Thais need to reset their perceptions to embrace the changing socio-political-economic terrain in the region ahead of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) in 2015, a seminar, "Asean Studies" at the Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre, concluded.
Pisanu Suvanajata, the Thai ambassador to Myanmar, said universities and colleges needed to help correct the mindset of the Thai people and equip them with adequate knowledge to be ready and realistic for the integrated regional society.
"Thai people have to reset their mindset, especially concerning Myanmar as the nation is now in a reform mode and a very attractive nation. We need to understand what course of action Thailand is taking with our neighbours. We must be prepared but not panic about what becomes or might become in the near future," said Mr Pisanu on the first day of the two-day seminar organised by the Foundation for the Promotion of Social Science and Humanities Textbooks Projects and the Toyota Thailand Foundation.
The ambassador called on the Thai private sector to be more visionary and take in the changing socio-political terrain in the region.
"Dawei will be 10 times bigger than the Eastern Seaboard. The government already has a clear strategy to develop projects in that part of Myanmar and that will benefit Thailand and the entire region. So, it will be a pity if other foreign investors, not Thais, expedite the infrastructure development," said Mr Pisanu.
Myanmar is steadily changing its mode, he said, adding that it will be launching the next Southeast Asian Games (Sea Games) no the auspicious date of Dec 11, preceding its Asean chairmanship in 2014.
"Whoever wants to reverse this democratisation and reform in Myanmar will certainly face greater opposition from within and outside the country," he said, adding that 2013 will be a golden year for Thailand in improving bilateral relations with Myanmar.
The country's two leaders, Yingluck Shinawatra and Thein Sein, shared a similar philosophy, the Thai diplomat noted.
"Thailand would like to see Myanmar be a successful host of the Sea Games and chair of Asean. We also rely a lot on this neighbour, especially with energy," said Mr Pisanu, who has been posted to Yangon for almost a year.
Ninnart Chaithirapinyo, the vice president of Toyota and the Federation of Thai Industries, said the AEC will bring both opportunities and challenges to Thailand; in logistics terms, the Northeast will become a regional hub for investment and transportation.
"But we need new sign boards and car licence plates using the common language of English, too. Also, we should be prepared for competition in autos and other products as the community is realised," said Mr Ninnart.
He called for harmonisation in all sectors, particularly on rules and regulations. But he assured that Thailand remained in a good position with (private sector) ability to adjust in quality and cost management and public infrastructure such as road connections.
Khunying Luxanachantorn Laohaphan, chair of the Asean Association-Thailand, said Thailand needed a new paradigm of thinking by looking at commonalities in cultural heritage to embrace a more integrated community.
"Perhaps history rewrites or debate over historical incidents might not be a conducive means to help us and our neighbours to appreciate each other, but we could find affinity in other cultural commonalities," said Khunying Luxanachantorn.
Kitti Prasertsuk, a Thammasat University assistant professor of international relations, said Thai people have a misperception and are panicking about the AEC as a trigger for liberalisation that will bring down the country's hegemony. In fact Thailand opened up its markets within the Asean Free Trade Area (AFTA) decades ago and joined an FTA with China many years ago.
Yet, the rising awareness or concern over the more competitive setting should be changed into a mode of adjustment for all sectors, said Mr Kitti.
Chulalongkorn University associate professor of political science Phuangthong Pavakaphan said there remained a dark side to the AEC and the globalisation-led development in the region -- especially land grabbing in light of the growing demand for factories, hotels and resorts.
Communities and human rights were being challenged in the market-led and corporations-oriented economic development policies of Asean governments, said Ms Phuangthong.
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