Diversified and globally integrated to a high degree, Thailand’s economy has also proven itself to be resilient to shocks of recent years, both external and internal. The country’s decades-long incentives-based policy for attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) has been one of the great successes of developing-market economics, having boosted the country into the middle-income band of countries. In late 2011, before catastrophic flooding provided yet another economic shock to the country, Thailand’s planners and private sector economic brain trust were contemplating what is next; implying moves to expand the economic base, reduce reliance on exports and therefore exposure to global economic cycles, and attract higher-paying jobs.
FLOODS LEAD TO LOSSES: However, the flooding in the latter months of 2011 put long-term talk on the backburner for now. The disaster came in a floodplain and was not the first time this had happened, but was the worst example of it in 70 years and ended up the fourth-costliest natural disaster in modern history – behind the 2011 tsunami in Japan, the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, and Hurricane Katrina hitting the southern US in 2005. According to a World Bank study, economic losses reached BT1.4trn ($44.7bn). According to Thailand’s Office of Insurance Commission, insurable losses were BT337bn ($10.8bn). The disaster replaced thinking about the future with a focus on impacts to the economy for 2011 and 2012. It also helped to frame Thailand’s economy into bits easily digestible on a short-, medium- and long-term basis.
In the short term – for most of 2012 – concentration will be on the post-flooding recovery. Early predictions in autumn 2011 were for a big hit to GDP in the fourth quarter of the year. Real GDP contracted 9% year-on-year (y-o-y), according to the Bank of Thailand (BOT), but for a rebound to compensate for that in 2012, as factories repair damages, restore operations and get back up to usual production levels. Those predictions have proved accurate, as manufacturing had started to recover by January. By the end of the first quarter, common expectations were for a full recovery by the third quarter. For the economy overall, a fast rebound in the form of a V-shaped recovery is expected, although some risks appear for 2012. Inflation is a key consideration, and could come from indigenous sources such as a planned hike to the minimum wage, as well as from external factors including oil prices.
A RENEWED FOCUS: As the flood impacts finished cycling their way through the economy, thinking began shifting back to medium-term issues. That means a resumed focus on the government elected in July 2011. Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai party campaigned on a populist platform to please the controversial political party’s largely rural voter base.
Other medium-term issues include amending the Constitution. It has been a turbulent five years since then on the political front, and a period of stability would perhaps result in more investment. While there are concerns about the government’s populist tendencies, some Thais now believe that a stable government of any kind would be beneficial enough to overlook any policy approaches seen as spendthrift or challenging for foreign investment. Concerns about populist spending may be diminished should the government’s post-crisis reaction, including a new water management plan and stimulus spending, prove effective.
EXTERNAL CONCERNS: Thailand’s economic brass is concerned about external shocks in the long term. Memories of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis remain fresh, and therefore capital flight is feared. Thailand also suffers from its reliance on an export-driven model when the global economic outlook is shaky. In recent years, however, its regional neighbours are taking a larger share of the exports. This is reducing Thailand’s exposure to the world’s most developed economies and sparked discussions on changing how the country approaches manufacturing and industry, to better tap into the growing purchasing power of South-east Asia.
Changes are already coming – the tax incentives long used by the Board of Investment to entice foreign investors are being reviewed following the reduction of the corporate tax rate overall.
Thailand hopes that by tweaking its mix of incentives it will trigger a move up the value chain from basic manufacturing to research and development and to manufacturing more complex products. Although there is scant evidence of this, increasing risks in the domestic operating environment may at some point trigger foreign investors to re-evaluate their presence in Thailand’s industrial estates and in the country itself.
SIZE AND SCOPE: Thailand is perhaps best known worldwide for its tourism industry, which remains a crucial component of the economy. A less-known but probably more important development in the Thai economy was the decision decades ago to follow an export-driven model and entice foreign manufacturers to locate in the country, with a low-cost workforce and substantial incentive packages as the main attractions. That mix has turned Thailand into a key player worldwide – when the floods shut down the production of cars, hard drives and other manufactured goods, prices worldwide were affected, just as they were in other areas of the global economy when Japanese industries succumbed to turmoil in the wake of the tsunami in 2011.
