Thailand has remained relatively calm and stable while its neighbors have been torn apart by conflict and political upheaval. Within Southeast Asia, Thailand is regarded as a leader and a donor nation to poorer neighbor such as Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos—a role Thailand’s neighbors are not necessarily comfortable with. In any case, Thailand relishes its role of being a donor nation rather than a recipient one. It has done things like provide soft loans to its Southeast Asian neighbors so these countries can improve their communication systems and provide generic antiviral drugs that treat HIV-AIDS.

Thailand has said it committed to solving its problems with the neighboring states of Indochina--Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. The Thai flexibility in foreign policy that has enabled the country to avoid conquest or colonization by foreign powers included a dedication to maintaining good relations with all nations, great and small.

Thailand and ASEAN

Thailand held the rotating chair of ASEAN in 2008 and 2009. Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “As an ASEAN member, Thailand values ASEAN centrality. Its four-decade ASEAN experience taught the Thais one valuable lesson - that ASEAN centrality can only be maintained when ASEAN stays engaged. Whenever the grouping faces an imminent crisis, such as the one in Cambodia during 1978-1992, Asean centrality is unquestionable. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, September 14, 2009]

In January 2009, Thailand's parliament has agreed to adopt 41 pacts at a regional summit to forge closer ties with its Southeast Asian neighbours. The current Thai constitution requires that all international agreements be pre-approved, and that was done by a joint session of parliament that concluded earlier. 'The meeting last night adopted all the agreements in a decisive vote with more than 400 to 10 (votes in favour). Two of the 41 pacts that involve human rights legislation still required further vetting by a 36-member committee. The adopted agreements include trade accords already signed by six of the grouping's 10 members, but not Thailand. Other agreements include plans to liberalise aviation regulations among members, agree food security measures and sign a declaration for a roadmap of development for the Asean community.[Source: AFP, January 28, 2009]

William Pesek of Bloomberg wrote: “Thailand matters because it’s a role model in the region. As Myanmar exits decades of isolation and tries to build a healthy economy, it’s looking to Thailand for direction and financing. The same goes for Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. How Thailand evolves will reverberate around the neighborhood.[Source: William Pesek, Bloomberg, July 11, 2013]

Issues Between Thailand and Its Southeast Asian Neighbors

According to the CIA World Factbook: Separatist violence in Thailand's predominantly Malay-Muslim southern provinces prompt border closures and controls with Malaysia to stem insurgent activities; Southeast Asian states have enhanced border surveillance to check the spread of avian flu; talks continue on completion of demarcation with Laos but disputes remain over several islands in the Mekong River; despite continuing border committee talks, Thailand must deal with Karen and other ethnic rebels, refugees, and illegal cross-border activities. About 140,000 mostly Karen refugees fleeing civil strife, political upheaval and economic stagnation in Burma live in remote camps in Thailand near the border. [Source: CIA World Factbook *]

Cambodia and Thailand dispute sections of boundary; in 2011 Thailand and Cambodia resorted to arms in the dispute over the location of the boundary on the precipice surmounted by Preah Vihear temple ruins, awarded to Cambodia by ICJ decision in 1962 and part of a planned UN World Heritage site. *

Thailand is studying the feasibility of jointly constructing the Hatgyi Dam on the Salween river near the border with Burma; in 2004, international environmentalist pressure prompted China to halt construction of 13 dams on the Salween River that flows through China, Burma, and Thailand. *

History of Thailand’s Relations with Southeast Asia

Since World War II, no single factor has shaped the style and substance of Thai foreign relations more than the establishment of a communist-run government in China in 1949. The communist triumph aroused a Thai fear of southward Chinese expansion, in which the economically powerful and ethnocentrist Chinese minority in Bangkok might serve as a potential fifth column. Chinese intervention in Korea in 1950 and growing evidence of clandestine communist Chinese roles in local insurgencies in Southeast Asia reinforced Thai resolve to act in concert with other anticommunist nations. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The formal installation of a communist administration in Hanoi after the decisive defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954 set the stage for Thailand's signing of the Manila Pact, a collective security agreement, in September 1954. The resulting Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), as the regional body was formally called, had as its members Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and the United States. SEATO headquarters was in Bangkok. *

At various times Thailand has provided refuge for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Cambodia. Similar numbers from Laos, tens of thousands from Vietnam and most recently tens of thousands from Myanmar has also taken shelter in Thailand.

