Thursday, 15 July 2010

Bangkok's World Trade Center Disaster

It is truly shocking to see a picture of Bangkok's Central World Plaza in ruins shortly after the recent disturbances in the city. Peaceful protests can so easily get hijacked and run out of control when a widespread sense of grievance is so very strong and raw.

The Plaza was a truly spectacular celebration of consumerism but for the huge majority of Thais their only place in it was as low paid constuction workers, cleaners and skivvies. A pretty girl from the countryside whose skin colour was light enough might aspire to sell burgers there but not much more.

Bangkok's world, it seems, is thus heating up in more ways than one.

How ironic it now is that before a substantial upgrading and rebranding a few years ago, this huge retail complex was called the World Trade Centre. While the Marriott Hotel did not change the name of its Tsunami restaurant, any possible association with a terrorist atrocity in Manhattan was clearly best avoided for Bangkok's biggest retail mall.

What befell though in Bangkok was entirely a domestic affair, the problems of a young country that has imperfectly integrated its distant provinces such as in the South and North East and since the revolution of 1932 has not fully modernised its essential polity.

Now the talk is of getting back to normal through reconciliation between the different factions. This sounds thoroughly appropriate, though it is meaningless if it simply amounts to demanding that the poor go back to their sweatshops and to ploughing the dirt without more. Unless the inequities in society are adequately addressed and a substantial shift occurs in the balance of political power between different interests, then the grievances will only become more bitter and the next conflict only be delayed.

History deems that Thailand's achievement in avoiding being colonised was a good thing. However, while it begs the question to say this, in essence its whole structure of power politics is in need of modernisation.

This cannot be attempted soon enough, though it is not in the interests of the power brokers to see it happen.

Meanwhile, though tourism is down, Thai manufacturing and exports are booming and the government's finances remain healthy. The means to promote change therefore exists and there is little real excuse for not so doing except self-interest.

As the pressures continue to build, what then can break the log jam?

Andrew Hicks The "Thai Girl" Blog July 2010