Friday, 27 October 2017

King Bhumibol a legacy for UK and Thailand?

Khun Usnisa makes some interesting points in her Bangkok Post article True Grit on the preparations for King Bhumibol’s funeral:

Not just the aching details of the royal procession but the commemoration of his work in Mae Fah Luang Foundation from the Princess Mother’s work with the hill tribes and Doitung Royal projects and King Bhumibol's Sufficiency Economy.

And threads of those activities woven into OTOP One Tambon economy and Blue Flag welfare e-cards and shops.

With Prince Andrew representing UK and the UK Royal family, it was surprising to see that Khun Usnisa's Mae Fah Luang Foundation was supported by Belgium and Denmark and USA - but not UK?

Surely the above projects, Blue Flag relevant at the moment in UK with the debate around the failings of the Universal Credit welfare scheme and trials of Basic National Income are relevant here. Or the quirky designation of 555 as a fraud hotline - perhaps causing mirth in Thailand.

But more seriously with UK DFID aid budgets of $20BN the highest in the world after USA - and separate Foreign Office budgets - as well as EU aid budgets via the EU office in Bangkok $15BN, and UN budgets such as FAO via the Bangkok office of the UN, surely UK could be more active in Thailand and such projects?

As could DEC NGO's funded by/through UK such as Red Cross and (red) and World Vision and newer charities such as Clearly and Operation Smile.

At the very least, UK with EU allies as Belgium and Denmark, and USA would be useful core group to support Mae Fah Luang activity within Thailand’s government depts and NGO’s and within EU funidng structures? France, Netherlands and Canada and Portugal are active in Thailand too.

Shouldn't a Mae Fah Luang working group - in Thailand then the relevant nations - be established to develop activity and define budgets? The danger is nothing done for another year, while budgets that exist are sat idle or spent elsewhere, and new budgets not itemised.

For example both UK and USA facing their highest ever drug deaths from the increase in Shan and Helmand heroin, and Belgium, just over the water from East Kent, with 90% of Europe's illegal drug arrests from the Golden Triangle of Paris, Amsterdam and London.

Indeed the Canadian FTA (CETA) with EU and the Singapore FTA (EUSTA) with EU, both very similar and now awaiting final ratification by the EU parliament and nations, must provide a template for a Thai and ASEAN FTA as relevant with EU to boost trade in agriculture and services?

Hill Tribe and Isaan silk and rice and coffee and other drug crop replacements must be capable of being expanded via Europe's and USA's High Streets and malls and supermarkets - especially against the backdrop of UNSDG30.

Even acceleration of mobile phone and internet coverage and mobile banking - the price of Thai pineapples or rubber on the London Stock Exchange?

The Canadian FTA only delayed by an initial veto by Belgian regions now resolved. Certainly East Kent as the UK's only cross-border region with Belgium and France, and many of the UK Cabinet and Ministers Kent MP's, could support such measures.

Cambodia only a few years ago sought full Commonwealth status in Asia alongside Malaysia, Singapore, Papua, Brunei, Australia etc. And Timor-Leste seeking ASEAN membership by 2020, and, unusually, already with EU passport rights via Portugal.

AusAid for example already spending c.$3BN of Australian funds to support such nations – and surely a with DFID etc relevant for the hill tribes work – and even more relevant for the North, North East and Deep South form the Charter Referendum.

Mae Fah Luang work such as its House of Opium must be all the more relevant and Doitung as with Thailand's new work with Colombia from the FARC amnesty. Perhaps Caribbean and Pacific resilience - with the 2018 Commonwealth Summit in April- also relevant with FBI and DEA and UNODC activity in cocaine routes through Latin America to West African narco-states, as well as Southern Spain's and Southern Italy's ports.

While UK's work as a Sporting Superpower from the success of the 2012 Olympics. A Road Safety Superpower with the world's safest roads - the recent 5 year high of 1,794 deaths a fraction of Thailand's 30,000 road deaths. A Cultural Superpower with English language and universities to Chaucer's Canterbury Tales to Shakespeare to James Bond iconic.

Two of those icons based in East Kent as is Chevening the UK Foreign Minister's residence and basis for the Chevening scholarships now being expanded in ASEAN. (Only 8,000 Thai students in UK compared to 20,000 Malay students, and far more Malay universities and banks).

One would question as TDRI have done recently in an excellent analysis by Khun Natchapol on why more UK universities are not linked to Thai universities or opened in Thailand given their world-class status and need for English language training in ASEAN:

With English the second language of ASEAN future Thai generations won't be thankful for permanently lagging behind Singapore and Philippines or the Commonwealth Pacific Group.

While Liam Fox Trade Minster confirming UK as the second worst in the EU after Greece for exports must be food for thought and fastforwarding of the required growth in every UK embassy and trade office.

As with Colombia, Doitung surely relevant for many of the Commonwealth Caribbean and Pacific states facing crop changes such as sugar and tobacco or small-state Climate Change concerns of floods and landslides and NTD/TB/HIV/Malaria healthcare.

And Thailand's Kitchen of the World programme well-established in UK for jobs and training and remittances home (albeit treading water and slipping slightly backwards without greater BOI/Bank/Government support - some 3,000 Thai UK restaurants and supermarkets shuttered in the last few years) with 15,000 Thai restaurants compared to 20,000 in USA.

And Canterbury Cathedral, Kent's Angkor Wat if you will and the basis for The Trevor's wider ranging cultural/religious scholarships with the Archbishop of Dover a supporter of Buddhism links.

All must be relevant for Mae Fah Luang work too and continuing King Bhumibol's legacy through the 21st century?

Time for Change

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