Keynote Address by
H.E. Dr. Kantathi Suphamongkhon
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand
at the Asia Society’s 15 th Asian Corporate Conference
on “Thailand’s Role in Asia and the Global Economy”
June 9, 2005
His Excellency Mr. Somsavat Lengsavad, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Laos,
Dr. Vishakha Desai, President of the Asia Society,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you, Mr. Kanak, for your kind introduction.
Let me begin by joining my Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Surakiart in welcoming you to Thailand. As a Thai who has studied and worked in the United States for some years, I have a keen appreciation of Asia Society’s work in fostering goodwill and understanding across the Pacific even though the Asia Society is physically located next to the Atlantic Ocean in the Big Apple, City of New York. The important role of the Asia Society was brought home again when I attended the Private Sector Summit on Post-Tsunami Reconstruction and Rehabilitation in Washington, D.C. this past May. The Asia Society was there to help organise the Summit and to focus on the rebuilding efforts. Once again, the Asia Society has shown that it is truly a friend of Asia.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Yesterday, Prime Minister Thaksin spoke of the Government’s dual-track policy. He stressed the need to strengthen our domestic economy, while remaining fully engaged internationally. It is this latter track – the external dimension of our policy – that will be the subject of my talk today.
In this day and age, it is hard to deny the deepening impact of globalisation on our lives. Globalisation is here with us whether we like it or not. Whether globalisation will hurt us or benefit us depends on how ready we are as well as on the quality of our strategy. Our countries are becoming more interdependent. Businesses are outsourcing everything from design to production and to customer service. Capital moves at the click of a button to anywhere in the world where it can be most efficiently used. The Internet has indeed made the world very small. Inevitably, events in one country will affect other countries, for better or worse.
What does this mean for Asia?
From the evidence so far, it appears that Asia on the whole has adjusted well to globalisation. Asia is endowed with diverse comparative advantages. Some countries have more advanced technologies. Some have greater stock of labour and natural resources. Some are geographically well placed to be maritime or aviation hubs. All are rich in cultural heritage and human capital, which add value to local and international industries.
But Asia consists of not just economic powerhouses like Japan, China or India. The continent’s great diversity means that there are many Asian countries that still have difficulty adjusting to globalisation.
Asian nations must take the next step together. We must synthesise all the comparative advantages that we have in a coherent and coordinated manner. We must work together to convert our comparative advantages into real competitive advantages in the global marketplace. This must be done for the benefit of not only our own individual countries, but for the region as a whole. Only then can we harness the full potential of Asia.
Since ancient times, Southeast Asia has served as a geographical crossroads for culture and commerce. We believe that countries in Asia must grow together. This is why Thailand has been working to connect and bring together the various parts of Asia.
This is the rationale behind our policy of forward engagement. We aim to work proactively to strengthen our ties with existing partners as well as to cultivate new friendships. We want to ensure that in our quest for sustainable development, we all move forward together, benefiting from our dynamism and potential.
To this end, our highest priority is to promote sub-regional cooperation with our neighbours. We aim to narrow the developmental gap in the region.
Under the Greater Mekong Sub-region scheme, Thailand and neighbouring partners are developing a network of highways that will eventually link Vietnam with India, and China with Singapore. These are the East-West and the North-South Corridors. This infrastructural network will open up new opportunities for trade, investment, finance and tourism in the region. Cooperation in other areas, such as trade facilitation and capacity building, will enable local communities to benefit fully from this development.
Thailand is also actively working with neighbouring countries to develop their economies based on their natural comparative advantages. The ACMECS framework—which joins Thailand with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam—promotes cross-border strategic partnership in key areas such as agro-industries, investment and human resource development. Public-to-public partnerships between local governments, as well as private-to-private partnerships between firms and local suppliers, are being galvanised and fortified. The aim is to build capacity for future growth through self-help and partnership.
Beyond our immediate borders, Thailand is fostering further cooperation among the ASEAN nations. At the group’s 10th Summit last November, ASEAN leaders agreed to create a truly integrated ASEAN Community by the year 2020. The Community will be built upon the three pillars, namely, the security, economic and socio-cultural pillars. With this comprehensive strategy, ASEAN aims to address developmental issues in a coherent and comprehensive manner. Our governments will work closely together towards this goal. We will also encourage our citizens—over half a billion strong—to do the same. By the year 2020, we hope that ASEAN will become a united region and a respected voice for peace and development in the global community.
In addition to ASEAN itself, Thailand is also a strong advocate of the ASEAN + 3 process. The total trade value between ASEAN and China, Japan, and Republic of Korea rose by over 14 per cent to 196 billion US dollars in 2003. This figure should further increase given the free trade agreements, or FTAs, under negotiation.
