Insider Guide to the ASEAN Summit Phuket, July 2009
'Welcome to the Boomtown' as the 42nd ASEAN ministerial meeting and 16th ASEAN Regional Forum hit Thailand's premier resort destination Phuket. The fledgling Democrat led Government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjejiva is grasping to retain leadership in an effort not unlike England's 1st test heroics against Australia in the first test march of the Ashes. Despite recommendations by consultants to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention that Thai's should avoid going out in public with the current H1N1 virus scare; already an estimated 5,000 Thai Military troops are massing on the island and expectations for this number to rise to over 10,000. The controversial Internal Security Act has been put into action after the humiliating ASEAN Summit demonstrations by alleged Thaksin Shinawatra red shirt supported in Pattaya that saw the event cancelled.
Roads leading into the meeting venue at Laguna Phuket as well as Phuket International Airport (PIA) have seen a number of military controller checkpoints set up; and tourists are being advised to allow suitable time to transit these areas. Meetings will kick off on Friday July 17th through Thursday the 23rd. Key sessions include the opening ceremony for the Foreign Ministers Meeting on Monday July 20th and key ASEAN Ministerial Meetings Wednesday July 22nd with dialogues with Foreign Ministers from the United States, Australia, Japan, China, India, Canada, New Zealand, Russia, Korea and the EU. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be attending meetings and relaying the political agenda for the region back of President Barack Obama's short term diplomatic reform blueprint.
Regional security and economic policy look to take centre stage with the recent missile launches by Kim Il-Sung of North Korea high as a hot topic. While the world took a break the past few weeks during the media circus surrounding the death of Michael Jackson, terrorism continues to be another key concern for most of the participants particularly with anti Muslim demonstrations and violence again the Uighurs in China. Indonesia continues to be courted by both US and European leaders concerned about suspect Al-Qaeda links in the world largest Islamic country. Another hot potato continues to be Myanmar's continued house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and calls by human rights activist's to continue economic and political sanction against the current Military junta.
Local tourism officials still have mixed views on the effect of the big event which will generate some short term revenue into Phuket's primary industry which is hotel and service related; though concerns remain that many visitors may avoid coming back of the military and media build up. Reports from Koh Samui where high season is kicking in have shown increased booking during the past month and expectations are high that a redirection of some travellers who would have come to Phuket will aid the small resort island. This comes at a time where Bali, Vietnam and Malaysia have seen increased visitors from the redirect impact from Thailand mainly though the high profile global reported closing of Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport and continued airing of violent street demonstrations though venues such as CNN and BBC. Thailand's Chairmanship of ASEAN, which dates back to July 2008 and is expected to last until December 2009, has come at time of great political hardships and strife for the Kingdom. For the vast majority of Thai's, the ASEAN Summit is a critical set on the road back to recovery and anticipation along with concern about any disruptions look set to continue for the next week. Phuket stands front and centre for the moment and is carrying the hopes of a nation.