Global Lens

Thailand seeks entry into BRICS

The Bangkok government has decided to join the growing group led by emerging economies

Southeast Asia is poised to make its official entry into BRICS. On May 28, the Thai government approved the submission of a letter of intent to join the multilateral platform led by emerging economies. If the request is approved, as all indications suggest, Thailand will become the first member of the group from the ASEAN region. BRICS initially consisted of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, but as of Jan. 1, 2024, five more countries joined: Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Thailand is currently included in the list of 15 countries that will soon be considered for admission. The decision made by Bangkok is expected to speed up the process ahead of the next summit, scheduled for October in Kazan, Russia. “BRICS membership will strengthen Thailand's role as a leader among developing countries,” said Chai Wacharonke, government spokesman, at a press conference organized to announce the formal step. The letter outlines dozens of benefits for Bangkok in joining BRICS, one of which is the possibility of collaborating with other countries in the global South to strengthen its presence on the world stage. Thailand, moreover, is trying to frame its foreign policy moves as part of a broader proactive diplomatic approach that emphasizes involvement with institutions such as BRICS and the OECD. Not so much as a balancing act between great powers, but to promote its own economic interests and cultivate ties with a wider circle of developed and developing countries. The Thai initiative is an interesting sign because it shows the dynamism of the so-called “Global South,” with emerging countries committed to strengthening various multilateral platforms. Indeed, as Bangkok formalizes its intention to join the BRICS, Indonesia is taking similarly decisive steps toward joining the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Indonesia, already a member of the G20 representing ASEAN, is the first Southeast Asian country to formally request to discuss membership. In recent days, Mathias Cormann, secretary of the OECD, visited Jakarta to speed up the process designed to bring the country's status to that of full membership. Cormann met with outgoing President Joko Widodo to discuss next steps. Jakarta aims to achieve full membership within three years.

New horizons of cooperation between Italy and Thailand

The balance of Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin's visit to Rome

By Alice Freguglia

May 21, 2024 Palazzo Chigi hosted Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who was visiting Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Infrastructure, digitization, energy and tourism promotion were the topics most discussed by the two leaders, with a view to promoting bilateral relations in favor of greater socio-political cohesion and with the goal of ensuring the full development of both countries.

As early as last year, in 2023, on the occasion of the 155th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Italy and Thailand, the Chambers of Commerce of both nations signed a memorandum of understanding, promoted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and Unioncamere, which further strengthened economic and trade ties, as well as underscored Thailand's importance as a partner. With a young and constantly growing population, in fact, the Thai territory would really represent an important resource for the Italian economy, able to offer significant opportunities for businesses, as also stressed by Andrea Prete himself, President of Unioncamere.

Thailand, in fact, as the political heart of ASEAN, represents a natural entry point for Italian companies wishing to access the markets of Southeast Asia, an area that, in addition to encompassing more than 600 million people, has an interesting market potential. Remarkable, in fact, is the volume of Rome-Bangkok trade, which in 2023 reached a value of about 4 billion euros, with Italian exports of 1.9 billion and imports of more than 2.1, representing an allied and reliable market, a source of economic and political stability.

“We intend to discuss cooperation with ltaly, whether it is trade and investment, agriculture, fashion or renewable energy. As well as tourism. In fact, more than 190,000 Italians come to Thailand every year.” These were the Thai leader's words, a prelude to a meeting later described as 'satisfactory' by Giorgia Meloni, in which ItaIy promoted and strengthened its international relations with its partner.

Expanding and improving travel within the territory, in fact, is one of the key domestic policy objectives for Thailand, and what better example to take inspiration from than Italy? Our country, in fact, boasts some of the world's most prominent and recognized companies in terms of quality and innovation. The Made in Italy stamp, in fact, can be placed on countless large-scale projects, such as the high-speed rail network, but also on the construction and management of civil works such as bridges, roads, ports and airports.

Similarly, recent initiatives such as the PNRR, National Recovery and Resilience Plan, focused on the implementation of major investments to ensure greater digitization of public administration and to support Italian industries, is also an exemplary imprinting for Thailand, which, in its own way, with the implementation of the so-called 'Thailand 4.0' plan aims to achieve an economy based on innovation and technology.

