PM bitten by travel bug
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PM bitten by travel bug

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin was set to conclude his overseas trips to France, Italy and Japan on Friday amid questions, if not criticism, over the real benefits they will bring the country.

Mr Srettha, who unreservedly projects himself as “a salesman”, has tried to justify his overseas trips as raising the scope of foreign investment while boosting the nation’s soft power, which are top priorities of his government. He already called the trips “fruitful”. But have they been?

His love of travelling abroad is almost palpable. After only 10 months in office, he has already visited 14 countries and Hong Kong.

According to a government spokesman, more trips are planned for the last quarter of the year, with destinations including India, Africa — where the government hopes to sell its controversial, 10-year-old rice — and Turkey.

But the latest trip that began on May 15 is a typical one for Thai leaders given its long duration. This is the longest trip Mr Srettha has taken so far as PM.

Of the three destinations, Japan — where he attended the Nikkei Forum Future of Asia in Tokyo and bumped into counterparts like Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia’s prime minister — is more easily justifiable.

But a week in France and Italy are less so. To put it bluntly, some of the programmes, like paying a visit to fashion houses such as Versace and Luigi Einaudi, not to mention the country’s F1 race track, are peculiar.

While Mr Srettha showed off pictures of himself shaking hands with the French and Italian leaders, which is rather typical, other pictures, particularly those that feature himself and his entourage in checkered pa khao ma jackets on the streets of Paris and Tokyo, have raised eyebrows.

Some cannot help but ask: Is this really a PM’s job?

Just as he instructed state officials to be careful with foreign trips, regarding expenses, Mr Srettha should lead by example. Certainly, the combined travel costs of his entourage must be enormous.

Now that he is back home, Mr Srettha should know that it will take more than a visit by a prime minister to attract foreign visitors.

He has to ensure there is a fair economic infrastructure to add to the country’s attractiveness. In addition, other resources, like skilled labour, must be available.

At the same time, while his attempts to secure Schengen visas for Thai passport holders are recognisable, he must be aware that promises of support from Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni will not easily be translated into action.

What his government needs to do is to increase the power of Thai passports, such as by fostering a strong economic performance at home with attractive jobs available so as to reduce the chance of Thais ending up as illegal migrant workers.

Such lofty goals cannot be achieved overnight.

In addition, Mr Srettha has encouraged Japanese investors with an interest in clean energy production to spend more on their Thai operations, citing the ongoing revision of the national energy plan.

He must see to it that the energy plan is corrected and that it remains relevant in regard to supply and demand.

This is just one example of the tasks awaiting him.

Taking trips abroad does not present much of a problem in itself as long as the prime minister can actually show to the public that he is not coming home empty-handed.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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