended the APEC meeting and visited Thailand, which has not only helped further deepen the two countries' consensus on development, enhance bilateral political mutual trust, and strengthen their friendly bonds, but also helped boost confidence in multilateral cooperation within APEC, reverse the tide of deglobalization and the efforts to start a new Cold War, ease the geopolitical pressure of taking sides, and guide the positive trend of peaceful development, so as to create opportunities and lead their strategic cooperation to stride forward toward a China-Thailand community with a shared future in the next decade.

The author is an associate researcher of the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn