PM's Japan visit a success

PM's Japan visit a success

For any country, there are many ingredients to successful diplomacy. Consistency of policy, striking the right balance between various neighbours and dialogue partners, plus the ability to send clear messages contribute to confidence in long-term relations. But the bottom line for any country's diplomatic ties is maintaining its national interests.

Japan, a key player in Asia, was in a particularly difficult situation after the May 22 coup. It is a member of the G-7 with a Western-style democracy whose international policies and stances are closely aligned with the United States. But it also has long-standing, traditional and historical ties with Thailand as well as considerable investments — the highest in the region.

There was no question over engagement or perhaps continued embracement. But Japan needed assurances. 

Within this backdrop, the visit by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to Japan, his meetings with his counterpart Shinzo Abe and the business federations in Tokyo and Osaka, were crucial. Thailand and Japan needed to reassure each other that their relations remain firm and close and that the commitment to future growth is mutual.

There is no doubt that Japan's role since the 1980s in the development of the Eastern Seaboard helped Thailand rise to a different level of economic competitiveness and its role in the future development of Thailand is critical.

During his visit, Prime Minister Prayut delivered a number of key messages − the first is that he values Japan's role in selecting Thailand as a key regional platform for Japanese investments and that he still wants Japan to continue doing so, not only in Thailand but in the region.

Thailand, Japan and Myanmar are already working towards realising the Dawei Special Economic Development Zone and more work needs to be done.

Japan was also encouraged to participate in Thailand's policy of it becoming the region's transportation hub, while promoting the economic advancement of our neighbouring countries through the development of economic corridors in the region.

Gen Prayut encouraged the Japanese to invest in the plan to establish Special Economic Zones (SEZs) along Thailand's borders as well as its ambitious rail projects.

Admittedly, Japan only took note of the Prayut government's SEZ border plans and the rail development plan is not yet a done deal. The Japanese did agree, however, to study several proposed routes and it would be no surprise if eventually Japan did invest in one project or another.

Gen Prayut's first message of how Thailand's views Japan's role, as a partner in Thailand's development and the region, was clear. His second message, not only to the Japanese government but also Japanese business in Tokyo and Osaka — was that the government would not only take care of Japanese investments in Thailand but that he would also work to resolve investment issues.

The prime minister, however, also made it clear that Thailand must benefit as well from Japanese investments, for example in human resources development, research and development, and greater access to the Japanese market for key Thai agricultural products.

Thailand and Japan also agreed to step up cooperation on political and security issues. Since the coup, discussions in this area have not progressed. They will continue next month.   

The Japan visit sends a message to Thailand's partners near and far that it will continue to adopt a policy of balancing its relations with political and economic superpowers in the region despite the rapid rise of China as a global superpower. This is the right approach for Thailand. While more effort and work needs to be done, the visit by Gen Prayut was a success for Thailand and Japan.

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