ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
China’s PM Wen says, Thailand, China are one family
But the outgoing Premier stopped short of firm commitments, including a much-anticipated deal for China to buy rice from Thailand.
A memorandum of understanding signed yesterday raised the possibility of China buying rice from Thailand, but did not say how much or at what price.
While the Thai government said separately that 10 Chinese companies had signed contracts to buy 260,000 tonnes of rice for 6.2 billion baht (US$603 million), those deals are not expected to make a dent in Thailand's stockpile of 14 million tonnes.
The Thai government has been stuck with a surplus of rice since it promised farmers more than 50 per cent above the market price for their grains, a move meant to raise their incomes.
Rice exports have collapsed as Thai companies could not find buyers for the overpriced grain. The scheme also risks causing public debt to balloon to an unsustainable sum.
Wen's Bangkok visit comes just two days after the high-profile layover of United States President Barack Obama, who made Thailand the first stop of a three-nation tour designed to refocus American attention on Asia.
The visit - the first overseas trip undertaken by the recently re-elected leader - highlighted the growing rivalry between China and the US for influence over fast-growing Southeast Asia.
Wen's reception was noticeably more subdued, although, like Obama, he was granted an audience with the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital - where the monarch is staying - as well as a meeting with Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda.
He also opened a Chinese cultural centre in Bangkok.
At a lunch hosted by Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra yesterday, the Chinese leader said in Mandarin: "We are one family. We have deep and close relations."
Thailand, while being a long-time treaty ally with the US, has considerable economic, cultural and military links with China. Its trade with China, at US$64.7 billion, surpasses that with the US and is expected to grow.
Thailand, which is not locked in territorial disputes in the South China Sea, is valued by China for the bridging role it plays between Asean and Beijing, said Dr Xu Liping, a Southeast Asian studies scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "It is neutral, so it can bridge ties for China."
Meanwhile, China plays a major role in infrastructure projects in the Mekong region.
A Chinese state-run bank recently approved a US$7 billion loan for Laos to build a new railway linking it to China.
Yesterday, the Thai authorities said China had also expressed interest in getting involved in a high-speed railway project being planned in Thailand. One of the proposed routes will link Thailand to southern China via Laos.
Although details of the project tender have yet to be released, the new line, if it is built, is expected to give Thailand's ageing railway a significant boost.
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