Speaking on the occasion of the upcoming celebration of birth anniversary of the King of Thailand, His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Phra Vajiraklaochaoyuhua, on July 28, 2020, Sugondhabhirom elaborated on the bilateral, multifaceted relations that the two countries enjoy.
Vietnam and Thailand mark 44 years of diplomatic relations and seven years of strategic partnership this year. Could you highlight some salient features of the relationship?
Thai-Vietnamese relations have been cordial for more than four decades in many dimensions: political, people-to-people and economic. Our "strategic partnership" was elevated to "strengthened strategic partnership" in 2019, moving our bilateral relations towards new heights with stronger strategic and economic components. Thailand's present King visited Vietnam several times as the Crown Prince. His sister, the Princess, presided over the inauguration ceremony of the Consulate-General's office, where I work now. Our two Prime Ministers met at many forums, resulting in a close friendship between them. Even amidst this Covid-19 challenge, they communicated via mutually supportive letters in March and April, as well as through teleconference.
Thailand remains Vietnam's top trading partner in ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations). The volume of two-way trade in 2019 was US$17.5 billion. Thai businesses have invested almost US$11 billion in the Vietnamese market, making Thailand one of Vietnam's top 10 foreign investors, contributing to Vietnam's rapid growth and to job/employment creation for Vietnamese workers. Besides, there is cooperation in tourism, culture, education, youth affairs, and people-to-people bonds. I am certain that with the upcoming fourth Vietnam-Thailand Joint Cabinet Retreat and the renewal of the five-year plan for strategic partnership, which are now being planned, our multifaceted sustainable partnership will deepen further.
As many as 16 Vietnamese localities have built cooperative and sister relationships with provinces and cities in Thailand. Could you tell us something about development of this locality-to-locality cooperation?
Just within the Consulate-General's jurisdiction, there are already 11 established pairs of Thai-Vietnamese sister-cities. The network of sub-regional connectivity also helps boost activities in terms of trade, cultural exchanges and tourism, particularly among cities in the central part of Vietnam and northeastern Thailand. Moreover, 2020 is another milestone for bilateral relations between Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok as it will be the 5th anniversary of the "Friendly relations between Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee."
The two countries have set a US$20 billion bilateral trade target for 2020. What do the governments and businesses of both countries need to do to achieve this, in your opinion?
Certainly, the Covid-19 pandemic has to be factored in for its effects on trade, including trade between Thailand and Vietnam. Both public and private sectors need to be more agile and adaptive in order to respond to new consumers' needs and behavior after the situation. I would like to reaffirm that Thailand remains steadfast in promoting two-way trade and we will do all that we can. The Ministry of Commerce of Thailand has regularly invited Vietnamese businesses to their trade fairs, such as THAIFEX. The Thai private sector also plays an important role in sourcing and exporting Vietnamese high-quality products via its retail networks as well as outlets in Thailand and international markets. They are committed to continuing doing so, via events like the annual "Vietnamese Week" and fairs held by MM Mega Market and Central Group, after the pandemic is controlled.
What are the key industries that are likely to capture Thai investor interest in the years to come? And are there such openings in Thailand for Vietnamese companies?
I reaffirm that Thailand attaches importance to doing business in Vietnam in a win-win manner, with social responsibility, and in compliance with local laws and regulations. More than 200 Thai companies have been doing business in Vietnam in different sectors. Yet, there is room for further cooperation such as in agricultural processing and machinery in the Mekong Delta, startup businesses in Ho Chi Minh City, and renewable energy in the central and southern part of Vietnam. In the banking sector, there are already three Thai banks operating in the country, the first of which has been around for decades, and the fourth is to come soon.
