Chinese Offshore Investment

Chinese investors upbeat on prospects in Thailand despite uncertainty after king’s death

Close ties should see businesses continue to prosper

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 10:47am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 10:29pm

Chinese investors appear unfazed by the political uncertainty in Thailand following last week’s death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a leading ethnic Chinese businessman in the Southeast Asian country says.

While fears of political instability and heightened investment risk surged among international investors following the death of the king, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, on Thursday, Chinese investors and tourists were continuing to flock to Thailand, said Thai Chinese Chamber of Commerce vice-president Li Guixiong, also known as Boonyong Yongcharonenrat.

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Li, 52, is also president of the Thai Young Chinese Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 2,000 Chinese investors who moved to Thailand in the past two decades.

“The mourning of our beloved king may have a temporary impact on the tourism industry, but I don’t think the unprecedented enthusiasm to invest in Thailand among Chinese companies and businesses which we’ve seen in the past two years will be affected,” he said.

Both chambers have played active roles in helping Beijing promote its One Belt, One Road initiative and facilitating business and cultural exchanges between the two nations.

Li, who runs the family jewellery business and invests in the real estate and cultural sectors, said he had met many mainland investors over the past few days who had expressed confidence in doing business in Thailand.

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Even though Thailand’s economically crucial tourism industry has been hit by years of political instability and the August 2015 bombing of a Bangkok shrine that killed 20 people, nearly 30 million foreign visitors still visited the country last year. The number of Chinese tourists, mostly from the mainland, has increased steadily in recent years and hit a record 8 million last year. This year’s figure is expected to be even higher, with many more flights to Thailand put on for this month’s weeklong National Day holiday in China.

Although the political instability that culminated in a military coup in May 2014 has taken a toll on Thailand’s economy, with weak exports and plunging foreign investment, Chinese state-owned enterprises and private businesses have largely viewed the downturn as an opportunity, thanks to Beijing’s push to expand overseas investment and bilateral trade and the Thai government’s introduction of investment incentives for Chinese investors that are more attractive than those in other Southeast Asian nations.

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Li said mainland Chinese investors – from all provinces, regions and municipalities – had shown extraordinary confidence in Thailand’s business environment. He said that over the past two year they had been most interested in investing in real estate and infrastructure projects.

Li, who moved to Thailand in 1981 from Guangdong, also said close business and economic ties also helped boost diplomatic relations between the two nations.

“We are also helping the government to promote people-to-people diplomacy, especially in an era when tensions between China and its neighbouring nations remain high,” he said. “I always believe it is part of our responsibility to help the government tell a better China story and reduce misunderstanding.”

Although as many as a third of Thailand’s nearly 70 million people are of Chinese descent, ethnic Chinese businessmen were not well respected in the country in the past because of China’s political and economic chaos.

Chinese tourists being dissuaded from visiting grieving Thailand

But since mainland China’s reform and opening up, and especially in the past decade, the Chinese business community has played an increasingly important role in Thailand.

“Not only we are proud to say we are ethnic Chinese, but the general perception towards China and Chinese descendants has seen a huge change in recent years,” Li said. “It is fair to say ethnic Chinese now control the political and economic lifelines in Thailand.”

A former diplomat who used to work at the Chinese embassy in Bangkok also said bilateral relations were steady enough to weather domestic political uncertainties in Thailand.

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“China has kept close relations with influential figures from all walks of life in Thailand, including the military junta and the monarchy,” the former diplomat said. “And China is enjoying unprecedented political and economic influence in the country, especially considering the thriving Chinese business interests in Thailand.”