UPDATE: Mar 23, 2017
Leading the Strengthening of the ASEAN Economic Community with Japan
—– First of all, I would like to express my heartfelt condolences on the passing away of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Would the shock of losing the “father of the nation” cause slowdown to the economic activities in Thailand?
For 70 years, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej had reigned Thailand with righteousness and had been the uniting force of our nation. It is only natural for the people to be overwhelmed with grief at this time. Anxieties and concerns over this particular period had been eased, and foreign businesses in Thailand have been able to operate as usual. Prime Minister Prayuth has made clear that Thailand will continue to function uninterruptedly. It is very much “business as usual” in Thailand. The government remains committed to its policies on trade and investment promotion through enhancing cooperation with Japan.
—– Thailand is now Japan’s largest business hub in Southeast Asia. How do you appraise the progress of Japan- Thailand relations?
Thailand and Japan have become strategic partners in all dimensions, particularly on the economic front, including the Japan – Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA) signed in 2007. Japan has been the number one investor in Thailand for many years. Nowadays, Thailand has become one of the largest automobile producers and HDD Drive producers in the world. Thailand has welcomed over 4,000 Japanese companies.In recent years, Japanese companies have actively engaged in many large-scale projects including in the area of infrastructure. Both countries have shown strong commitment to bring about prosperity to the Mekong region under the Japan Mekong Connectivity Initiative (JMCI).The aim of this initiative is to realize both hardware and software connectivity in the region, thereby reducing the development gap and making the region an emerging economic power house of Asia.
—– What areas should be strengthened for the bilateral relations other than economic ones?
The relations between Thailand and Japan are very close at all levels, be they the royal families, governments and people-to-people. Bilateral cooperation is also wide-ranging. Technology transfer and exchanges are very important.Thailand would welcome more learning and sharing of best practices in various fields, such as science and technology, clean energy, green growth, environmental protection, effective use of energy and care for the elderly. Human resources development is vital for Thailand’s transition to a knowledge-based economy, and will also benefit Japanese businesses in Thailand. We hope to enhance the cooperation with Japan on the Industrial Human Resources Development Initiative, Cooperation on the socio-cultural front and enhancing people-to-people contacts are also important. We support Japan’s various initiatives such as labor training and skills development, education, sports, language study, and cultural exchanges, as they will increase our mutual understanding. A Thai student who has had the opportunity to live and study in Japan, though for a short period will become goodwill ambassadors for Japan in Thailand. On the political and security front, we already have close cooperation for peace and stability in the region. Cooperation in addressing non-traditional security issues must also be enhanced, such as cooperation to tackle transnational crimes, terrorism and pandemics.
—– With the launch of the ASEAN Economic Community, the importance of the “Thailand-plus-one” model is increasing. What are the advantages and challenges for Thailand?
Thailand plus one business model is supported by the Thai government as we realize the declining competitiveness of labor intensive industries. There is also a need to enhance connectivity within the region as ASEAN has now become one single market and production base. The main challenges for this model are labor supply shortage, labor capacity and quality of infrastructure, in certain countries. Seamless connectivity within the region will need to be ensured to realize the vision of ASEAN as one complete community. Trilateral cooperation between Japan, Thailand and another country in the Mekong region as well as the Japan – Mekong Connectivity Initiative (JMCI) is crucial to enhancing connectivity within the region.
—– The new constitution draft was approved by the national referendum in last August. Do you think you can move forward to restore democracy in Thailand?
The national referendum of the draft constitution is, in itself, part of a democratic process, which helps reaffirm Thailand’s commitment towards democracy.The outcome of the referendum reflects the will of the people to move ahead for a strengthened and sustainable democracy.The Prime Minister had signed the draft constitution on 8 November and presented it for royal assent. The Constitution Drafting Committee is in the process of preparing relevant organic laws that will allow Thailand to proceed with its Roadmap towards democracy. Let me assure you that the Thai Government is determined to move the country forward based on the roadmap with the goal of attaining sustainable and functioning democracy for the country.We would like to urge the international community to recognize the progress Thailand has made and will continue to make.
—– What do you think is necessary for the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea issue?
Thailand is not directly involved in the dispute in the South China Sea. Yet, we have a vital interest in ensuring the maintenance of peace and stability in the area. Existing disputes must be resolved by peaceful means through consultations and negotiations in accordance with international law including the 1982 UNCLOS. In parallel, we need to promote the full and effective implementation of the Declaration of Conduct and move towards an early adoption of the Code of Conduct. Thailand stands ready to work and cooperate with all parties concerned.