Thai, Indonesian leaders arrive in China for third Belt and Road Forum

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Harry Pearl
Thai, Indonesian leaders arrive in China for third Belt and Road Forum Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin speaks during a press conference after a weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Sept. 13, 2023.

New Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin arrived in China late Monday for his first official visit to the world’s second largest economy, where he will focus on strengthening trade and investment ties and attend the third Belt and Road Forum.

Srettha will pay a courtesy call to President Xi Jinping and hold bilateral meetings with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and Zhao Leji, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, as part of his four-day visit, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Srettha will also have discussions with Chinese business executives to explore further collaboration in trade and investment between Thailand and China,” the ministry said Oct. 13, adding a business delegation would accompany the prime minister.

Srettha is one of several leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) attending the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which will be held in Beijing on Oct. 17-18.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet and Indonesian President Joko Widodo – popularly known as Jokowi – were also due to arrive Monday in Beijing.

The conference marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative, an initiative launched by Xi in 2013 to build global infrastructure and supply chains that would connect China to the rest of the world in a modern and many-pronged Silk Road.

The forum comes four years after the last Belt and Road summit in 2019, and is part of China’s bid to show off the program’s achievements to the international community after a decade in operation. World leaders and representatives from 90 countries will take part in this year’s event, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Jokowi, accompanied by several cabinet ministers on his visit, will hold bilateral talks with President Xi on Tuesday, and meet with Li Qiang and Parliament chairman Zhao Leji during his stay.

“Some of the priority issues that we will discuss with China include increasing Indonesia’s exports, increasing investment, and building food security,” said a statement from the presidential palace.

Open for business

Srettha, a former property tycoon, has promised to revive the economy and “open Thailand for business” amid fears the country is falling behind regional competitors like Vietnam when it comes to international investment. 

Since taking office, he has spoken with Elon Musk of Tesla and met with executives from Google, Alphabet and Goldman Sachs in an effort to convince U.S. firms about the suitability of Thailand’s business environment following years of military-backed rule and anti-government protests.

Last week, he also visited Hong Kong, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia and Singapore for a series of bilateral meetings in which he has attempted to drum up investment and boost economic cooperation.

But Thailand’s economic relationship with China was particularly important, according to Dr. Jiangyu Li, a Thai studies researcher at Yunnan Normal University’s School of Law and Sociology.

“Given that China holds the position of Thailand’s premier trade ally and a pivotal investment contributor, this visit isn’t merely ceremonial; it carries economic gravitas,” she told BenarNews.

“Anticipation is high for dialogue on emerging cooperative domains, possibly touching upon digital evolution, environmentally-conscious growth, and the pursuit of sustainability.”

Last year, China accounted for 18.1% of Thailand’s total exports and 14.4% of its total imports, Jiangyu said.

In Beijing, the Thai government is also likely to seek Chinese investment in infrastructure development tailored for tourism, including transport, eco-tourism projects and cultural heritage preservation, Jiangyu said.

Chinese nationals are the largest source of tourists to Thailand, accounting for a little over a quarter of the nearly 40 million who visited the Southeast Asian nation before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, official data showed.

China was Thailand’s biggest source of foreign direct investment in 2022, valued at 77.3 billion baht ($2.1 billion), according to the Thailand Board of Investment.

Pizaro Gozali Idrus in Jakarta and Kunnawut Boonreak in Chiang Mai contributed to this report.


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