Thailand’s Foreign Relations in the Vietnam War Era

On March 6, 1962, in an attempt to allay Thai apprehensions, the United States and Thailand reached a new understanding under what came to be known as the Rusk-Thanat agreement (named after then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk and then-Minister of Foreign Affairs Thanat Khoman). Under the agreement, the United States pledged that, in the event of aggression it would help Thailand unilaterally without prior agreement of all other parties to the Manila Pact. [Library of Congress *]

During the 1960s, Thailand maintained close economic and security ties with the United States, while at the same time striving to foster regional cooperation with its noncommunist neighbors. Its assumption was that regional solidarity and national security were mutually reinforcing and would provide an effective deterrence to communism. In 1961 Thailand joined Malaya (since 1963, Malaysia) and the Philippines in launching the Association of Southeast Asia as a nonmilitary, nonpolitical vehicle for consultation and mutual assistance in economic, cultural, scientific, and administrative matters. *

In 1967 the Association of Southeast Asia was replaced by a broader regional group, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), comprising Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. The members agreed to cooperate in food production, industry and commerce, civil aviation, shipping, tourism, communications, meteorology, science and technology, and Southeast Asian studies. Consultation and cooperation were to take place through an annual ministerial conference held in each of the five ASEAN countries in alphabetical rotation. As a result of the formation of the regional organization, consultation between Thailand and the other ASEAN countries on external problems increased greatly in the 1970s. *

The Thai response to the external uncertainties of the 1970s was a graphic demonstration of the flexibility of its foreign policy. The external catalyst was an apparent shift in American strategic thinking with regard to China and the Vietnam conflict. The shift was sensed in Bangkok in the late 1960s--in March 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson expressed his intention to seek a negotiated peace in Vietnam and again in July 1969, when President Richard M. Nixon told Thai leaders in Bangkok of his intention to lower the future American military profile in Asia without undertaking any new security obligations. At that time, Nixon reaffirmed the United States resolve to "honor its present commitments in Southeast Asia" and to continue its support of Thai efforts in the areas of security and economic development. Not surprisingly, in 1968, before the "Nixon Doctrine" was proclaimed in 1969, Thailand hinted at its desire to open channels of communication with China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), and the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). These channels were considered necessary by the Thai in order to solve difficulties and achieve peaceful coexistence. In late 1970, a government committee was set up to explore the possibility of normalizing relations with China. *

After 1971, as the United States and China moved toward reconciliation and detente, Thai soul-searching began in earnest. In 1972 Thailand sent sports teams to China, and in 1973 Thailand made overtures to Hanoi for a dialogue shortly after the United States and North Vietnam signed a cease-fire agreement. In 1974 a Thai delegation conferred with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in Beijing on measures to improve bilateral relations. At that time Zhou was reported to have assured the Thai delegation that China would stop aiding communist insurgents in Thailand, while underlining his concern over increasing Soviet influence in Southeast Asia. In December 1974, the Thai government lifted a fifteen-year ban on trade with China. In March 1975, a month before Saigon fell, Thailand announced its decision to recognize and normalize diplomatic relations with China. *

Thailand’s Foreign Relations in the Post- Vietnam War Era

In the wake of communist takeovers in Phnom Penh and Saigon in April 1975, Thailand moved expeditiously to realign its foreign policy. Thailand's security ties with the United States-- the pillar of Bangkok's foreign relations for nearly three decades--were downplayed as part of accentuating a policy of friendship with all nations. In July 1975, the Thai revoked a military accord with the United States under which American troops had been allowed on Thai soil. Thailand also agreed with the Philippines in principle that SEATO, having outlived its usefulness, should be phased out as early as possible. The crowning moment of the policy of readjustment came in July 1975, when Thailand and China signed a formal agreement on establishing diplomatic relations. Noteworthy was the absence of a Chinese demand for the prior removal of American troops from Thailand, in striking contrast to Hanoi's insistence that Thailand should first renounce its policy of "collusion" with the United States before any reconciliation could take place. [Library of Congress *]

