Thai PM's visit to S'pore set to focus on trade

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha arrives in Singapore today, with an eye on promoting trade and business as growth projections for Asean's second-largest economy remain subdued.

The junta chief, who staged a coup in May last year, will meet President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and key local business leaders on his two-day introductory visit.

"The discussion will be focused on exploring opportunities to increase the value and volume of trade and industry," Thai government deputy spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak told The Straits Times.

Mr Prayut will be accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Tanasak Patimapragorn, Commerce Minister Chatchai Sarikulya and Tourism and Sports Minister Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul.

Since taking power, Thailand's military government has been trying to invigorate an economy dampened by political conflict and declining competitiveness. Among other strategies, it has sought to attract global firms to set up regional headquarters as well as bump up public investment. Last week, the World Bank projected growth of up to 3.5 per cent this year for Thailand.

Singapore and Thailand are expected to sign memorandums of understanding on cooperation in tourism, taxation and media, Maj-Gen Werachon said.

Ties between the two influential Asean members run deep. Thailand is Singapore's ninth largest trading partner, with total trade hitting $30.2 billion last year. The Republic also trains its troops in Thailand. According to Bank of Thailand data, Singapore accounted for some US$740 million (S$994 million) of Thailand's net foreign direct investment last year, putting it in sixth place behind countries such as China, Japan and the United States.

Still, relations hit a nadir after the previous military takeover of Thailand. That coup in 2006 ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose family was fiercely criticised for putting strategic assets in foreign hands by selling its stake in telecoms giant Shin Corp to Singapore Government-owned Temasek Holdings.

A diplomatic spat ensued in 2007, with several anti-Singapore protests held in Bangkok.

Bilateral relations recovered after that and weathered through the kingdom's eight years of on-off political convulsion that led up to the coup last year, when Singapore expressed "grave concern" and urged all parties to "exercise restraint and work towards a positive outcome".

But Singapore's ties with Thailand quickly bounced back. Singapore, noted Dr Tim Huxley, executive director for Asia at British think-tank International Institute for Strategic Studies, adopts the attitude that "takes the world and countries as they are". It "is always accepting of whatever happens in Thailand", he said.

Mr Prayut's itinerary in Singapore will be packed. Apart from bilateral meetings today, he will visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens tomorrow, where an orchid will be named after him. This will be followed by lunch with Singapore business leaders at a forum organised by International Enterprise Singapore and a visit to the Marina Bay Cruise Centre.

This article was first published on June 11, 2015.
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