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20-year strategy plan under scrutiny - Kavi Chongkittavorn

For the first time in its history, Thailand is coming out with a national strategy that directs the country's economic and social development over the next 20 years.

Last June, the National Legislative Assembly passed a national strategy bill which mandates that all government agencies prepare such a strategy that encompasses all aspects of Thailand.


Next month, the cabinet is expected to approve the final draft of the new 20-year strategy plan. After that, the strategy will have to be implemented in its entirety, with reviews every five years.

It is hoped by 2038, Thailand's resilience would be strengthened in terms of human resources, national assets, infrastructure and institutions. As such, Thailand would emerge as a healthy democratic country with happy people and a friendly environment. The Thai people would enjoy an upper middle income bracket.

According to the National Economic and Social Development Board, under the strategy, the economy is projected to grow at 5% annually. This would push GDP per capita up from US$6,000 (187,620 baht) a year to $15,000 toward the end of the second decade from now.

Thailand will also be a country that can confidently engage the international community to maintain peace and fulfil sustainable development goals both at home and abroad. Priorities are to promote a favourable regional and international environment to retain the country's influential role and protect national interests.

In the past months, concerned authorities throughout the country have engaged in various public consultative forums to deliberate on challenges facing Thailand's future. Their input would then be incorporated into main recommendations and action plans which cover six major areas: enhancing national security; strengthening national competitiveness; developing and empowering human capital; broadening opportunities to improve social equality; rebalancing and adjusting state administration; and generating economic growth in an environmentally friendly way.

These are noble objectives conceived by the military-appointed lawmakers and dozens of strategists, who thought that they would form the pathway for Thailand to move forward. To be effective, it would require a change of the Thai mindset at all societal levels including current military rulers, bureaucrats and other stakeholders.

The overall strategy also consists of assessment criteria or indicators, and actions which must be synergised with other national reform efforts. These tools are crucial to monitor progress or backsliding of the planned implementation. In a nutshell, the country's new motto under this national strategy will snugly be: "Thailand that is secured, prosperous and developed through sufficient economy philosophy".

Meanwhile, numerous political pundits and activists have harsh words to say, believing that the strategy is a disguise of the current power holders to hang on to power. They also question the legitimacy of the strategy given that the regime is not an elected government.

Strange but true, none has so far dwelled on the nuts and bolts of the national strategy that are primarily designed to transform Thailand into a rule-based country with consistency and clear development visions. More than Thais would like to admit, any long-term national vision and plan would receive little public support due to their lack of understanding and perseverance that their cooperation is pivotal for successful implementation. Mistrust of official plans and initiatives is also widespread.

Indeed, a better public communication campaign is urgently needed to help in educating the common folk about the essence of the national strategy and its necessities. Otherwise, like many previous national frameworks, they will have been left unimplemented after changes of governments. Worse, a new government might want to upstage its predecessor.

Of all its aspects, the strategy's portion that deals with Thailand's future security is the most interesting. Given its geographical location in the heart of Southeast Asia, Thailand serves as a bridge between South Asia and East Asia as well as the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Therefore, the country's security perception in the next two decades would impact on regional security architecture, which is emerging under the various Asean-led mechanisms.

Concerning Thailand's views on the global security environment, the growing influence and role of great powers (USA, China and Russia) as well as emerging powers (Japan, India, Australia) will impact on the existing international order, marked by multi-polarities. Non-state actors including transnational criminals, international organisations and big corporations also have the ability to shift and change existing rules of engagements and measures.

In addition, the proliferation of extremism in all forms could lead to conflicts in information, cyberspace and space wars.

Thailand must be ready to mitigate all these negative tendencies to preserve its borders.

Within the region, the combined economic power of China, India and Asean would turn the Asian Century, the projected 21st-century dominance of Asian politics and culture, into a reality. Given the importance of the Indo-Pacific region, signified by pivotal maritime trading routes, the great powers would compete to protect their interests in the vast seas which could lead to conflicts, especially in the region's hot spots such as the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan. Issues related to maritime territorial disputes and sea piracy, including irregular migration, are viewed as sources of new risks and conflicts.

Thailand's security strategies do not identify any country as an adversary. They are primarily focused on strengthening the societal fabric within the country.

Policymakers must make sure that different political beliefs, the widening income gap, administration of justice and overall instability would be effectively dealt with. Otherwise, they would further weaken Thai society leading to multiple problems such as human insecurity, corruption, human trafficking and environmental disaster.

To measure Thailand's global standing in the future, the national strategy suggests the use of various sets of international indices and standards such as the World Internal Security & Police Index, the World Happiness Index, Government Effectiveness, Military Strength Ranking and UN-related indices. Obviously, cooperation with Asean in all forms is crucial to strengthening the country's potential and wellbeing.

The 20-year national strategy is a positive new development, which must be given serious thought. With long-term plans and action plans, Thailand will move away from old habits of saying one thing and doing the other -- putting the blame on others. The country and the Thai people have an obligation to follow up on national agendas and make them come true.