Tracking where China has spent and invested its Belt and Road Initiative capital can provide data on FDI and reveal new opportunities in beneficiary countries. As infrastructure builds begin to yield productive user cash flows and the need for subsequent support services arises, case studies of investment potential become apparent. In this new series, we will examine where China has spent its money and where there are returns on investment for foreign investors to support the opportunities created by the construction of the BRI.
Thailand has been a consistent 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, has made it a hub for many Chinese investors. . This has largely manifested itself in the drive towards digital economies and is building Thailand as a hub of connectivity and a key hub for Asia in new technology. A lot of money is being raised and made through Chinese investments in various Thai-based initiatives in crypto, fintech, blockchain and AI, as well as healthcare, including medical tourism.
This, along with extensive infrastructure connectivity plans linking Thailand to ASEAN, other export markets and the development of numerous free trade zones on outlying islands, is seeing the country take on a highly competitive global role for foreign investments in the South Asian region.
Both light manufacturing zones and a nationwide digitization program are seeing Chinese investment made in conjunction with the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement and the recent RCEP agreement – Thailand is a member of both ASEAN and RCEP and this shows how the two have combined development with free trade and the development of manufacturing countries to allow it to become an investment alternative in China for foreign investors who wish to reduce their reliance on China.
According to the Bank of Thailand, FDI in Thailand fell drastically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 2018 and 2019, FDI fell from $13.2 billion to $4.8 billion. In 2020, it fell into the red (-4.8 billion dollars). At a time when others have pulled back, China’s investment in Thailand, Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy, rose steadily throughout the pandemic.
Notably, in 2019, China’s investment applications surpassed Japan’s for the first time – with an investment value of $8.7 billion under 203 approved projects, far exceeding Japan’s $2.4 billion (277 projects) and Hong Kong’s $1.2 billion Kongut ranked third (64 projects).
China has remained Thailand’s largest trading partner for nine consecutive years. The volume of bilateral trade rose 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 that includes CRCC to build a $7.4 billion high-speed railway connecting three airports.
The Don Mueang-Suvarnabhumi-U-Tapao High-Speed Rail, officially known as the High-Speed Rail Project Connecting Three Airports is the second high-speed rail line project in Thailand, to be opened in 2026 between 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 panel proposed by the Ministry of Transport to better coordinate with Lao transport authorities on plans to build a railway connecting the two countries. This is part of a high-speed rail project connecting Thailand’s rail system with the Laos-China Railway, which also connects Kunming with Vientiane (Laos). In Thailand, the project is divided into 3 phases: Bangkok-Nakhon Ratchasima section covering 253 km, Nakhon Ratchasima-Nong Khai section (356 km); and the Nong Khai-Vientiane section (16 km).
China/EEC – Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC) – is located about 90 km southeast of Bangkok and is a hub 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 the Thai borders.
China’s Holley Group and Thai industrial property developer Amata developed the Rayong Thailand Industrial Park located in Thailand’s EEC. To date, this SEZ (alone) has seen investment from around 100 Chinese manufacturers to invest US$2.5 billion, who now employ over 20,000 Thai staff 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 $500 million to establish two Thailand-based JVs in the trade electronics and fintech. In September 2019, JD.com and Central Group, a Thai conglomerate involved in commerce, real estate and retail, launched a financial services app called Dolfin. The new service will have an e-wallet function, as well as offers for digital lending, insurance and wealth management.
In April 2019, Thailand launched a Huawei 5G test bed, however, so far Huawei has not won a 5G contract in Thailand.
In 2021, Xiaomi ranked first 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 is the “first and largest” in Thailand and the Southeast Asian region. The Siriraj 5G Smart Hospital is a pilot project, which will be expanded 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 that include smart emergency rooms and emergency medical service, a 5G pathological diagnosis system and AI, an AI platform for non-communicable diseases, intelligent inventory management, a permission-based blockchain for personal health data, smart logistics with 5G self-driving cars, multi-access 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 $1.5 billion after a new round of funding. Ant first invested in the 2016 round. The company will use the new capital to improve 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 53% of the market in Thailand.
The Thai government has slightly revised its economic growth forecast for 2022 to 2.7% to 3.2% from a previous growth range of 2.5 to 3.5%, citing a rebound in the crucial tourism sector, increased consumption and exports. Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha told his cabinet in early August 2022 that the economy will expand by 4.2% in 2023, the highest 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.
Thailand investment intelligence
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Also in this series
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