Thai-Vietnamese ties have come a long way since they were first established in the 12th century. It is high time for both countries to sit down and work together towards a comprehensive strategic partnership (CSP).
Over the past 10 years, both nations have enjoyed unprecedented growth in their relationship. In fact, it isn't an overstatement to say that ties between Thailand and Vietnam are among the strongest between Asean members.
Thailand could be the first Asean member to have a CSP with Vietnam, which already has declared CSPs with China, Russia, India, and Japan. The United States declared Vietnam as one of its strategic partners during a visit by US President Joe Biden last November. Singapore and Hanoi, meanwhile, are working towards upgrading their ties to a CSP.
The effort to officially upgrade the relationship between Thailand and Vietnam was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic and uncertainties surrounding the region's geopolitical climate. Most recently, the plan for a CSP between Bangkok and Hanoi was raised in a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara and his Vietnamese counterpart, Bui Thanh Son, in Hanoi in late October.
Both sides agreed that when the fourth joint cabinet meeting is held in Vietnam next year, the CSP would be high on the agenda. It was Mr Parnpree's first visit to Vietnam, during which he also paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh.
As a follow-up to the meeting, the Chairman of the National Assembly of Vietnam, Vuong Dinh Hue, will come to Thailand for a four-day visit this week. During the visit, representatives from both countries will sign a memorandum of understanding to deepen cooperation between both countries' legislative branches.
In addition to meeting Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, Thailand's parliamentarians and representatives from the private sector, he will also have an audience with His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Over the weekend, he is scheduled to visit Udon Thani, to open the world's first so-called "Vietnam Town". Around 100,000 Thai citizens of Vietnamese descent live across the country, mostly around the Northeast, but with the unofficial figure going as high as 200,000, they make significant contributions to Thailand's economic and social development. It was them who extended assistance to Ho Chi Minh when he lived in Nakhon Phanom during the nascent years of the nation's liberation from France.
The story of his courage has been retold over and again within the Thai-Vietnamese community, both in Thailand and abroad. As such, Mr Hue will also lay a foundation stone for President Ho Chi Minh's historical education and tourism centre in Baan Nong Ang, Udon Thani.
Bilateral relations between the two countries are at an all-time high. Gone are the days when both countries fought over trivial issues, with talks between both countries generally focusing on defence and security cooperation, transnational crime prevention, labour, tourism as well as cultural exchanges. On key cross-border issues, for instance, both sides have agreed to deepen their cooperation to combat illegal fishing, narcotics smuggling and human trafficking.
Thailand and Vietnam occupy strategic locations within Southeast Asia, with Thailand lying roughly in the geographical centre of the region, while Vietnam faces the resource-rich South China Sea. A CSP between the two nations will lead to peace and stability in the immediate region, as well as the wider maritime Southeast Asian region.
Both nations are keen to stop the world's major powers from using their influence to dominate the region, and the way they go about it is by adopting the so-called "bamboo foreign policy" -- an approach which is aimed at creating a strategic equilibrium between competing great powers in the region to prevent conflict from breaking out.
The placard at the gate of Vietnam Town in Udon Thani province. Kavi Chongkittavorn
When Thailand and Vietnam chaired Asean in 2019 and 2020 respectively, both nations took great care to cultivate ties with the bloc's external powers, especially China and the US.
Given excellent ties with both superpowers, both nations managed to keep the volatile peace in the region. Both countries are also working with other Asean members to promote the group's centrality in the region.
Within mainland Southeast Asia, as riparian countries, they need to work together to ensure there are meaningful progress in various Mekong-related frameworks. Both are key drivers in the Ayeyarwady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (Acmecs) -- and their collaboration is pivotal to ensure the scheme has the support of other lower riparian countries, namely Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, as well as foreign development partners.
The economic potential of Thailand and Vietnam is greater than ever before. Now Thailand is Vietnam's largest trading partner within Asean. Last year, two-way trade reached US$21.6 billion (754 billion baht), an increase of 15.2% year on year. During Mr Parnpree's visit, both countries pledged to hike the trade value to US$25 billion by 2025.
Last year, Thailand was the second-largest Asean investor in Vietnam with 691 projects worth more than US$13 billion. Recently, they also initiated the so-called "three connections", which will further facilitate common trade by the linking supply chains, local business and new start-ups, and encouraging digital transformation and green energy development.
Next year will see several meetings between both governments. Several lead-up high-level meetings are scheduled in the first quarter of next year. The fourth joint cabinet meeting will take place in the second half of next year. That is the best time for both countries to declare a CSP, along with a plan for strategic action.