Thailand slides toward a geopolitical realignment

Thailand’s prime minister in a white navy uniform celebrates a national holiday among monks clad in orange-colored robes
The Royal Plaza in Bangkok, July 28, 2017: Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha with Buddhist monks during celebrations of the king’s 65th birthday (source: dpa)
  • Since the 1997-1998 economic crisis, China has earned Thailand’s growing appreciation as a reliable economic and political partner
  • Beijing also continues to tighten its military links with Bangkok
  • The new U.S. administration is trying to improve frayed relations with its longtime partner, but it is restricted by the U.S. Congress

As is the case with most members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Thailand’s historical geopolitical preference has always been for autonomy. Its options today, however, are limited by the undemocratic nature of its government. Thailand will either continue to drift toward China or will return to democracy and establish a better equilibrium in its foreign relations, balancing between China and the United States to preserve its coveted room for maneuver.

Alone among Southeast Asian countries, Thailand was never colonized by the West. During World War II, it oscillated between Japan and the U.S. Its subsequent pro-American alignment was triggered by the power of Soviet-backed North Vietnam and fear of a Chinese-assisted communist insurgency.

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