- A Monarchy in a Globalized World
H.E. General Prem Tinsulanonda
President of the Privy Council and Statesman
Washington D.C., May 24, 2001
Ladies and Gentlemen,
am deeply honored to be here in Washington DC addressing this
distinguished gathering of friends of Thailand. For this privilege,
I wish to thank our gracious co-hosts and organizers for the
occasion: the Asia Society, the Bank of America and UNOCAL.
co-hosts all stand, in their own admirable ways, as living testimony
to the mutually rewarding partnership between two firm friends
and allies, the United States and the Kingdom of Thailand, which
has been thriving for well over a century.
subject I have chosen for today is one close to my heart. I
hope to shed more light, from my own perspective, on my country's
path of progress - social, political and economic, under the
wise guidance of our beloved Monarch, His Majesty King Bhumibol
Adulyadej. These will be but some thoughts on what we, as a
nation, have achieved, how we fared in recent past and where
are we heading for in the face of unprecedented challenges of
the new global environment.
has been able to keep a steady hand in steering a course through
the devastating shocks of the recent financial crisis. Our social
fabric has withstood the kind of forces and disruptions well
capable of tearing it apart. Hard won democratic values and
institutions, long and carefully nurtured, not only survived
but became more firmly embedded and strengthened.
resilience, tested and proven time and again, bodes well for
the future development of our widely acclaimed open society
and open economy. Ask any Thai you may come across, he or she
will be emphatic in his or her conviction that our society and
its resilience draw their strength and sustenance from the unifying
role of our Monarchy.
keeping with the traditional ideals of Thai Kingship, His Majesty
has always been a leader of compassion who is alert to the needs
of his people and conscious of his duty to guide them. His Majesty
carries out this royal responsibility through a remarkable degree
of personal contact and direct personal involvement in activities
carefully crafted to promote the livelihood of His subjects,
particularly the rural poor.
over fifty years of His reign, His Majesty ceaselessly traveled
the length and breadth of His Kingdom, defying physical discomforts
and inconveniences, to ascertain for himself local conditions
even in the remotest corner of the land.
in His Majesty's approach to rural development was the desire
for the rural community to be self-supporting. This has been
achieved through the provision of basic facilities necessary
for agricultural production such as secure water supply and
effective irrigation. In addition, the local villagers have
been introduced to the practical knowledge and appropriate technology
of production through successful demonstration models.
the migratory hill tribes living in the mountainous region along
Thai-Lao and Thai-Myanmar borders, His Majesty has initiated
crop substitution programs to replace traditional cultivation
of opium poppies, and located educational and medical facilities
at their settlements. Through the successful Hill tribe Development
Projects, His Majesty has given the hill tribes a real sense
of belonging to the Thai society.
the personal bonds of understanding and affection between the
Royal Family and the Thai people never seem to wane but continue
to grow closer and stronger. The modern Monarchy has proven
to the Thai people its relevance and vitality. The Monarchy
became the focal point that brings together people from all
backgrounds and shades of political thought and gives them an
intense awareness of their common heritage of being Thai.
is this potent moral force residing in the person of His Majesty
which has on many an occasion pulled Thailand out from the brink
of disasters. The King has been the ultimate stabilizing force
when the country faced critical moments of seemingly deadlocked
political confrontation. The King granted advice that eased
tensions and prevented more bloodshed. He provided equally wise
counsel during Thailand's struggle against the insurgency, suggesting
solutions aimed at relieving rural poverty and inspiring confidence
in the government's constructive efforts. Each of these personal
contributions of His Majesty stands as true milestones in the
evolution of Thai democracy.
the past three decades, Thailand was one of the few economies
growing at the fastest rates in the world. Income per head stood
at almost 3,000 dollars in 1996, a big leap from less than 700
dollars in 1980. Then, in 1997, the crisis hit us with such
a severity that went far beyond the bounds of our imagination
and experience. As a nation, we were impoverished overnight.
