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 Home > About Thailand > International Relations


Thailand's statesmanship in international relations has always defied outsiders' predictions. Thai people have taken great pride in two facts: firstly, that Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia never colonized or even dominated by other countries and secondly, that Thailand, once dubbed "the next domino to fall" in the 1960's and 1970's has emerged in the 1980's stronger and more prosperous than ever. The ability of the country to get out of harms's way can be attributed in large part to the flexible, dynamic, and pragmatic characteristicsof its foreign policy, which has as being the model of a successful "small- nation diplomacy."

There exist at least two fundamental elements in the Thai foreign policy i.e. the preservation of national sovereignty and independence and the promotion of national well-being. In the process of decision making, Thai leaders have taken into account the country's resources and constraiats as against evolving international circumstances. In order to understand the present Thai foreign policy, it seems appropriate to trace its evolution chronologically from the colonial era [19th century] to the present time.


The advent of the 1970's marked drastic changes in regional and global political configurations which brought about new challenges for Thailand's policy makers. On the international front, world politics was transformed from bipolarization toward multipolarization with the return of China to the world arena and with Japan and Western Europe gradually resuming their political and economic roles.

On the regional place, the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam and the Nixon Doctrine created a vacuum of power as well as a sense of uncertainty and anxiety over U.S. defense commitments on mainland Southeast Asia. The communization of the three Indochinese states and the prediction of other falling dominoes represented a lurking danger to the security of free nations in the region, and to Thailand in particular.

To keep pace with the changing international environment, Thai foreign policy has undergone at least three bssic developments, which have had long lasting effects today. First, it adopted an omnidirectional policy trend by seeking diplomatic, commercial, and cultural relations with all nations, regardless of their political ideology and economic system. Notably, in 1975 Bangkok and Beijing began full diplomatic recognition and exchanged ambassadors. Full diplomatic relations with the new state of Kampuchea were also established in that year, while relations with Vietnam were normalized in 1976.

Concurrently, Thailand has shown more interest in the developing world. In 1975, it began to develop its own aid program, called the Thai Aid Program [TAP]. Stemming from the "Third Country Training Program" [TCTP] in which Thailand offered technical training to developing countries under the sponsorship of outside donors, this program has provided training in various fields, particularly in agriculture, medicine, and public health, to at least 24 countries around the world.

Second, regionalism has come to play a more significant role in Thai foreign policy. At the first summit in Bali in 1976, ASEAN codified in contractual from the principle of pacific settlement of disputes among ASEAN members. Subsequently, the spirit of the Bali Summit further solidified political and economic cooperation among ASEAN states to the extent that ASEAN today can be called "a diplomatic revolution" in Southeast Asia. since then, ASEAN has expanded its joint activities to conqure new horizons, encompassing the fields of trade, tourism, industry, energy, science and technology, finance and banking, transportation, cultural and social development. Recent initiatives include import reduction among member countries and industrial complementation. These activities interwine ASEAN'S interests and have given further impetus to development of the region.

Furthmore, ASEAN also expanded its cooperative relations with other developed countries. By 1976, ASEAN established cooperative links with Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, and the agencies of the UN through the UNDP and ESCAP, followed by the United States in 1977, The links with the European Community and Canada were formalized through the signing of Cooperation Agreements in 1980 and 1981 respectively.The ASEAN foreign ministers meet annually with the foreign ministers of these dialogue partners and the Commissioner and the President of the EC Council of Ministers to discuss various international and regional issues of common interest and concern.

Third, Thailand has sought to promote even more its non-aligned foreign policy. With regard to its relations with major powers, it has sought to forge an "equidistant" policy, that is, a more equal relationship based on more balanced interests with all of them. The declaration of the concept of Southeast Asia as a Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality by ASEAN in 1973 is but one example of this. Flexible responses to the evoving international events are among other things that enable Thailand not only to be the domino that did not fall but also to be more stable, with a firmer foothold in the international community.

By the close of the decade, Thailand faced another serious challenge. The Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea in 1978 and its occupation thereafter, followed by an armed confrontation between Vietnam and China, shattered the hope of regional peaceful coexistence. The Soviet involvement with Vietnam and its subseqeunt escalation of military presence in the Pacific further complicated the security equation of the region. The Kampucean problem therefore presented a genuine potential for developing into a confrontation of major powers. In this regard, Thailand inadvertently became the front-line state in this conflict.


As Thailand enters the last decade of the 20th century, it is perhaps fair to say that the prospects are bright. It has been maining a high-profile role in world affairs, and goodwill and friendship have have been earned from all over the world, serving as the bases for further bilateral relations in the future.

Looking around, one can see a number of positive developments. After years of patience and persistence, it is recognized by all concerned that the situation in Kampuchea is not a fait accompi. There is a strong possibility for the realization of Southeast Asia as a true Zone of Peace, Freedom, and neutrality, with increasing cooperation among neighbors of different political ideologies.

Small as is, Thailand today has shown its willingness to share the responsibilities of managing the world order with respect to constructive development. Actually, it does have the opportunity to shape and give a new meaning to the vision of peace and stability not only in Southeast Asia but in the world at large. Overall, Thailand today enjoys full diplomatic relations with every major government. IT is represented abroad by 52 embassies, 2 permanent missions to the United Nations, 15 consulates-general, 45 honorary consulates-general, 35 honorary consulates, and 13 trade centers. Apart from being the site of many dipromatic missions and the regional headquarters of several international organizations, Bangkok's location at the crossroads of travel and trade routes enhance it as truly regional center of many important commercial firms.

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