The Thai system’s strengths and weaknesses were laid bare by the flooding. Most of its manufacturing activity is found in industrial estates, close to transportation hubs such as the ports in the Gulf of Thailand and the highways leading to and from Bangkok. Having manufacturers and their suppliers concentrated in these areas has cut down on logistics costs and made it possible to pursue just-in-time efficiencies, but also knocked out the supply chains of entire industries when the floods hit. Part of the country’s long-term planning will include possible responses to this weakness, although in the immediate aftermath it did not seem likely that firms affected would choose to locate in another country or elsewhere in Thailand.
CONSERVATIVE POLICIES: Another definitive trait of the Thai economy is resolutely conservative leadership. The BOT is the country’s central bank and has been a bulwark of policy stability. In particular since the Asian financial crisis, it has served as an unflinching protector of stability in the financial system and of the baht. Thailand’s debt-to-GDP ratio has ranged from 40% to 42% in 2011 and early 2012, an indication of prudence. This cautious approach is mirrored elsewhere in the region – the average level of public debt in the ASEAN region is 41%, according to research from the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
While Thailand’s experience in 1997-98 is one reason for this approach, it also is further legitimised and given intellectual credibility by the home-grown economic philosophy developed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej called the sufficiency economy. He outlined the basics in a 1974 speech. “Economic development must be done step by step. It should begin with the strengthening of our economic foundation, by assuring that the majority of our population has enough to live on. Once reasonable progress has been achieved, we should then embark on the next steps by pursuing more advanced levels of economic development.”
A more in-depth philosophy was spelt out and termed Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) for the first time in 1997-99 speeches for the royal birthday. This concept of a finding a middle ground, and adding self-reliance without falling into isolationism, began to more actively inform government policy after the 1997-98 crisis, when the increased potential for shocks to the economy from global interconnectivity became apparent. Academics were invited to study and further refine the concept, and in the ensuing years the term SEP was settled on. It is now major part of economic curricula at schools as well as part of the economic orthodoxy RECOVERY:GDP grew at a 0.1% rate in 2011, but would have been at least several percentage points higher without the 9% contraction in the fourth quarter as a result of the floods – the biggest quarterly drop on record, according to economic research by CIMB Group, the Malaysian financial services firm. The annualised growth rate was 2.7% or higher for each of the first three quarters of the year, however.
What was expected as the floods subsided was a higher growth rate in 2012, thanks to reconstructive efforts and the impact of pent-up demand. That appeared to be an accurate prediction, as by early 2012 forecasts were for a return to normalcy in the manufacturing sector by the latter half of the year. The Ministry of Finance estimated GDP growth in 2012 between 5% and 6%, and the BOT’s prediction is 5.8%. Other forecasts were in a range from about 4.9% to 7%. The gap between high and low expectations has reflected the uncertainty about precisely how quickly the manufacturing sector will recover from the floods.
The y-o-y comparisons of GDP and other statistics must come with a caveat, however. Whereas the 2011 numbers were an anomaly because of the flooding, those from 2010 were impacted by political violence in May of that year, and 2009 by the global financial crisis. FDI numbers in 2011 were largely the same as those of 2010, even in spite of the flooding. The constant shocks make it more difficult to get a true read on the progress of the Thai economy, but what has become clear for now is that it is a very resilient one.
BY SECTORS: Thailand’s export-oriented sectors are fuelled mostly by manufacturing. Electronics, autos, machinery and equipment and computer parts and accessories accounted for 37.3% of exports in 2010, according to the BOT. Agricultural and agro-manufacturing products comprised 23.2%. The final tally of exports for 2011 is for a total value of $225.4bn, up 16% from $193.7bn in 2010. Imports also made a large jump in 2011, to $201.9bn from $161.4bn.
Manufacturing accounts for 40% of GDP, and agriculture for 8.3%, according to BOT statistics. Wholesale and retail trade claims 13.3% of economic activity, and construction and mining 4.8%. The services sector counts tourism among typical services such as finance or education and provides 33.2% of economic activity.
Sorted by jobs created, agriculture is the most important sector, accounting for 43.3% of jobs. About 24% come from services, 15.1% from wholesale and retail, and 13% from manufacturing. Thailand claims to have overcome the unemployment problem, citing an official unemployment rate lower than 1% due to a system in which workers can shift from farm labour to temporary work outside agriculture when the need arises.
