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Unprecedented Diplomatic Chess Move: Thai Prime Minister to Boost Relations with China and US – A Tourism and Trade Triumph or Risky Gamble?

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Embarking on a diplomatic journey, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin will embark for China from the 8th to the 10th of October. The diplomatic agenda is packed with critical issues to be addressed with his Chinese peer. Central among the discussions is how to strategically bolster the Thai-Chinese relationship, as well as enhancing cooperation in the tourism industry. These plans were laid bare on a recent Saturday when the Prime Minister responded to queries on the status of the diplomatic memorandum of understanding (MoU) concerning China’s loan of ambassador pandas to Thailand.

The Prime Minister unveiled his diplomatic itinerary during his visit to Chiang Mai. Expected to feature prominently in the discourse during his visit to China are Thai-Chinese relations, as confirmed by Srettha himself. Government spokesperson, Chai Wacharonke, further emphasized that tourism cooperation would be a significant part of the deliberations.

Commenting on the perception that the recent government diplomacy is intended to balance Thailand’s relationships with its American and Chinese counterparts, Chai debunked this theory. The spokesperson clarified that Thailand now regards both China and the US as important trade partners. This mutual diplomatic position is reflected in Srettha’s planned visit to the US for similar strategic talks. During this visit, the Prime Minister is expected to meet President Joe Biden, US trade representatives, and key American companies.

Prime Minister Srettha’s attendance at the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City is an opportune time to engage with American business leaders and investors, encouraging them to consider Thailand as an investment destination. He also intends to hold discussions with large tech companies during his US stay.

On another diplomatic front with China, the Thai cabinet recently greenlighted a visa-exemption program for travelers from China and Kazakhstan from September 25 to February 29 of next year. Srettha mentioned that bookings from Chinese tourists to Chiang Mai have dramatically increased thanks to the visa-exemption initiative.

Addressing the projected rise in Chinese tourist numbers, the Prime Minister stressed on the improvement of safety measures for international visitors. Echoing this sentiment, Srettha emphasized the necessity for stricter law enforcement against illicit activities involving foreign nationals. The Prime Minister acknowledged the need for increased security to safeguard the economic benefits brought about by the visa-free scheme for Chinese and Kazakhstani tourists.

The Thai PM has addressed issues relating to misleading news, which have negatively affected Thailand’s tourism landscape reputation with the Chinese ambassador to Thailand. It was agreed that a more forward-looking public relations strategy would be applied to mitigate this problem.

As for environmental matters, the pivotal regional issue of the recurring ultrafine PM2.5 dust pollution, a potential deterrent for Chinese and international tourists, has been broached with the government of the affected neighboring countries. Plans are also afoot to commence work on Chiang Mai’s second airport.

The Thai Prime Minister has also put to rest ongoing concerns about the cost of a charter flight arranged to ferry him and some cabinet ministers to the UN general assembly. He assured the public that the selected charter flight was unanimously chosen due to its economical advantage over a flight by the Royal Thai Air Force.

The Prime Minister’s office also announced their commitment to an energy price reduction, assuring the public that fuel prices would be revised once the ongoing study on the matter was completed. This news was preceded by the government’s approval of measures aimed at reducing the cost of diesel and electricity in the country at its inaugural official cabinet meeting.

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