Hardest hit were those lacking the resources and social protection
to fall back on - the unemployed, the poor, small businesses,
and marginal farmers.
soul-searching followed the crisis, and, with it, also a search
for a new way. We found inspiration in the philosophy of "Sufficiency
Economy" which His Majesty synthesized from his lifelong
work and experience in development. For the nation, Sufficiency
Economy represents an enlightened way forward, as a feasible
approach to achieving the common objective of a stable, equitable,
and durable development for all the people and communities in
Ladies and Gentlemen,
the crisis, globalization has often been seized upon by some
as the ready scapegoat for the havoc created in its wake. In
this new era, spurred on by information technology, borders
have become less significant leading to an increasingly integrated
Globalization confers benefits on countries adept at taking
advantage of opportunities, but at the same time it exacts heavy
punishment from countries caught unprepared or treating it lightly.
large and small, can be highly vulnerable to external shocks,
be it volatility in capital flows, exchange rate risk, export
competitiveness, and contagion risk. Thailand was no exception.
Having benefited greatly during the previous three decades of
Thailand let down its guard and left itself badly exposed to
Thailand, the severest external shock was the massive capital
inflow. By the end of 1996, private sector short-term foreign
loans reached the unprecedented height of 70 billion US dollars.
Such flows were a double-edged sword. While it fueled the burgeoning
economic growth, it also engendered latent hazards in the mounting
current account deficits. The exit of capital flows proved faster
than its entry, following the "herd behavior" in the
loss of investor confidence, which led to the severe liquidity
and currency crises.
opportunities were squandered when borrowed capital was channeled
into non-productive sectors. Economic development was defined
and understood too narrowly, which resulted in extremes and
excesses. Economic growth, higher incomes and material accumulation
were being pursued increasingly as ends in themselves. Conspicuous
consumption was being confused with economic development itself,
as were prestige projects and prestigious material trappings.
The needed sense of self-reliance and prudence as collective
values were gradually cast aside.
our headlong rush for overall growth, we downgraded the one
key essential in economic and social development, namely, alleviation
of poverty. I have long held the view that poverty is the root
of all problems facing our nation, and most of my life in public
service has been dedicated to the task of alleviating poverty,
in the firm belief that it would help solving each and every
one of those problems. But this crisis made the yawning gap
between the haves and have-nots widen even further, against
a background of searing costs and disappearing social warmth.
Unrelenting quest for material wealth seemed to have undermined
compassion and caring, which in turn weakened the social fabric,
community bond, and traditional values.
it be misunderstood, globalization, in my mind, can be a force
for good and is above all a stark reality that cannot be wished
away, nor can it be stopped. We have no choice but to integrate
ourselves into the new global environment. In this task it is
imperative for us to find a way to make the most of the opportunities
while shielding ourselves from the negative aspects of globalization.
the brighter side, I fully agree with those who say that we
have managed, with much personal sacrifices and despite the
social costs, to achieve a turn-around from the 1997 crisis.
But, clearly, we should draw some lessons from our unhappy experience.
We simply cannot go on with our old ways and old habits as if
nothing has happened.
the years, His Majesty the King has graciously reminded us constantly
not to lose our bearings, not to be lured by the glitter of
empty labels: being hailed as a "tiger economy" or
a "newly-industrialized country", as it turned out,
had little meaning or substance. As the whole nation was laboring
under hardships brought on by the crisis, his subjects derived
encouragement from His Majesty's observations on how to conduct
oneself in the face of such adversity. Our Monarch gave us a
number of principles contained in His philosophy on "Sufficiency
do not pretend to have a full grasp of the principles involved
in all their profundity and intended intricacies, but I do know
that it is surely in our best interest to make the effort, however
modest, to understand and draw inspiration from the wisdom of
Sufficiency Economy has as its thrust "the middle path
as the overriding principle for appropriate conduct by the populace
at all levels". The middle path, when practiced at the
level of the individuals, families and communities, as well
as collectively in the choice of a balanced national development
strategy, will provide a firm foundation for all in standing
up to the trials and challenges of today's world.
for the individual means to lead a reasonably comfortable life,
without excess, or overindulgence in luxury, but enough. Sufficiency
is moderation in all human activities, reining in craving and
greed to within the bounds of self-support and self-reliance,
having enough to live on. If one has less greed, one will not
take advantage of others in the fulfillment of one's desires.