The environment will also be positively affected by this strengthening of Italian-Thai relations. In particular, Italy's experience in renewable energy would represent significant 'know how' for Thailand, which could not only take a cue from the technologies adopted to cope with the global warming emergency, but also rely on valuable investments that would allow it to make the most of its natural potential.

If there is anything, however, that unites these two seemingly distant realities, it is, surely, the beauty that attracts millions and millions of tourists each year, lovers of both pizza and pad thai. Strengthening trade relations, in fact, will also be able to ensure a greater influx of guests and visitors to both territories, a very important economic source, especially for two countries that from the historical, naturalistic and monumental point of view, have much to offer to the eyes of those who look at them with curiosity and a desire to broaden their horizons.

Srettha Thavisin, moreover, would seem to have convinced Giorgia Meloni regarding Thailand's desire to join the OECD, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Founded in 1961, the OECD provides a platform for governments to discuss and coordinate economic and social policies.Member states collaborate on issues such as economic growth, employment, education, innovation and trade, with the goal of creating a stronger and more sustainable global economy. Joining, therefore, would greatly elevate the country's status, allowing Thailand to gain international recognition and benefit from a socioeconomic knowledge exchange that would enable it to promote better political dialogue and economic cooperation.

In this regard, moreover, it would appear that Giorgia Meloni has accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Thavisin to visit Thailand, a significant step forward in bilateral cooperation between the two countries, as well as a confirmation of Italy's commitment inI'paving the way for further discussions and collaboration on strategic issues.

ASEAN and Taiwan in the Lai era

The inauguration of new President Lai Ching-te in Taipei and the possible economic and political repercussions in Southeast Asia

By Luca Menghini

On May 20, Lai Ching-te will officially become the new President of Taiwan. This event is significant not only for the island but also for the geopolitical context of the entire Southeast Asia. Taiwan is indeed preparing for a significant change with the inauguration of a leader from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), known for its leanings towards the island's independence from China. Lai secured 40.1% of the votes, surpassing candidates from the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Taiwan People's Party (TPP). Despite the DPP's victory, the party lost control of the legislative assembly, forcing the new president to seek broader consensus which will lead him to moderate his more extreme policies.

The loss of the parliamentary majority could be seen by ASEAN as an element of stability, as it might mitigate Lai's policies, thus reducing tensions in the Taiwan Strait. This area is of vital strategic importance, being a crucial maritime corridor for global trade. ASEAN, which traditionally follows a policy of non-interference and consensus, reacted cautiously to Lai's election. The member countries, located in a region crossed by various trade routes and spheres of influence of major powers, strive to maintain a balance to avoid conflicts. The stability of the strait is essential not only for regional security but also for the global economy.

During the period leading up to the elections, tensions between Taiwan and China grew, especially during the presidency of Tsai Ing-wen, who sought to strengthen ties with the United States. China responded by increasing military and diplomatic pressure on the island, which it considers a rebel province to be reunified in the future. While the reaction of ASEAN and most of its member countries to Lai's election was generally subdued, with most countries avoiding taking strong public positions, the same cannot be said for Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Marcos was the only leader to break from this line, publicly congratulating Lai and referring to him as president, highlighting the hope for close collaboration and strengthening of mutual interests. This move was not viewed favorably by China, which, claiming Taiwan as part of its territory, does not recognize Lai's title as president. Even more critical was China's reaction to the congratulations extended by the United States through Secretary of State Antony Blinken, accusing the U.S. government of sending "a seriously wrong signal to the separatist forces for Taiwan's independence."

On the economic front, the New Southbound Policy, initiated by former President Tsai Ing-wen starting in 2016, aimed to reduce Taiwan's economic dependence on China, promoting economic cooperation with 18 countries, including ASEAN members, six South Asian states, Australia, and New Zealand. This initiative sought to enhance economic and commercial cooperation, as well as the exchange of talents and resources. However, despite the efforts, reactions have been mixed, also influenced by the caution of various governments trying to avoid irritating China. Taiwan's Minister of Economic Affairs, Wang Mei-hua, indicated that in 2022, investments by Taiwanese companies in Southeast and South Asia surpassed investments in China, reaching $5.2 billion. This increase was driven by trade tensions between the United States and China, but the geopolitical proximity to China continues to represent a significant obstacle for a freer expansion of Taiwan's trade relations.

