I’ve been playing with this image for quite some time now, and am still trying to build a “thick” context around it for a piece that should (finally!) get submitted sometime later this summer. Okay, so what do Thailand and South Korea–more specifically, Hyundai Construction–have to do with each other?
I’m interested in this more as a broad question of emerging diplomatic and economic relations between NE and SE Asia during the early Cold War, or to put it in other terms, new opportunities enabled by the passing from Japanese Empire to American Empire.
(1) This image, from the early 1960’s, displays a welcome banner put out for Mr. Pakorn Angsusingha (I’ve also seen a transliteration of his name as Pakon Angsusing), a Thai academic and bureaucrat, by Hyundai Construction, presumably outside their Bangkok offices, circa 1965. He’s (Angsusingha) involved in a lot of social work and community development projects for Thailand, with community development being a Thai priority (1958-1961), prior to the nation-wide focus on ARD (Accelerated Rural Development) in the mid-1960’s. Essentially these are large nation-buidling projects, getting villages to identify with Bangkok, and they have a strong anti-Communist component.
(2) When Hyundai begins to bid for road projects in Thailand, there are not yet strong relations between the two countries, but Thailand also has a strong military government, and was one of the first to support the ROK during the Korean War, even sending its troops.
(3) Both countries had ICA-funded projects in Public Administration, with the University of Indiana helping to build building the field in Thailand (at Thammasat University) and the University of Minnesota doing comparable work at Seoul National University. These projects would not have been exactly the same, of course, but emerging Thai and South Korean elites were both learning a similar language of development and administration in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s.
So this sign, which precedes the Pattani-Naratiwat project (1965-1968), and which precedes Hyundai getting the bid (sometime in late 1965), does not place me in the context of the negotiations between Hyundai and IBRD / World Bank, but it does indicate that it should not be surprising that these two actors would meet each other: one with aid dollars to spend on building anti-Communist roads, and another with new expertise and American patronage interested in gaining more experience. There are lots of interesting things going on with South Korea in SE Asia even prior to formal involvement with Vietnam, after all.