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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bangkok syndrome

Bangkok syndrome

The Editor,

D espite the numerous problems facing Cambodia in the last two decades, it is still

a nation full of opportunities for self-sustainability and reliance.

As Cambodia strives to achieve economic prosperity, it can learn much from the growing

pains of others, such as Thailand.

Cambodia is a tiny country in comparison to other nations in Southeast Asia, but

is very capable in many other aspects.

The population may be less than ten million, but the country is rich in natural resources,

such as fertile farmland, a network of exploitable hydrology (including countless

fish and wildlife in the Mekong River and the Tonle Sap lake), timber, gems, oil,

and natural gas that is currently being explored for exploitation.

There is also a wealth of cultural resources, such as Angkor complex, which drew

nearly a quarter million visitors in 1995, and has the strong potential to attract

even more.

With that in mind, Cambodia has more than adequate resources (or at least enough)

to sustain a population of ten million or perhaps even up to 50 million people. Social,

political, economic, and environmental issues are all intertwined and dependent upon

one another to move forward positively. The resources are there ready and available

to be utilized appropriately.

Cambodia only needs the political will and a competent leadership to ensure people

will live better, and eventually catch up with the rest of her neighbors and the


Short and long-term foreign capital investment is badly needed in Cambodia to help

jump-start the economy after decades of economic stagnation.

Infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, telecommunications and public utilities,

must be rebuilt from scratch.

The people, a top priority, must be properly fed and re-educated from the bottom

up in an attempt to catch up with the rest in the world.

Cambodia has been sleeping far too long and requires much time to recover, socially,

politically, economically and environmentally.

Cambodia must also remember that growth does not come without serious side effects

that cannot be ignored. One doesn't have to look far to find the problems directly

or indirectly associated with economic growth. Thailand is a classic example of the

dark side of Asian economic miracle. It is an example of what NOT to follow for the

most part. It is the story of what happens when the country imports free-market capitalism

without social and governmental structures that go with it to regulate growth.

In Bangkok for instance, more people per capita drive Mercedes Benz cars than anywhere

else in the region (or perhaps the world), but they can't enjoy their expensive imported

vehicles because they are always stuck in traffic jams. Bangkok drivers couldn't

imagine leaving their home without packing a mobile phone and a portable potty in

their cars. Others probably wish that there is a toilet built right into their cars

after so many emergencies (nature calls) on Bangkok's crowded street.

Bangkok is a city of about ten million people with little central city planning.

It has a few basic public transportation systems with many streets and overpasses

packed with private vehicles. There is no subway system, no car pool lanes, and just

about everybody drives one form of internal-combustion-engine vehicle or another.

Bangkok has recently built it first small waste-water treatment system, but most

people still throw their garbage, and flush their toilets, into city canals and water


Many local residents lament Bangkok as a "rich city with poor life," no

matter how beautiful the city is.

It is often easier to say that "we'll make our mess now and clean it up later

when we can afford to." When a city grows as fast as Bangkok has been in just

the last ten years, there is no such thing as "later." It is either now

or never.

There are very few sidewalks left for pedestrian because just about everyone drives.

There is no room for new open spaces, such as new parks for people to relax and enjoy.

Many of Bangkok famous canals and water ways have now become history as they have

been filled in for new high rise buildings. Traffic on Bangkok's street is now world

famous as being "the mother of all traffic jams." Breathing the air in

Bangkok can be quite an exciting experience in itself, if you enjoy getting high

on carbon monoxide.

The lack of environmental regulations and enforcement by the government, especially

in heavy industrial sectors, has led to serious health risks and other problems.

The pollution and traffic are not just environmental problems alone, but also economic

and political problems brought on by free-market economy without government regulations.

Where there is big money to be made in Asia, corruption is sure to follow and Thailand

is not immune to this "social and economic disease." Corruption would lead

to the deregulation or lack of enforcement of environmental laws, if any, and the

results can be very serious.

AIDS and HIV positive cases (another side effect of Thailand's economic boom), rank

among the highest in the world, unchecked until just a few years ago. The Thai, young

and old, continue to die from the disease. Sad to say, it could only get worse as

Bangkok's population continues to grow rapidly.

These are just some examples of the impacts or side effects from unregulated free-market

economy in Cambodia's next door neighbor.

Cambodia has a huge advantage that other developed nations, such as Thailand, did

not have. It has the opportunity to learn from others' bad moves due to the lack

of proper planning and regulations.

Cambodia can learn so much from Thailand's many mistakes in its attempt to achieve

economic prosperity as a developed nation.

Lets hope that these same mistakes can be avoided in Cambodia because so many lives

depend on it.
- Ronnie Yimsut, Oregon, USA.



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