The conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip that escalated in the past two weeks since October 7, 2023, has resulted in the loss of lives on both sides, as well as harm to foreign workers. The conflict appears to be intensifying and expanding to other regions, which could ultimately have an impact on global economic stability.
On October 20, 2023, at the ASEAN Foreign Ministerial Meetings issued a statement calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities, respect for international humanitarian law, and expressed readiness to support negotiations for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine. The statement also called for the protection and safe release of all ASEAN nationals, including civilians, without conditions and delay.
Even though Thailand and ASEAN may be far from the Israel-Palestine conflict, economic interdependencies, global supply chains, and labor migration have made the situation relevant to our region. In 2022, Israel was the 42nd largest trading partner of Thailand, with a total trade value exceeding THB 49,182 million. Furthermore, around 9,417 Thai workers were employed in Israel, primarily in the agricultural sector. Among foreign workers in Israel, Thais constituted the largest group at approximately 23%, followed by Filipino workers at 21% of the total.
Palestine, a small state with a population of about 5 million people, faced economic challenges in 2022 with a GDP growth rate of only 3.9% and increasing unemployment, particularly in the Gaza Strip, reaching as high as 45.3%. Despite the absence of formal state-to-state relations between Thailand and ASEAN and Palestine, statistics show that in 2022, Thailand exported goods worth over THB 178 million to Palestine, encompassing categories such as automobiles, equipment and components, canned seafood, and processed foods, making Thailand was the 16th largest global trading partner of Palestine, that highest in ASEAN, ahead of Malaysia and Indonesia, that ranking 19th and 22nd, respectively.
The Israel-Palestine conflict is not a distant issue for either Thailand or ASEAN. As the global supply chain linkage is increasingly interconnected, with significant foreign worker trends, it has become clear that regional well-being is closely tied to global geopolitics. Recognizing this, on October 20, 2023, ASEAN held its first ASEAN-GCC Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, focusing on primary areas of cooperation, such as maritime security, connectivity, sustainable development, economic cooperation, investment promotion, and agriculture cooperation.
As geoeconomics and geopolitical interdependencies between ASEAN and the world continue to deepen, ASEAN cannot remain unaffected by the major power dynamics, which include not only the United States of America, China, and Russia but also Iran, the Arab Gulf states, and other significant actors. Thus, managing their economic and political strategies in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict becomes crucial in maintaining regional benefits, promoting peace, and preserving ASEAN’s centrality in a multipolar world.
Mr. Khobtham Neelapaichit
International Institute for Trade and Development (Public Organization)
Publication: Bangkok BIZ Newspaper
Section: First Section/World Beat
Volume: 37 Issue: 12496
Date: Wednesday, October 25, 2023
Page: 8 (bottom left)
Column: “Insight ASEAN”