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Ties with Vietnam much warmer after cool start

Aug 05. 2016
Vietnam's Ambassador to Thailand Nguyen Tat Thanh
Vietnam's Ambassador to Thailand Nguyen Tat Thanh
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By Supalak Ganjanakhundee

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In the first of a two-part report to mark the 40th anniversary of relations between Thailand Vietnam, which were formally established on August 6, 1976, Vietnam’s Ambassador to Thailand Nguyen Tat Thanh tells how Vietnamese viewed ties over the past 40 ye
After much turbulence over the past four decades, relations between Thailand and Vietnam have reached a remarkable point – strategic partners, and from now on this will translate into a new phase for mutual trust, respect and benefit of people on both sides, a Vietnamese diplomat has said.
Thailand and Vietnam established diplomatic relations on August 6, 1976 at the peak of the Cold War, with ties relatively cold, gloomy and tense at the beginning. The turning point which led relations to the current status began in late 1980s when Vietnam launched its Doi Moi ‘renovation’ policy in 1986 and Thailand announced a policy two years later to turn the Indochina ‘battlefields into marketplaces’. 
Leaders – notably high-level members of the Thai royal family and Vietnam’s top leaders – made frequent visits, which Hanoi’s Ambassador to Bangkok Nguyen Tat Thanh called “shuttle diplomacy” over recent decades.
With warmer relations since then, Thailand became the first Asean state to sign a strategic partnership pact with Vietnam three years ago, during the visit of Vietnam’s Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, Thanh said.
The strong ties are shown by the increasing volume and value of two-way trade and tourism. Turnover of bilateral trade between 2000-2015 has doubled, while the tourist arrivals from Vietnam to Thailand had jumped from 380,000 to 751,000 visitors currently, he said.
Looking to the decade ahead, Thanh said, governments of the two countries had created a number of mechanisms fundamental for warm ties. Last July, during a third joint cabinet meeting, the then Vietnamese premier Nguyen Tan Dung and his Thai counterpart Prayut Chan-o-cha agreed on three guiding principles – mutual respect, trust and benefit – to implement that foundation as the two governments agreed on a series of activities in a plan of action for 2014 to 2018.
“The strategic partnership as well as the Asean community should be put into practice for the benefit of our people so they can order enjoy all kinds of benefit from the better relationship and regional integration,” Thanh said.
More high level visits are coming, and more twin-city agreements will be created between provinces of the two states, while connectivity on land, water and air is increasing, he said.
Culture was another field both countries should promote for stronger ties, Ambassador Thanh said. There was plenty of room for cooperation in education, sport, media, play, literature and language, he said. 
“We want to know about Thai-ness and Buddhism in Thailand. There are over 20 Vietnamese Buddhist temples in Thailand, seven in Bangkok alone. We want to learn how Thai people are so hospitable for foreigners, attracting more than 30 million visitors last year, while we can have only eight million a year.  We want to know more about each other’s cuisine. I like Thai food and have learnt that many Thai friends love Vietnamese food.”
On the economic side, the ambassador said both countries would increase more business activities in terms of trade and investment. The turnover of two-way trade was only $13 billion (Bt452 billion) with Vietnam having a $5 billion deficit, he said, adding that there should be more products from Vietnam in Thai supermarkets. 
Thai investors are now ranked 11th in total foreign direct investment with capital of $8 billion, which he said was far below their potential in comparison to others from Asean. But Vietnamese investment in Thailand is less, with only a joint venture airline Thai-Vietjet. He suggested that both sides put in more effort to boost trade and investment.
There might be some obstacles in to smooth relations but governments of the two countries have created at least five mechanisms from the level of government to government, province to province, government-to-private entity and the level of people to people ties to cope problems, Thanh said.
In some aspects such as rice trading, it seemed that Thailand and Vietnam were rivals, but the ambassador said the business could be complementary to each other. “Our products such as rice are alike, but they are different and we can promote rice along side each other, rather than competing,” he said.
There are some problems in the fishery sector such as an incident last month, when a Navy attack on fishing boats such crewmembers injured, but Thailand said the crews were arrested after illegally intruding on Thai waters. “The fishing [situation] is a minor issue,” Thanh said. “The two countries have experience in facing more difficult issues over the past 40 years. Thanks to the vision and will of our leaders, we can solve these problems peacefully with satisfaction of both sides,” he said.
Mechanisms proposed by both sides to solve the problems and prevent any recurrence, he said, included an idea for the two navies to have a “hot line” as well as links to each other’s diplomatic representative offices, plus joint patrols in the Gulf of Thailand. The two governments were making a lot of effort to solve the issue, he said.

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