'Parasite' economic idea draws flak

'Parasite' economic idea draws flak

Cargo containers pile up at Klong Toey Port. Permanent secretary for finance Somchai Sujjapong’s “parasite” economic model has met with swift opposition by government leaders and the public.
Cargo containers pile up at Klong Toey Port. Permanent secretary for finance Somchai Sujjapong’s “parasite” economic model has met with swift opposition by government leaders and the public.

Permanent secretary for finance Somchai Sujjapong's sustainable economic model that positions Thailand as a parasite on other economies has been rejected by his political overlords.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who oversees economic affairs, dismissed the economic proposal that Mr Somchai called the “Siamese Parasite Model”. In separate statements, they quickly rejected the concept, with Mr Somkid instead preferring to use the more familiar word ”tiger” as a metaphor for Thailand's economic position.  

Mr Somchai proposed the controversial economic strategy in his address to a seminar on the global economy and Thailand, held by the Government Pension Fund on Tuesday. He said Thailand needed to depend on countries with larger economies and position itself as a “parasite”.  

“For the Thai economic model, I personally think it should be ‘Siamese Parasite Model’, which is to grow along with other countries but not to stumble along with the economic cycles. We will cling to China, India or South Africa. If they grow we will grow with them. Eat until we’re fat,” Mr Somchai explained. 

“But when the economy is going down, we will move to grow with other countries instead. We should be an economic friend with every country, not a competitor.”

The idea drew wide criticism from government heads, academics and members of online forums, with many of them being cynical about how Thailand had previously moved from being the fifth "Asian Tiger" to a “parasite”.

Mr Somkid publicly turned down Mr Somchai’s idea on Wednesday, insisting Thailand was not a parasite economy but a hidden tiger waiting to leap forward onto the global economic arena when it was ready.

“Thailand must create strength from within to be ready for future investments. It needs to sharpen its claws for the time being before going out on the global stage,” Mr Somkid said. 

Prime Minister Prayut said Thailand and the Asean nations must support one another to increase collective bargaining power. 

Mr Somchai’s proposal, he said, had gone “too far” and was not acceptable. It would not be implemented. 

“We must adhere to a people-centric approach. Everyone should be proud of walking forward together,” Gen Prayut said. 

Kanda Naknoi, an economics professor at University of Connecticut, said Mr Somchai had contradicted himself when he explained the model.

“While he suggested we cling to fast-growing countries like a parasite so we can get fat like them, he pointed out that there were no problems with the overall economy.

“Instead of admitting our growth potential is limited and we have to rely on other countries to grow, Mr Somchai said the fundamentals were still sound,” she said.

Jessada Denduangboripant, a lecturer in biology from Chulalongkorn University, said on Thursday he was unimpressed with the use of the word "parasite".

While the economic concept appeared to be interesting, as a biologist he was startled at how Mr Somchai came to name his idea, given the nature of parasites. 

“A parasite clings [to other organisms] and sucks blood continually, not giving any benefit to the animal it lives on," Mr Jessada said. 

“It’s not like it's an ally. So using the name ‘Siamese parasite model’ to me is not a good idea at all.”

Mr Somchai, 55, who has a PhD in economics from Ohio State University, said on Wednesday he first wrote about the idea in a newspaper in 2007 and it was republished in two books three years later.  

He said he mentioned it during an address to a seminar on Tuesday to entertain the audience, and give them a clearer picture of the economy. He did not mean to insult the country, he said.

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