The expansion of aid links between Bangkok and the Pacific is part of a growing shift in the way development co-operation works, with Western countries reducing their assistance and emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia doing more.
Anthea Mulakala is Director, for International Development Cooperation at the Asia Foundation says the international development landscape has changed dramatically in the past decade and Thailand is a part of that.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: Anthea Mulakala, Director International Development Cooperation, Asia Foundation
MULAKALA: In the scope of donors Thailand is a very small and relatively new donor, and interestingly, like many other Asian countries Thailand is both a donor and a recipient country at the same time. Thailand's development assistance probably started in the 1990s when the economy reached middle income level and the government at the time wanted to put forth as part of Thailand's foreign policy objectives to become more of a development co-operation partner in the region. So Thailand's priorities have really been in its own neighbourhood, what they call CLMV countries, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, but also in recent years you have seen an expansion to other parts of Asia, Africa and also the Pacific.
GARRETT: You say that emerging donors in Asia have a very different perspective from traditional Western donors. What are you seeing exactly?
MULAKALA: Well, I think there has been a lot more attention given to emerging donors. First off i should say we shouldn't really call them emerging donors because, in fact, many countries particularly ones that are in the limelight now like China and India have been participating in development co-operation as providers of assistance for decades, since the 1950s. It is just that it has been mostly under the radar of traditional frameworks. In my work, at the Asia Foundation, we looked primarily at Asian providers, Thailand included and there are a number of similarities amongst these kinds of actors. One priority for them is that aid is seen as a mutual benefit type of transaction so it is not a donor-recipient relationship. It is really about a win-win relationship between two countries. It is often, or in all cases, it is demand driven; so based upon a request from a partner country. It is also explicitly tied to foreign policy objectives so you seen development co-operation or aid as being one instrument among a whole range of different foreign policy tools that a country will use to engage with other countries, and often the operating principles and the principles are quite different from the traditional donor framework.
GARRETT: Aid co-ordination is important for getting the best out of development assistance especially for small island states. China has been slow to come to the party on this. How does Thailand rate?
MULAKALA: Well, Thailand is quite good in some aspects of aid co-ordination. Many Asian donors are somewhat sceptical or hesitant to conform of the international aid architecture frameworks or principles because they were formed when some of these countries were recipient countries and not with them, as provider countries. So particularly china and India, I think, are trying to develop a new discourse around development co-operation. Now Thailand actually has, for many years, been providing to the OECD-DAC (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee) on its aid. If you ask me if I think they would join the DAC, I am uncertain about that. I think the way that they operate and the principles of development co-operation are much more aligned to non-traditional and emerging partners than to the traditional DAC donors.
GARRETT: Thailand has big economic interests in the Pacific, in tuna and it is also interested in Papua New Guinea's gas. How is it likely to be balancing its development co-operation in relationships with Pacific Island countries and its economic interests?
MULAKALA: You know Thailand sees its development co-operation as one foreign policy instrument that it would use to engage with a range of countries so I think the Ministry of foreign Affairs is interested in expanding its scope more widely into the Pacific and particularly in the areas around capacity-building; so looking at focussing on Thailand's expertise and best practice and sharing that, particularly in areas around sustainable development, community development, agriculture, fisheries, as you say. I think that what you will see is more of a role for technical training. I believe there has already been a considerable amount of technical training between Thailand and Pacific Island states and that will likely grow.
GARRETT: What will Thailand be wanting to get out of this Thailand-Pacific Countries Forum this weekend?
MULAKALA: I think some economic diplomacy, some political diplomacy, one to expand the breadth and scope of its development co-operation activities, its training opportunities but also at the same time, as I said, because Thailand has economic objectives as part of its co-operation program they are also hoping to have increased investment and partnerships along the lines of South-South co-operation and South -South economic co-operation with the Pacific Islands.