“Bamboo Swirling in the Wind”: Thailand’s Foreign Policy Imbalance between China and the United States
- Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs
- ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
- Volume 38, Number 2, August 2016
- pp. 233-257
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This article examines Thailand’s foreign policy posture towards China and the United States since the early 2000s. It argues that Thailand increasingly faces difficulties in maintaining its time-honoured diplomatic tradition of flexibility and pragmatism. The “China factor”, together with domestic developments since the late 1990s, including the rise of nationalistic sentiment among the public and political polarization, have become important determinants in the decisionmaking process vis-à-vis Thailand’s relations with Washington and Beijing. As a result, compared to other US allies in Asia, Thailand does not always accommodate American policies but, in many circumstances, acts in favour of China instead. This policy posture is not a product of a well-planned strategy, but rather a reaction to the China factor and domestic sensitivities surrounding decision-making. This current stage of Thai foreign policy can be labelled “bamboo swirling in the wind” instead of the conventional “bending with the wind” diplomacy that tends to reflect a better-calculated strategy to balance Great Power influence.