Virus sows seeds of regional mistrust- Thai Prime Minister

According to Thailand’s Prime Minister, the spread of SARS is undermining regional cooperation in South East Asia due to the mistrust between different nations in the region. SARS has adversely affected the tourism industry in Thailand. Taiwan has protested its inclusion, by Japan, Thailand and China, as a SARS affected State. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has criticized China for delaying the release of information on the virus. According to a university scholar in Thailand, the spread of SARS may potentially have a greater adverse effect on Asian economies than the attack on Iraq. The regional framework of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) is also perceived as being inadequate for designing proactive regional measures of collaboration. – YaleGlobal.

Virus sows seeds of regional mistrust- Thai Prime Minister

Wednesday, April 9, 2003

The deadly SARS virus is undermining regional cooperation and sowing mistrust among Asian countries, many of whom are still on the road to recovery from the 1997 economic crisis, several political leaders and analysts said yesterday.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who came into office two years ago vowing to strengthen regional cooperation, yesterday acknowledged that Asian unity had experienced a major setback because of the growing mistrust that emerged following the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome - or SARS - in the region.

"Travel has halted and an attitude of mistrust prevails among nations at risk of SARS infections," Thaksin told reporters.

Tourism, the industry that helped Thailand through the crisis, has taken a direct hit, with up to 30-per-cent cancellations of travel plans in some parts of the country, while hotel occupancy has nose-dived, according to several reports.

Besides a poor economic forecast, international relations also took a serious beating from SARS, with Taiwan lashing out at Thailand, Japan and Canada for putting the island-state on a list of SARS-infected areas.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak Phuangketkeow dismissed suggestions that the decision was politically motivated, saying that Thailand acted in line with the World Health Organisation's April 3 announcement that said Beijing, Guangdong and Shanxi provinces in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Toronto (Canada), Singapore and Hanoi were SARS-infected regions.

Besides exposing regional shortcomings, the WHO also accused Beijing of foot-dragging on releasing information on the virus, and while it is generally understood that China's level of transparency is quite low, the region is seeing for itself how detrimental such a policy can become for neighbouring countries.

"The SARS epidemic has put Asia in a bad light," said Kobsak Chutikul, vice chairman of the House committee on foreign affairs, suggesting that the epidemic can potentially have a more negative effect on Asian economies than the attack on Iraq.

"China's reaction to the crisis leaves a lot to be desired. It shows that China's structure and international processes have not kept pace with its rapid entry and emergence on the world's stage," he said.

"The Asean countries, especially, can send out a stronger message of reassurance by co-operating among themselves to come up with collective regional measures to supplement national measures," added the former senior Thai diplomat.

Assoc Professor Panitan Wattanayagorn, a leading academic on international relations at Chulalongkorn University, said the outbreak of SARS demonstrated that the existing regional structure was inappropriate for handling such fast and unfolding events.

The existing regional framework that takes up non-traditional security issues such as SARS is very loose, Panitan said.

"The current structure does not have the capacity to take proactive measures adequately enough to tackles crises such as this. It's been very reactive, not proactive," he added.

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