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ASEAN ANALYSIS  23  August 2010

What’s going on in Thailand?

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   23 August 2010

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Today, as reported in our News Update section, was as local astrologers and soothsayers like to say, “an auspicious day” in Thailand as a much needed rail link to Suvaranabhumi Airport started operations. Not quite as seamless as the train from Paddington Station to Heathrow, but certainly a big improvement on being stuck in traffic in a taxi in Bangna Trad.

But that event is a sidelight to the posting of Thailand’s year-on-year gross domestic product (GDP) of 9.1 percent.

Choosing this topic, Thailand’s remarkable rebound, was triggered by a call from media in Malaysia, asking for comment soon after the GDP was posted this morning.

At AseanAffairs we were not surprised at the announcement, but perhaps the rest of the world was, given the dramatic coverage of the two-months of red-shirt protest that ended in 91 deaths and arson attacks on 39 government and private buildings.

Employment, which was quite low to begin with, is on the rise and consumer spending on durable goods, especially automobiles, rose to 6.5 percent year-on-year, versus 4 percent in the first quarter.

Quite simply, the Thai economy tossed off the bad publicity that surely lowered tourism figures and just kept plugging along.

The protest violence and mayhem was confined to a narrow part of Bangkok and in the rest of the city and in most of the rest of the country life went on.

Workers went to work and goods and agricultural produce (Thailand is the world’s largest rice exporter) were taken to the docks for export.

There are two points that could be drawn from the so-called surprise of Thailand’s economic growth.

The first comes from a conversation I had with a freelance journalist several years ago. He asked me if I had ever submitted a story about Thailand to an editor.

I told him I had not and he replied, “Well, I have and what they want are stories about sex.”

In other words, the real story of Thailand is often not told, replaced by quirky and smirky tales of a small aspect of life in Thailand.

Second, the demise of print journalism in favor of television news that goes to the dramatic and sensational leaves much news not told throughout the world.

People remember the stark images of a airplane hijacking, a mass murder or a dramatic hurricane or typhoon but not the more fundamental and less dramatic stories of what goes on in those distant countries far from their homes.

With the advent of the Internet, most newspapers have cut back on their editorial staffs abroad, leaving major gaps in coverage because of revenue declines.

Hopefully our “News Updates” and this column are keeping readers adequately informed about Asean and its member nations.

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