The normalization of relations with its Indochinese neighbors became pressing as refugees from Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam streamed across the Thai frontier, straining Thai resources and raising tensions in the border regions. Relations with Laos, bound to Thailand by a shared history, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language, were tense. Much of the problem centered on Laotian Meo tribespeople who had taken refuge in Thailand after the communist-led Pathet Lao forces gained control of Vientiane in May 1975. For years the Meo and some Thai irregular troops had waged clandestine operations against the Pathet Lao forces, reportedly with the knowledge and cooperation of the government of Thailand. After intermittent clashes on the Mekong River, Thailand in November 1975 closed the frontier with Laos, causing hardship in Vientiane; this action prevented oil, food, and other essential goods from reaching Laos through Thai territory, the historical transit route to the landlocked country. Tension eased somewhat after January 1976, when the border was reopened following Thai recognition of the new Laotian regime. In August 1976, the two countries signed an agreement on the transport of Laotian goods through Thailand in exchange for Thai air routes over Laos to Vietnam and Hong Kong. Nonetheless, recurring border incidents led to a temporary Thai economic blockade of Laos in late 1977. By the end of the year, Laotian refugees accounted for 73,000 of about 95,000 Indochinese refugees encamped in Thailand. *

Thailand’s Foreign Relations in the 1980s

In the 1980s, the Cambodian-Vietnamese question was a principal concern of Thai foreign policy makers, who found common cause with countries that also opposed the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. Security once again became an important consideration in the determination of Bangkok's foreign policy. [Library of Congress*]

In 1979 the ASEAN members were apparently divided over the Cambodian-Vietnamese situation. Indonesia and Malaysia were reportedly more conciliatory toward Hanoi than Thailand and Singapore, viewing China rather than Vietnam as the principal threat to regional stability. Indonesia and Malaysia wanted a strong and stable Vietnam as a potential ally, or at least as a buffer, against Chinese expansionism. They were inclined to tolerate to a degree the Vietnamese presence in Cambodia and to recognize the Heng Samrin regime, provided that some Vietnamese troops were withdrawn from Cambodia and the political base of the regime was reconstituted more broadly. *

The ASEAN differences were turned aside in June 1980, when Vietnamese troops crossed the border into Thailand. The incursion, which coincided with an annual ASEAN ministerial conference in Kuala Lumpur, was contrary to earlier Vietnamese assurances that they would not encroach on Thai territory. The ASEAN foreign ministers strongly condemned the incursion as "an act of aggression" and reaffirmed their undivided support for the in resolution of November 1979. They also reaffirmed their recognition of the deposed government of Democratic Kampuchea-- their rationale being that to recognize the Heng Samrin regime would be tantamount to rewarding Vietnamese aggression in Cambodia. At the first UN-sponsored international conference on Cambodia held in New York in July 1981, Thailand and its ASEAN allies played a key role in seeking a political settlement of the Cambodian question. The conference was attended by delegates from seventy-nine countries and observers from fifteen others, but it was boycotted by Vietnam, Laos, the Soviet Union and its allies, and some nonaligned nations. The conference adopted a resolution that, among other things, called for a cease-fire by all armed Cambodian factions, the withdrawal of all foreign troops under the supervision of a in observer group, the restoration of Cambodian independence, the establishment of a nonaligned and neutral Cambodia, and the establishment of an and hoc committee comprising Japan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Thailand to advise the in secretary general on ways to implement the resolution. *

In 1987 Thailand continued to express its desire for mutually beneficial relations with the Soviet Union and to affirm its neutrality in the Sino-Soviet rivalry. Relations with Moscow, however, were merely correct, if not cool, as a result of Thai apprehension over Soviet intentions toward Southeast Asia in general and Vietnam in particular. Thai concern was prompted by Moscow's military aid to Vietnam and its continued support of Hanoi's involvement in Cambodia. During his visit to Moscow in May 1987, Minister of Foreign Affairs Siddhi Savetsila of Thailand told his Soviet counterpart that Cambodia was "the test case" of Soviet intentions toward Asia and the Pacific region. He urged the Soviet Union to use its "immense influence and prestige" to bring about a quick and durable settlement of the Cambodian question. Such settlement, according to Siddhi, entailed an early withdrawal of some 140,000 Vietnamese troops from Cambodia, Cambodian exercise of the right of self- determination, and the formation of a neutral and nonaligned Cambodia posing no threat to its neighbors. At the end of the May visit, a protocol was signed establishing a Thai-Soviet trade commission. *

