Limited Debate on Thailand

27 07 2010

A bit off PPT’s usual tack, but a story in The Nation caught our attention. It has a report on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment hearing on Thailand’s political crisis that led to the House of Representatives bland and non-binding Resolution 1321 that was supported by almost all. This was back on 10 June, and the story probably reflects the fact that journalist just got around to reading the statements. The opening statement by Eni F.H. Faleomavaega is revealing of the intent of the sponsor.

One of the interesting points is that a “panel of Asian/Thai academic experts” is mentioned as providing testimony. They were: Dr Richard Cronin of the Stimson Centre (his statement is here), Dr Karl Jackson who is a professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University (see his testimony) and Catharin Dalpino, visiting associate professor and director of the Thai Studies Program at Georgetown University (statement). They were joined by Scot Marciel of the State Department.

By the way, it is better to read their statements/evidence than to rely on The Nation’s report. There’s also a webcast and this seems to be The Nation’s reference, but PPT can’t get it to work.

For PPT, one interesting thing here is that only relatively conservative commentators were at the hearings and yet they came up with mildly divergent views. At the same time, they pussyfoot around, with barely a mention of the monarchy in their statements. A second point is that each of these speakers is a kind of policy, inside-the-beltway policy people who are not really Thailand experts. None of them has produced major political analysis on Thailand. What has happened to Thai studies in the U.S.? Where are the political scientists? There are some – for example, Allen Hicken at Michigan, Kevin Hewison at UNC-Chapel Hill, Danny Unger at NIU – but their views are not heard. PPT can only wonder why this is when these specialist academics have written extensively on recent politics.

It is noticeable that, since the Cold War/Vietnam War days, Thai studies in the U.S. has been in decline. That’s a shame but the recent crisis may at least have more students thinking that Thailand is a place worthy of critical study.

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