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2009年2月 7日 (土)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 6(IHT/Asahi: February 7,2009)

EDITORIAL: Abhisit's visit to Japan


Abhisit Vejjajiva, Thailand's new prime minister, arrived Thursday for a three-day visit to Japan. The painful effects of the global economic downturn are already being felt in his country, which is still reeling from momentous political and social changes.


With the situation in Thailand so dire, it is hard to feel optimistic about the Abhisit government's future. It only came to power in December. Abhisit, 44, must brace himself for a difficult road ahead in his efforts to help Thailand regain the trust of the international community and restore stability at home.


A weeklong blockade of Bangkok's airports by demonstrators protesting against the government of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is still a fresh memory. Many Japanese were stranded there during that time. The turmoil caused losses for many Japanese companies as well. Abhisit, then an opposition leader heading the Democrat Party, swept to power on a wave of support from anti-Thaksin forces.


Pro-Thaksin groups are now blaming their political enemies for the damaging closure of the airports in the country's capital and staging protests against the Abhisit administration. The new government's priority should be on ending confusion and reinstating law and order. Until that happens, foreign investment and tourism will suffer.


Furthermore, the economic crisis that started in the United States is hitting Thailand very hard. Thai exports began plunging last autumn. Singapore and other key members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are also suffering from worsening economic ill-health. Manufacturers across the region are now shedding jobs, and the ranks of the poor are starting to swell.


During the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the collapse of the Thai baht triggered a financial tsunami that quickly engulfed the region and spread to other parts of the world. Learning from the bitter experience, ASEAN has been moving toward economic integration with Japan and China. ASEAN returned to a path of steady economic growth by promoting a regional division of labor and ramping up exports of industrial products to countries like the United States.


But ASEAN can no longer count on a strong U.S. appetite for imports to fuel its economic growth. It needs a radical policy shift to focus more on expanding demand within the region. As the country that currently holds the rotating ASEAN presidency, Thailand should become aware anew that it must lead the changes the region badly needs.


A meeting of leaders of ASEAN, Japan, China and South Korea and a broader East Asian summit that were scheduled to be held late last year had to be called off because of the political unrest in Thailand.


Abhisit intends to hold a series of international conferences in April. Countries in the region now need to contribute ideas about how to revitalize Asian economies.


During the region's financial crisis in the late 1990s, the Japanese government provided support to affected countries in Asia. In response to the current crisis, Prime Minister Taro Aso pledged to provide official development assistance worth more than 1.5 trillion yen for the region.


Economic recovery in other Asian countries will help Japan's efforts to put its own house in order. We hope Aso and Abhisit have constructive discussions.


Another vexing issue is that boats carrying refugees from Myanmar (Burma) who are members of the ethnic Rohingya minority have been turning up on Thai and Indonesian coastlines. Rohingya are a Muslim minority group suffering oppression by the military junta of Myanmar.


The boat people have accused the Thai navy of casting them adrift in rickety boats without offering them any means of protection. The Thai government should look into the allegations to uncover the truth and act in a humanitarian way by rescuing these refugees. The way Thailand deals with this issue will show whether the country is really serious about regaining international trust.



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