Foreign policy and defense
According to abbreviationfinder, Thailand is a nation in Southeastern Asia. Its capital city is Bangkok. Thailand has always pursued a pragmatic foreign policy and adapted to new situations. The country can also be described as nationalist with a skepticism about foreign involvement in politics.
After World War II, foreign policy has been markedly Western-friendly, but Thailand is also striving to expand its cooperation with other countries in Southeast Asia. Asean is the most important regional cooperation organization, while Apec is rather aimed at dialogue with the outside world.
- Countryaah: Overview of business holidays and various national observances in Thailand for years of 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025.
Under the military rule in Thailand after the coup in May 2014, contacts with China increased. The Beijing government was quick to express its support for the military junta, and as early as February 2015, an agreement on enhanced defense cooperation was signed. Trade relations have also been strengthened. However, Thailand’s leaders have been hesitant about China’s infrastructure efforts in the region.
Myanmar and Laos
Relations with Myanmar (formerly Burma) have long been strained. Several Myanmar guerrilla groups, not least rebels from minority people shan, operate near the border with Thailand. From time to time, they attack military sites and often reach the Myanmar military’s fire of fire into Thai territory. The Myanmar military junta, in particular, in the 1980s and 1990s accused Thailand of supporting the rebels, which are largely made up of various ethnic minorities. The many Myanmar refugees in Thailand as well as drug trafficking across the border help make the situation problematic.
The democratization process that began in 2011 in Myanmar has facilitated a rapprochement between the two countries, but Myanmar’s tough handling of the minority Rohingy population and the refugee flow to Thailand that has created this has caused new irritation. When Myanmar’s then-president Thein Sein visited Thailand in July 2012, the two countries signed a cooperation agreement. In October 2014, Thai dome leader Prayuth Chan-ocha visited Myanmar as the first country since he became head of government. The leaders of the two countries discussed cooperation in port development, the energy sector and border surveillance. In April 2018, more than 100,000 Myanmar refugees were in nine camps along the border between the two countries.
Relations with Laos have been greatly influenced by the fate of the Hmong refugees. Tens of thousands of members of the hmong folk group, who have experienced harassment and persecution in their homeland of Laos since the 1970s (see Laos, Modern History), have over the years moved to Thailand where they lived as stateless in large refugee camps. In 2006, Thailand and Laos agreed to work together to find a solution to the refugee issue. While thousands of hmong have been granted refugee status in the United States, Thai authorities have been trying to identify the refugees to find out where they come from. However, this work has been slow and the Doctors Without Borders organization has reported bad conditions in the camps. In 2009, Thailand deported about 4,000 hmong refugees to Laos, which received sharp criticism from the US and human rights organizations, among others.
Thailand invests in hydropower development in Laos and most of the electricity generated will be exported to Thailand.
The relationship with Cambodia is also strained. In the 1990s, the Phnom Penh government accused Thai security forces of indirectly supporting the guerrilla movement of the Red Khmer smuggling of timber and gemstones to less prominent Thai buyers. Thousands of Cambodians also fled across the border to Thailand as fighting erupted in the homeland between the military and guerrillas.
After the turn of the millennium, relations improved. In 2001, the countries decided to jointly raise security at the border to curb the smuggling of people, drugs and objects stolen from temples in the Cambodian city of Angkor.
The positive trend reversed when an old conflict over the Preah Vihear temple, located in the border region between countries, flared up in 2008. The triggering factor was the UN body UNESCO’s decision to place the temple on its list of World Heritage Sites in Cambodia. In 1962, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that the temple is located in Cambodia, but Thai nationalists have found it difficult to accept. In addition, the boundary line is unclear in parts of the area around the temple.
In connection with the 2008 riots, Thailand and Cambodia mobilized troops at the temple. Soon there were around a thousand soldiers posted on each side. Through negotiations, the forces could be gradually reduced.
Relations deteriorated again in the fall of 2009 when Cambodia offered Thailand’s Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra a post as economic government adviser. Thailand’s Abhisit government saw the play as a provocation. In August 2010, Thaksin resigned from the disputed post and full diplomatic relations were restored.
