General Prayut Chan-o-cha, Prime minister, Thailand, and chair, Association of Southeast Asian Nations Southeast Asian Nations
For Thailand, the G20 Osaka Summit is an important opportunity to highlight the vital issues of our time and set the agenda for international economic cooperation with G20 leaders, who collectively represent four-fifths of global gross domestic product and two-thirds of the world’s population. In particular, Thailand believes that it is important that the voices of developing countries be heard, to ensure that we can deliver on our commitment for sustainable and inclusive growth, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, by 2030.
Thailand has consistently advocated for advancing cooperation on sustainable and inclusive growth. Three years ago, Thailand attended the G20 Hangzhou Summit as the chair of the G77, where we highlighted the need to deepen cooperation between developed and developing countries to ensure inclusive economic and social development. Last year, as chair of Ayeyawady–Chao Phraya–Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy, Thailand initiated the ACMECS Master Plan, putting in place a vision of seamless connectivity and inclusivity among mainland Southeast Asian nations.
This year, as chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Thailand has adopted the theme of ‘advancing partnership for sustainability’ because we believe that no nation can stand alone in dealing with the immense challenges of our times. Governments will need to not only coordinate policies, but also to form strong partnerships with international institutions, civil society and the business community. We also plan to take this idea forward in anticipation of chairing the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in 2022.
As a mid-sized, open economy, and chair of ASEAN, Thailand is very aware of the challenges and opportunities facing many governments and its peoples.
Stable and secure economic order
Our current globalised economy relies on a liberal, multilateral and rules-based order, which has underpinned the rise of globalisation and helped countries like Thailand achieve rapid development. However, this order is being challenged. Marginalised sections of society are questioning the benefits of globalisation and the multilateral order with the World Trade Organization at its core, especially given recent global economic crises and increased competition, which have fuelled the rise of protectionism. We therefore hope that the G20 summit will be able to take forward a dialogue on the future of the multilateral economic order, including the issue of WTO reform, so that we can all truly benefit from a stable and secure international environment while ensuring inclusive economic benefits. Sustaining such an environment will also require parallel efforts in maintaining global and regional peace and security.
Bridging the digital divide
While the rapid growth of the digital economy and e-commerce has opened up new opportunities across every sector, there is a need to address some important issues to sustain this growth. First, enhancing trust in the digital economy should be a priority. ASEAN has already set its goal of becoming a ‘Digital ASEAN’, with a number of initiatives to enhance digital links and cybersecurities, while an ASEAN-Japan Cybersecurity Capacity-Building Centre has been established in Thailand since 2018. Correspondingly, regulating the use of data is another priority issue, since it affects consumer and civil rights.
Furthermore, providing affordable and high-quality digital infrastructure will be essential to facilitate the digital transformation and address the digital divide. This is especially the case when considering how the digital economy has opened up more opportunities for young entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises, especially those in remote communities and areas. In this regard, Thailand has seized this opportunity to implement its ‘Village Broadband Internet Project’ (Net Pracharat), which will provide affordable high-speed internet access to all villages in Thailand.
New challenges and responsibilities
Significant demographic changes are taking place in many countries. Thailand will soon become an ageing society and our social services will need to adapt accordingly. Thailand is proud to have introduced universal health coverage to our citizens, but adapting to this new demographic structure will ultimately require innovative means to procure quality services for our ageing populations. Similarly, our education systems will need to provide reskilling and upskilling platforms for the current generation affected by new disruptive technologies, as well as prepare the next generation for quality employment opportunities.
Our demand for a better quality of life applies not only to public services, but also to physical infrastructure. In this sense, Thailand is in line with Japan’s focus on quality infrastructure, which we believe provides more value in the long term through efficiency and environmental friendliness.
At the same time, economic progress over the past centuries has placed severe stress on our habitat. Dealing with the reality of climate change will thus require both commitment and concerted international action to reduce greenhouse gases and find alternative energy sources, among others. Environmental degradation has become a serious concern that requires a timely response, most notably the problem of our plastic waste ending up in the oceans. To that end, ASEAN already convened an ASEAN ministerial meeting on marine debris on 5 March in Bangkok, which was an important step towards more cooperation at both the regional and international levels.
Thailand believes that while we pursue our shared goals of sustainable and inclusive growth, we also have a shared responsibility to our planet and to future generations. Therefore, our actions now should not seek prosperity and growth that compromises our positive social ideals, but should aim for progress that truly uplifts the well-being of all global citizens. In this regard, Thailand very much looks forward to a productive participation at the G20 summit in Osaka, where we can share our ideas on strengthening international cooperation and advancing partnerships for sustainability with our global partners.