Richard Huang sees "a lot of economic opportunities" for the two nations
While relations between Thailand and China over the past 40 years have been mostly driven by governments and political agendas, ties from now on would also be pushed forward by a person like Richard Huang, a Chinese businessman whose connection with Thailand really means business.
Huang is chief executive officer of Weimin International Holding, a Fuzhou-based trading company which is now utilising international mechanisms such as the Asean-China Free Trade Agreement and the newly initiated 21st Century Maritime Silk Road to trade with Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia.
A native of Fujian province, Huang began his business with Thailand by being a representative of the kingdom’s Pantainorasingh Manufacturing company, importing into China Sukiyaki sauce, dipping sauce and other products under the brand.
“I visited Thailand for the first time in 1995 and fell in love with the country – its food, culture and many other things. I would say that half of my life has been spent in Thailand and being ‘Thai’,” Huang said.
As an agent of Pantainorasingh, more than 300 containers of products under this brand alone have been sold in China each year, he said, and added that after the free-trade agreement between Asean and China, business has been going well.
With zero import tariffs, Weimin also imported a number of farm products including dry fruit from Thailand, he said.
“I see a lot of economic opportunities between Thailand and China – indeed not only Thailand but also all of Asean,” he said.
Huang is conducting a successful business at a time when the Chinese economy is growing fast and the leadership in Beijing under President Xi Jinping has launched the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road as a new economic vehicle to boost growth with other countries, especially Asean.
Fujian Province, of which Fuzhou is the capital, was designated by the central government as the core area in building the Maritime Silk Road in this modern era.
The Chinese cabinet decided last year to establish the China (Fijian) Pilot Free Trade Zone to allow trade, services and other business to enjoy tax privileges in a bid to boost growth.
“With the Maritime Silk Road, people would get more involved in business activities and cultural exchanges more conveniently, since logistics and other infrastructure will be available and supported,” Huang said.
For millions of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, Fujian is their original roots. Business and relations have been driven by the link between these overseas Chinese and their relatives on the mainland.
Huang also exercised his Chinese identity and culture to obtain close connections with overseas Chinese in Thailand, whose ancestors were mostly from Shantou in Guangdong province.
Overseas Chinese in the kingdom and elsewhere in the region will also benefit from the One Belt One Road initiative, as they already know China very well, Huang pointed out.
After the establishment of the free trade zone in Fuzhou, Huang set up cross-border e-business outlets to provide comprehensive services for business between China and outsiders, the main target being Asean countries. Commodity importing services, financial support, logistics and warehouse and office services are his businesses in the free trade zone, he said.
Thai products particularly
food, which meet international standards, have a good opportunity of selling well in China, he said.
Mayor Yang Yimin said Fuzhou, which is the core city for the Maritime Silk Road initiative, might not designate any particular project for “connecting with Thailand”, but Thai products have been a familiarity in Chinese markets, notably high quality rice, for a long time. Chinese enterprises have imported a lot of Thai products, he added.
“[For example], the Yang Hui Department Store sells plenty of Thai products and it is planning to open businesses in Thailand,” he said.
Two-way trade between Thailand and China was US$72 billion (Bt2.4 trillion) last year, growing 2 per cent from the previous year, according to the Thai embassy in Beijing.
Former foreign minister Tej Bunnag, who is keen on strong relations between Thailand and China, said what China has created – such as the silk road and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to boost economic activities in Southeast Asia – would benefit Thailand if the leadership in Bangkok knows how to deal with such moves.
Under the One Belt One Road project, the Thai government is negotiating with China to construct a dual-track train service linking Nongkhai with Bangkok and Lam Chabang. The next round of negotiations are set to take place, according to Chinese officials at the Foreign Ministry. Both sides intend to begin construction before the end of this year, the officials said.
This is the fourth in the series The Nation is running this week to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Thailand-China diplomatic relations.