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Racism rising in the Land of Smiles

This column is a follow up to this column on how Thailand is at the Bottom of the Global Creativity Index’s ‘ethnic and religious tolerance’ indicator, on which Thailand ranked 127th out of 130 countries. The importance of creativity is that it is linked to growth, especially in cities, where a cosmopolitan mix lends itself to dynamism.

While researching how the Global Creativity Index, one thought stood out: the fact that this is only a single indicator. In order to understand the extent to which racism and xenophobia in Thailand are changing, and how Thailand compares to other countries, it is best to choose as many indicators as possible. This line of inquiry led to two major datasets, the World Values Survey Database and the European Values Study. The quality of data for these databases is, generally, excellent, with large, randomized samples. The samples for Thailand taken for the WVS were undertaken by the King Prajadhipok Institute.

To begin with, it is possible to extract four questions related to racism and xenophobia from the World Values Survey and to compare the periods 2005-2009 (Wave 5, specifically 2007 for Thailand) and 2010-2014 (Wave 6, specifically 2013 for Thailand), the only two periods for which there is data for Thailand. These questions are covered in turn below.

1)    On this list are various groups of people. Could you please mention any that you would not like to have as neighbors? (People of a different race)

For this question, Thailand in 2013 scores in the lowest quintile out of 59 countries, with only India, Palestine, Libya and Azerbaijan being more racist/xenophobic. This can be seen in the below map.

Unfortunately, Thailand has become more xenophobic according to this question since Wave 5. This can be seen in the ‘valid percent’ increasing in the following two tables:

 

Would not like to have as neighbors: People of a different race

WVS5 (2007)

Value Label

Value

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Mentioned

1

417

27.18

27.47

Not mentioned

2

1101

71.77

72.53

Total

1518 (from 1534)

98.95

100.0

WVS6 (2013)

Value Label

Value

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Mentioned

1

478

39.83

39.83

Not mentioned

2

722

60.17

60.17

Total

1200

100.0

100.0

The difference between the valid percent is statistically significant at p <0.05 (P=<0.0001) z value -6.8088 (2-sample z-test [two-tailed]). This can be represented visually:

 

2)    On this list are various groups of people. Could you please mention any that you would not like to have as neighbors? (Immigrants/Foreign Workers)

For this question, Thailand in 2013 scores in the lowest quintile out of 59 countries, with only Libya and Malaysia being more racist/xenophobic. This can be seen in the below map.

Unfortunately, Thailand has also become more xenophobic according to this question since Wave 5. This can be seen in the ‘valid percent’ increasing in the following two tables:

Would not like to have as neighbors: Immigrants/foreign workers

WVS5 (2007)

Value Label

Value

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Mentioned

1

661

43.09

43.43

Not mentioned

2

861

56.13

56.57

Total

(1522 (from 1534)

99.22

100.0

 

WVS6 (2013)

Value Label

Value

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Mentioned

1

699

58.25

58.25

Not mentioned

2

501

41.75

41.75

Total

1200

100.0

100.0

The difference between the valid percent is statistically significant at p<0.05 (P=<0.0001) z value -7.6777 (2-sample z-test [two-tailed]). This can be represented visually:

 

3)    On this list are various groups of people. Could you please mention any that you would not like to have as neighbors? (People who speak a different language)

For this question, Thailand in 2013 again scores in the lowest quintile out of 60 countries, its best performance, with Kuwait, Malaysia, Turkey, the Philippines, Yemen, Lebanon, South Korea, Ecuador, Palestine, Libya and India being more racist/xenophobic. This can be seen in the below map.

Unfortunately, Thailand has again become more xenophobic according to this question since Wave 5. This can be seen in the ‘valid percent’ increasing in the following two tables:

 

Would not like to have as neighbors: People who speak a different language

WVS5

Value Label

Value

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Mentioned

1

308

20.08

20.30

Not mentioned

2

1209

78.81

79.70

Total

1517 (from 1534)

98.89

100.0

 

WVS6

Value Label

Value

Frequency

Percent

Valid Percent

Mentioned

1

342

28.50

28.50

Not mentioned

2

858

71.50

71.50

Total

1200

100.0

100.0

The difference between the valid percent is statistically significant at p<0.05 (P=<0.0001) z value -4.9754 (2-sample z-test [two-tailed]). This can be represented visually:

 

4)    I’d like to ask you how much you trust people from various groups. Could you tell me for each whether you trust people from this group completely, somewhat, not very much or not at all? (People of another nationality)

For this question, Thailand in 2013 again scores in the lowest quintile out of 58 countries, with only Malaysia, Peru, and Tunisia being more racist/xenophobic. Thailand has become more racist/xenophobic over time. This can be seen in the following table.