Thailand is one of the world’s key rice producers, but aquaculture, tapioca, sugar and rubber are also major staples of the agriculture sector. Economic losses from ruined harvests due to the 2011 flooding are estimated at Bh40bn ($1.3bn), according to the World Bank. Chicken exports will likely increase come July 2012 from the lifting of an EU ban that had been in place since an outbreak of avian flu in 2004. According to the Thai Broiler Processing Exporters Association, exports of fresh chicken could increase by 3.8% to 480,000 tonnes in 2012. The EU countries are already a major destination for processed Thai chicken products.
AGRICULTURE SUBSIDIES: In line with the current government’s populist orientation, agriculture seemed likely to see significant financial aid in 2012. A rice subsidy scheme aims to pay farmers more than market rates for their grain (see analysis), for example. The sector should get a boost from the easy credit availability that was seen in 2011, as the government-owned Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives said in March 2012 that it intends to increase loans (April 2012 to March 2013) to farms and farm-related interests by 8.84% in fiscal year 2012, which means a disbursement of BT658bn ($21bn) in credit for the period.
This targeted programme includes BT334bn ($10.7bn) for cultivation activities and BT121bn ($3.9bn) to support rural employment. The bank also has a goal of issuing 2m credit cards to farmers. The state-owned lender is one of several engaged in soft lending, targeted support programmes and other schemes for which profit as a goal is secondary to social assistance and furthering Thailand’s sufficiency-economy approach.
In May of 2012 a debt moratorium scheme was announced, in which those with debts to four state banks – the Government Savings Bank, the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives, the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Bank of Thailand and the Islamic Bank of Thailand – can apply in August 2012 for a three-year moratorium on repayment. The budget for the programme has been set at BT459bn ($14.6bn), and to be eligible a debtor must not have more than BT500,000 ($15,950) in outstanding loans.
Although central Bangkok was largely insulated from flooding, tourism also took a major hit – an estimated BT95bn ($3bn) in lost revenue over a six-month span during the flooding, according to the World Bank’s calculations. Tourists’ concerns included in-country stability, in particular after the political protests of 2010, potential health issues and the ability to provide beachfront resorts with supplies. The government is predicting foreign visitor arrivals between 20.5m and 20.8m for the year, up from 19.09m in 2011.
FINANCIAL SERVICES: The financial services sector in Thailand is best known for the firm regulatory hand applied by the BOT. The approach is informed by the bank failures in the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and ensuing capital flight, and today’s Thai banks are generally considered to be conservative and prudent. Foreign lenders have shown a considerable interest in the financial services sector, and several large mergers and acquisitions in recent years have shortened the roster of banks and increased the size of the largest ones.
But though the Thai banking sector is open to foreigners, and rules in the coming years will further reduce restrictions on them, it is domestic lenders that control the market. This is particularly the case in retail banking, where indigenous competitors own the largest branch networks. In 2011 foreign interests, in particular regional players such as Malaysian banks have turned their sights to securities brokers as another avenue into the financial services sector.
The insurance industry could see some setbacks in 2012. Flood insurance has now become an area of attention in risk underwriting, with insurers offering stand-alone policies instead of coupling them with coverage against fire (see Insurance chapter). The country’s insurance industry is also being revaluated on an international basis. Ratings firms such as Fitch and Standard & Poor’s have announced that insurers could be re-evaluated for ratings changes because of the possibility of increased risk, and reinsurance firms are expected to seek changes in their treaties with insurers when it is time for renegotiation. For consumers, this is likely to mean higher costs and lower coverage thresholds, according to a study by Aon Benfield.
GLOBAL SHOCKS: Though profound in its impact on Thai businesses and lives, the flooding is not a unique event in the current global context. Economic shocks from natural disasters are increasingly common, with Japan’s tsunami serving as another example. A study by Munich Re estimated natural disaster costs at $378bn in 2011, a historic high for the reinsurer. But it overtook a record only recently set: the previous high came in 2005, one indication that natural disasters may end up an increasingly common and financially damaging occurrence. Thailand is not the only economy recovering from a disaster and pondering the impacts to come.