Now, with the inauguration of Lai, it is expected that Taiwan's commitment to Southeast Asia will continue to increase and even intensify further, with particular attention to cooperation in the high-tech industry. However, the growing influence of China in the region represents an imminent challenge. A recent survey showed that most Southeast Asian countries favor China over the United States. The complex situation will indeed require Lai to carefully balance the promotion of Taiwan's economic interests with the need to navigate the political and diplomatic sensitivities of Southeast Asia.

In conclusion, the inauguration of Lai Ching-te as president of Taiwan represents a significant moment for the island's politics. Faced with the loss of the parliamentary majority and growing tensions with China, Lai will have to navigate an increasingly complex geopolitical context, trying to balance his party's independentist aspirations with the need to maintain stability and peaceful relations in the region. His policies, particularly the strengthening of relations with Southeast Asian countries and beyond, will be crucial for Taiwan's security and economic progress. In this delicate balance, Lai's ability to conduct effective diplomacy and promote sustainable economic growth, while managing external pressures, will define the success of his tenure and potentially influence the regional order of Southeast Asia for the coming years.

ASEAN wants to avoid a new cold war

We publish here an excerpt of a commentary by Alex Lo, published in the South China Morning Post

China has dethroned the United States as the superpower's preferred partner in Southeast Asia. The findings emerge from the latest annual survey of 1,994 politicians, journalists, businessmen and analysts from ASEAN countries by the Singapore-based think tank, the ASEAN Studies Centre of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. When asked which superpower they would take sides if forced to do so, 50.5 percent chose China versus 49.5 percent who chose the United States. That is a very narrow margin and is within the margin of error. So, let's say it's a tie. This should worry Washington, however, because last year the results were 61.1 percent for the United States and 38.9 percent for China. It is worth noting that this is a survey of elites, not ordinary citizens. So even if it does not directly reflect popular sentiments, it can say a lot about the real political directions of the countries concerned. There is another obvious conclusion: Southeast Asia does not want to choose sides, nor do Latin America and Africa. Thus, while it is normal for U.S. allies to follow Washington's lead, the rest of the world, particularly the Global South, do not believe it is in their own interest to join the superpower rivalry. On the contrary, they believe it can cause a lot of damage. Not surprisingly, ASEAN considers unemployment and recession to be the region's most pressing concern (57.7 percent). Like it or not, its economic fortunes are tied to China's. That is why China is considered "the most influential economic (59.5 percent) and political-strategic (43.9 percent) power in the region, surpassing the United States by significant margins in both areas." China, with an average score of 8.98 out of 11.0, tops the list in terms of strategic relevance to ASEAN, followed by the United States (8.79) and Japan (7.48). Partners of lower strategic importance are: India (5.04), Canada (3.81) and New Zealand (3.70). The survey appears quite indicative of the situation in ASEAN. The region the Association represents wants the security provided by the United States, but is wary of their economic initiatives. With China it is the opposite. It does not want China to threaten its security, nor does it want the United States to undermine its hard-won prosperity, in a new Cold War. No one wants to be trapped between two gorillas.

Philippines, cooperation with US AND Japan

Joe Biden hosts Fumio Kishida and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. for an unprecedented trilateral summit. Here's what the trilateral relationship means for Manila

By Walter Minutella

In recent years, the United States has consistently sought to deepen its diplomatic and security relationship in Asia. In this context, an unprecedented trilateral summit between U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. takes place on Thursday, April 11. The summit offers a unique opportunity to take a deeper look at the nature of relations between these three countries and outline future prospects for cooperation, starting with that in the context of the South China Sea.

This area has turned into a crucial geopolitical theater, with several countries claiming sovereignty over islands and rock formations scattered throughout the region. China has advanced assertive territorial claims, militarizing disputed islands and conducting increasingly assertive maritime operations. On the other hand, the aftermath of the war in Ukraine has also led to a strengthening of security and defense cooperation between the United States and several countries in the region.

Japan and the Philippines occupy a special role, as they have always been pillars of the U.S. security strategy in the Asia-Pacific. The decision to hold this trilateral summit is rooted in the need to coordinate responses to challenges in the South China Sea. 

