Thursday, March 1, 2007

Christian Science Monitor: Report on Thai Economic Nationalism

In Thailand, cries of 'Singapore, go home'

The Thai military is pushing to regain control of a phone company sold to Singapore by former Thai leader.

Page 1 of 3

GO HOME: A Thai student angry over Singapore's purchase of a former Prime Minister's phone company at the Singaporean Embassy.


Five months after seizing power, Thailand's military rulers have a lot on their plate: battling an escalating insurgency in the Muslim-dominated south, keeping tabs on political troublemakers, and writing a new Constitution.

That's work aplenty, but in recent weeks, their gaze has also lifted toward the heavens, where a cluster of commercial satellites are orbiting. The satellites were part of the telecommunications empire of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra until they were sold last year to Temasek Holdings, an arm of Singapore's government.

Now, the generals want them back.

The satellites have been sucked into an increasingly prickly row over national security and foreign capital in Thailand, fueled by the 1997 Thai economic collapse and the rush by foreigners to buy Thai assets on the cheap in the years since. Thailand's allies are now watching to see how far the military will go to back up its rising tide of nationalist rhetoric with action.

"A lot of foreigners have underestimated the strength of economic nationalism in Thailand,'' says Michael Montesano, an assistant professor of Southeast Asian studies at the National University of Singapore. "Since 1997 Thailand has learned what it feels like to be a South American economy with multinational capital controlling an outsized share of the economy."


I think the analysis is wrong. When things are politically and economically bad in Thailand, right-wing reactionaries have always played the "blame the foreigner" card to confiscate assets and to consolidate power. I don't want to call these reactionaries Thai nationalists, because when you look closely, their fidelity is not with the Thai people or protecting the Thai nation, but rather with protecting their own personal interests. In other words, they care nothing about Thailand; they only care about sustaining their own wealth, status and power.

Some people might wonder why I keep making this accusation. There is a long history of certain political parties in Thailand using "the foreign threat" as an excuse to seize foreign economic assets, and they use nationalism to distract the masses from the criminal and incompetent activities of the governing elite. It is nothing but a sleight of hand game. One minute you have General Sonthi ranting about selling out Thai assets to Singapore, the next minute you have Surayud saying that Thailand won't "buy" assets. While you have certain elements in Thailand opposing the Thai-Japan FTA screaming about protecting the microbiological assets of Thailand, you have the foreign minister lying to a Japanese business audience by announcing that Thailand is safe place to invest in and the status quo will be sustained. Why should foreigners believe anything that Thais tell them? These are the same people who opened an airport that is unsafe to millions of foreign tourists. Why care about the safety of foreigners when there is money to be made?

And what is ironic is that many educated Thais understand this game, but their racism and hatred of foreigners is so strong that they are willing to get sucked into the nationalist fervor and sell out their moral integrity for faux nationalism and money.

For them, it is easier to blame the nasty foreigners for Thailand's bleak situation rather than looking closely at those home grown parties who are really responsible for the problems of the country.

If foreign capital is really such an evil threat to Thai independence and sovereignty, a threat to Thai culture, and a threat to the Thai way of life, the simple thing to do is cut off Thailand from the rest of world and pursue autarky. Go for sufficiency, but don't do it in a half-assed way.

Of course, no Thai politician or bureaucrat will ever propose this, because it interferes with their scam, which is to steal from the Thai state and cheat foreigners out of their money.

Many Thai politicians say that Thais needs to protect the country from the evils of foreign capital, yet these same people go from country to country begging for foreign investment. Plus, none of these Thais who pronounce that foreign capital is evil will ever sacrifice any of the modern conveniences that foreign capital provides them. These hypocrites still drive their Mercedes, wear their Rolexes, wear foreign designer clothes, use their foreign designed and invented computers and mobiles, and live in huge modern western style mansions.

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