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xi Introduction The theme of the Thailand Update 2004 was economics and business but it interpreted that theme very loosely and the papers were varied. We began with careful, scholarly examinations of the last year in economics and politics by Bhanupong Nidhiprabha and Michael Connors and then moved into a rather more free-ranging session on business where the emphasis was on how Australians should go about doing business with Thais. Tamerlaine Beasley looked at the cultural factors, Khun Suchart gave the Thai Government view and Glen Robinson looked at things from the perspective of an Australian businessman with extensive experience in Thailand. A feature of this session was the presentations by one Australian and one Thai of how they saw the Thai-Australian Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) affecting both countries. The third session focused on how rural communities were being affected by economic and political changes. Yos Santasombat and Andrew Walker made stimulating and controversial presentations which questioned some conventional wisdom. Finally John Funston discussed the currently relevant topic of developments in Southern Thailand. In this introduction, I will try to extract some themes from these diverse presentations as well as provide a summary of the main arguments. OVERALL VIEW If there is one common element in all these disparate papers, it is that of change. All seeThailand as a society in political, economic and social transition. Some stress the positive and some stress the negative aspects of change but all agree that it is happening. Some focus on the national picture and others on regional issues and some take a longer-term perspective than others. The political and economic analysts present a mixed picture, the business people 00 ThaiEcoRecovery Prelims 5/5/06, 9:58 AM 11 xii are generally upbeat while the anthropologists focus on the village level where results are also mixed. There is also a feeling of uncertainty in most of the analyses especially when attempting to predict the future. The three chapters which discuss developments at a regional level provide some interesting contrasts. At the village level, Yos showed how what is variously called “modernization” or “globalization” is changing the lives of traditional people in northern Thailand whose traditional swidden cultivation is being attacked by environmentalists on the grounds that it denudes forests and creates flooding. Minorities are being pressured by government and by environmentalists to assimilate to the mainstream. However, Walker feels that mainstream Thai villagers he has worked with in Northern Thailand are adapting in a practical way to political and environmental changes. Unlike their minority cousins, they see change as positive. Selling new crops to large corporates gives them greater security and more money while attempts to make them return to traditional ways are not welcome. In the Muslim South, there seems to be a regression to the old (failed) tactics of force and assimilation which, in a more difficult post-September 11 environment, has led to a renewal of the violence that more tolerant policies had banished. Taken together, these three papers suggest that things vary from place to place depending on the circumstances so that you cannot sensibly speak of “the regions” as a whole. In a way, this local-level conflict between change and the old ways is also found at the national level. Thaksin’s attempts to mould a new kind of Thailand do not always encourage the growth of liberal democratic sentiment. Thaksin himself is not always consistent in this regard. Connors rightly points out that Thaksin is not some kind of deus ex machina but is a Thai formed by Thailand; he both acts on events and is acted upon by them. So he is part of the process of change. There is a clash, at least in theory, between those who want to reject foreign influences in favour of a traditional Thai way of doing things and those who want to make basic changes in the ways of the Thais. This clash between modernizers and traditionalists is, of course, hardly anything new in Thailand and is not confined to Thailand. It mirrors the clash between the Slavophiles and the Europhiles in Russia and is to be found in one form or another in most societies. The king’s ideas about rural self-sufficiency have some attraction but, as Walker shows, rural people are also interested in change.Thaksin’s controversial rural policies do seem to be having some success. Conditions are improving outside Bangkok, albeit slowly. The notion of change was also stressed by...


Subject Headings

  • Thailand -- Economic conditions -- 1986-.
  • Thailand -- Politics and government -- 1988-.
  • Thailand -- Social conditions -- 1986-.
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