Religion, culture and business with the Thais
An extraordinary feature about the cultural and historical relations about Thailand and Sri Lanka is that they are live and active relationships and are not extinct relations that once flourished in the distant past as with some other countries. That vital bond is Buddhism as recalled by visiting Thai Prime Minister Dr. Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday in his address to Parliament. He recalled that the Thai term Lanka Wong was symbolic of the Buddhist connections with Thailand 800 years ago and the Sinhala term Siam Nikaya is the sect of Buddhist monks that came into being 250 years ago with the help of the Thais at a time when Bhikku order was at a very low point.
The Thai Prime Ministers visit coincides with the 250th anniversary of the Siam Nikaya.
In these times, international relations are not dependent on cultural and religious ties but for a little country like Sri Lanka these affinities that exist between the peoples of the two countries and the abiding interests of the governments could be used to positive advantages. South East Asian countries and Sri Lanka have had cultural and religious ties for centuries, despite the vast expanse of the Bay of Bengal in between. Yet, economic and political ties were kept apart mainly due the forces of colonialism and even after colonial powers ceased to be in the region.
Global economic and political conditions, even today, make us in South Asia and South East Asia look towards the western powers because of the economic and political clout they wield. For example even in the Sri Lankan Peace Process the key players are those from the west and Japan. But can Asian countries continue to ignore one another because of their seemingly political and economic impotence? Not only good relations but even vigilance on neighbouring countries are called for as evidenced by Sri Lankan terrorists being involved with corrupt Thai and Singaporean racketeers for purchase of arms and even smuggling.
Prime Minister Shinawatra has in his address to parliament made proposals on Thai-Lanka economic co-operation as well as Asian economic co-operation that demand the attention of all countries concerned. Some of the Thai-Lanka economic co-operation strategies include: a target of one billion US dollar trade within the next 5 years and an agreement on exports of 20 million dollars to facilitate Sri Lanka importing essential Thai products.
The Thai Prime Minister also strongly urged the furtherance of the Asian Co-operation Dialogue (ACD) which Sri Lanka joined along with Kuwait, Kazakhstan and Oman last month. Like the EU for Europeans, the African Union for Africans, APEC for Americans the ACD should serve Asians. There was economic potential in Asia, he said, pointing out that Asians had 1.4 trillion US dollars in foreign reserves - more than one half of the international reserves of the entire world.
These are indeed brave visions though not entirely new. From the seventies we had grand visions such as a Third World Bank, a New International Economic Order and SAARC. Of the Asian organisations that were formed only ASEAN has proved to be a success. One can only hope that the ACD will prove to be an exception to the rule.
What makes successive plans of Third World countries flop and flounder? One main reason is that while rhetoric unites these under privileged nations at international conferences, they remain deeply suspicious of each other and have in fact no desire for such international co-operation despite the promising prospects. SAARC is the most dismal failure in this respect.
Another reason for non-implementation of proposed plans and strategies of political leaders are the systems inherent in the ministries of foreign affairs, planning and trade of these countries. How many and how much of the such grand plans announced by political leaders are still gathering dust in the shelves of these ministries?
There is room for hope that some of the proposals of the Thai premier such as the target of 1 billion dollars trade in the next five years between the two countries as well as the agreement on export of essential products form Thailand could be kept because these projects will necessitate participation of businessmen and not be confined to officials.
Even though business does not necessarily demand involvement of religion and culture these existing ties of culture and religion could be a way of forging business ties as well.
Your comments to the Editor
|NEWS | FEATURES | OPINION | BUSINESS | CARTOON | SPORTS | SATMAG|