One of Cambodia’s most important Thai investors, Supachai Verapuchong, articulates a vision of Cambodia as part of a “golden land” that together with Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam will become the agricultural bread basket of the world with high-speed interconnectivity of trade, technology and common spirit.
Supachai invoked a vision of the five nations to create once again the “Suvarnabhumi” in Sanskrit, or “land of gold”, which refers to the entire Southeast Asian region.
Supachai said about 230 years after the death of Gautama Buddha, the emperor of India called Ashoka the Great, (269-232 BC) dedicated the later part of his life to the spread of Buddhism across Asia, promoting non-violence, love, truth and vegetarianism.
“This is the first king who sent the monks to expand Buddhism to this region,” Supachai said. “He was sending the monks to expand the Buddhism to this land.”
Supachai thinks Ashoka the Great’s vision of a golden land can be embraced today.
“I feel that Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, and Vietnam, because we believe in the same thing, can have a wonderful future if we behave morally. I would like to see the leaders of our region in the ASEAN economic community talking about these good principles,” he said.
Supachai first arrived in Cambodia in 1991 when he was 28 and there was very little infrastructure in Cambodia and very few restaurants, hotels or coffee shops.
“The distance is only 550 kilometres from Bangkok to here. Why did this happen in our neighbouring country?”
He invested in Cambodia and built the Royal Phnom Penh Hotel, only to see it burned down in the anti-Thai riots of 2003. He understood the complex reasons for the mob action and didn’t fault the Cambodians.
He praises Prime Minister Hun Sen’s response to the mob action and his compensation.
“The prime minister acted in the right way and the moral way and he compensated in the right way. I think Hun Sen is a dynamic, reasonable person. He’s dynamic and has a vision and straightforward person. What I believe is that without the strength of the government you cannot have success. The leader has to be strong, especially in a developing country.”
Supachai built the Phokeethra Country Club in 2004 to show the Thai investors and Thai people his confidence in Cambodia and the Cambodian people.
“My goal was to show them we could still be confident in this country and this government. “
Since he and his team first organised the Johnny Walker golf tournament in Siem Reap in 2007, foreign visitors have come from around the region and around the world.
Supachai employs 1,800 people in Cambodia. He owns the majority shares in the Sofitel hotels both in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap as well as TV 5, and a pharmaceutical distribution company.
He says he would like to promote the principles of Buddhism right across the region so that Ashoka the Great’s vision can be realised once again right through Southeast Asia as the ASEAN free trade area transforms it.
“You must not only have success in the business, but also in the family and keep growing the business in the right way,” Supachai said. “If your only goal in life is to get rich and you get rich by taking advantage of someone else, that is not sustainable. If we are talking about the Buddhism, we cannot fight each other.”
Supachai says he thinks the whole Southeast Asian region is a very “rich land” and can be one big, interconnected center of agricultural output.
“We can control rubber, palm oil, rice and sugar cane. The food supply of the world is here. Indochina will change a lot in the next 15 to 20 years and link with China and India,” he said.
“This region will totally change when the trains come,” he said. “If we give people the knowledge, the morals and the Buddhism, we will be wealthy and in good hands with peace and prosperity and the food supply of the world is here. This is my vision.”
Supachai called on people to make decisions for the future, not for today and conduct moral business instead of short-term business for profits.
“If you make the first shirt button wrong, all the buttons are wrong. Whatever you make a decision it is for the future. I don’t want the money today; I would like to make moral business. Don’t hurt any other people.”
Without an underlying morality, terms like gross domestic product are meaningless, he said.
“If we can make these kinds of inputs in five countries with 240 million people, we can maintain economic growth and harmony and balance in our strategy, like having two wheels,” he said. “Half of the world’s population can fly here in less than five hours.”
Supachai said everybody creates their own lives and their own futures.
“Money is not the total path. You must to think about giving. When you give to poor people, what you get in return, you get in your spirit. If you do bad things, the cancer will spread everywhere. You can create your own life and your own future. Some people get old but still look young because of the way they work from their heart. Not from the salary, but because they are passionate to work.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]