Thailand has been flagging the idea of joining hands with China in tapping new energy and digital markets in Southeast Asia, a move that would elevate bilateral cooperation to new dimensions beyond tourism and tropical fruits.
The notion, mentioned recently by Thailand's ambassador to China, Arthayudh Srisamoot, could also be beneficial to Beijing as the world's second-largest economy looks to the 10 member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the 15 members of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership as alternatives to the US market.
Arthayudh said the Thai government was focusing on new industries and innovative products as it sought co-investment with Chinese companies in wind turbines, hydroelectric dams and solar farms in countries like Laos and Vietnam.
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"This is an example of an operation that Chinese businessmen and Thai businessmen are doing to help a third country in the area of new energy," he said on the sidelines of a global talent forum in Macau in mid-May.
Citing historical connections, Arthayudh singled out the potential for cooperation with China's Greater Bay Area, a key growth engine in southern China and base of new energy and digital development.
The economic development zone, comprising Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities including Shenzhen and Guangzhou, aims to become China's leading growth and innovation centre, and is already home to leading brands such as telecoms giant Huawei, new energy vehicle producer BYD, internet titan Tencent and drone maker DJI.
Asean was China's largest export destination in the first four months of this year, outpacing the United States and the European Union.
Chinese manufacturers are building many factories in Southeast Asia, which has a population of 660 million, and many Chinese technology firms have expanded their market presence in the region.
Thailand, with the second-largest economy in Asean, has traditionally been a favourite destination for Chinese tourists - 5 million are expected to visit the country this year - and a key source of imported rice and tropical fruits.
It is also a key partner of China in developing the pan-Asia high-speed railway network that will extend from Kunming, the capital of China's Yunnan province, to Singapore.
Thailand's ambassador to China, Arthayudh Srisamoot. Photo: Handout alt=Thailand's ambassador to China, Arthayudh Srisamoot. Photo: Handout>
"I think right now the creative [and] new industry is quite prominent," Arthayudh. "You know, we're talking about clean energy, management of disposable waste. And there's a lot of Chinese companies making all these waste products into building materials, bricks and walls, and towers."
A report by the International Energy Agency last year said the transition to sustainable energy in Asean member states could provide "greater business opportunities" in the emerging clean energy economy.
Guangdong Governor Wang Weizhong would visit Thailand before the end of next month, the ambassador said, and he hoped both sides could use the opportunity to agree to more cooperation and exchanges.
An annual dialogue mechanism between Guangdong, China's top exporting province, and Thailand has been in place for two decades, with an annual meeting elevated to the ministerial level in the past two years.
Arthayudh said Thais still mainly relied on cash and credit cards for making payments and pencils or water colours for designing, which made it "a more traditional country" that had "a lot to learn from China in terms of fully utilising the digital concept".
"I think countries in Southeast Asia are a little bit more traditional - [if] you go to Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, they still don't know the digital way of life," he said, hinting at great potential for development.
"[If] you go to Myanmar, they're still using half-a-century-old techniques ... so I think the way forward is digital."
In a meeting with Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong in March, Arthayudh said the comprehensive resumption of exchanges between the two countries at all levels would "deepen coordination and cooperation in multilateral fields including regional cooperation".
A World Bank report published on May 16 said innovation in Thailand was hampered by a shortage of technical workers, weak scientific production and limited access to finance that constrained the growth of small and medium-sized companies.
"When we look at our relationship with China, it's more than digital or creative industries," Arthayudh said. "Agriculture is an important area of cooperation between Thailand and China.
"But of course Guangdong is the province that is focusing on creative industries ... it is the best source for pushing forward the creative agenda."
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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