ASEAN: ASEAN “Rats Leaving a Sinking Ship?”

Shall I eat at home or away from home?

by Pooky, this blog economics journalist

About the year 2000, Jim came to Thailand with his wife for a vacation. At Soi Cowboy, Jim met another foreigner. They talked and Jim told his new found friend he was an integrated circuit designer. “Great, we are just looking for a guy to help us on that.”

Thus Jim moved to Thailand and went to work for a Thai electronic circuit factory that was rated “The Best Supplier” by a major US brand name assembler.

But today, Jim is out of a job and living off savings. What went wrong?

  • China is a very big economy. ASEAN is also a very big economy. And Thailand is a troubled country, all around.

So there you go, Thailand’s top CEO at, CP, one of the country’s largest conglomerate, said China and ASEAN is the way for Thailand to go. It looks good, Thailand’s export just surprised a great many people with strong numbers, mainly because of strong China exports.

Even at Thailand’s central bank, the amount of money Thai firms can take out of Thailand to invest globally had been increased, with local newspaper already writing about how a great many top Thai firms are heading to invest outside Thailand in ASEAN.

Public resources wise, literally speaking, US$ billions are being poured into building roads to link the mainland Southeast Asia together, with Thailand obviously at the cross-road. Rail system another countless billions.

But are the rats, just simply leaving a sinking ship?

Consider the following factors:

  • Agricultural and related industry support infrastructures such as waterways and R&D are getting little focus.
  • Thai education system is called mostly benefiting the well off.
  • Creative and knowledge based economy infrastructure failing.
  • The gap between the rich and poor, considered the root of the Thai societal problems, remain lost for a solution.
  • Industrial competitiveness increasingly rely on logistics and geographic advantage, not core operation.

The fundamental fact is that Thailand is a troubled country, both economically and sociologically. Deep fundamental problems to Thailand have not been addressed, as Thailand turns external-to China and ASEAN.

Consider the following factors:

  • About 10 million Thais who are classified as poor, still remain a significant undeveloped resource for an internal engine of growth.
  • About another 10 million Thais middle class, mostly in the service sector, remain mostly un-trained to advance theories and rely mainly on a natural abilities for competitiveness.
  • About another 10 million Thais in the agricultural sector, remain greatly under-developed to full potential.
  • About another 10 millions Thais in the SMEs sector are at a lost.

Jim is out of work and looking for a way out of Thailand, 10 years after a successful career here, simply because Thailand’s competitors in China and other ASEAN countries became more competitive than Thailand over time.

As Jim told this blog, “I have made a life in Thailand and have settled here, and it is too late for me to start over in Vietnam or Indonesia. I am looking to go back to the UK, but there is no longer a need for my skill there. I am stuck somewhere in no-man’s land as far as a career goes.”

Jim says he loves Thailand. But how many rats will leave this sinking ship?

  • Vietnam’s work ethics scares even China.
  • Malaysia is a well diversified resource rich and well planned economy.
  • Indonesia is rich in inexpensive human resources.
  • Singapore is cutting edge professional.
  • Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia verges on being the New World.
  • And China? Global class competitive with vast un-tapped human resources.

Many Thai economist have stated for a long-time now, that the development towards the “Washington Consensus” strategy of relying on global trade and investments, have their limits.

  • Does the Ma Tha Phud investment blockade points to that limit?
  • Does the level of corruption, political risk and ineffectual government scares anyone?
  • And just look around, how much have foreign multinationals taken control of the Thai economy?

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