How much you trust: People of another nationality

 

WVS5

WVS6

 

Cases

%/Total

Cases

%/Total

Trust completely

61

3.98%

28

2.30%

Trust somewhat

291

18.97%

153

12.80%

Do not trust very much

798

52.02%

591

49.30%

Do not trust at all

384

25.03%

417

34.70%

No answer

0

0%

11

0.90%

(N)

1534

100.0%

1200

100%

 

Selected sample: Thailand 2007 (1200)

Selected sample: Thailand 2013 (1200)

 

The difference between the valid percent comparing Wave 5 to Wave 6 is statistically significant at p<0.05 (P=<0.0001) z value 5.0569. Tested: Trust completely or somewhat = 352/1534 = 22.95% (WV5) versus 181/1189 = 15.22% (WV6): 2-sample z-test (two-tailed). This can be represented visually as follows:

It is also possible to create a composite index of these four questions, which can be called the ‘Cosmopolitan Society Index’. For the Wave 5 Cosmopolitan Society Index, Thailand ranks in the lowest quintile and is fifth from the bottom, with only South Korea, Jordan, Viet Nam, and Iran being more racist/xenophobic:

For the Wave 6 Cosmopolitan Society Index, Thailand is second from the bottom out of 58 countries, with only South Korea being more racist/xenophobic. This is the complete Table:

Rank

Score

Country

1

2.25

Sweden

2

6.25

Poland

3

7.00

Uruguay

4

7.67

New Zealand*

5

8.75

Australia

6

9.25

Trinidad and Tobago

7

12.00

Chile

8

12.00

Spain

9=

17.25

Colombia

9=

17.25

United States

11

17.75

Slovenia

12

18.25

Argentina

13

18.50

Brazil

14=

19.50

Taiwan

14=

19.50

Uzbekistan

15

20.75

Netherlands

16

23.00

Qatar

17

23.75

Estonia

18

24.75

Germany

19

26.50

Kazakhstan

20

26.75

Ukraine

21

27.25

Mexico

22

27.50

Rwanda

23

28.50

China

24

29.00

Zimbabwe

25

29.50

Peru

26

30.50

Georgia

27

32.50

Singapore

28

32.75

Morocco

29

34.00

Bahrain

30

34.25

Cyprus

31=

34.75

Jordan

31=

34.75

Russia

33

35.00

Armenia

34

35.50

Kuwait

35

35.75

Ghana

36=

36.25

Nigeria

36=

36.25

Romania

38

37.00

Belarus

39

37.75

Yemen

40

38.00

Japan

41

39.00

South Africa

42=

39.25

Philippines

42=

39.25

Turkey

44=

39.50

Azerbaijan

44=

39.50

Pakistan

46

39.50

Tunisia

47

40.50

Iraq

48

41.50

Algeria

49

42.25

Kyrgyzstan

50

42.50

Ecuador

51=

43.00

India

51=

43.00

Libya

53

44.00

Palestine*

54

44.67

Egypt*

55

46.25

Malaysia

56

46.50

Lebanon

57

48.75

Thailand

58

50.50

South Korea

(*Average of only 3 values)

This can be seen in the following map:

Using the European Values Survey, we can add more countries to the mix, but the 2015 version of the survey is not yet out. However, the World Values Survey Wave 5 combined with European Values Survey 2008 data gives us a similar picture, with Thailand again in the lowest quintile:

