In the light of the devastation caused by flooding, I have huge sympathy and admiration for the courage, dignity and determination of Thai people. Thailand is open for business and can be confident of its future, and the world should be confident as well.
It is important that Thailand has increasingly focused on English proficiency in its schools, because success today is not only measured by a nation’s pride in its own culture, but in its openness to others. Thailand has big advantages: its culture, its people and its geography. But Thailand operates in the global economy, especially as it is an exporting nation.
Global economy is in trouble and that trouble is coming from Europe. In this European crisis I also think there are important lessons for how ASEAN develops. The arithmetic and politics of integration must be in sync. Europe faces essentially the same challenge as nations everywhere today, including Thailand. The essential nature of that challenge is the challenge of change – the speed and the scale of the change happening in the world today. There is now intense competition and as countries become more prosperous so they find they have competition from lower-wage nations. To continue to compete in this environment, they have to move up the value-added chain.
The way the world is changing is important in its speed and its scale, not just for companies, but also for countries and for governments. The problem is that change moves fast and, in my experience, government moves slow. I think there are three key lessons of government. The first is the most successful countries combine strong commitment to economic enterprise with strong commitment to social justice. People used to think these two were exclusive, but I think today the two go together. For business we need regulation that is sensible but not too burdensome, a predictable rule of law. We need to encourage enterprise, particularly small enterprises. We need to create an environment in which investors feel confident, in which outside investors feel comfortable to invest. But we also need to set that within the context of basic elements of fairness: essential workplace rights, basic principles that mean that people get access to quality training and skills, welfare systems that help people back into work.
The second point is that our welfare and public sector systems have to be reshaped and reformed in light of the changes around us. There is no welfare system that will work unless it balances the contribution from the state with individual responsibilities. There is no public service that will work unless it is flexibly organised, unless there are different providers, which offer choice for consumers, and where it is innovative in the use of technology. Countries that are still developing their public welfare systems should learn from our experience so as they create those systems in the 21st century they can avoid some of the mistakes we made in creating these systems in the 20th century.
The third component is that if it is true that societies succeed if they combine economic enterprise with social justice, and if they have a different type of relationship between state and citizen, human capital and its development is the key to the future. The biggest injustice that anyone can suffer is a poor education. That education is not just about learning; it is an education to be creative. Foreign direct investment can bring intellectual capital into our countries that, alongside a proper functioning education system, can deliver economic prosperity in the future.
When I look at Thailand today – and I know there are issues of reconciliation in Thai politics – I still think there is a genuine serious basis for confidence in Thailand. Thai people are respected in the world, Thailand is as good a place as any to come and do business. This is a country with enormous potential. One of the most importance things to do – not just as an individual but as a country – is to put all the problems to one side and think of the opportunity, the potential. And in relation to Thailand, we should be proud of what it is, where it has come from and where it is going, and confident that its destination will be one of success and prosperity.
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