Burgeoning Sino-Thai Relations: Heightening Cooperation, Sustaining Economic Security

Article excerpt

Sino-Thai bilateral relations during the Cold War were formed out of mutual concerns over security issues. Now they have entered an era of long-term economic partnership. The political and economic desires of both countries appear to be mutually beneficial. The China-ASEAN FTA, in particular, is fostering strong trade ties. Thailand, nevertheless, must find a balance between its relations with the United States and China, and also prepare for a flood of cheap Chinese goods. A number of Thai manufacturing sectors will become vulnerable. Nevertheless, this is an opportunity for them to improve their efficiency and encourage new research and development.

"To continuously deepen Thailand-China friendship and develop bilateral strategic cooperative relations is not only the Thai Government's unswerving policy but also Thai people's wish." These lofty statements were made by Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in his speech at the official meeting with his Chinese counterpart Premier Wen Jiabao on 1 July 2005. His visit to Yunnan on 1 July 2005 marked the 30th anniversary of China-Thailand diplomatic relations. These anniversary celebrations were also held elsewhere, including Beijing and eight other cities in China and in the Chinatown districts of major Thai cities.

While American dominance is gradually fading from Southeast Asia, China is steadily tightening its relations with Asian countries. Emphasising the establishment of true friendships, China is strategically placing itself as the successor of the US in both the economic and political arenas. The world is witnessing a realignment of power among dominant countries, in particular, from the US and, to a lesser extent from Japan, to China. The opening of China's huge and growing market to ASEAN countries under the ASEAN-China FTA is a good start that will surely strengthen political and economic ties among the F TA members, including those of China and Thailand.

In the past, the cordial relations that Thailand had with China hinged on Thailand's pragmatic "bending with the wind" foreign policy. (1) Warm relations were formed out of mutual interest in security concerns during the Cold War period in the 1980s when China promised to come to Thailand's rescue if Vietnam invaded. More recently, China has had opportunities to express its goodwill to Thailand in various different ways.

Sino-Thai relations are presently characterised by a multiplicity of long-term economic partnerships. Thai leaders are no longer preoccupied with the fear that China will export communism. Instead Thai politicians and businessmen are busy bonding with China through cooperation in many areas. Prime Minister Thaksin himself thinks that China and India are the most important countries economically for Thailand. (2)

This article begins with a brief history of Thailand-China bilateral relations before the establishment of official diplomatic relations and is followed by an analysis of what is contributing to good bilateral relations between the two countries now: the mutual interests of both countries in building prosperity, close ethnic ties, non-traditional security and ongoing cooperation in various areas. The main body examines economic ties, i.e., the growing trade and investment, the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA) and its potential benefits and disadvantages for Thailand, as well as the border trade with Yunnan Province. The final section provides some summary remarks.

Brief History of Sino-Thai Relations

Before official diplomatic relations were established in 1975, Sino-Thai relations had been rough, mainly due to two decades of military policies. From the late 1940s to 1958, the Thai Government's policy towards China under Marshal Pibul Songkram was largely influenced by the US' anti-Communist policy. During this Cold War period, the Thai Government saw communism as the main security threat. …

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