Thailand wants neighbours to pursue joint economic strategy
By Wichit Chaitrong
24 March 2017

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister calls for joint master plan based on ‘trust’ between 5 Southeast Asian neighbours.

Thailand and neighbouring countries should pursue a common regional economic and geopolitical strategy to capitalise on their potential as one of the world’s highest-growth regions, according to Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak.

He also made a passionate call for “trust” among leaders and citizens of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand (CLMVT), whom he asked to come together and develop a joint regional master plan.

Somkid’s speech at a business forum organised by Nation Television yesterday was the clearest sign yet of how the Thai government wants its neighbours to pursue a joint economic strategy to deal with the “policy disruption” caused by the new US Trump administration and rapid technological change.

“The days when we [CLMVT] saw each other as competitors are gone,” he said.

“The combined 230-million population has the scale with good economic growth potential to become a world attraction. Asean will also benefit from this,” Somkid told an audience of 300 at Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre in Bangkok.

“We should have common digital and human resource strategies to maximise our synergies ... for each to go our own way would be futile,” said the deputy prime minister, who is also in charge of economic affairs.

He said CLMVT nations could become a bridge between Asean and China, India, Japan, South Korea, Europe and the United States. China, Japan and the US already have separate Mekong initiatives while India wants to link to mainland Southeast Asia via Myanmar.

With CLMVT countries’ average annual economic growth of 6 to 8 per cent, compared to China’s 6.5 to 6.8 per cent, the grouping is clearly attractive.

Thailand’s exports to the other Asean countries now account for 25 per cent of its total exports, with more than 10 per cent going to CLMV markets – the same level as Thailand’ s exports to the US and Japanese markets.

“Foreign investors are not interested in CLMVT as individual countries, since each of these markets is too small. They want to make their investments in the region as a whole and to use the region as a springboard to enter the South Asian and Middle East markets,” Somkid said.

He added that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had been promoting the mutual interests of the CLMVT countries in the so-called “Strong Together and Nobody Left Behind” initiative. He said he had received very positive feedback during his meetings with other leaders.

Somkid also said global geopolitics had been disrupted since Donald Trump became US president, which created uncertainty that affected Asean unity.

“Should the 10 Asean countries not be able to stay together, each may be forced to choose a side – China or the US. That is not good for the region as we need to work with every party,” he said.

As South China Sea tensions have increased, CLMVT could play a diplomatic role in mending the Asean-China relationship, he said.

Somkid also urged CLMVT countries to ink joint agreements on border trade, tourism, logistics, the digital arena, investment and human resource development.

Thailand has started development of the Eastern Economic Corridor, known as the EEC, which includes the expansion of seaports that could serve every country in the region, particularly Vietnam’s Danang and Myanmar’s seaports.

He added that the members should not see each other as competitors but as partners to progress together.

“The requirement for success is trust … we should leave past conflicts behind us and together look to the future,” said Somkid, referring to political conflicts in the region over the past 50 years.

Yesterday’s forum was attended by officials from all four other member nations of the grouping.

Speaking at yesterday’s forum, Kobsak Pootrakool, vice minister at the Prime Minister’s Office, said the Thai government would not push for domination of the baht in CLMV, but wanted to support neighbouring countries to use their own currencies.

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