Japan ties in line for boost

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrives in Bangkok on Sunday. He is scheduled to have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Monday at Government House. (Photo: @MFAThai Twitter account)

The official visit by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, the first of its kind in nine years, will not only help cement long-term Thai-Japanese relations but also spawn new trade and investment opportunities for both sides, believe some observers.

A number of new memorandums of understanding and agreements are expected to be signed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his Japanese counterpart at their meeting on Monday.

It is hoped that Mr Kishida’s visit will boost economic and investment cooperation, said Chaiwat Khamchoo, director of the college of politics and governance at King Prajadhipok’s Institute.

As well as reaffirming the strong bond on the 135th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the Japanese leader is also expected to take a stance on one of the region’s key issues — the political unrest in Myanmar, said Mr Chaiwat.

However, with China having made its sympathy towards Russia clear, the international community is keen to hear the Japanese leader’s thoughts and position on the war in Ukraine, he said.

In terms of regional strategies, Japan may now want more support from Thailand, currently the host of Apec meetings, also for its Indo-Pacific policy, he said.

“Now that Asean has become a region where superpowers are competing to become involved, Vietnam and Indonesia are becoming Thailand’s arch rivals,” he said.

Vietnam, for instance, has received more assistance from Japan, while Cambodia is attempting to scale up relations with both Japan and Vietnam, he said.

“In a nutshell, this occasion will greatly benefit Thailand. However, that will depend largely on whether we can attract greater levels of Japanese investment than in the past,” he said.

Before visiting Thailand, the Japanese leader has already made stops in Vietnam and Indonesia, said Prof Kitti Prasirtsuk, head of the International Relations Department of Faculty of Political Science at Thammasat University.

In the Asean market, Japan still maintains the highest volume of investment in Thailand, especially in the auto and household appliances sectors, despite having moved some factories to Vietnam instead, he said.

It thought that Thailand now expects Japan to invest more in the electronic vehicle (EV) sector and its flagship Easter Economic Corridor (EEC) scheme, he said.

To achieve this goal, he recommended that the government offer more tax privileges to attract those foreign companies to move their production bases to Thailand, he said.

“And with Thailand having now fully reopened as of yesterday, the government should take this opportunity to court Japanese tourists,” he said.

Mr Kishida and Gen Prayut are expected to discuss several areas of bilateral economic cooperation including more investment opportunities in the EV-making industry, said government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana.

Deputy Prime Minister and Energy Minister Supattanapong Punmeechaow previously tried to woo investors on a visit to Japan and tried to sell the opportunities that Thailand has to offer, said the spokesman.

Other topics for conversation between the two heads of state include cooperation on matters of regional security as well as a number of sub-regional and international matters, said Mr Thanakorn.

Prof Kitti said he expected Japan to bring up cooperation on maritime issues.

Japan has previously sold and donated a number of coast guard vessels to the Philippines and donated some used coast guard vessels to Vietnam, he said, adding that these two countries are both involved in the South China Seas disputes.

As for the cyber security cooperation that Japan already has agreed with Asean, he believed Thailand will likely be reserved about discussing the details too openly due its reluctance to take positions that contradict Chinese policy on the matter.