The Mood: Thais question their place

Trends in Thai ads - Asian Market Research, January 19, 2003
This article also mentions the ad often shown on channel 11: the controversial ad for Krung Thai Bank showed Thais receiving training from foreigners in traditional Thai disciplines. The ad then asked "Are you embarrassed?" reminding the audience to protect their cultural heritage.


The Mood: Thais question their place - Commentary by Wisarut, January 4, 2003
There is an escalating conflict between the Western and traditional Thai values which is now at a critical stage. Nowadays there is less and less room for compromises or a "middle path" between these conflicting values. Those who embrace the new western values are lambasted as "traitors" and "lackeys of the West" while those who unabashedly reject these Western values are sneered at as "dinosaurs." You can see the increasing evidence of xenophobia in local newspapers, morning news radio, and local webboards.
Many neighboring countries have criticized Thailand in the past for not having experienced the struggle to achieve independence, and for becoming American allies for decades--especially the long years when military strongmen ruled Thailand. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Thailand sometimes feels impelled to overreact in fashioning an independent posture by not agreeing with the US regional policies.
Even Thai NGO activists, businessmen, and politicians are running a campaign to repeal or amend the 11 economic laws passed because of the insistence of the IMF. The campaign has a vitriolic tone that states the laws have "sold out the country" to foreign interests and points out Argentina as an example.
The growth of giant discount stores and the plan to sell Bangchak Refinery to foreign firms also sparked moves to protect the local refinery and mom-and-pop retailers. Morning radio news broadcasts the laments of local retailers and evidence of arm-twisting deals applied to local retailers by the Western giant discount stores.
Even the Minister of Education said that foreigners should be prohibited from studying "local wisdom" since the foreign training will displace Thai workers and distort local knowledge. The campaign (or propaganda) shown on Channel 11 showing a foreign teaching Thai children how to "Wai" and perform other traditional activities is more evidence for such perception.
Even international and bilingual schools are under heavy criticism by Thai academics as well as educational experts. They feel afraid that those who attend such schools will be deprived of competency in their own culture.
Illegal workers and beggars also spark anti-foreign rhetoric toward poorer neighbor countries. Many Thai officers say that illegal workers (especially from Burma) are a threat to national security. It is claimed that some of them may be spies who are coming to tap critical information, sabotage the country, set up "autonomous states" within Thailand, and take jobs.
Many columnists in local press see trendy teen culture from Japan as serious threats. They lambaste those who follow a trendy Japanese lifestyle as "rootless people."
Thailand is facing the fretful task of defining "national identity" in this chaotic era of globalization and retaining certain traditional values to enable Thais to maintain a sense of pride, psychological balance, and equilibrium. Rejecting outside influence would be detrimental to Thailand. If xenophobia and ultranationalism takes hold, it would jeopardize international relationships and harm the tourist industry. Thailand needs to embrace certain new values and structures (individualism, egalitarianism, good governance, and participatory democracy) and then refine and adapt them in spirit of conciliation and collaboration with Thai politics, society, and culture to create a democratic, productive, stable, just, and equitable society.

[Note from 2b: The present government has used many of these issues as political weapons against the previous government (such as selling out to the IMF). However, despite high profile proposals to deal with these perceived problems (such as restrictions on foreign-owned mega-stores), there does not seem to be much political will to actually pass new laws and the proposals are left to languish.


Local "communists" and the feud between Tesco Lotus and Rajabhat Institute - December 20, 2002
Here's something you won't find in the English-language press. Wisarut Bholsithi gives some background on the anti-globalization mood. 2b's comments are in brackets.
Wisarut writes: There is TPI ad on TV Channel 11 with an anti-globalization message (or propaganda). [This is in reference to the campaign by a local tycoon (see below) to maintain control of his bankrupt company by bashing globalization.].
Many columnists in local Thai language newspapers have frequently bombarded readers with either anti-globalization or anti-western messages. [Many foreigners base their perceptions of Thai public opinion on the calm and sanitized editorials in The Nation and the Bangkok Post which are only read by a minuscule percentage of the population. They would be surprised at strident and extreme rhetoric that often shows up in the Thai-language press.]
Local communists also write poisonous and venomous messages relating to news about the strained relationship between Tesco Lotus and Rajabhat Institute (Kanchanaburi campus) since Tesco Locus refuses to hire students from the college due to the fact that many teachers and students protested against the British retailer. Many small business owners have protested against Carrefour, Big C, and Tesco with very extreme messages. They have also protested against government ministers who have vested interests in European retailers. No national flags have been burned yet, but the mood is very tense.
One of the poisonous messages that's appeared in leaflet form posted around the National College of Defense, as well as to the public places says that [a rough translation from Wisarut]: ...The Foreign retailers force local retailers to sell their products to them and have to wait AT LEAST 3 months to get cash. For local retailers, such waiting is too much for them... it pushes their families closed to live in poverty and starvation...
....Then when the local retailers died .....They (the foreign retailer) will choke our farmers to sell their products at a fire sale price .... or refuse to buy at all since they can get products from somewhere else .... even worse ... many foreigners have stolen our grain,
or fruits and other agricultural product of us to produce in their tropical plantations, and
...they can literally dump their products to kill and murder our farmers ...
... When foreigners force our farmers to become jobless, forcing the government to sell
state enterprises to capitalists at fire sale prices .... by those brainwashed Democrats
[the political party] who sold out our country to the World Bank and IMF ... similar to what they have done to 56 defunct financial institutes but on a much larger scale .... This will spark civil unrest and civil wars in our country. After that, the imperialists will send the troops in Australia and Pacific to literally chop our country APART ... with the traitor
generals who work with US Peacekeepers ... dividing our country into sphere of influences ... in the same way as their grandfather had done to China. The first to go is the Deep South
[4 Muslim-dominated southern provinces] ... second is the rest of the Southern provinces ... the Eastern seaboard is the next on the list of those imperialists ... They even aim to erect the signs that say "No Dog or Thailanders Can Come into this Park!", "No Dog or Thailanders Can Come into this Beach!" Those imperialists will perpetuate their regime by brainwashing our teens with their media, trendy fashions, and by picking out lapdogs to study in their countries with scholarships.


The strange Saga of TPI - UPI, December 16, 2002
This has been all over the local papers, but here's an article showing what foreigners think: When the devaluation blow fell, TPI unilaterally stopped paying its enormous debt -- and boasted about how much its cash flow had improved. Creditors were not impressed (especially when some of the money saved was used to pay executive salary increases)... The article ends up by stating Thai foreign investment policy is becoming similar to Burmese policy under dictator Ne Win.
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