STRENGTHENING TIES

Oman 2017 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister of Thailand, on the development of the relationship between Thailand and Oman, becoming strategic partners, and facilitating access to Asia for Oman.

Prayut Chan-o-cha
BIOGRAPHY
Prayuth Chan-o-cha has a BSc from Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy. After graduating, he served in the 21st Infantry Regiment, popularly known as the Queen’s Guard. He was chief of staff for the Royal Thai Army from 2008 until 2009 and became its commander-in-chief in 2010.

How would you characterize the bilateral relationship between Thailand and Oman?

It has been over three decades since Thailand and Oman established diplomatic relations in 1980, and ever since our bilateral relations have always been close and cordial at all levels. There have been exchanges of visit between members of the royal families, the two governments, and our peoples. The latest high-level visit from the Thai side was by Deputy Prime Minister HE Dr. Somkid Jatusripitak, accompanied by four ministers while Thailand welcomed I-I.E. Dr. Mohammed bin Hamad Al Ruhmi, Minister of Oil and Gas of Oman, in 2016. These visits have shown our strong desire and endeavor to strengthen ties and expand cooperation between Thailand and Oman even further. In addition to our main area of cooperation in the energy sector, the royal Thai government looks forward to further strengthening collaboration with Oman in various fields such as trade and investment, education, agriculture and fisheries, and tourism.

How does Thailand view Oman as a strategic partner in the Middle East?

Situated in the middle of the East-West trade route, Oman possesses the unique position of being between the Middle East and Africa. In addition, Oman has maintained friendly relations with every country in these regions. There is no doubt Oman can be our strategic partner linking Thailand with the Middle East and the wider regions of Africa. Thailand, with a thriving domestic consumer market of over 65 million people, is strategically located at the crossroads of Asia. Thailand can provide easy access to the region's dynamic markets, such as the Greater Mekong sub-region, where newly emerging markets offer great trade potential. For this reason, Thailand can be Oman's gateway to other ASEAN countries and the wider Asian countries. The energy sector has been laid at the forefront of our bilateral relationship; however, there are a number of sectors that Thailand and Oman can expand and strengthen their cooperation, to complement each other in areas of mutual interests such as tourism, trade, logistics, agriculture and fisheries, and other non-oil sectors. Furthermore, Thailand and Oman have enjoyed strong local contact, with around 80,000 Omani tourists visiting Thailand and a growing number of Thai tourists travelling to Oman each year.

As a founding member of ASEAN, how can further cooperation with Thailand facilitate improved access to East Asian markets for Oman?

The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 is a major milestone for ASEAN. The AEC can offer a huge market of USD2.6 trillion and over 622 million people. The AEC, as envisioned for 2025, is an economic community that is highly integrated, competitive, dynamic, people centered, and engaged at the global level. I am confident that the AEC will continue to make progress between now and 2025, and as it increasingly integrates, it is projected to be the fourth-largest economy in the world by 2050. Moreover, ASEAN remains outward looking and continues to engage actively with key trading partners. Also noteworthy is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which includes China, Korea, Japan, India, Australia, and New Zealand. It will enhance the region's competitiveness through the expansion of production and distribution networks as well as simplified rules and standards. We also have set a goal to achieve “Thailand 4.0," which is our drive toward a value-based economy driven by innovation. To achieve this goal, the government is formulating and implementing multi-faceted economic packages such as investment in transport infrastructure and the establishment of special economic zones (SEZs). Undoubtedly, Thailand 4.0 will complement our existing advantages in infrastructure, skilled labor, and connections to the ASEAN markets and beyond, all of which Oman can benefit from and use as a springboard into ASEAN, Asia, and the Pacific. The sectors in which Thailand's strengths lie, to name but a few, are agriculture and agro-industry, industrial products, and services related to tourism, hotels, restaurants, and healthcare. Both countries can also cooperate under the framework of ASEAN and GCC. We share several similarities in terms of economic growth and potential.