In addition to the geopolitical dimension, economic cooperation is another key pillar of the trilateral relationship. The United States, Japan, and the Philippines can join forces to foster economic growth through infrastructure development, trade and investment facilitation, and the promotion of inclusive economic policies. In addition, collaboration among these countries can help address new and emerging challenges, such as the digitization of the economy, opening up new opportunities for growth and sustainable development in the region.

Innovation and technology play an increasingly significant role in economic competitiveness and solving global challenges. The United States, Japan and the Philippines can work together to promote the development of advanced technologies while ensuring the security of digital infrastructure and the responsible adoption of new technologies. Through joint research and knowledge exchange, critical challenges such as climate change and food security can be addressed, thereby contributing to prosperity and well-being in the region.

Climate change and marine conservation are urgent challenges that require a global and coordinated response. The United States, Japan, and the Philippines can join forces to promote policies and initiatives to mitigate the effects of climate change, protect marine ecosystems, and promote environmental sustainability. This could include promoting renewable energy, responsible management of fisheries resources, and conservation of marine ecosystems, thus helping to preserve the environment for future generations.

Finally, regional security remains a key priority for all three countries. The United States, Japan and the Philippines intend to enhance their security and defense cooperation through joint military exercises, intelligence exchange and promotion of maritime security. This can help strengthen deterrence in the region while seeking to preserve the crucial goal of economic growth.

The EU and Malaysia's forests

Southeast Asia's view on the new regulation that blocks imports of palm oil resulting from deforestation

“Can Europe save forests without killing jobs in Malaysia?” This was asked in a recent New York Times article, evidence that this is a particularly relevant topic not only at a bilateral but also international level. The European Union's looming ban on imports linked to deforestation has been hailed as a new standard to be met in climate policy - a significant step to protect the world's forests, which helps remove planet-killing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere . “The law requires traders to trace the origins of a mind-boggling variety of products: beef and books, chocolate and coal, lipstick and leather. For the European Union, the mandate, which will come into force next year, is a testament to the bloc's role as a global leader on climate change,” writes the New York Times, which however adds: “The move, however, remained caught in conflicting currents about how to address the economic and political trade-offs required by climate change.” In fact, developing countries are certainly not content, with Malaysia and Indonesia among the most explicit in criticizing the new legislation. Together, the two Southeast Asian countries supply 85% of the world's palm oil, one of seven critical products covered by the European Union ban. And I argue that the law puts their economies at risk. In their eyes, writes the New York Times, rich and technologically advanced countries (and former colonial powers) "are once again dictating terms and changing the rules of trade when it suits them". This view accords with developing countries' complaints that the dominant international order neglects their concerns. The dispute over palm oil also contains a central point in the economics of climate change, underlines the US newspaper: the thesis according to which middle- and low-income nations are forced to bear the cost of disastrous environmental changes caused mainly by the most rich. In its 2022 annual survey, the World Resources Institute found that Malaysia was one of the few places where deforestation did not worsen. And perhaps there is a space to protect both climate and economic needs, preserving the fruitful relations between the countries of South-East Asia and the European Union.

UE-Filippine verso un accordo di libero scambio

Riprendono ufficialmente i colloqui tra il blocco dei 27 e Manila. Ecco su quali basi


