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Friday, November 20, 2009

Vietnamese economy poses no threat to Thailand

Hanoi ensures existence of political stability and cheap labour

The Vietnamese economy poses no immediate threat to Thailand, which has healthy investments in that country, says the Thai ambassador in Hanoi.

Pisanu Chanvitan says Thailand's economy is still far more advanced than Vietnam's.

However, the ambassador told Thai Rath newspaper, Vietnam has certain advantages including political stability, thanks to its one-party rule and cheap labour.

Last year, Vietnam's economy grew 3%.

Mr Pisanu said that medical advances in Vietnam lag far behind Thailand. For difficult cases, well-to-do patients still travel to Thailand for treatment because Vietnam's health care expertise is lacking.

Nor was Thailand's status as the world's top rice exporter under threat from Vietnam.

Mr Pisanu said Vietnam exported about 5 million tonnes of rice last year while Thailand exported 8-9 million tonnes.

Thai rice is more expensive because of its higher quality especially the world famous Hom Mali, while Vietnam exports cheaper varieties.

Vietnam can face typhoons several times a year, causing extensive damage to rice fields.

Vietnam's rice cultivation area is similar to Thailand's, but Vietnam has a growing population. As its population grows, Vietnam will probably export less rice.

Vietnam's rulers like to talk about their plans for the economy, but sometimes these projects can be many years off.

Vietnam said it would put in a high-speed train, similar to the bullet train in Japan, running from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.

The news excited Thai readers but most did not realise that work on the railway won't start until 2036, or nearly 30 years into the future.

In 1990, Vietnam began to open the country to foreign direct investment, creating special industrial zones and expanding the economic zone in Ho Chi Minh City.

Thailand is ranked 9th among foreign investors in Vietnam. Investment is concentrated in agri-business, cement, real estate, and motorcycle parts.

Mr Pisanu said Thailand exported more than 10,000 tonnes of fruit to Vietnam last year, including longan, mangosteen, durian and mango.

Food processing including canned fish is another bright prospect for Thai exporters. Several Thai canneries have set up operations in Vietnam and are doing good business.

Engineer is a

'political victim'

Sivarak Chutipong, 31, the Thai engineer arrested in Cambodia on a spying charge, is being used as a pawn in the diplomatic dispute between Thailand and Cambodia, argues a Matichon newspaper writer.

Sivarak worked for Cambodia Air Traffic Services, a subsidiary of Thailand's Samart Telecom.

He was arrested last week on a spying charge, after he allegedly transmitted the flight schedule of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Cambodia's premier Hun Sen to Thailand.

The newspaper argues the engineer was a victim of the conflicts between Thailand and Cambodia concerning Hun Sen's appointment of Thaksin as economic adviser.

If Sivarak is found guilty by a Cambodian court, he could be jailed for 7-10 years and/or fined 50,000-250,000 baht.

Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said Thaksin's flight schedule was not secret information and Thailand already knew Thaksin's likely flight movements.

Suthep argued that Cambodian authorities may have misunderstood the intention of the government, which never intended to inflict any harm.

Yet the Matichon writer was not satisfied with explanations offered by the Thai Foreign Ministry and Samart Telecom in defence of Sivarak.

The government, the writer said, should protect Sivarak's honour and tell international observers that Cambodia's allegations are trumped up.

Miscellany

Cambodia has expelled all Thai staff from Cambodia Air Traffic Services after a Thai engineer on staff was charged with spying.

Phnom Penh has filed national security charges of stealing classified information against engineer Sivarak Chutipong.

Cambodia has now ordered all Thai nationals working for CATS to leave the company and prohibited them from re-entering until the legal proceedings against Mr Sivarak are completed, Samart Corporation Plc president Watchai Wilailuck said.

CATS, a fully owned subsidiary of Bangkok-based Samart, holds a concession to run air traffic control services in Cambodia.

The firm employs nine Thai officials at Cambodian airport, in management or senior engineering positions. About 200 other staff are Cambodians.

Mr Watchai was told Cambodian authorities would send their own people to run the company.

"We need to follow Cambodia's order and are asking the Thai government to negotiate with Cambodia.

'We have nothing to do with their diplomatic dispute, but it is affecting our business," Mr Watchai said.

Thailand and Cambodia are signatories to an investment protection agreement, to protect each other's private businesses.

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