Just The Facts

Thailand: Southeast Asia’s Buffer Country

How Thailand avoided European colonization.

Takeaways


  • Thailand in October 2017 held a lavish royal funeral, a year after the death of King Bhumibol the Great, the country’s very popular, US-born monarch.
  • Formerly known as Siam, the Kingdom of Thailand was never a European colony, although it was sometimes under Chinese or Japanese influence.

1. Thailand in October 2017 held a lavish royal funeral, a year after the death of King Bhumibol the Great, the country’s very popular, U.S.-born monarch.

2. Bhumibol had reigned in Thailand from 1946 to 2016. Until his death on October 13, 2016, he was the world’s longest-serving monarch in our time.

3. He rose to the throne nearly six years earlier than Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, who is currently still reigning.

4. Formerly known as Siam, the Kingdom of Thailand was never a European colony, although it was sometimes under Chinese or Japanese influence.

5. Throughout the 19th century, both the French and the British tried to exert their influence over Thailand, ultimately unsuccessfully overall.

6. The British and French Empires annexed some border areas in Thailand, but never managed fully to control the state or most of its territory – unlike virtually every country in the region.

7. Britain and France ultimately decided that it was wiser to allow Thailand to exist as an independent buffer between their respective colonies in the region.

8. Britain had colonized Burma to the west and Malaya to the south, while France had colonized Indochina (Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) to the east.

9. In addition, through adroit diplomacy and selective modernization, King Chulalongkorn, who reigned 1868-1910, did his part to save Thailand from European colonization.

10. Thailand experienced fascist military government, inspired by the Nazis and Japan, in the lead-up to World War II and then attacked nearby French colonies to try to recover lost border territories.

11. The Axis had their own plans and forced a peace. Japan eventually invaded Thailand during the war and forced the country to help fight the Allies in their Southeast Asian colonies.

12. Beginning in the 1950s, the United States repeatedly backed military dictatorships in the Kingdom of Thailand – and was rewarded with close military ties.

13. During the American war in Vietnam, Thailand was used both as a regional staging point for operations and for the relaxation of off-duty troops.

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