Webinar on “Thailand’s COVID-Induced Economic Crisis: An Opening for Reforms?”

In this webinar Dr Rattana Lao and Mr Thomas Parks from the Thailand office of the Asia Foundation will present key findings from a series of current research projects — covering online learning, education reform, the impact of COVID on small business and Thailand’s middle-income trap challenges. 


Friday, 30 October 2020 – Dr Rattana Lao, Senior Program Officer in the Thailand office of the Asia Foundation, and Mr Thomas Park’s, the Foundation’s Thailand Country Representative, spoke about their ongoing research on the impact of COVID-19 on Thailand’s economy and society and on the need for reform in the country’s educational system. In light of current protests in Thailand and because of the attention that those protests had attracted, Mr Parks also spoke about them and thus gave context to his other remarks. He noted that both great agility on the part of the young protesters and their frustration over the Thai education system, over the dissolution of the Future Forward Party earlier in the year, and over the state of the economy were defining characteristics of their demonstrations. He added that those demonstrations might not fade away anytime soon.

Mr Thomas Park
Mr Thomas Park noted the devastating impact of the pandemic not only on Thailand’s crucial tourism sector but also on other sectors. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Mr Parks said that Thailand had enjoyed clear success in confronting the COVID pandemic as public health crisis, holding total deaths to fewer than 3800. In part, this success had been due to the country’s decision to close its borders. Importantly, the country had also drawn on its excellent network of community health workers. At the same time, Thailand may suffer greater economic fallout from the pandemic than any other country in ASEAN, with a contraction rivalling that caused by the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s. While praising the Bangkok government’s assistance programs, Mr Parks noted the devastating impact of the pandemic not only on Thailand’s crucial tourism sector but also on other sectors. He shared detailed quantitative data from the Asia Foundation’s survey work  on that impact as it has affected both small- and medium-scale firms in the tourism and manufacturing sectors and participants in the Thai workforce; see the report on “Enduring the Pandemic: Surveys of the Impact of Covid-19 on Thai Small Businesses”.

Mr Parks then addressed longer-term issues confronting the Thai economy, including those relating to competitiveness and productivity, inequality and regional disparities, and market concentration and competition. He discussed opportunities for reform in the areas of education, innovation, higher-value and sustainable tourism, and what he called a “new growth poles strategy” to empower secondary centres to grow and compete.

Dr Rattana Lao
Dr Rattana Lao highlighted that the Asia Foundation had launched a website with learning resources for students. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

In her segment of the presentation, Dr Rattana highlighted the Asia Foundation’s work with the Ministry of Education and the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration to conduct research on the reform of Thailand’s often hidebound schools. She also noted that the Foundation had launched a website (www.Thailandlearning.org) with resources enabling students to continue with their studies during the COVID pandemic.

Questions from participants in the webinar concerned the merits and practicalities of the decentralization for which Mr Parks called, the role of economic factors in stimulating the ongoing protests in Thailand, the fates of migrant workers and of unemployed Thai youth during the pandemic, and Thai the monarchy.

Over 50 participants attended the webinar. The session was moderated by Dr Michael Montesano. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)