In this webinar, Dr Vo Xuan Vinh reviewed the history of Vietnam-Thailand relations and their recent developments. He also assessed the challenges and prospects for bilateral ties, especially in light of the upcoming elections in Thailand.
VIETNAM STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Wednesday, 10 May 2023 – ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a webinar on “Vietnam-Thailand Relations: Past, Present, Prospect,” presented by Dr Vo Xuan Vinh, Deputy Director General of the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies at the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (VASS) in Hanoi.
Vietnam-Thailand relations date back to the 12th century when Siam (the historical name for modern-day Thailand) engaged in informal trading with Dai Viet (a feudal state encompassing parts of present-day Vietnam) and established diplomatic relations through envoys. Formal diplomatic and trade relations were further developed in the 15th century. During the 18th-19th century, Siam emerged as an important trading partner for Vietnam. In August 1976, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Kingdom of Thailand officially established diplomatic relations. However, soon after that, the two countries found themselves in a state of conflict over the Cambodia issue from 1979 to 1989. This ended with the settlement of the Cambodia issue and the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, ushering in a new era of peace and cooperation between Vietnam and Thailand.
After providing the historical background, Dr Vinh discussed the current state of the relationship. He highlighted that the two countries forged a strategic partnership in 2013 and an enhanced strategic partnership in 2015, making them the first members of the ASEAN to establish such partnerships with each other. He also mentioned the various bilateral political-security cooperation mechanisms that have been established, such as joint cabinet meetings, the Vietnam-Thailand Joint Committee on Bilateral Cooperation, the Bilateral Political Consultation, and the Joint Working Group on Political-Security Cooperation.
Vietnam and Thailand share interests in the South China Sea and Mekong River issues. In 2017 and 2022, the two countries issued joint statements highlighting the importance of freedom of navigation and over-flight in the South China Sea, and supporting the peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). These statements also called for the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct of the Parties in the South China Sea (COC), while the 2022 joint statement introduced the additional point of the need for an “effective and substantive COC” that is consistent with UNCLOS. Vietnam and Thailand also issued joint statements on the Mekong River in 2016 and 2022, emphasizing the importance of effective and sustainable water resource management and bilateral partnership in the Mekong sub-region.
Vietnam and Thailand have agreed to collaborate on matters of mutual importance within multilateral organizations such as the UN, ASEAN, APEC, Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS), and Mekong River Commission (MRC). They have also expressed their support for the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and other ASEAN-led initiatives.
Bilateral trade between Thailand and Vietnam has seen remarkable growth in the past two decades. From 2000 to 2022, bilateral trade turnover skyrocketed from US$1.2 billion to US$21.2 billion, with Vietnam rising from being Thailand’s 21st-largest trading partner to its 5th. Notably, in 2010, Thailand surpassed Singapore to become Vietnam’s biggest trading partner in ASEAN. Thailand is currently Vietnam’s 9th largest foreign investor, with more than US$13 billion in registered capital and 644 projects. Meanwhile, Thailand is ranked 33rd among the countries in which Vietnam invests. Dr Vinh suggested this could be due to Vietnam’s traditional focus on Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar, but nonetheless highlighted that Thailand remains an essential investment partner for Vietnam.
Dr Vinh then underscored the three primary factors that influence the potential of Vietnam-Thailand relations. First, the two countries are strategic, trading, and investment partners of considerable importance. Second, they are confronted by similar regional issues, including the fallouts from the intensifying US-China competition and non-traditional security threats in the Mekong region. Both countries strive to protect ASEAN Centrality against the backdrop of emerging minilateral groupings in the region. Third, they share similar foreign policy principles, such as multilateralism and diversification.
Dr Vinh concluded his presentation by analysing the prospects of Vietnam-Thailand relations in the context of the Thai elections to be held on 14 May 2023. He suggested that strategic conflicts between the two countries are unlikely due to two reasons. First, Vietnam has no intention of taking on a leadership role in ASEAN or the Mekong sub-region, which reduces the chances of rivalry with Thailand. Second, Thailand’s primary focus in the coming years is likely to be domestic stability, making it unlikely that Bangkok will pursue any ambitious foreign policy initiatives that could cause discord with Hanoi. Of the six major parties contesting the upcoming Thai elections, only Pheu Thai has expressed an interest in transforming Thailand into a regional transport hub, while the other parties have their sights set on domestic political matters.
During the Q&A session, Dr Vinh further discussed various aspects of Vietnam-Thailand relations, including the suspension of joint cabinet meetings, bilateral military cooperation, the two countries’ positions on the Myanmar crisis, potential opportunities for collaboration in tackling water security issues in the Mekong region, and other areas of competition and collaboration in the context of intensifying great power rivalry.