Rank

Score

Country

1

1.00

Iceland

2

1.50

Sweden

3

3.50

Andorra

4

5.00

Canada

5

5.50

Norway

6

6.25

Argentina

7

9.00

Trinidad and Tobago

8

9.50

Guatemala*

9

11.00

Denmark

10

11.00

Uruguay

11

12.25

Switzerland

12

13.00

Australia

13=

13.50

Belgium*

13=

13.50

New Zealand*

15

14.00

Spain

16

14.25

Portugal*

17

15.50

Great Britain

18

17.25

United States

19

21.00

Brazil

20=

22.00

Colombia*

20=

22.00

Netherlands

22

22.25

Chile

23

22.50

Peru

24

23.00

Finland

25=

23.50

Burkina Faso

25=

23.50

Germany

27

24.00

Italy

28

25.00

Greece*

29

25.25

Poland

30

26.00

Ireland*

31

28.50

Luxembourg*

32

28.75

South Africa

33

29.25

Mexico

34

31.50

Taiwan

35=

31.75

Hungary

35=

31.75

Ukraine

37=

33.50

Latvia*

37=

33.50

Slovenia

39=

35.00

Bosnia Herzegovina*

39=

35.00

Serbia**

41

36.25

Bulgaria

42

36.25

Iran*

43

36.50

Lithuania*

44

36.75

China

45

37.00

Romania

46

37.50

Ethiopia

47

38.00

Slovak Re*

48

38.25

Cyprus

49

39.75

Mali

50

40.75

Georgia

51=

42.50

France

51=

42.50

Moldova

53

42.75

Russia

54

43.50

Austria*

55

46.00

Croatia*

56

46.25

Ghana

57

48.00

Montenegro*

58

50.00

Belarus*

59

50.75

Morocco

60

51.50

Macedonia*

61=

52.75

Indonesia

61=

52.75

Rwanda

63

53.25

Malaysia

64

53.25

Zambia

65=

53.50

Czech Republic

65=

53.50

Turkey

67

55.25

India

68

55.50

Thailand

69

57.75

South Korea

70=

59.00

Estonia*

70=

59.00

Viet Nam

72

59.50

Jordan

73

60.50

Malta*

74

63.00

Azerbaijan*

75

64.00

Kosovo*

76

71.00

Albania*

77

73.50

Armenia*

(*Average of only 2 values; **Average of only 3 values)

Note that this map and table show 2007 data for Thailand, before it became more racist/xenophobic. In addition, there are a few caveats with data of this sort. Firstly, it assumes people tell the truth. Of course, people in one country may be lying about how racist/xenophobic they are. However, it is almost impossible to test veracity, so we have to take the results as they are. Another point is that people may be thinking of the ‘worst case scenario’, for example traditional enemies, when they are asked questions of this sort. For example, Russians may immediately think of Ukrainians or Greeks of Turks.

In the case of Thailand, there are multiple ‘worst case scenarios’ according to such common stereotypes as are due to historical or current events or media portrayals. Following such negative stereotypes, a Central Thai replying to questions on such surveys may be thinking of hill tribe drug dealers who slash and burn, Lao Red Shirts, Northern Thai Thaksin supporters and secessionists, Myanmar destroyers of capitals and illegal immigrants, Malay Muslim bandits and insurgents, Cambodian stealers of temples and political agitators, Vietnamese business competitors, or interfering American/European/United Nations diplomats and staff. The sheer number of possible ‘worst case scenarios’ in Thailand thus appears to be a problem in itself.

Because of various social pathologies, which may indeed have their root in historical disjunctures involving other countries or minorities, a racist or xenophobic person adopts an ultra-authoritarian viewpoint (as explored in the case of Thailand in terms of paternalism here and the general population here) and experiences a version of reality dominated by finding fault in internal ‘Others’ (such as minorities) or external ‘Others’ (such as foreigners), which has historically led to conflict unless defused. The result, in the case of Thailand, appears to be a Quasi-Imperialistic, Hyper-Bureaucratized, Hyper-Nationalistic Nation State with Advanced Praetorianism, Advanced Police State Capabilities, and a Neo-Colonial Economy, as discussed here.

Moreover, the high, and worsening, levels of racism and xenophobia pose a threat to the cosmopolitan image of the country promoted by successive Thai governments following the Cold War, as epitomized in the Amazing Thailand campaign. This worsening image may prompt a reduction in inwards investment, a purely pragmatic argument which would suggest the government should focus on reducing the causes of racism. An urgent program to reduce the causes of racism and xenophobia, whether they be inaccurate history books, ultranationalist radicals terrorizing the streets of Bangkok, regimented schoolchildren incapable of critical thinking, unrestrained forms of militarism used against ethnic minorities, or harassment of the foreign media (whose goodwill is crucial to a country’s economic situation) should also be immediately instituted by the NCPO. Such a campaign can be enhanced via such methods as promoting pluralism using the 12 Core Values of Thai People or through adopting pro-diversity state policies such as the draft National Language Policy.

This course of action is absolutely necessary if Thailand’s international image is not to be tarnished and confidence in its creative sector, heavily reliant on pluralism and foreign workers and key to developing the economy out of the middle income trap, is not to suffer. Unfortunately, such a situation becomes increasingly likely as economic downturns also increase racism and xenophobia, which would create a downwards spiral due to a general lack of confidence in the country, a crisis from which Thailand may not emerge for years.

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