Tracking where China has spent and invested its capital under the Belt and Road Initiative can provide clues to FDI and reveal new opportunities in recipient countries. As infrastructure construction begins to generate productive cash flows for users and the need for subsequent support services arises, case studies of investment potential become evident. In this new series, we will look at where China has spent its money and where the returns on investment exist for foreign investors based on the opportunities created by building the BRI.
Thailand has been a constant recipient of Chinese investment for some time, and its geostrategic position as the heart of the ASEAN free trade bloc, with free trade access also to China and India, in has made it a hub for many Chinese investors. This has manifested itself primarily in the push towards digital economies and has made Thailand both a hub of connectivity and a key hub for Asia in new technologies. A lot of money is both raised and made through Chinese investments in various Thailand-based initiatives in crypto, fintech, blockchain and AI, as well as healthcare, including medical tourism.
This, coupled with extensive infrastructure connectivity plans uniting Thailand with ASEAN, other export markets and the development of numerous free trade zones on the outer islands, sees the country playing a highly global role. competitive for foreign investment in the South Asian region.
Light manufacturing zones and a nationwide digitization program are seeing Chinese investments made in conjunction with the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement and the recent RCEP agreement – Thailand is a member of both ASEAN and RCEP, which shows how the two have combined development and free trade and development of manufacturing countries to enable it to become an investment alternative in China for foreign investors wishing to reduce their dependence on China.
According to the Bank of Thailand, FDI in Thailand has decreased significantly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2018 and 2019, FDI plunged from $13.2 billion to $4.8 billion. In 2020, it fell to minus (-$4.8 billion). At a time when others were pulling back, China’s investment in Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, has steadily increased throughout the pandemic period.
Notably, in 2019, China’s investment applications surpassed Japan for the first time – with an investment value of US$8.7 billion under 203 approved projects, far exceeding 2, 4 billion Japanese dollars (277 projects) and 1.2 billion Hong Kong dollars (64 projects).
China has remained Thailand’s largest trading partner for nine consecutive years. Bilateral trade volume jumped 33% year-on-year to $131.18 billion in 2021, according to data from the General Administration of Customs of China
Don Mueang-Suvarnabhumi-U-Tapao High Speed Railway – In October 2019, the State Railway of Thailand signed an agreement with a consortium including CRCC to construct a 7. 4 billion US dollars connecting three airports.
The Don Mueang–Suvarnabhumi–U-Tapao High-Speed Railway, officially known as the Three-Airport High-Speed Railway Project is the second high-speed railway project in Thailand, is scheduled to open in 2026 between the Don Mueang International Airport, Suvarnabhumi Airport and U-Tapao International Airport.
Sino-Thailand-Laos Railway Project – In December 2021, the government set up a working group proposed by the Ministry of Transport to better coordinate with the transport authorities of Laos on the construction projects of a railway. railway linking the two countries. It is part of a high-speed rail project linking the Thai rail system with the Laos-China Railway, which also connects Kunming to Vientiane (Laos). In Thailand, the project is divided into 3 phases: the Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima section of 253 km, the Nakhon Ratchasima-Nong Khai section (356 km); and the Nong Khai-Vientiane section (16km).
China/EEC – the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) – is located about 90 km southeast of Bangkok and is a centerpiece for new investment, targeting technology, innovation, smart manufacturing and tourism. To date, Chinese companies have established manufacturing facilities, research centers or operational centers in specially designated Thai SEZs, including the EEC and four SEZs along Thailand’s borders.
Chinese Holley Group and Thai property developer Amata have developed the Thai-Chinese Rayong Industrial Park located in the Thai EEC. To date, this SEZ (alone) has seen investments from around 100 Chinese manufacturers to invest US$2.5 billion, which now employ over 20,000 Thai employees and over 3,000 Chinese expatriate workers.
In September 2017, JD.com (JD Finance) signed a partnership with Thailand’s largest retail conglomerate Central Group and Provident Capital for a total investment of up to US$500 million to establish two Thailand-based joint ventures in e-commerce and fintech. In September 2019, JD.com and Central Group, a Thai conglomerate involved in merchandising, real estate and retail, launched a financial services app called Dolfin. The new service is expected to have an e-wallet feature, as well as digital loan, insurance and wealth management offerings.
In April 2019, Thailand launched a Huawei 5G testbed, however, so far Huawei has not won a 5G contract in Thailand.
In 2021, Xiaomi ranked No. 1 in Thailand for the first time.
ASEAN’s first 5G “smart hospital”
In December 2021, Siriraj Hospital and Huawei announced that their 5G smart hospital project was the “first and largest” in Thailand and the Southeast Asia region. The Siriraj 5G Smart Hospital is a pilot project, which will be extended to other ASEAN hospitals in the future. It is expected that 30 5G medical applications will be incubated and promoted nationwide in 2022. The Siriraj World Class 5G Smart Hospital project includes nine sub-projects including smart emergency rooms and emergency medical service , a pathology diagnostic system with 5G and AI, an AI platform for non-communicable diseases, smart inventory management, a permission-based blockchain for personal health records, smart logistics with 5G self-driving cars, multi-access edge computing and a hybrid cloud system.
Ascend – Thailand’s first fintech unicorn
In September 2021, Ascend Money, a startup backed by Ant Group and Charoen Pokphand Group, became Thailand’s first fintech unicorn with a valuation of US$1.5 billion following a new funding round. Ant initially invested in the 2016 round. The company will use the new capital to enhance its TrueMoney Wallet mobile payment app as well as expand digital financial services across Southeast Asia (it also operates in Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia). TrueMoney is already the most popular app, with a 53% market share in Thailand.
The Thai government has slightly revised its economic growth forecast for 2022 to 2.7% to 3.2% from an earlier growth range of 2.5 to 3.5%, citing a rebound in the crucial tourism sector, a increased consumption and exports. Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha told his cabinet in early August 2022 that the economy would grow 4.2% in 2023, the fastest growth in five years.
According to the World Bank, Thailand is an upper-middle-income economy with a gross national income per capita of US$7,159.
Investment Intelligence in Thailand
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Also in this series
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