Thailand and the Greater Mekong Subregion

Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) is comprised of five six countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia) and one Chinese province (Yunnan) that share the Mekong River. Cooperation in the Greater Mekong subregion, led by the Asian Development Bank, began in the 1990s and has helped unite an area that for a long time was divided by longstanding conflicts. In 2005, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia signed an agreement to standardize and accelerate border crossings to facilitate trade. The agreement shortened border crossing formalities that previously took three hours to a day to just 30 minutes for trucks and five minutes for passenger cars.

Takashi Shiraishi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “Thailand is the hub of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). All three GMS economic corridors--the North-South Corridor between Kunming, Yunnan Province, and Bangkok via Laos, the East-West Corridor from Vietnam to Thailand via Laos and Cambodia, and the Southern Corridor--lead to Thailand. Further infrastructure development in Bangkok, growth of industrial clusters in the areas around the Thai capital and trade promotion under the framework of free trade agreements, among other policies, will greatly contribute to Thailand's economy once the GMS successfully emerges as an integrated regional market. [Source: Takashi Shiraishi, Yomiuri Shimbun, October 10, 2011]

China has been helping GMS countries build expressways, high-speed railway lines and hydropower stations and improve power grids. These Chinese endeavors can be a big plus for Thailand, which wants the GMS developed as an attractive market. It makes sense for Thailand to enhance its partnership with China. China has been taking a "hub-and-spokes" approach to the GMS area. It regards the broad north-south linkage, stretching from China--Yunnan Province and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region--to Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar as the "hub" of its GMS economic development. For the "spokes," China is radially extending its reach to various places that dot the region along the main linkage. For the GMS area to facilitate regional economic integration and growth, it is essential for all mainland Southeast Asian countries to be linked horizontally and strengthen their mutual economic relations.

Refugees in Thailand

Thailand is home to about 140,000 refugee and several million illegal immigrants and job seekers. Most are refugees are Karens fleeing civil strife, political upheaval and economic stagnation in Burma. They live in remote camps in Thailand near the border. At various times Thailand has provided refuge for hundreds of thousands of refugees from Cambodia. Similar numbers from Laos, tens of thousands from Vietnam have also taken shelter in Thailand.

According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): “While Thailand is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the generosity of the Royal Thai Government in hosting refugees and asylum-seekers has spanned several decades. The country currently hosts some 84,900 registered refugees and an estimated 62,000 unregistered asylum-seekers from Myanmar in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. [Source: 2013 UNHCR country operations profile - Thailand ++]

“Admission to the refugee camps in Thailand is governed by Thailand's Provincial Admissions Board, which has not been functional since 2006. However, in 2012 the Thai Government initiated a fast-track procedure that provides access to the Board for unregistered camp residents - if they are immediate family members of registered individuals already resettled or in the process of being so - to facilitate their eventual resettlement and reunion with family members. ++

“UNHCR operates in a challenging environment in Thailand characterized by inadequate protection space for many persons of concern. Thailand is at the centre of ever-larger migratory movements in the region, and hosts an estimated 2 million migrants. Such numbers can lead to a blurring of the distinction between asylum-seekers and those coming predominantly for economic reasons. Refugees and asylum-seekers living outside the camps and in urban areas are regarded as illegal migrants under immigration law and are subject to arrest, detention and/or deportation. The number of people of concern to UNHCR in detention has declined recently, as many individuals have been released on bail with NGO assistance; however, arrests continue. ++