Luned’ 18 marzo, l’Unione Europea e le Filippine hanno annunciato ufficialmente la ripresa dei negoziati per un accordo di libero scambio. La Commissione Europea ha parlato di progetto “ambizioso, moderno ed equilibrato, con la sostenibilità al centro”. Aggiungendo che “accordi commerciali come questo sono una pietra miliare della sicurezza economica dell’UE, in quanto aprono nuove opportunità per le imprese e i consumatori, rafforzano le catene di approvvigionamento e promuovono pratiche commerciali sostenibili”. Un accordo di libero scambio con le Filippine, un’economia in espansione di 115 milioni di persone nel cuore della regione indo-pacifica, strategicamente importante, sarebbe un’aggiunta preziosa alla rete di accordi commerciali dell’UE. Il blocco dei 27 e Manila hanno già relazioni commerciali consolidate, con un chiaro potenziale per un rapporto ancora più stretto: secondo i dati ufficiali diffusi da Bruxelles, gli scambi di merci hanno raggiunto un valore di oltre 18,4 miliardi di euro nel 2022, mentre gli scambi di servizi hanno raggiunto un valore di 4,7 miliardi di euro nel 2021. L’UE è anche uno dei maggiori investitori nelle Filippine, con uno stock di investimenti diretti esteri dell’UE nelle Filippine che raggiungerà i 13,7 miliardi di euro nel 2021. Oltre a essere un’economia importante e in crescita, le Filippine possiedono anche importanti riserve di materie prime critiche, tra cui nichel, rame e cromite. “Insieme ai rinnovati sforzi delle Filippine per sfruttare il proprio potenziale di energia rinnovabile e alla recente liberalizzazione per gli investitori stranieri nel settore, le Filippine sono un partner importante nella transizione green”, sottolinea la Commissione Europea. L’UE e le Filippine faranno ora i rispettivi preparativi tecnici per il primo round della ripresa dei negoziati, previsto per la fine dell’anno. L’UE ha già concluso accordi di libero scambio all’avanguardia con due Paesi dell’ASEAN (Singapore e Vietnam), sta negoziando accordi di libero scambio con l’Indonesia e la Thailandia e sta effettuando una valutazione per un ulteriore accordo con la Malesia. Le Filippine godono attualmente di preferenze commerciali nell’ambito del Sistema di preferenze generalizzate + dell’UE, un regime speciale di incentivi per lo sviluppo sostenibile e il buon governo che garantisce l’accesso in esenzione doganale al mercato dell’UE per due terzi delle linee tariffarie.

China's role in ASEAN trade

In recent years, Beijing and Southeast Asian countries have signed a series of economic cooperation agreements

Editorial by Lorenzo Riccardi, Managing Partner RsA Asia

Beijing's role in Asia is promoted through the volume of trade and the number of bilateral and multilateral agreements. In the Asia-Pacific region, China has signed 42 double taxation agreements, ten free trade agreements, and has promoted multilateral free trade agreements with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) nations, Gulf economies (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates), and Northeast Asian countries (Japan and Korea). The number of tax treaties, investment agreements, and free trade agreements is proportionally much higher in the neighboring countries of the Eastern area compared to other regions of the planet. This determines an accelerated trend in economic relations, especially with the primary trading partner: the ASEAN bloc. To strengthen the trade partnership, China and ASEAN have signed a series of agreements on economic cooperation over the past 20 years. These include a comprehensive agreement on global economic cooperation between ASEAN and China in 2002, the establishment of the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) implemented in several phases between 2005 and 2010, the China-Singapore Free Trade Agreement in force since 2008, an ASEAN-China investment agreement in 2009, the ASEAN-Hong Kong SAR China Free Trade Agreement in force since 2019, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership signed in 2020, and the free trade agreement with Cambodia in force since 2022. Beijing has also signed mutual visa exemption agreements between 2023 and 2024 with Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. A visa-on-arrival procedure is expected for Chinese citizens traveling to Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, and Myanmar, and a simplified e-visa procedure for Vietnam. Among the ASEAN countries, only the Philippines require advance visas for Chinese visitors. In China-ASEAN trade, Kuala Lumpur is the largest exporter with USD 102 billion in data from Chinese customs in 2023 (almost four times the volume of Italian exports to China), while Hanoi is the largest importer of Chinese products with about USD 137 billion. ASEAN and Beijing grow beyond the global average, and China has its primary trading partner in Southeast Asia with USD 911 billion in trade in December 2023, surpassing the aggregated import and export volume recorded by the People's Republic with the European Union (USD 783 billion) and the United States (USD 664 billion).

L’AUSTRALIA PUNTA SULL’ASEAN

Pubblichiamo qui uno stralcio del discorso della Ministra degli Esteri Penny Wong al summit di Melbourne tra Australia e ASEAN

