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2 Oct, 2005

Tracking Global Feng Shui: Move the UN HQ from New York to Bangkok

Originally Published: 02 Oct 2005

The Thaksin government is pursuing the goal (dream?) of having Deputy Prime Minister Surakiat Sathirathai appointed U.N. Secretary General after the end of Kofi Annan’s term in January 2007.

Here’s a much better idea: Back the call made by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the 60th General Assembly session to move the U.N. out of New York — and nominate Bangkok as the alternate venue!!

Listed below are 10 irrefutable reasons for a move that will yield far superior long-term benefits for Thailand – and the world — than a mere five-year U.N. term for Mr Surakiart.

The sole reason to contest them may be that it will upset the 800-pound gorilla and trigger a retaliatory political and economic rampage. In which case, it will strengthen the case to move the U.N. HQ out.

So, in the spirit of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ here we go:

  • Fundamental to Buddhism is the concept that all phenomena, both mental and physical, are impermanent without exception. It can be indisputably argued that the U.N. presence in New York is impermanent and one day will make an exit. President Chavez set that process in motion. It only needs determined support and follow-up.
  • The atmosphere of distrust, lies, injustice, double standards, hypocrisy and pressure tactics in the U.N. and global forums is shockingly palpable and incongruous with the pursuit of world peace. At the US’s urging, the world was defrauded into mounting a brutal war based on total lies. Tens of thousands of people have died and its social, cultural and economic consequences are being felt globally. No one has been held accountable. Is this an indicator of ‘freedom and democracy’, ‘transparency and accountability’? A global regime change is well in order. Symbolically, moving the HQ out of New York will signal a perfect start to this new cycle of impermanence.
  • In his U.N. general assembly speech, Thai foreign minister Dr. Kantathi Suphamongkhon said, “Money being spent on arms and weapons continues to outpace money being spent on sustaining lives. This is unacceptable.” The fact that the US is the world’s largest arms manufacturer and exporter creates a contradiction between the peace-making goals of the U.N. and its location in a country that makes a handsome profit by exporting weapons of death and destruction. If Dr Kantathi really means it when he used the word ‘unacceptable’, what does he plan to do about it?
  • The global centre of gravity is shifting to Asia, and Bangkok is right at the heart of it. It is roughly equidistant from both China and India, the two emerging 800-pound gorillas. Both are home to the vast majority of young people, the future generation that is being unfortunately bequeathed many of the socio-cultural and environmental problems being created by this generation. If a new world order and indeed a new agenda is to evolve, with Asia taking the lead, the international community needs to indicate that it is ready, able and willing to take that forward.
  • The international community (and by that I mean the real majority international community, not the minority club of rich countries) always talks of wanting to advance South-South trade and cooperation. A U.N. move to Asia will spur links with Africa and Latin America as well as spin-off contacts with regional and subregional trade bodies like ASEAN, SAARC, the GMS, etc. If the US is home to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which have strong influence over global economic conditions, a balance needs to be created by moving the major forum of political discussions to Asia.
  • The U.N. is undergoing a process of reform. Looking seriously at relocating the U.N. should be part of it, especially if a reformed U.N. is to truly reflect the perspective of the developing world rather than further entrench the domination of the developed countries. At the recent General Assembly, many global leaders spoke passionately about the need to avoid double standards in the reform process. Do they have the courage to match the rhetoric with some action?
  • Bangkok is one of five cities that host U.N. regional commissions (the others being Geneva, Santiago, Beirut and Addis Ababa) but none can match Bangkok in terms of accessibility, cost and facilities. Regional offices of all the major U.N. agencies like UNESCO, FAO, WHO, etc. are also based in Bangkok. There is a well-equipped conference centre that will probably need a little fine-tuning and expansion but should have no problems rising to the occasion.
  • The benefits to the Thai economy and tourism industry are a no-brainer. U.N. delegations will need office space and housing, spurring the real estate business. Bangkok will effectively become another New York. The already vibrant social, cultural and culinary scene will rise to further heights, with all the added benefits for arts and theatre, convention centres, hotels, etc. The new airport next year will attract more airlines which, along with Thai Airways International, will be able to tap more high yield traffic and boost travel to the neighbouring countries. The hundreds of journalists visiting Bangkok will general billions of baht worth of free publicity.
  • The subsequent demands for provision of world-class services and standards will boost the quality of education and manpower, attract more university interest and create jobs for thousands of Thais.
  •  Finally, His Majesty the King’s self-sufficiency economy concept and Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness are two theories that may well one day overcome the get-rich-quick, me-first mentality of capitalism. Capitalism and democracy are both flagships of the so-called ‘knowledge economy’ which will also fade away in line with the Buddha’s principle of impermanence. The far more sustainable, wisdom-based economic theories and concepts need to be more widely aired globally. Having the U.N. HQ here will help them gain tremendous exposure.

Not a single of the above reasons can be disputed.

There is no doubt a U.N. move out of New York has the support of the international community; the applause that greeted the Venezuelan President’s speech clearly showed that the will exists. Only a way needs to be found.

As for the PM, he and his handlers will clearly spot the opportunity it presents in raising his personal political profile, locally, regionally and globally. That could be a possible 11th reason.

Given the vast availability of experienced diplomats in Thailand, starting the lobbying process should not be a problem in all global forums, not just the U.N.

In fact, Thailand could make a start by calling for a rotation of the annual General Assembly sessions, with the first one being held in Bangkok. After all, even ESCAP’s annual ministerial commission sessions are moved around, even though the main conference centre is here.

If Bangkok does not stake a claim now, another city in India or China (or perhaps even Singapore) is certain to do so in future. In which case, Thailand may even land up losing ESCAP.

As the advertising slogan of a footwear brand says bluntly: Just Do It.