Being China’s neighbor and US ally, Thailand needs to strike a balance between the two

Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/15 20:13:41

Editor's Note:

The Blue Book of Thailand - Annual Report on Research on Thailand (2018) was released at a conference in Beijing on Saturday. What is the significance of Thailand to China? Will China-Thailand relations affect the US-Thailand alliance? The Global Times chose opinions of three experts present at a seminar on the state of Thailand and China-Thailand relations by the College of International Relations and the Institute of Thai Studies of Huaqiao University and the Institute of Asian Studies of China Foreign Affairs University after the book release.

Gao Cheng, research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

The US regards China as a key rival in Asia. What Beijing is confronting is not the Thucydides' Trap in security, but the economic pressure being piled up by Washington.

Therefore, neighboring countries play a key role in promoting the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and developing its economy and diplomacy. 

Among China's neighbors, the five in Indo-China have the most potential to cooperate with Beijing. These countries have been close to China historically, religiously and economically. Among the five, Vietnam has territorial disputes with China; Laos' economy is small; hence, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia are more important.

Thailand is different from other US allies, and has been moderate toward China's rise in Southeast Asia. Thailand can set a good example for other US allies - by getting involved in the BRI, they can be neutral between China and the US and forge closer economic cooperation with China. 

Wang Yinghui, associate professor at National Defence University of PLA China

US-Thailand security relations are a weak link in the US alliance system and there is not going to be much change in the situation in the future. 

Currently, with increasing strategic competition with China, Washington needs an anchor to compete with Beijing in Southeast Asia, increasing its strategic dependence on Thailand. 

With Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's visit to the US in 2017 and the White House softening its foreign policy on Thailand after the latter's military coup in 2014, Thai-US ties have tended to be stable. However, they lack an anchor to build up their bilateral ties. 

Meanwhile, China's appeal is increasing. The BRI and military assistance are more attractive to Thailand. The two countries do not have disputes over the South China Sea. China's principle of noninterference is welcomed by Thailand. 

Guided by neutral diplomatic tradition, Thailand may not completely tilt toward the US and will maintain a balance between China and US. In addition, led by the "America First" strategy, the Trump administration will not lend its allies much support.

In the future, the Washington-Bangkok alliance will hold, but the nations will not come as close as they were during the Cold War. The current US-Thailand alliance can be described as allied partnership. 

Liu Wenzheng, chief editor of Blue Book of Thailand and associate professor at the Institute of Thai Studies of Huaqiao University

China-Thailand relations continued to develop in 2018, with the bilateral trade volume standing at $80.14 billion, up 8.7 percent from 2017. Both countries have extensively cooperated in fields like modern agriculture, new energy and infrastructure. 

There are no political or military issues affecting bilateral ties.

However, some concerns remain. Currently, the pace of construction of the China-Thailand high-speed railway is slow, influenced by many factors, such as the decentralization policy in Thailand, divergence in development ideas, the ways of working between the two countries and corruption risks in Thailand. 

The Thai people hold diverse views on China. Part of Thailand's political elite is skeptical about the BRI. The massive influx of Chinese businessmen has hit some Thai industries, such as e-commerce, tourism and fruit production, which has triggered some resentment in Thailand. 

Furthermore, Thailand lacks research and technical personnel. Labor costs in the Southeast Asian nation are higher than in neighboring countries, which could also affect Chinese investment in Thailand.

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