“Although Thailand is not party to either of the statelessness conventions, amendments to the Civil Registration Act in 2008 provide for universal birth registration. This allows for the issuance of birth certificates to all children born in the country, regardless of the status of their parents, and will help prevent statelessness. Meanwhile, Government data indicates that some 506,200 people were deemed to be without a nationality, or stateless, as of December 2011. UNHCR will coordinate closely with national authorities to update these figures periodically and reflect Thailand's progress in implementing the 2012 Comprehensive Strategy to Address Problems of Irregular Migrants, under which those without nationality would undergo verification and may acquire nationality and/or have their status regularized. ++

Commenting on a report by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrant (USCRI),Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation in 2009: “Thailand is one of top destinations with over 400,000 refugees and asylum seekers. USCRI pointed out that within Asia, Thailand along with Malaysia, China, Bangladesh and India are among the worst violators of the international principles as outlined by the UN Convention on Refugees 1951. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, January 26, 2009]

“At the moment, according to unofficial statistics, Thailand is home to more than 5 million refugees, asylum seekers and illegal migrant workers and visa over-stayers in one form or another from over a dozen countries, including all bordering countries except Malaysia, and countries as far as Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, North Korea, China, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan as well as a few thousands of illegal immigrants from Western countries. Despite several improved measures to increase coordination among intra-agencies in the past, on the whole the Thai treatment of these unfortunate people still comes under fire due to the lack of consistency, compassion and cooperation with international organisations, including UNHCR and numerous humanitarian organisations. One hindrance is Thailand's continuous refusal to sign the 1951 Refugee Convention. Fear and a lack of understanding of the convention has prevented the country from joining 147 other nations that have done so.

Thai Relations with Laos

The 810-kilometer border between Thailand and Laos was still being demarcated in 2010 but was about 95 percent complete. In the 1980s, Thailand and Laos fought a brief war that grew from a territorial dispute at Baan Romklai in Phitsanulok. The Thai military suffered a painful and humilaiting defeat.

Friendship Bridges, See Places

In November 2011, Thailand and Laos opened their third Friendship Bridge over the Mekong river. The new 1.4-kilometer-long bridge connects Thailand’s northeastern province of Nakhon Phanom with Khammouan in Laos. Part of the United-Nations-backed Asian highway project, the $55-million bridge was declared open at the auspicious time of 11:11am in November 11, 2011.

The second friendship bridge—the Mukdaharn-Suvannalhet Bridge—was opened in 2007. The forth bridge, between Chiangkhing and Huayxai is expected to be completed soon.

See Laos

First Thai-Laos Rail Link Opens

In March 2009, a rail link over the Mekong river between Thailand and Laos was opened. The BBC reported: “Two passenger trains will run the 30-minute return trip each day, serving about 500 people daily. The new link adds a vital 3.5km (2.1 miles) to regional plans to link Asia by rail, ferrying goods and passengers. The UN-backed Trans-Asian Railway now has nearly 74,700km of working track serving 29 countries, and estimates for completion range from 10 to 15 years. [Source: BBC, March 5, 2009 =]

“The inauguration marked the first international rail link for Laos. A Laos foreign affairs spokesman said the railway was important for his country as it would greatly reduce export costs, as transport by lorry was only previously available. The ultimate aim was to "unlock" and transform a country with no direct access to the sea, Lao Railway Authority spokesman Sompong Pholsena told the Lao News Agency. =

“The track over the Friendship Bridge took 20 months to complete and was funded by Thailand at a cost of about 197m baht ($5.5m; £3.8m). The bridge is a key part of the region's transport development, extending road links from Singapore to China's port city of Shanghai. The new network is part of a plan conceived in the 1960s to connect Asia with a continuous railway, stretching west to Turkey and Russia, and north and east to China, Vietnam and South Korea. Decades of regional conflict and poverty have delayed the plan until recent years. =

Refugees From Laos

See Hmong, Hill Tribes

In November 2004, 150 Hmong, about half of them children, were detained for entering Thailand illegally from Laos in hopes of reaching the United States.

In July 2005, Thailand urged Laos to repatriate more than 6,000 ethnic Hmong migrants. Many the Thai government said were from Petchabun Province in Laos and had been duped into leaving Laos by human traffickers who promised they would be resettled in the United States. In August about 150 Hmong, including 90 children, went on a hunger strike, at a detention center in Thailand, saying they would rather die tan repatriated to Laos.

