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Thailand faces ASEAN economic test

Updated: 2014-01-16 07:38
By Kavi Chongkittavorn ( China Daily)

Much has been said and written about the ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC, and its far-reaching implications for Thailand. During the past two years, Thailand has been the most active within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as far as the AEC campaign is concerned. As much as 8 billion baht ($244.62 million) in various forms have been spent to "raise awareness and preparedness of Thailand and the Thai people for the AEC".

The emphasis has been largely concentrated on economic-related activities, even though the politico-security and socio-cultural pillars are equally important.

During the peak of the AEC campaign, literally all government agencies - in Bangkok as well as provincial areas, especially those bordering ASEAN member states - received special budgets to organize seminars and events to welcome the AEC. The Thai ministries of Education, Commerce, and Culture and Social Development received the bulk of the funds. Even the Ministry of Defense was given more than 200 million baht as part of the preparation for the AEC.

Moreover, at least 100,000 key district- and provincial-level officials attended seminars on the AEC and related ASEAN issues in 2011-12. At the district and provincial levels, officials and agencies based in the north and northeast of Thailand have been the biggest beneficiaries of the AEC campaign, judging from the roadside billboards and cutouts.

Some primary schools in remote areas have even set up libraries of various sizes and information boards on ASEAN member states' histories, flags and other cultural aspects, although they still lack other, and essential, school facilities. Students memorize ASEAN slogans. The Metropolitan Waterworks Authority proudly declares its drinking water is clean and safe to welcome the AEC. And a huge temple in Banglamung district, Chonburi, has even said that the current renovation project is part of the journey toward AEC.

Indeed, the Thai government seemed quite satisfied with the campaign's outcome because it had succeeded in embedding the AEC concept in the public mind. In recent months, however, the campaign has somewhat died down because of increasing political tension and budget constraints.

Culling from media reports and official reactions on the AEC 2015 deadline, the general public still does not have a proper understanding of the AEC and its implications. Most of the views are focused on perceived fear, especially fear of losing jobs, disruption in the market and influx of migrant workers. People feel Thailand may end up being the loser in the bargain because it is not well prepared for the AEC.

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