Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thailand politics and the anti-globalists

My friend from Thailand, an academic economist at Thammasat University, Dr. Pichit Likitkijsomboon, wrote a good article summarizing Thailand politics. It was published around mid-2007 on some websites outside Thailand. The article was partly drawn from ‘Thais pay the price for political turmoil’ in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol.169, No.6, July/Aug 2006.

Pichit wrote last year,

"Beneath the surface, the conflict is the struggle between the Thaksin government’s policy of pushing Thailand toward a globalized and competitive capitalist economy on the one hand, and Thai anti-globalization forces led and masterminded by the royalists on the other. Prime Minister Thaksin’s globalization policies include trade liberalization, the negotiations of free trade agreements with the country’s largest trading partners such as Australia, China, India, Japan and the United States, the corporatization of state enterprises, bureaucratic reform and economic restructuring. Although implementation of these policies has not been without flaw and has sometimes been subject to the accusation of the lack of transparency, the direction is clear: a social and economic restructuring of Thailand toward globalized, competitive capitalism...."

"...The crisis looks to last for years. The outcome will judge whether Thailand will move forward to be a modern democratic and liberalized country or an authoritarian state covered up with the skin of elected parliament and civilian government and an undemocratic constitution."

The anti-globalization groups in Thailand are misguided, and I assume they are just among the noisy and media-articulate minority. Despite the fact that many Thais don't speak or read English, that country is very globalized. One indicator is the 15 million foreign visitors (or more?) every year, the new and modern Bangkok international airport, world class beach resorts in Phuket, mountain resorts in Chiang Mai. Big exports, presence of many foreign auto manufacturers, etc.

Recently though, the anti-globalists, anti-multinationals, anti-capitalist forces seem to be gaining in some public policy debates. In health, they were successful in pressuring the Thai Health Ministry to retain compulsory licensing (CL) of a number of medicines produced by multinational pharma companies. And more CLs are coming. For the anti-globalists, innovators of revolutionary products like very effective medicines are evil if they cannot bring down the price of their costly health inventions.

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