Thailand’s Relations with Laos the 1980s

In the late 1980s a major foreign policy goal for Thailand was the restoration of its traditionally cordial ties with Laos, strained since 1975, when Bangkok came to perceive Laos as a client state of Vietnam. In 1979 Thailand and Laos agreed to improve their relations by promoting bilateral trade and allowing free access to the Mekong River by border residents. Nonetheless, relations between Bangkok and Vientiane continued to be tense, marred by frequent shooting incidents on the Mekong. In 1981 Thailand banned 273 "strategic" commodities from export or transshipment to Laos. In mid-1984 armed clashes occurred over the status of three remote border villages. Laos raised this issue in the in Security Council, rejecting Thailand's proposal to determine the territoriality of the villages through a joint or neutral survey team. Meanwhile, one important economic link continued to be unaffected by political or security matters: Laos sold electricity to Thailand, earning as much as 75 percent of its annual foreign exchange from this transaction. [Library of Congress**]

“On the initiative of Laos, the two sides met in November 1986 to reaffirm their commitment to the 1979 accord on neighborly relations. At about the same time, Thailand began to relax its trade embargo, thereby decreasing the number of banned items to sixty-one. Apparently, this action was taken under pressure from Thai businessmen, whose exports to Laos had dropped sharply from 81 percent of the total imports of Laos in 1980 to 26 percent in 1984. Thai exports to Laos increased in 1985 and 1986, but the future of economic links between the two countries was uncertain. With Soviet assistance, the Laotians planned to complete by 1988 a major highway from Savannakhet across Laos to the Vietnamese port of Danang, thus lessening the traditional dependence of Laos on Thailand for access to the sea for foreign trade. **

Although 40,000 to 60,000 Vietnamese troops were still present on Laotian soil, Laos continued to accuse Thailand of harboring its historic ambition to dominate the region. Moreover, Vientiane accused Bangkok of being in collusion with the United States in engaging in unfriendly acts to destabilize the Laotian government. The alleged acts, along with Thai occupation of the three "Lao villages," were stated by Vientiane to be the main barriers to improvement of Laotian-Thai relations. For its part, Thailand charged that Laos was aiding the Pak Mai (New Party), a small, pro-Vietnamese, Thai communist insurgent group that had split from the Chinese-backed Communist Party of Thailand in 1979. Furthermore, Thailand accused Laos of turning a blind eye to heroin production inside Laos and of refusing to cooperate in the suppression of narcotics trafficking between Laos and Thailand. In March 1987, the Bangkok Post lamented in an editorial, "It is strange but true that the country with which Thailand has just about everything to share except ideology should happen to be one of the hardest to deal with." **

Thailand Relations with Cambodia

The Cambodian conflicts had a huge spillover affect on Thailand’s security. Thailand gave some support to the Khmer Rouge as a way of keeping Vietnam at bay.

Thailand reopened its border with Cambodia in February 2003, a week after they were closed due to anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh.

See Thaksin after the coup

Thailand’s Foreign Relations with Cambodia During the Khmer Rouge Era

In April 1975, Thailand was the first country in Southeast Asia to recognize the new regime of the communist Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh. In October the two countries agreed in principle to resume diplomatic and economic relations; the agreement was formalized in June 1976, when they also agreed to erect border markers in poorly defined border areas. [Library of Congress *]

Meanwhile, the withdrawal of all American troops from Thailand by July 1976 paved the way for the Thai-Vietnamese agreement in August on normalizing relations. In January 1978, Bangkok and Hanoi signed an accord on trade and economic and technical cooperation, agreeing also to exchange ambassadors, reopen aviation links, resolve all problems through negotiations, and consult on the question of delimiting sea boundaries. Progress toward improved relations with the Indochinese states came to an abrupt halt, however, after Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978, and in January 1979 installed in Phnom Penh a new communist regime friendly to Hanoi. [Library of Congress]

