Thaksin and the Lessons of Hong Kong

HONG KONG – Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was gracious when he ended his exile in Hong Kong: “Thank you, Hong Kong, for having me here, so warmly. Hong Kong is a destination where I would always like to come.”

If Thaksin is sincere, he could serve Thailand by bringing back a few of his host city’s more admirable virtues. Two stand out: a largely uncorrupt, efficient, transparent, and accountable government, and an open and competitive economy.

Hong Kong is, of course, by no means perfect: Mainland China’s politics and habits are slowly infecting the island. Nevertheless, Transparency International, the world’s premier corruption rating agency, ranked Hong Kong as the 14th cleanest society in 2007.

From 2001 when Thaksin first became prime minister, to 2007 under military rule, Thailand’s corruption ranking plunged from an already low 61 to 84, which puts the country in the same league as Gabon and Swaziland, two countries notorious for violent and corrupt leaders who routinely trample on their citizens’ rights.