In the banking sector, access to credit could become tighter and interest rates lower in 2012, on account of a legacy from the 1997-98 financial crisis: the Financial Institutions Development Fund (FIDF). This agency, created in 1985, was deployed during the crisis as an asset management company for failed banks taken over by the state, and also as a guarantor of the system, providing a guarantee on the deposits and obligations of failed banks and other financial companies. The FIDF’s debt was to be later paid down by the Ministry of Finance and the central bank; however, by 2011 it had reached BT1.14trn ($36.4bn). The FIDF’s oversight agency was switched in 2012 from the Ministry of Finance to the central bank. With that change the FIDF’s finances are now part of the BOT’s balance sheet instead of that of the Ministry of Finance. The change was made to free up more money to support reconstruction and flood mitigation efforts, as well as future infrastructure projects. However, the change also gives the BOT the power to impose a charge on local banks of up to 1% of their deposits – which would be worth about BT70bn ($2.2bn) as of May 2012 – to help pay down this debt. Cutting into lenders’ profits could mean they pass along some of that cost to customers, and leave them with less capital to lend out.
MANUFACTURING: Within the official total of 40% of economic activity, the largest and most important sectors are electronics, which contributes about 19% of production, and autos at 6%, according to economic reportage from Goldman Sachs. The manufacturing sector suffered the most from the floods, given that the floodplain of the Chao Phraya River is also home to the industrial estates where they are located. However, the disaster was not a localised one. In total 65 of 77 provinces were impacted, and a World Bank estimate of the economic losses was pegged at slightly over BT1trn ($31.9bn), more than two-thirds of the total loss estimate of BT1.4trn ($44.7bn).
Direct impacts hit the automotive and electronics manufacturers the hardest, and resulted in global bottlenecks in the flow of parts and finished goods. According to a March 2012 research report from JP Morgan, the automotive sector was the quicker to recover, having returned to near pre-flood levels of production and capacity utilisation in the first quarter of 2012. Producers of hard disk drives were expected to be back to normal manufacturing levels by mid-year, and for both industries those projections were the same in early 2012 as they were in late 2011, providing a measure of comfort to international investors that the post-flood operating environment would be predictable.
PICKING UP THE PIECES: The Thai government has been criticised for a lack of preparedness for the flooding, as well as an inadequate immediate response. Despite initial setbacks, however, predictions about flood recovery have been reliable.
Prasarn Trairatvorakul, the governor of BOT, told an audience at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in November 2011 that investment would begin recovering in the second quarter of 2012, reconstruction spending and consumer spending would boost the economy in the meantime, and that a plan for the remaking of Thailand’s water management system for the affected areas would be developed –predictions that have been accurate.
The cabinet in early March approved a response to be implemented across multiple government agencies. The BOT authorised below-market-rate loans for flood-impacted businesses and people through financial institutions and subsidies, with applications accepted starting in late March. A package of spending on flood prevention was announced, including infrastructure and water management projects that have been outlined in a flood-prevention plan.
Among them are efforts such as dredging some of the major canals on both sides of the Chao Phraya that also empty out into the Gulf of Thailand, as well as additional pumps and sluice gates. Forecasting capacity will be boosted, and trees will be planted in catchment areas to slow the movement of water. Not included in the 246 projects is the effort to establish a flood plain large enough to hold 5bn cu metres of water. The Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of the Interior have been commissioned to find the land required.
The state is willing to compensate landowners at two separate rates. Land under cultivation will be compensated at between BT4000 ($128) and BT5000 ($160) per rai, and land not cultivated at between BT600 ($19) and BT700 ($22) per rai. Thailand has its own measurement system for measuring land, and one rai is equivalent to 1600 sq metres.
RECOVERY RESPONSE: Specific flood recovery efforts have been complemented by broad macro responses. “The accommodative monetary policy of the BOT and a package of fiscal stimulus measures by the government are an appropriate macroeconomic response to these circumstances,” according to a statement from the IMF, whose team of development economists concluded a consultation with government in February 2012. “The determination to shift income distribution, rebalance growth towards domestic consumption, and invest in flood prevention comes at an opportune time to help offset weak world demand.”
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra also undertook state visits to regional partners such as Japan and South Korea in March 2012, where she highlighted Thailand’s strength as a manufacturing centre. The efforts to reach out appear to have made an impact, with Japanese electronics giant Canon being one of just a few companies to move its facilities.
