Take a guess: which Southeast Asian country did Beijing invite for the BRICS Summit that begins on Sunday in Xiamen, where leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa will discuss the future of emerging economies over tea?
Option A: Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s biggest economy;
Option B: Cambodia, the region’s fastest growing economy, or;
Option C: Thailand, which is riding a wave of political uncertainty, even if it is the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia.
And the answer is … Yes, Thailand.
Beijing’s invitation might have raised eyebrows in some quarters as it came at around the time Yingluck Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand, was fleeing the country ahead of a verdict in her trial over a controversial rice subsidy scheme. Yingluck was supposed to appear in court on August 25 but followed the path of her brother, Thaksin, into self-imposed exile. Her disappearance served as a reminder of Thailand’s years-long political chaos.
Analysts see Beijing’s invitation as returning a favour – Bangkok is its all weather ally and has helped China navigate its territorial disputes with neighbours in the South China Sea – and as a signal of Thailand’s still sound position in the global economy.
“Thailand could play an important role in economic integration in the region,” said Kiatipong Ariyapruchya, a senior economist at the Bangkok office of the World Bank. Despite persistent political unrest, “there is no fundamental problem in the Thai economy”.
Thailand’s economy grew at its fastest pace for four years in the second quarter, according to official statistics released in August. The National Economic and Social Development Board has raised its economic output forecast to 3.5-4.0 per cent for 2017, after last year’s 3.2 per cent expansion.
Economists attribute Thailand’s growth largely to a recovery of the global economy. With more orders from abroad,…