This invasion not only provoked a Chinese attack on Vietnam in February 1979 but also posed a threat to Thailand's security. Bangkok could no longer rely on Cambodia as a buffer against Vietnamese power. Bangkok was forced to assume the role of a frontline state against a resurgent communist Vietnam, which had 300,000 troops in Cambodia and Laos. The Thai government began increasing its defense capabilities. While visiting Washington in February 1979, Prime Minister Kriangsak asked for and received reassurances of military support from the United States. His government also launched a major diplomatic offensive to press for the withdrawal of all Vietnamese forces from Cambodia and for continued international recognition of Democratic Kampuchea under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime. As part of that offensive, Kriangsak also journeyed to Moscow in March 1979--the first visit ever by a Thai prime minister--to explain the Thai position on the Cambodian question and to reassure the Soviets that Thailand's anti-Vietnamese position was neither anti-Soviet nor pro-Chinese. Such reassurances were believed to be necessary in view of Vietnamese accusations that Thailand collaborated with China and the United States in aiding and abetting the Khmer Rouge forces against the Heng Samrin regime. *

The Thai offensive, backed by Bangkok's ASEAN partners, was rewarded in a United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution adopted in November 1979. The resolution called for immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces from Cambodia, asked all nations to refrain from interfering in, or staging acts of aggression against, Cambodia, and called on the in secretary general to explore the possibility of an international conference on Cambodia. *

Temple Dispute Between Thailand and Cambodia

Ties between Cambodia and Thailand have been strained since June 2008 when a border conflict broke over land surrounding the 11th century Hindu temple, Preah Vihear, after it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site at Cambodia’s insistence. The Khmer temple is owned by Cambodia but the territory around it, including the lead up to the most accessible gate, is in Thailand. The Thai-Cambodian border is matter of dispute and maps used by Thailand and Cambodia to stake their claims have a shady history.

When the conflict was it at its height both sides fired shells across the disputed border, soldiers engaged in firefights and civilians evacuated villages caught in the crossfire and perhaps purposely shelled. Thai and Cambodian troops dug trenches only a few meters apart in the area around the temple. Clashes in October 2008 left two Cambodia soldiers and one Thai soldier dead. Eleven more were killed in February 2011 and dozens were injured. Cambodia claimed that Thai troops damaged the staircase and a naga creature on the temple with rocket fire during one border exchange. The Thai government said the Thais only used rifles accused the Cambodia of using damaging rockets. By the time the conflicted simmered down in 2012, about two dozen people had been killed, scores had been wounded and thousands of civilians had fled their homes, some of which had been set afire by the cross-border shelling.

The Preah Vihear temple conflict occurred at a time when the Thai government was undergoing an upheaval and Cambodia was facing its first elections in five years. The nationalism-stirring conflict helped Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen secure a larger victory in the election than he otherwise might of but exacerbated tensions and divisions in tense, divided Thailand.

The 11th-century Preah Vihear Temple is located in the Dângrêk Mountains between the Choam Khsant district in the Preah Vihear province of northern Cambodia and the Kantharalak district (amphoe) in the Sisaket province of Northeastern Thailand. It is perched on a cliff overlooking the north Cambodia plain. See Places

Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia

During the Cold War, Vietnam was viewed as Thailand’s No.1 enemy. Thailand supported the Americans in the war. Vietnam supported the communist government in neighboring Laos and supported communist insurgents that fought inside Thailand until the 1980s. They also differed over policy in Laos and Cambodia. Now relations between the two countries are good and relatively trouble-free.

Thailand and Malaysia share a 647-kilometer border. There is a lot of smuggling between Malaysia and Thailand. Many of the people that live in southern Thailand are Muslims of Malay descent that feel closer to Malaysia than Thailand. Some residents have dual nationality.

In the 1990s Thai-Malaysian relations were relatively good as there was a strong friendship and trust between Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamed and Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leeppai, The same could not be said for the 2000s as the relationship between Malaysian leader Abdullah Badawi and Thai Prime Minister Thaksin were not that great.

Thailand is concerned that Muslim separatist in southern Thailand may seek refuge in Malaysia. In the wake of September 11th the two countries have agreed to conduct joint patrols of their borders. See Muslim South

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

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