It thus lessens human proneness to the extremes and excesses,
both in our insatiable appetite for wealth and wasteful consumption,
which marked the period leading up to the crisis.
Economy does not advocate isolationism but presupposes the inevitable
process of increasing global interdependence. What it does envisage
and promote is the way towards a smoother, and more successful,
integration of the Thai economy into the sweeping and stormy
process of globalization. Moderation could be the means by which
the sail of interdependence can be trimmed and adjusted so as
to prevent the boat from being capsized by over-dependence.
We all have seen how over-dependence made us extremely vulnerable
to the whims of international capital which, on its part, was
not immune to the influence of herd behavior.
is an integral component of Sufficiency Economy. Our successive
Chakri Kings have over the centuries placed great importance
on learning from the outside world in ensuring the survival
and the modernization of our country. Today the acquisition
of knowledge, not just in the sciences and the technologies
but also of other nations' experiences in development and reforms,
continues to play a central role in capacity building and in
charting the course of our own national development. Here, His
Majesty urges prudence in the application of knowledge, "in
particular, great care is needed in the utilization of untested
theories and methodologies for planning and implementation".
The question which I have often asked myself in this connection,
albeit with the benefit of hindsight, is whether we have been
a little too unquestioning and a little too fast in embracing
forces of the market from outside? Could we have been more discriminate
and selective in our approach?
Economy seeks to strengthen the symbiosis and harmony between
man and his natural environment. The crisis has brought into
sharp focus His Majesty' s lifelong work in agriculture and
conservation, built up over the years with a great number of
the Royally-initiated projects. Agriculture, the mainstay of
the majority of the Thai population who are still toiling in
poverty, can serve as a buffer against external shocks, testifying
to the value of "getting back to basics". For too
long, the growth-oriented strategy has led to the rapid depletion
of environmental assets priced cheaply at below their replacement
cost. Conservation is but an integral part of sustainable development.
His Majesty has truly been teaching us by example, be they His
projects to restore watershed areas through reforestation, or
to reverse desertification or to harness the sometimes destructive
forces of nature such as flooding, benefiting at the same time
from power generation and irrigation.
above all else as a constant in any overall equation is the
need "to strengthen the moral fiber of the nation, so that
everyone, particularly public officials, theorists and businessmen,
adheres first and foremost to the principles of honesty and
integrity". It is true that at times people were badly
demoralized on being turned into paupers overnight. Each, out
of necessity, went his own way, caring little, if at all, for
his fellow men. Moral fiber, gradually reinforced, contributed
to the collective national resilience, and seemed to be the
single most important factor that kept us afloat and pulled
us through the crisis.
Majesty's "Sufficiency Economy" was timely in pointing
the way forward. It gave heart to His people when they were
in dire need, and was so well received that it now provides
the foundation for the formulation, now in progress, of the
Ninth National Economic and Social Development Plan (2002-2006).
And, beyond the national context, "Sufficiency Economy"
has been acclaimed by the international community at the Tenth
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
in February 2000 which expressly recognized His Majesty as "the
me, here, to draw on the tribute paid to His Majesty in the
Statement of the UNCTAD X Conference, and I quote "This
remarkable resilience reflects the strength of the Thai nation.
And that strength has been nurtured and developed by His Majesty
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, who is the soul
of his nation. Through his caring leadership, His Majesty has
earned the abiding love and profound respect of his people,
and through his thinking he has laid the foundation for and
inspired his country's development strategy. His Majesty's philosophy
of a "Sufficiency Economy" now lies at the heart of
Thailand's development thinking
.The experience of Thailand
offers fundamental lessons to all of us and the Thai nation
is living testimony to the efficacy of the King's actions and
has always been - and, in my view, always will be, the case
that Thailand's destiny is firmly tied to the wise leadership
and unifying force of our Monarchy. During the over fifty years
of His reign, His Majesty has more than demonstrated the relevance
and vitality of our supreme institution, guiding us through
the difficult but steady transformation of Thailand into the
modern nation that it is today.
© 2000 Asia Society