Bangkok and the Regions: Industrial Geography (Part 1)

Continuing with my plan to write up the notes for the ICTS paper and then post them section by section, I am going to make a few observations here on Bangkok and the regions of Thailand.

It is clear that Bangkok has throughout its history (after having been designated the new capital after the destruction of Ayutthaya in 1767) been by a considerable distance been the largest and most significant city in the Kingdom. All principal political, monarchical, religious, cultural and economic institutions have been concentrated in this capital city. It is, in McGee’s influential description, a ‘primate city,’ in the same way that other large cities in Southeast Asia are also primate cities (e.g. Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, Jakarta, Manila). However, after the era of European colonization inspired processes of modernization and industrialization, existing primate cities were in many countries superseded by colonial headquarters. Colonial headquarters had the benefit of modern methods of administration and market operations aimed at extracting resources from the colony and redistributing them for the purposes of the colonizing power (which is why so many such cities are located in ports) and they quite often supplanted in importance the previous capitals, despite not having the sacral or legitimatizing institutions within them. Hence, the effective capital (e.g. Yangon/Rangoon) becomes distinct from the formal but disempowered old capital and residence of the aristocratic/monarchic elite (e.g. Mandalay). However, according to Evers and Korff, Bangkok was put through this process not by foreign colonists but by its own elites:

“In Siam it was not a foreign elite introducing these changes in the economy and administration which are the characteristics of colonialism, but an indigenous elite. The reason for embarking on this course was not colonial intervention, but the conditions when the new Siamese state was forming some two hundred years ago, which enforced the development of an outwardly oriented state, integrated into trading relations and instituting the production of goods for use in trade (Evers and Korff, 2000: 33).”

As a result of these processes, they argue, a plantation economy was established in the early C19th and a functioning provincial administration by the end of that century. This has meant that Bangkok has become a ‘sacred city in which traditions were conserved’ and this in turn has had significant impacts on the development of nationalism in Siam and now Thailand. Hence, when in the years following the Second World War new efforts at rapid modernization were being laid, it seemed natural that Bangkok would be central to the economic industrialization of the country. After all, it led the country in every other way and was central to all important developments.

 The creation of plans for economic modernization followed the same principles: top-down, issued by the central authorities for the benefit, by and large, of the centre. The National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) was formed to develop and implement five year plans, National Economic and Social Development Plans (NESDP) by the means of which industrialization would proceed. When the NESDPs began to consider as an issue of urgency the location of industrial estates, therefore, it was in the vicinity of Bangkok that they would be located.

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