In February 2011, Cambodia turned to the UN with a plea that the World Organization would intervene to end the temple conflict by creating a buffer zone in the area. Following mediation by Asean the same month, an Indonesian observer group was placed on both sides of the border.
Still, new battles flared up in April. It was not until December of that year that the countries agreed on mutual troop retreat, under the supervision of the Indonesian observers. In April 2012, the two countries decided to jointly clear mines at Preah Vihear, and in July a gradual troop retreat was initiated.
In November 2013, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that the disputed land areas around Preah Vihear belong to Cambodia. The court urged Thailand to withdraw all its soldiers, police and border guards from the areas.
Relations with Cambodia were strained once again in connection with the coup against Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014, but strengthened again after Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen visited the coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in Bangkok again.
Other Southeast Asian countries
The revolt among Muslim residents of southern Thailand (read more here) has periodically caused tension in relations with Malaysia, which has been accused by Thailand of supporting the separatists. Relations improved when Malaysia in 1998 promised to cease its support and a number of rebel leaders could be arrested. When the uprising escalated in 2004 and was met with harsh methods by the Thaksin government, relations with Malaysia again deteriorated.
The contacts gradually grew warmer during the military-led transitional government in 2007-2008 and during the Abhisit government in 2008–2011. The Yingluck government in 2011–2014 made new attempts to reduce tensions in the conflict area, but the results were slim. Relations with Malaysia were relatively unproblematic under military rule after spring 2014.
Thailand’s relationship with Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore is good. With Indonesia, Thailand collaborates primarily on agricultural development, energy and fisheries.
USA and Russia
Thailand has long cultivated good contacts with the United States and annually the two countries hold joint military exercises. Following the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, Thailand pushed for a regional anti-terrorism policy within ASEAN. When the US-led invasion of Iraq began in 2003, Thailand declared itself “neutral” but still sent 400 soldiers to Iraq.
More recently, Thailand’s relations with the United States have cooled down, partly as a result of other countries, such as China, increasing in importance to Thailand and partly because of the military coups in Thailand in 2006 and 2014. The coup against the Thaksin government in 2006 was condemned by the Western countries and the US withdrew its military support to Thailand for two years. The 2014 military coup was also criticized by the US and other western countries. The US again froze its military support for the country and EU foreign ministers canceled official visits to and from Thailand. In October 2017, Prime Minister Prayuth was invited to the White House by US President Donald Trump. In December of that year, the Union resumed political contacts with Thailand “at all levels”.
After the 2014 military coup, Thailand sought closer contacts with Russia, whose relations with the Western world as well as Thailand had deteriorated in recent times. As the first Russian head of government in a quarter of a century, Dimitri Medvedev visited Thailand in April 2015. The countries agreed to expand cooperation in a number of areas, including drug fight, tourism, trade and investment. The two countries also decided that Russia should help Thailand develop its energy sector.
The military is a political power factor and has intervened on a number of occasions in the political process through coups, most recently against Yingluck Shinawatra’s government in May 2014. Until then, the defense underwent a long-term reform aimed at creating a professional and unpolitical military power, to a slightly smaller size. than the previous one. Large sums are invested in modernizing the defense equipment through the purchase of new tanks, artillery and frigates. The equipment is mainly purchased from the US but in recent years arms imports from China have increased. The general military duty is two years.
In 2015, China and Thailand agreed to increase military cooperation through more joint exercises, increased technological exchange and cheaper arms exports from China to Thailand. China also promised not to interfere in Thailand’s internal affairs, something Thailand thought the US had done recently by demanding that the state of emergency be lifted.
FACTS – DEFENSE
Army: 245 000 men (2017)
The air Force: 46,000 men (2017)
The fleet: 69 850 men (2017)
Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.4 percent (2017)
Military spending’s share of the state budget: 1.0 percent (2017)
Military-led government takes over power
Retired General Surayud Chulanont is appointed acting prime minister for a military-led transitional government.
Thaksin is deposed in a military coup
The military deposes Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his government in a bloody coup. Thaksin is currently attending a meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York.