Paradise Lost in Thailand

By Kurlantzick, Joshua | Newsweek, June 14, 2010 | Go to article overview

Paradise Lost in Thailand


Kurlantzick, Joshua, Newsweek


Byline: Joshua Kurlantzick

Thailand used to be synonymous with swift growth, stable democracy, and pristine beaches. But that picture has changed. Over the past two months, clashes in Bangkok have killed at least 80 people, gutted the stock exchange and the city's largest shopping center, and destroyed Thailand's image of peace and tranquility. The tourism industry, which accounts for as much as 8 percent of GDP, is gasping. The country now looks to be ungovernable.

In part, the recent upheavals are a result of longstanding grievances that pit the largely rural supporters of exiled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra against the generally Bangkok-based and wealthier backers of current prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva. Even so, this collapse could have been avoided. In the past decade, Thai leaders on both sides of the divide made a series of bad decisions that set their country on the road to ruin. They let Thailand's archaic education system continue to stagnate, which in turn left Thai businesspeople unequipped to innovate and compete globally. (It's notable that Thailand has produced no homegrown multinationals like Taiwan's Acer or India's Infosys.) Meanwhile tourist havens like Phuket were exploited, rather than preserved, as one natural wonder after the next became overdeveloped with resorts and condo complexes. …

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