Thailand keeps on China's good side

Asia Times

BEIJING - The new Thai government is working on stronger ties with China, both politically and economically, to involve Bangkok more in the development of Southern China.

Surakiart Sathirathai, the Thai foreign minister, in an exclusive interview in Beijing, said China has agreed on expanding some agricultural exports from Thailand, and will move on improving the lines of communication from Southern China to Thailand as well as increase anti-drug cooperation.

Surakiart was in Beijing last week on his first trip to Beijing following the victory of the Thai Rak Thai party in January 6 national elections. "[China's Foreign Minister] Tang Jiaxuan has agreed in principle on an exchange of anti-drug officials in our embassies," said Surakiart.

Both sides will also separately enhance anti-drug enforcement cooperation with Myanmar, forming a de facto trilateral tie-up. The suppression of narcotic smuggling is also high on the agenda of collaboration with the United States, said Surakiart, hinting that this agreement with China should have a positive bilateral impact on relations with Washington.

The suppression of drug smuggling is high on the agenda of the new Thai government, which has announced its intention to stem the traffic entering Thailand via Myanmar.

Surakiart, a former finance mnister in a previous administration, admitted that the Thai economy is still fragile and explained that he hoped to receive more support from China, and possibly even enter a free trade agreement with Beijing.

The foreign minister said the two sides agreed to accelerate the building of a Kunming-Bangkok road. The Chinese, he said, "agreed to finance the section of the road that will go through Laos". Last week Surakiart authorized the opening of a second bridge on the Mekong River. The bridge will link Thailand's Mukdahan with Savannaket in Laos. The Thai cabinet has approved a request to borrow US$36.25 million from the Japan Bank of International Cooperation to fund the project.

It is China's policy to develop relations based on cooperation and trust with Thailand, said President Jiang Zemin after a meeting with Surakiart. He called for enhanced ties in all fields. Jiang said China is willing to work with Thailand for the prosperity of both countries and the peace and development of the region.

Surakiart replied that the new government of Thailand will devote itself to enhancing cooperation with Asian countries, particularly China, and will work harder for the coordination and unity among Asian countries. He said that he particularly hoped for the establishment of stronger trade ties between the northern part of Thailand and Southwest China.

According to a foreign ministry spokesman, Surakiart pledged that his country will continue to adhere to the one-China policy and will work closely with China on regional and international issues.

To expand more direct links between the Thai and Chinese business communities, Surakiart proposed the establishment of a Thai-Chinese business council. "We hope to see more Chinese industries coming to Thailand, especially in the telecommunication and high-tech industries, where we know China has burgeoning firms," said the minister.

The two parties agreed on the exchange of university students and on establishing more links between Thai and Chinese universities. The Chinese also showed great interest in the Thai Rak Thai party led by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra - who is of Chinese origin - and the involvement of a number of academics and technocrats in the party. One of Thaksin's leading advisors is Dhanin Chearavanont, head of the giant Charoen Pokphand Group, which was a pioneer in leading Thai businesses into China.

Surakiart announced also that Prime Minister Zhu Rongji has accepted an invitation to visit Thailand soon. Surakiart also met with Minister Dai Bingguo, head of the Foreign Relations department of the Communist Party. (2001-03-27 Asia Times)


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