Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25. No. 13. 1962
View from the Left [Shaham Butterworth's Letter to editor in Salient Vol. 25. No. 13. 1962.]
Sir,—I would like to congratulate Mr Maxwell on his intelligent discussion of the Security Police and the factors behind the Brigadier's outbursts. Some points about Thailand also occurred to me while reading "View from the Left."
Obviously the social and economic circumstances of Asia make "democracy" in the Western sense a difficult condition to attain. The main goal of Asia over the last decade has been material progress, industrialisation is seen as a status symbol. Rightly or wrongly Asian intellectuals have tended to argue that economic progress can best be achieved through strong one-party government, embracing all progressive elements in the country. This will ensure continuity of policy and prevent political squabbles and factionalism from retarding economic advance. Thailand perhaps should be considered in the light of progress achieved; substantial progress make the heavy-handed military rule of Marshal Sarit acceptable to the ordinary Thai.
When the regime first took over (by a military coup d'etat) it started a vigorous campaign to suppress corruption etc. The army shot all the stray dogs in Bangkok (as great a nuisance as the cow in India) and one Finance Minister was forced to resign and later prosecuted for corruption. The drive for reform soon ebbed and after the dust and smoke cleared things were pretty much as they had always been.
New foreign investment laws have been promulgated; the most generous in South-East Asia, and there has been a substantial flow of capital in. Though foreign investment may be very important in assisting a country to industrialisation, it can be a dangerous gift even to a relatively advanced country such as Australia, in a country with a backward social structure and poorly-developed infra-structure the effects of such investment may be negligible or positively harmful. To get our support the Thai Government should be doing more than just screaming about their opposition to Communism. The real test New Zealand should apply is whether it is undertaking the basic social and economic reforms necessary for progress. On this test, Thailand's government fails miserably. It is still corrupt, bureaucratic and reactionary; ambitious plans for development exist more on paper than in reality since the government lacks the energy or initiative to carry them through.
Even over the question of anti-Communism the Thai regime has shown more opportunism than its loud protestations of bitter opposition to Communism would suggest. When with the Patil-Eisenhower Grain Deal America underwrote the Third-Year Plan of neutral India. Marshall Sarit almost immediately accepted Russian aid. If neutralism paid to that extent then Thai policy had laboured under an illusion for a long time.