Quando l’ASEAN era ancora agli albori, circa cinquant’anni fa, il nostro visionario Primo Ministro Gough Whitlam riconobbe che l’ASEAN era già centrale nella gestione delle sfide della regione, e capì che lo sarebbe diventata sempre di più. Per questo motivo, si impegnò con entusiasmo a favore dell’ASEAN e ben presto l’Australia divenne il primo paese non membro a stabilire relazioni formali, quando il Primo Ministro Whitlam firmò per l’Australia come primo partner di dialogo dell’ASEAN. Il Primo Ministro Whitlam sapeva che, sebbene gran parte della nostra storia fosse in Europa, la nostra casa e il nostro futuro sono nella nostra regione. Ha riconosciuto il ruolo che il Sud-Est asiatico avrebbe avuto nel destino dell’Australia e del mondo. A sua volta, Whitlam vedeva l’Australia come “un vero partecipante al destino della regione”. E, come sempre, pensando al futuro, disse: “Non si può tornare indietro da questo impegno”. In effetti, è stato dimostrato che aveva ragione. E il nostro impegno è cresciuto fino a diventare un Partenariato strategico globale tra l’ASEAN e l’Australia, la formalizzazione dell’impegno permanente dell’Australia nei confronti della centralità dell’ASEAN. La formalizzazione di una verità che l’Australia non solo riconosce, ma abbraccia: condividiamo una regione e un futuro. Siamo legati dalla geografia che il destino ha scelto per noi e siamo rafforzati dal partenariato che abbiamo scelto per noi stessi. Le nostre nazioni e i nostri popoli si arricchiscono con gli scambi commerciali. Le nostre nazioni e i nostri popoli beneficiano della pace, della stabilità e della sicurezza che costruiamo insieme. La nostra fede nel successo condiviso è alla base dell’impegno dell’Australia per un maggiore partenariato economico. Abbiamo tutti la responsabilità di plasmare la regione che vogliamo condividere: pacifica, stabile e prospera. I nostri partenariati di difesa di lunga data nella regione, anche con gli Stati membri dell’ASEAN, non costruiscono solo interoperabilità, ma anche amicizia e comprensione. I Paesi della nostra regione dipendono dagli oceani, dai mari e dai fiumi per il loro sostentamento e per il commercio, comprese le rotte marittime libere e aperte nel Mar Cinese Meridionale. Per questo sono lieta di annunciare che nei prossimi quattro anni stanzieremo altri 64 milioni di dollari, di cui 40 milioni di dollari di nuovi finanziamenti, per potenziare i partenariati marittimi australiani nel Sud-Est asiatico. Sono inoltre lieta di annunciare un ulteriore stanziamento di 222,5 milioni di dollari per sostenere la resilienza nella subregione del Mekong. Una seconda fase del Partenariato Mekong-Australia porterà investimenti nella sicurezza idrica, nella resilienza ai cambiamenti climatici, nella lotta alla criminalità transnazionale e nel rafforzamento della leadership subregionale.

ASEAN and India, the bond grows stronger

Association secretary general's trip to New Delhi brings bloc closer to Asian giant

At the invitation of the Government of the Republic of India, H.E. Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, Secretary-General of ASEAN, paid a working visit to India from Feb. 12-15, 2024. February. The purpose of the visit was to further advance the ASEAN-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership (CSC) by reactivating engagements across the spectrum of ASEAN's three community pillars and promoting ASEAN diplomacy and visibility in India. Rooted in centuries of civil ties, maritime connectivity and cross-cultural exchanges, the ASEAN-India Comprehensive Strategic Partnership continued to gain momentum. During the visit, India reaffirmed to the ASEAN Secretary-General its commitment to work with ASEAN and its partners in support of peace, stability and prosperity in the region. India expressed its unwavering support for the centrality of ASEAN and the ASEAN Indo-Pacific Perspectives (AOIP) as the principle and framework for promoting cooperation in the region. The visit highlighted India's position as ASEAN's eighth largest trading partner, with total trade of $113.08 billion, accounting for 2.94 percent of ASEAN's total trade. Meanwhile, foreign direct investment flows from India to ASEAN totaled $0.68 billion in 2022. To further maximize the potential of ASEAN-India economic cooperation while at the same time geo-economic uncertainties, the ASEAN Secretary-General has communicated to India the need for both sides to further increase trade and investment including through full and effective utilization of the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA), early utilization of the ASEAN-India Free Trade Area (AIFTA), early conclusion of the ASEAN-India Agreement on Trade in Goods (AITIGA) review negotiations, and India's potential participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Meanwhile, in the tourism sector, discussions during the visit noted a significant increase in the number of visitor arrivals from India to ASEAN to 2.38 million by 2022. This reflects the positive signs of the post-COVID-19 recovery, which is expected to further benefit both sides through the development of sustainable tourism and collaboration on marketing initiatives to present ASEAN as a unique tourism destination for the Indian market.