Relocation, perhaps east to other industrial estates away from the flood plain, has generally been seen as unworkable unless all the factories in all the industrial estates migrated together. These manufacturing zones have become a highly interdependent ecosystem, and moving even 100 km away could kill efficiencies and boost costs. And measuring the cost of reconstruction against the potential price of relocating makes clear some additional risks to moving, in particular if many others are looking do to so at the same time, which would lead to rising costs and a tightening in the supply of land, labour and building materials in the process.
Picking another country as a base could be a difficult proposition as well. Thailand’s efficient labour force is appreciated in the estates, and relocating elsewhere in the region does not necessarily reduce the likelihood of natural disasters occurring.
For many firms, the ideal choice is to have a location in China and then in another country in South-east Asia, and that “China-plus-one” strategy has often pointed firms to Thailand. Indonesia and Vietnam are Thailand’s main competition here, as other countries such as Malaysia have developed to the extent that costs are a factor. Challenges in Indonesia and Vietnam include less sophisticated workforces, as well as corruption.
Still, Thailand’s comparative advantages have not stopped a growing fear that its competitiveness in the region is eroding as these two larger neighbours develop. Research by Kasikorn Bank found that of the total FDI coming into the ASEAN region, Thailand’s share has been falling and Indonesia’s rising. The average was 16% from 2005 to 2009, but slipped in 2010 to 8%, whereas Indonesia’s has increased from 13% to 17%.
FISCAL POLICIES: The sense of a steady hand on the wheel has helped to wash away concerns about leadership. Even while being criticised for its handling of the flood, Yingluck Shinawatra’s government has maintained a predictable fiscal policy. The Pheu Thai Party campaigned on a platform that included lots of measures to please working-class voters, and regardless of opinions about the wisdom of those policies, its actions are in line with its words. That includes a minimum wage hike that was implemented on April 1, 2012 (see analysis) and the rice subsidy scheme, but also things that are not direct policy actions. Farmers indebted to the Government Savings Bank, one of several publicly held lenders, saw their loans frozen for a time, for example. By late 2011 there were complaints from private sector lenders about unfair competition, and the accusations that the government is using state-owned banks as a de facto policy tool.
The rice subsidy scheme was announced in the aftermath of the July 2011 election and pays farmers BT15,000 ($479) per tonne of top-quality rice instead of the normal amount of BT10,000 ($319) the state usually offers, and higher than the market price of BT9000-10,000 ($287-319) for top grades.
The plan initially triggered fears of a global rise in rice prices; however, that has not happened – the benchmark rice contract was selling on world markets for about $500-$550 per tonne, in part because India resumed exports after a five-year hiatus, pushing exportoriented supply higher. Somporn Isvilanonda, an economist at the Knowledge Network Institute of Thailand, told local media in March 2012 that the rice scheme had been a failure because it failed to push prices up closer to the government’s target of $800 per tonne, and because fewer farmers participated than anticipated, because they can get paid faster selling to private millers than to the government.
The programme is also fraud-prone, critics say. Piling up stocks has not helped because quality deteriorates over time, and more countries have chosen to buy rice from India or Vietnam, other rice-market leaders, on account of lower prices. LOOSE OR TIGHT?: Though bound by the limits of his role in influencing fiscal policy, current finance minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong, who replaced Thirachai Phuvanatnaranubala in January and is also the deputy prime minister, has pushed for an accommodative monetary policy. Kittiratt has urged the central bank to slash policy rates from 3% to 2.5% and let the baht weaken to a range of BT32-34, which would help exporters.
BOT governor Prasarn said that the benchmark policy rate, 3% as of early 2012, was low enough to support economic activity, and that the central bank’s managed-float approach used to control exchange rates is working fine and not an obstacle to trade and investment. A growth-oriented monetary policy may risk inflation, and other policy moves could cause price hikes as well. External risks include oil prices, as Thailand is a net importer. The oil trade balance in 2011 was $10.5bn, or 4.2% of GDP. The government decided in late February to extend a tax break on diesel fuel to the end of March, to counter rising costs. Diesel accounts for 50% of fuel consumption. Energy costs rose 2.8% from February to March 2012, for example, the biggest monthly increase since November 2009, according to a report from Barclays Research. Predictions for inflation for the year were around 3%.
