Rice, Rubber & Railways
Oct. 14 – Following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Indonesia and Malaysia a week ago, Prime Minister Li Keqiang now gets the job of promoting Chinese interests in Asia with visits to Thailand and Vietnam.
In Thailand, China has agreed to boost bilateral trade through a deal to increase its purchase of Thai rice to 1 million tons per year. China also plans to buy 200,000 tons of rubber each year from Thai producers, according to a statement made yesterday by Thailand’s Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. These agreements represent a significant increase in previous commitments to Thailand by China.
China has been re-positioning its ties with Southeast Asia and ASEAN countries in particular. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam are all members of ASEAN, the ten-nation Asian trade bloc sitting right on China’s doorstep. Yet relations with some of ASEAN’s members, most notably the Philippines and Vietnam, have not been doing well as disputes over the South China Sea continue to fester. China wants to deal with claims on a bilateral basis, yet ASEAN as a bloc has stepped into the arena in the past to issue fairly strong critiques on the matter. China’s response has been to boost trade with the ASEAN members it has more cordial ties with.
China’s plan to increase its import of Thai rice represents a sign of good will between the two countries, said PM Yingluck Shinawatra. The agreement, which went into effect immediately, also includes China’s plan to import Thai-produced rubber, which will lead to even greater total trade between the two nations.
Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisan will also work with Chinese officials to pursue further cooperative possibilities in the agricultural sector, said Ms. Yingluck.
During an address to the Thai Parliament, Premier Li Keqiang delivered a 30-minute speech outlining his hopes for increased ties with Thailand, including a proposal to share Chinese high-speed rail technology, which would enhance ASEAN interconnectivity and boost ties between Thailand and China.
Premier Li also attended an exhibition in Bangkok this weekend featuring China’s high-speed railway capabilities. The event, which was sponsored by the China Railway Corporation, sought to increase interest in the country’s transportation resources and promote bilateral trade in the railway industry.
During the event, promoters highlighted the potential for a Chinese high-speed rail in Thailand, which would shorten the 11-hour Bangkok to Chiang Mai trip to within three hours.
While attending the exhibition, Premier Li encouraged greater bilateral cooperation between the two countries, saying such activities would strengthen Thailand’s infrastructure and economy, resulting in mutual benefit for both countries and the broader ASEAN region.
Following Premier Li’s remarks, MP Yingluck Shinawatra also expressed her interest in further cooperation with Chinese enterprises and endorsed the construction of high-speed railways in Thailand.
Bilateral trade between China and Thailand reached US$70 billion last year and is expected to reach US$100 billion by 2015.
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