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Time to reset: Business as unusual for Indonesia and Thailand

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Representatives of signatory countries are pictured on screen during the signing ceremony for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade pact at the ASEAN summit held online in Hanoi on November 15. AFP

Time to reset: Business as unusual for Indonesia and Thailand

‘Never let a good crisis go to waste,” said Winston Churchill, during World War II. These words should well inspire us all who bear the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic. Everyone needs to exit this situation and build back better.

Today, people in Jakarta can see Puncak in the beautiful blue sky from their homes. There is less PM 2.5 in the air in Bangkok so we can breathe easier. Were there no Covid-19, we would not have witnessed such majestic creatures such as dugongs, sea turtles flourishing along previously touristy beaches, nor would the corals have the chance to recover from trampling feet.

But while Covid-19 may have some beneficial impacts on our environment, the pandemic has greatly affected humans socially and economically. Covid-19 exposed the flaws within the global supply chains of goods and services.

As the two largest economies in ASEAN, with combined gross domestic product (GDP) accounting for over 50 per cent of ASEAN, Thailand and Indonesia have enormous potential for collaboration in the post-Covid world. We should explore possibilities to build resilient supply chains together in order to leverage our abundant raw materials, manpower and readily available markets.

Indonesian deputy foreign minister Mahendra Siregar said on November 11 during a webinar on Thailand-Indonesia relations that the two countries must work together to identify collaboration opportunities to integrate our economies, to become partners in regional and global value chains, to replace our heavy dependence on any particular country.

I applaud and share his long-sighted vision on this. The economies of Thailand and Indonesia have not only similar competitions but also different advantage complementarities.

With Indonesia’s vision 2045 vs Thailand National Strategy 2037, plus the Making Indonesia 4.0 vs Thailand 4.0 policy, Thailand and Indonesia can leverage each other’s economic potential to reap advantages and connect the seas with mainland Southeast Asia – connecting the connectivity – in terms of economic, investment, infrastructure and digital platforms.

Indonesia wisely and expeditiously puts through the omnibus law on job creation, the first of its kind in the country’s history, right just in time for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the first world’s largest free trade agreement that was historically signed at the 37th ASEAN Summit by 15 countries, including the three largest economies in Asia and ASEAN, covering more than 40 per cent of the world population.

This is a significant game changer for ASEAN and the region, as the RCEP will liberate trade, services, investment, e-commerce, customs, trade facilitations, etc.

This regional trading platform will provide much better comparative regional supply chains to the world, with its newly integrated Asia trading standards.

For the post-Covid-19 world and with RCEP as our supporting eco-system, Thailand and Indonesia can grasp this opportunity to reset our relations to forge a stronger economic strategic partnership. We should look at new initiatives above and beyond conventional practices/obstacles. This will enable us to find ways to collaborate and synergise our comparative strengths and advantages further.

To name but a few, our areas of possible matching collaboration are food and food processing in agricultural and fishery products, medical and public health, energy and natural resources industries, and logistics development. Digital infrastructure, e-commerce and Bio-Circular-Green Economy are also both priorities. Strengthening our SMEs and human development, including up-skilling and reskilling in our prioritised businesses should also be the thrust of our cooperation.

Not only Thailand and Indonesia but ASEAN also should rethink of our future collaboration to create a new regional economic model with its new growth engine and integrated digital platforms.

ASEAN’s recent success in the establishment of Covid-19 ASEAN Response Fund, ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies for Public Health Emergencies, ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases can certainly provide health security for us in the forthcoming years.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Thailand and Indonesia, though our friendship dates back to 1871 when King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V) of Siam travelled to Java in an overseas visit. Evidence of this historical tie is the elephant statue in front of the National Museum in Jakarta. The statue was a gift from King Rama V to Indonesia. It is one of the only two elephant statues in existence that King Rama V presented to foreign countries that he visited.

Our friendship has withstood the test of time based on the fusion of common values and affection. But our differences also provide us with opportunities. That argues well for the next many years along our paths and visions toward high income countries as we identify and help support each other to grow together and advance the Thailand-Indonesia relationship.

At present, we both need to survive and thrive out of the pandemic. It will be a waste not to take advantage of this situation to forge further our economic collaborations that can build back a better future for our economic resiliency and sustainability.

Therefore, it is an opportune time for Thailand and Indonesia to reset our economic cooperation and start doing business as unusual.

Songphol Sukchan is ambassador of Thailand to Indonesia



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