Domestic factors that may cause inflation start with the government’s decision to boost the minimum wage, which has previously been set according to the various costs of living in Thailand’s provinces – BT159 ($5.07) per day in the northern province of Phayao, for example, and about BT200 ($6.38) in Bangkok and on the resort island of Phuket. Wages have been lower in the provinces also in part to encourage job creation outside Bangkok. The debate in Thailand is not whether the minimum wage should be hiked, but at what pace (see analysis). Along with a boost in wages for public officials with university degrees, the increased take-home pay could end up fuelling inflation driven by a sudden increase in consumer purchasing power.
MITIGATING INFLATION FEARS: One mitigating factor arguing against inflation concerns, according to research from JP Morgan, is the expectation of a weak year for agriculture, which could depress the informal wages paid to farm labourers. Urban labour in the informal economy often tracks that of agricultural pay, the firm’s analysis found. Another variable that could prove inflation fears overblown is the lower-than-expected participation in the rice subsidy scheme, which means fewer farmers with the intended income boost.
Additional inflationary pressure could come from the government’s stimulus spending – a signature aspect of fiscal policy under the current government. In July 2011 the government announced BT2.2trn ($70.2bn) in spending over the four-year mandate, with budget deficits of BT400bn ($12.8bn) to BT300bn ($9.6bn) in the next two fiscal years and possibly beyond. These programmes, combined with an expectation of lower tax receipts thanks to lower corporate rates, have deficit hawks in Thailand concerned about the country’s balance sheet. However, Thailand’s debt-to-GDP ratio has always been far lower than that of the most-developed countries, at about 42% in early 2012. The historical high was 57.8% in 2001. Kittiratt told OBG that the ceiling should be 60%. For now, however, the BOT is not predicting a major increase in inflation. The headline consumer price index rose 3.3% in 2010, and as of late March predictions ahead of the final computation showed a 3.8% rise in 2011. The central bank sees that growth rate slumping to 3.4% in 2012.
The tension between populist policies and financial discipline is likely to continue in 2012 in the area of fuel subsidies. The reduction of fuel subsidies was part of the ruling party’s election platform, and a sign of fiscal discipline. The government had, as of April 2012, been following through on a plan to lower energy subsidies – prices for petrol, liquefied petroleum gas and compressed natural gas (CNG) ticked up, in accordance with a plan announced in December by the National Energy Policy Council. According to the plan, CNG prices are to rise by BT0.50 ($0.16) a month until December 2012, to BT14.50 ($0.46). In addition to freeing up state money the decision is expected to add free-market discipline to this corner of the Thai economy.
PTT, the state energy company, is the only distributor, and has been bearing the brunt of the subsidised price along with government. According to market research from JP Morgan, prices set closer to supply and demand factors could provide the incentive needed for PTT to boost distribution capacity, which would result in lower prices in the long run, as well as free up state cash for other purposes. However, Arak Chonlatanon, the minister of energy, told local media in April that the plan could be reconsidered.
OUTLOOK: Though Thailand itself has suffered several political and natural shocks in recent years, the economy itself has proved resilient. The predicted surge in GDP in 2012 will compensate for floods-induced stagnation in 2011, and the post-disaster response has indicated that the large-scale manufacturers who have helped make the Thai economy successful are not minded to go elsewhere, but instead likely to rebuild where necessary and continue their activities.
Thailand’s overall water management strategy was in an evolutionary process in early 2012, as it was not yet clear which of several agencies with overlapping mandates would emerge as the ones most effective in implementing their plans. There have been multiple panels, committees, strategies and reviews thus far, including the Office of the National Water and Flood Management Policy Committee.
A higher level of stability should also position the country to benefit if, as scheduled, the ASEAN Economic Community integration scheme progresses in 2015. Over the medium to long term, the opening in neighbouring Myanmar presents a significant opportunity for Thai businesses, many of which already have established contacts and contracts in the country. Myanmar’s opening is in part attributed to the country’s desire to lessen dependence on China, and Thailand is among a handful of countries familiar with its landscape. ASEAN ties could further intensify that trend.
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