I also wish to highlight the ASEAN initiative to convene the first East Asia Summit (EAS) in Kuala Lumpur later this year. The idea for convening the EAS originated in the ASEAN + 3 forum, with the aim of establishing a forum to discuss strategic issues at a broader level. At the recent ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat in the Philippines, some criteria were set for participation in the EAS. India, Australia, and New Zealand are among the potential candidates to attend the 1st Summit in Kuala Lumpur together with the ASEAN + 3.
Looking beyond East Asia, the Prime Minister of Thailand initiated the Asia Cooperation Dialogue, or the ACD, in 2002. The forum now comprises 28 participating countries across the breadth and length of the Asian continent, spanning from Japan across to the Middle East, including the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia, with Thailand as coordinator. The ACD is presently the only forum in existence that links all of Asia to foster closer pan-Asian cooperation. It operates on two dimensions—dialogues and projects. Member countries are cooperating on projects in 19 areas, ranging from agriculture to energy security to tourism.
Our most recent initiative is the concept of ACD Partner for Development, which was endorsed by the ACD Ministerial Meeting in Islamabad this past April. Aimed at engaging non-Asian countries and organisations, this concept reflects the outward-looking orientation of the ACD. We have invited the African Union to become our first ACD Partner for Development. We look forward to fruitful cooperation between the nations of the two continents in many dimensions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While working at the sub-regional and regional levels, we have not neglected bilateral relations with our many friends around the world. When I addressed the 13th Asian Corporate Conference two years ago, Thailand was in the process of initiating free trade agreement (FTA) talks with Bahrain and Australia. Now two years later, we have already concluded FTAs with Australia and New Zealand. Trade with Australia increased more than 40 per cent during the four months since the agreement came into effect on the 1st of January this year. In July, the agreement with New Zealand will come into effect. I expect to see further growth in trade between both countries.
In addition, Thailand is negotiating free trade agreements with India and China. Our latest study shows an increase in agricultural trade between Thailand and China following the conclusion of our early-harvest agreement, which immediately eliminated tariff on fruits and vegetables. Chinese farmers have benefited. Thai farmers have gained too. In both countries, consumers have come out ahead.
Our bilateral free trade agreement with Japan is also being finalised. The final agreement will not only cover trade in goods, but also in service and in investment as well. We are also moving forward in our FTA talks with Peru, Bahrain, the United States of America, as well as regionally with BIMSTEC which stands for the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation. We are also negotiating a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Moreover, we are studying the possibility of entering into free trade negotiations with Pakistan.
At the same time, Thailand remains fully committed to the successful outcome of the WTO’s Doha Development Round. We believe that the conclusion of this round will lead to enormous benefits for developed and developing countries alike, and would be a major step forward for free and fair trade. We thus look forward to contributing positively at the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong this December.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While promoting Thailand’s economic integration with the rest of the world, the Thai Government also gives priority to the human dimension of development. We must ensure that development benefits the great majority of the people and not just a handful. For this reason, the Thai Government has adopted a people-centred approach in the formulation of our policies, as reflected by the many initiatives mentioned by Prime Minister Thaksin yesterday.
At the international level, we are also promoting people-centred development. We view freedom from fear and freedom from want as two inseparable prongs of basic human rights. Our foreign policy also incorporates these values. We will continue to be active advocates of people-centred development, particularly as Thailand has assumed the chairmanship of the Human Security Network. Together with the other members, we will address the many threats facing us today, including HIV/AIDS, landmines and human trafficking.
Furthermore, Thailand believes that political, ethnic and religious stability plays an indispensable role in promoting human security. Last month, I accompanied Prime Minister Thaksin to Jordan. We had an audience with His Majesty King Abdullah II and discussed the Amman Message and its relevance in today’s world.
The Amman Message is simple, yet profoundly important. It calls for tolerance and acceptance of other human beings, whatever their religion. It reminds us that all faiths share common roots. The Amman Message evokes a message of moderation, non-violence and tolerance.
Looking at the world today, I see an urgent need to spread this message of tolerance. Inter-faith dialogues are thus essential if we are to keep conflicts and violence at bay. Later this month, I will attend the inauguration of the Asia-Middle East Dialogue (AMED). The voice of moderation can bring better understanding among the peoples of the world. Hostility and indifference can be defeated by friendship, understanding and cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All the multi-dimensional elements that constitute Thailand’s role in Asia are closely interconnected. With political stability and improved human security, the full potential of Asia can be realised.
The regional frameworks, the bilateral agreements and all the other policies that I have mentioned are being pursued with a single goal in mind. Thailand strongly believes that Asia must unite to draw strength out of our diversity. Thailand wants to actively contribute to this process.
Through our own experiences, Thailand recognises that pockets of profound affluence amidst a surrounding sea of poverty are not sustainable in the long term.
I therefore encourage all of you here today to work with us to reduce Asia’s development gap, by sharing resources and investment to help each Asian nation strengthen its political, economic and social foundations.
Only then can each Asian nation bring out its best, and give its best to us all. In this way, the Asian Community as a whole will flourish. We can then be an even better partner for our friends from other continents, especially for our American friends.
Thank you very much.