'Get to know the neighbours'

national July 28, 2014 00:00

By Chularat Saengpassa
The Natio

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Thais advised to learn more about Asean countries

Thais will need to “reset” their mindset and conduct constructive, well-focused research if they hope to prosper in the Asean community era. 
“You need to know and understand your neighbours,” Pissanu Suvanajata, the Thai ambassador to Myanmar, said at a national research conference recently at Naresuan University under the theme “Research Networking toward Asean Knowledge Development”.
Myanmar was far different from what most Thais perceive it to be, so all parties should consider doing research that will help Thais get accurate information and expand their horizons.
“Future social, language, cultural and anthropological research should promote constructive knowledge for the good ties between Thailand and neighbouring countries such as Myanmar,” he said. 
When the relationships are good, everything else will naturally be fine too. “We may even be able to achieve the impossible,” he said. 
For strategic purposes, research should ensure Thais get the whole picture of what goes on in Myanmar instead of seeing just bits or parts of what has actually happened. 
“Don’t focus just on one single project. Thais need to see the bigger picture of what’s really going on there,” he said. 
While the Thilawa Special Economic Zone located just 26 kilometres from Yangon has a good chance of becoming a new manufacturing hub in the region and attract much attention, Thais should not overlook the many other development projects in Myanmar.  Many infrastructure projects have been undertaken, and this looks set to affect nearby countries in a good way.
Myanmar is clearly an interesting investment destination with 60 million people and a growing economy. Last year, its economy surged 6.8 per cent and this year it looks set to grow even more. 
The more knowledge Thais have the better the chance of them being able to benefit.
Thai researchers should also explore ways to engage neighbouring countries in creating mutual benefits. 
“Research questions should not be just about where to find business opportunities. They must also address how Thais should cooperate with their neighbours,” he said.  The Asean community is designed to foster and combine the strengths of Asean nations, he said. 
For example, thanaka, the yellow cosmetic paste widely used in Myanmar and touted by locals as a beauty secret – could be a subject for Thai research. 
The findings could pave the way for Thailand and Myanmar to boost the commercial value of thanaka-related products. 
When Thailand has the right research questions, the end results would improve.
Myanmar people have good attitudes towards Thais. That is something that will give Thais an advantage over the many other nations that also want to invest in Myanmar. 
Since the Asean community was going to begin next year, Thais should also realise that it was by no means just about economic aspects. 
“In Thailand, we have heard only about the AEC. But the truth is that the AEC is just a part of what is going to happen,” he said. 
The Asean community would be composed of three main pillars – the AEC, Asean security community and Asean socio-cultural community. 
If Thais continued to see the Asean community as the AEC, they would miss out on other necessary aspects, Pissanu said. He said while efforts to prepare Thais for the AEC focus on encouraging them to compete against fellow states, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam have already forged closer ties. 
“Why don’t we think about how to cooperate so that we can efficiently deal with the giants that are coming into the Asean region?” Pissanu said. With better research and better understanding of other Asean nations and the Asean community, Thais would change their mindset in a way that would usher Thailand better into the Asean era, he said.