Kind words not enough
Last Wednesday, Thailand and China had good reason to celebrate: the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
The event marked the signing of the Joint Communique on the establishment of diplomatic relations between Premier Zhou Enlai and Prime Minister Kukrit Pramoj in 1975. The Chinese embassy in Bangkok noted that the historical documents signed in Beijing opened "a new chapter in China-Thailand relations".
This year, the leaders of both countries eulogised about each other's efforts to maintain and further improve the relationship. The Chinese embassy said China-Thailand ties today had become more comprehensive, pragmatic and dynamic, with constant exchanges of contacts over the years.
In an article it sent to the Thai media, Yang Xin, Chargé d'affaires of the embassy, pointed to a significant increase, 3,700-fold, in bilateral trade volume from US$24.62 million in 1975 to US$91.7 billion last year. Mr Yang further said China had been Thailand's largest trading partner for seven consecutive years.
China has been the largest source of Thailand tourism for many years and the number of Chinese visitors here has exceeded 10 million for two straight years. Cooperation in educational areas is also significant and the embassy said it saw a possibility for mutual understanding between the countries' younger generations to continue to deepen.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Foreign Affairs Minister Don Pramudwinai reciprocated warmly.
With both sides appreciating their relationship highly -- it existed long before the modern era -- they need to both go beyond rhetoric and make the friendship rock solid with a spirit of sharing. In this sense, there are areas where some Thai elements want their bigger friend to do more, particularly in relation to water management of the Mekong, or the Lancang, which is the Chinese name of the 1,350-km river. In fact, there was no mention of the Mekong in Mr Yang's July 1 article.
As an upstream country, China has largely controlled the international river in a way that severely affects the flow into neighbouring riparian countries, namely Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
A US-based study linked last year's record drought -- water levels were at their lowest in more than 50 years in the lower part of the Mekong, following the superpower's building of 11 hydropower dams upstream. It also said that a further two dozen were in the pipeline. China disputed the data, preferring to say the drought was natural. Yet, it promised to cooperate on management of the river and also to investigate the causes of the drought that devastated farmers and fishermen in Thailand and neighbouring countries.
As the rainy season began, locals in the North of Thailand, who depend on the river, again expressed concern about the water levels earlier this month as it remains unclear if and how much China plans to release or retain. Those northerners have reason to fear that river management might lead to a repeat of last year's disaster.
It is now time for China to back its kind words about enduring friendship with action and enable a mechanism for co-management of the river. Such cooperation could ensure prosperity and sustainability for all.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org