And there are ample business opportunities for Vietnamese firms in Thailand. Vietjet has already invested in Thailand with the Thai Vietjet Air JSC. The Eastern Economic Corridor or EEC is also one of Thailand's mega projects aiming to lure new hi-tech and innovative industries. Vietnam can participate in the project through direct investment or indirectly by connecting the supply chains as well as cooperating in IT human resources, which is one of Vietnam's strengths. Moreover, the tourism and service sectors are likely to rebound after the pandemic; and renowned theme park developers such as Sun Group and Vingroup can expand their business into Thailand and spur tourism between two countries.
|Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc (left) met with his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-o-cha in Bangkok, Thailand, November 2, 2019, during the 35th ASEAN Summit – Photo: VNA|
Vietnam is the ASEAN Chair this year, taking the baton from Thailand. What do you think Vietnam can do to make its tenure an effective one?
I wish to commend Vietnam, as our ASEAN Chair, for its bold and prompt response to the pandemic by conducting for the first time the Special ASEAN+3 Summit on COVID-19 on 14 April 2020 via teleconference, as also the online opening ceremony of the 36th ASEAN Summit on June 26, 2020. This truly reaffirmed the current theme of "Cohesive and Responsive" ASEAN.
Last year, Thailand as the ASEAN Chair, carried out the theme of "Advancing Partnership for Sustainability". Close collaboration among ASEAN member countries, particularly Vietnam, enabled the bloc to approve the ASEAN Action Plan on Combating Marine Debris, issue the "ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific", implement the "Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025", launch the "ASEAN Center for Sustainable Development Studies and Dialogue" and conclude the "Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)".
This year, Vietnam has taken responsibilities as the ASEAN Chair and non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Therefore, it would be an opportunity for Vietnam to act as a bridge connecting the region with the world, and reflect into needed global actions the regional priorities, ranging from security to public health, human security, to other non-traditional threats. Strengthened trade and investment relations, enhanced supply-chain networks and more seamless connectivity between Thailand and Vietnam would contribute to success of the AEC as a whole.
What do you think will be priorities for Thai-Vietnamese cooperation in the coming years?
Economic cooperation will remain the backbone of our relations. In the post Covid-19 pandemic era, I believe that tourism will remain an area of comparative advantage where Thailand and Vietnam can join hands. Intra-regional and domestic tourism may be the rising trend, as well as medical tourism, since people are more health conscious and susceptible to travel far beyond familiar boundaries. Education is another area that holds great potential due to the proximity and affordable prices in Thailand, especially for Thai institutions specializing in hospitality, tourism and hotel management to expand their market in Vietnam. Startups and e-commerce may be areas of interest for us too, and Thailand can learn from Vietnam in these matters.
People-to-people links and cultural exchanges are seen as good connecting channels to boost mutual understanding. What are some of the events and actions being taken in this regard, in general, and by the Thai Consulate General's office in particular?
Longstanding people-to-people interactions are the very foundation of our relations, as they help promote mutual understanding between the two nations. People-to-people exchanges and activities are flourishing.
In the field of youth and education, Thai language and Thai studies have been widely taught in Vietnamese universities nationwide, and the Thai government has been granting scholarships to Vietnamese students and providing other kinds of support. There are also Vietnamese language courses in Thai universities. Moreover, this year commemorates the 5th establishment anniversary of the Thai Center at the HCMC-USSH and the 20th anniversary of teaching Thai language in Vietnam. The Consulate-General and the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs are planning to hold a celebration event aiming to strengthen Thai teaching in Vietnam. Youth exchanges are also flourishing, and the Consulate-General has worked closely with the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union in various provinces.
In the field of tourism, last year more than 1.5 million Thai and Vietnamese tourists traveled between our two countries on more than 294 flights per week connecting six destinations. This year, after the pandemic is subdued, I am certain that the exchange visits would resume.
In other fields, it is also heartening to note the popularity of some Thai films, TV series, and music in Vietnam, especially among the younger generations. Certainly, as long as our young people can sing the same songs, or watch the same movies, the future of our relations shall continue to be bright!
Lastly, I am pleased to see that publication of this special edition on Thailand-Vietnam cooperation this month coincides with the auspicious occasion of the celebration of the Royal Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the King of Thailand on July 28, 2020. Long live the King!
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