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ASEAN's Vision on 2024

We publish here an excerpt from the final document of the January 28-29 meeting in Luang Prabang, Laos, between ASEAN foreign ministers 

On January 29, 2024, the Lao Foreign Ministers' retreat was held in Luang Prabang, Lao PDR. We had in-depth discussions on the implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and priorities for the Lao chairmanship in 2024, as well as concrete and sustainable ways to further strengthen the ASEAN Community, ASEAN's unity, centrality and resilience amid regional and global challenges. We also exchanged views on ASEAN's external relations and recent regional and international developments of common interest and concern. 

We reaffirmed our strong commitment to upholding regionalism and multilateralism, and stressed the importance of adhering to the key principles, shared values and norms enshrined in the United Nations Charter, the ASEAN Charter, the Declaration on the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon Free Zone Treaty (SEANWFZ).

We reaffirmed our shared commitment to maintaining and promoting peace, security and stability in the region, and to the peaceful resolution of disputes, including full respect for legal and diplomatic processes, without resort to the threat or use of force, in accordance with the principles of international law.

We discussed the developments in Myanmar and reaffirmed our unified position that the five-point consensus remains our main reference for addressing the political crisis in Myanmar, with the sole objective of restoring peace, stability and a Myanmar-led comprehensive political resolution. We welcomed the ASEAN leaders' reviews and decisions on the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus Five-Point Consensus, adopted at the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits in 2022 and the 43rd ASEAN Summit in 2023. 

We reaffirmed ASEAN's commitment to assist Myanmar in finding a peaceful, comprehensive and lasting solution to the ongoing conflict, as Myanmar remains an integral part of ASEAN. ASEAN member states welcomed the appointment of H.E. Alounkeo KITTIKHOUN, former Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, as the ASEAN Chair's Special Envoy for Myanmar for 2024, as we continue our efforts to promote progress in the implementation of the Partnership Agreement with Myanmar.

We appreciated his efforts to date to reach out to stakeholders and trust his willingness to help the people of Myanmar find a Myanmar-led solution toward a peaceful, stable, and unified Myanmar that contributes to peace and prosperity in the region.

Read the full document here

Thailand's Landbridge will bring East and West closer

We publish here an excerpt of the speech by the Prime Minister of Thailand Srettha Thavisin on the Landbridge project

Thailand's Landbridge mega infrastructure project is an effort towards creating seamless connectivity to boost long-term growth prospects in the region and is fully in line with my Government's proactive economic diplomacy.

The project will include the construction of deep-sea ports in Ranong, on Thailand's Andaman coast, and Chumphon, in the Gulf of Thailand. Located approximately 90 kilometers apart, the two ports will operate under the “one port, two sides” concept, supported by a highway and double-track railway lines to connect the ports with each other and with the country's national network.

Each port will have the capacity to handle up to 20 million standard containers per year. The plan also includes the installation of a network of oil and gas pipelines. The total estimated cost is 1 trillion baht ($28 billion).

The Landbridge project represents an unprecedented opportunity to improve connectivity between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and to link economic activity between the two regions.

It promises to facilitate greater movement of goods and people between East and West, offering a viable route for maritime trade beyond the Straits of Malacca.

Once completed, the Landbridge is expected to reduce travel times by an average of four days between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific and reduce transportation costs by 15%. For a company shipping goods from Chennai to Yokohama, for example, this could mean savings of up to five days and 4% on costs.

Those familiar with Thailand's logistical development might see the Landbridge as a modern reworking of a century-old proposal to dredge a canal across the Kra Isthmus.

Although it was originally approved in 1989 as part of Thailand's Southern Economic Corridor, various considerations have left this project unrealized to this day. Now the timing will align well with the growth prospects of the economies of the Indian subcontinent and Africa.

Plans call for the first phase of construction to begin in September 2025 and last until October 2030. Contractors will likely be able to bid on the project between April and June 2025.

The Landbridge is expected to bring benefits of 1.3 trillion baht to the Thai economy and increase the country's annual gross domestic product growth rate by 1.5% through increased export opportunities and the creation of 280,000 jobs . It will also bring new development opportunities for other provinces in southern Thailand.