Thailand and Bahrain have stressed the importance of further developing relations between ASEAN and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), in view of the arrival of the ASEAN Community in 2015.
A joint press statement issued on the visit of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to Bahrain on 13-15 May 2012, said that Thailand, located in the heart of mainland Southeast Asia, outlined potential areas for cooperation including investment, economic development, education, information, and connectivity.
Both sides were also of the view that the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) is a relevant vehicle for Asia-wide dialogue and cooperation. Thailand expressed its full confidence in Bahrain’s chairmanship of ACD in 2013 and in the successful hosting of the 12th ACD Ministerial Meeting.
In her speech at an event in Bahrain, Prime Minister Yingluck pointed out that Thailand’s geographic location is at the heart of the Mekong region and the emerging ASEAN Community of 600 million consumers. She explained that ASEAN is enhancing its connectivity by developing economic corridors through Thailand, which is not just a growing market but also Bahrain’s gateway to the regional market.
The first formal contact between ASEAN and GCC took place in 1990 when the Foreign Minister of Oman, in his capacity as Chairman of the Council of Ministers of GCC, expressed the desire of GCC to establish formal relations with ASEAN. ASEAN Foreign Ministers met their counterparts from GCC for the first time at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 1990, when they agreed to meet annually in New York. In 2000, ASEAN established the ASEAN Riyadh Committee to help develop ASEAN-GCC relations.
Trade between ASEAN and the GCC was valued at 83 billion US dollars in 2010, up 23.6 percent from 67 billion dollars in 2009. ASEAN’s exports came to 20 billion dollars, while imports amounted to 63 billion dollars, causing 43 billion dollars in deficit. Food security is cited as one of the important agenda items in the ASEAN-GCC framework.
GCC was formed in 1981 and it now consists of six countries, namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was established in 1967 in Bangkok. Currently it comprises 10 member countries, namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Thailand’s health care service, in particular, has attracted many patients from GCC countries to Thailand each year for medical check-ups and treatments. Both sides have realized that Southeast Asia and the Middle East need to find allies and strategic partners for the “new economy,” in order to strengthen themselves and each other. The Tourism Authority of Thailand regards GCC as a growing market, and it expects 10 percent increase in the number of GCC visitors in 2012.
In strengthening ASEAN-GCC relations, Thailand has emphasized the extension of people-to-people connectivity. It has also joined other ASEAN partners in further opening the door for increased cooperation with GCC.