Business as usual in Thailand

The Tuesday night coup in Thailand has had little to no effect on the gem industry in the Southeast Asian country, several persons told JCK Thursday.

“All is well in Bangkok,” said Randy Park, director of GIA Thailand. “Coups are common place here, although this is the first in about 15 years. This one was very peaceful.”

Between 1971 and 1992, there have been nine coups in Thailand.

Park described the military takeover of the government as “almost a non-event.”

“The only noticeable effect was no traffic for a day,” he said. “All government offices, all schools, post offices, etc. were closed for one day only, resulting in a beautifully quiet day in Bangkok.”

Ravi Lunia of Fai Dee Gems Co., Ltd., specialists in Burmese rubies, repeated what has been widely reported in other news accounts that many in the country were anticipating such an event.

“The coup was kind of expected because of the political situation and the way things were going on in Thailand,” Lunia said. “Everything is normal so far and is expected to remain normal in the coming days. My family and employees are all safe. As for business, we have to wait and watch, since everybody is at the Hong Kong show.”

Many in the gem and jewelry industry were recently in Bangkok attending the Bangkok Gems & Jewellery Fair, which was held Sept. 13-17. Most of those same persons are now attending the Hong Kong Jewellery & Watch Fair, being held until Sept. 23.

Barbara Lipatapanlop, executive director for ICA in New York, is one of those in Hong Kong. She lived in Bangkok for 13 years and from 1999 to 2005 served as a senior advisor to the Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association. She has been in contact with several professional acquaintances and relays that there was little to no disruption of business.

“Things are rather normal in Bangkok now, except that there are military tanks around the government buildings,” she said. “While that is of course unusual, life goes on. There was a curfew last night but the coup is expected to have only limited and temporary ramifications according to the business leaders I spoke with.”

The Thai military said Tuesday night it had dismissed the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the controversial telecommunications tycoon turned politician, and declared martial law, after surrounding the Government House with tanks and troops in what the media is reporting as a bloodless coup. Shinawatr was in New York attending a United Nations meeting. He is now in London.

Thai army chief, Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, who orchestrated the coup, promised on Wednesday, in a national address, that the military has no political or economic interests and plans to return power to the people. He promised to step down in two weeks, saying he would appoint an interim premier to run the country until parliamentary elections are held under a new constitution in October 2007. Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has a great deal of influence in the country, said he supports the coup.

“I think it’s important to note that the situation is not dangerous and that the ‘Council of Administrative Reform’ is firmly declaring that King Bhumibol Adulyadej is head of state,” Lipatapanlop said. “The Thai King is sacred and people are absolutely loyal to him. From what I hear, everything business-wise is on track and proceeding as it normally would.”

The general business environment seems to support statements made by industry officials. After being closed on Wednesday, Thai financial markets reopened on Thursday, with little effects to stocks or the value of the country’s currency, the Thai baht, reports the Financial Times, a London-based business newspaper.