Southeast Asia must be careful to avoid getting caught in the headwinds of geopolitical rivalries that could lead to regional fragmentation, Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara said on Monday.
“At a time when we need more global cooperation, the world has become more fragmented with friend-shoring, decoupling and geopolitical rivalry becoming the norm,” Parnpree said during his keynote speech at the Post’s Hong Kong-Asean Summit 2023.
“Major power rivalry must be turned into a rule-based strategic competition that does not force countries in the region to choose sides, nor forgo economic opportunity out of geopolitical consideration.”
Asean does not want to see this region become an arena of confrontation
Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara, Thailand’s deputy prime minister
In the face of such escalating tensions, Parnpree highlighted the importance of strength and unity among the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in “preserving regional peace and stability”.
“Asean does not want to see this region become an arena of confrontation,” he said. “More pertinently, we want to avoid being forced to choose sides.”
Parnpree, who is also Thailand’s minister of foreign affairs, made the comments on Monday at the Hong Kong-Asean Summit 2023 organised by the South China Morning Post in partnership with the Hong Kong-Asean Foundation and the Our Hong Kong Foundation.
Global uncertainties had presented Asean with opportunities, he said, but the region must be prepared to improve its competitiveness and productivity.
“Asean may benefit from this [geopolitical] shift as businesses seek to relocate production bases or new sources of the supply chain,” he said. “But Asean countries must be ready to be an attractive choice for such moves.”
Parnpree highlighted Thailand’s interest in attracting more foreign investment in a sustainable manner as it seeks to focus on green energy and the digital economy.
During his speech, he also discussed Hong Kong’s interest in joining the world’s largest free-trade pact, saying “Thailand supports and welcomes Hong Kong’s formal application to the RCEP”.
Hong Kong has been seeking to join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – the world’s largest free-trade deal made up of 15 Asia-Pacific countries, including all 10 from Asean.
Hong Kong leader John Lee Ka-chiu, who also spoke at the Post’s summit, highlighted Hong Kong’s growing trade and investment opportunities with Asean, and its significant role in connecting mainland China with the rest of the world.
Asean was Hong Kong’s second-largest trading partner last year, with total trade in goods amounting to almost HK$1.3 trillion (US$165 billion), accounting for 13.7 per cent of the city’s total, according to Trade and Industry Department figures.
Thailand’s Parnpree said that Asean should look towards Hong Kong as “more than a gateway to China”.
“Rather, Hong Kong is a major investment destination in itself.”
Source : SCMP