For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Area: 513,115 sq. km. (198,114 sq. mi.); equivalent to the size of France, or slightly smaller than Texas.
Cities: Capital--Bangkok (population 9,668,854); Nakhon Ratchasima (pop. 437,386 for Muang district and 2,565,685 for the whole province), Chiang Mai (pop. 247,672 for Muang district and 1,595,855 for the whole province).
Terrain: Densely populated central plain; northeastern plateau; mountain range in the west; southern isthmus joins the land mass with Malaysia.
Climate: Tropical monsoon.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Thai.
Population (2009 est.): 67.0 million. (Data based on the Thailand National Statistic Office and the National Economic and Social Development Board.)
Labor force (2009 est.): 38.4 million.
Annual population growth rate (2009 est.): 0.5%.
Ethnic groups: Thai 89%, other 11%.
Religions: Buddhist 93%-94%, Muslim 5%-6%, Christian 1%, Hindu, Brahmin, other.
Languages: Thai (official language); English is the second language of the elite; Malay and regional languages and dialects.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Literacy--94.9% male, 90.5% female.
Health (2008 est.): Infant mortality rate--18.23/1,000. Life expectancy--70.51 years male, 75.27 years female.
Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: Thailand adopted its current constitution following an August 19, 2007 referendum.
Independence: Never colonized; traditional founding date 1238.
Branches: Executive--King (chief of state), Prime Minister (head of government). Legislative--bicameral, with a fully-elected House of Representatives and a partially-elected Senate. Judicial--composed of the Constitutional Tribunal, the Courts of Justice, and the Administrative Courts.
Administrative subdivisions: 77 provinces, including Bangkok municipality, subdivided into 877 districts, 7,255 tambon administration, and 74,944 villages.
Political parties: Multi-party system; Communist Party is prohibited.
Suffrage: Universal and compulsory at 18 years of age.
GDP (2010 prelim.): $317 billion. (Data based on the National Economic and Social Development Board)
Annual GDP growth rate (2010 prelim.): 7.8%.
Inflation rates (2010): 3.3% (headline) and 0.9% (excluding energy and food prices).
Per capita income (2010 prelim.): $4,716.
Unemployment rate (2010 prelim.): 1.0% of total labor force.
Natural resources: Tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite.
Agriculture (12% of GDP): Products--rice, tapioca, rubber, corn, sugarcane, coconuts, soybeans.
Industry: Types--tourism, textiles, garments, agricultural processing, cement, integrated circuits, jewelry, electronics, petrochemical, and auto assembly.
Trade (2010 preliminary): Merchandise exports--$188.8 billion. Products--automatic data processing machines and parts, automobiles and parts, precious stones and jewelry, refined fuels, rubber, electronic integrated circuits, polymers of ethylene and propylene, rice, iron and steel and their products, rubber products, chemical products. Major markets--ASEAN, EU, China, U.S., Japan, and Hong Kong. Merchandise imports--$175.5 billion. Products--crude oil, machinery and parts, electrical machinery and parts, chemicals, iron and steel and their products, electrical circuits panels, computers and parts, other metal ores and metal waste scrap, ships and boats and floating structure, jewelry including silver and gold. Major suppliers--Japan, ASEAN, China, the Middle East, EU, and U.S.
Thailand (previously Siam) has always been a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional society. More than 85% speak a variant of Thai and share a common culture, though there is a strong sense of regional identity and pride in many areas of Thailand. Roughly one-third of the population is in central Thailand, including Bangkok; one-third in the northeast, with significant Lao and Khmer heritage; 20% in the north; and 15% in the south. Ethnic Malay Muslims comprise a majority in the three southernmost provinces.
Central Thai is the language taught in schools and used in government. Lao, as well as “Isaan dialect”, is spoken widely in northeastern Thailand; “Gam Muang” or northern dialect is spoken in the north; and a southern Thai dialect in the mid-south. Several other Tai dialects are spoken among smaller groups, such as the Shan (Tai Yai), Lue, and Phutai.
Up to 12% of Thai are of significant Chinese heritage, but the Sino-Thai community is the best integrated in Southeast Asia. Other groups include the Khmer in border provinces with Cambodia; the Mon, who are substantially assimilated with the Thai; and the Vietnamese. Smaller mountain-dwelling tribes, such as the Hmong, Mein, and the Karen, number about 788,024.
The population is mostly rural, concentrated in the rice-growing areas of the central, northeastern, and northern regions. However, as Thailand continues to industrialize, its urban population--31.6% of total population, principally in the Bangkok area--is growing.
Thailand's highly successful government-sponsored family planning program has resulted in a dramatic decline in population growth from 3.1% in 1960 to less than 1% today. Life expectancy also has risen, a positive reflection of Thailand's public health efforts. Thailand’s model intervention programs in the 1990s also averted what could have been a major AIDS epidemic. Even so, today, approximately 1.4% of the adult population lives with HIV/AIDS.
The constitution mandates at least 12 years of free education; however, only 9 years are compulsory. In early 2009, the Abhisit administration put into effect a program to provide 15 years of free education (3 years in preschool and grades 1-12). Education accounts for approximately 18.0% of total government expenditures.
Theravada Buddhism is the major religion of Thailand, practiced by about 90% of its people. The government permits religious diversity, and other major religions are represented, with Muslim communities scattered throughout Thailand, and in larger numbers in the southern region. Spirit worship/animism and Hindu-Brahmic rituals are widely practiced.
Southeast Asia has been inhabited for more than half a million years. Archaeological studies suggest that by 4000 BC, communities in what is now Thailand had emerged as centers of early bronze metallurgy. This development, along with the cultivation of wet rice, provided the impetus for social and political organization. Research suggests that these innovations may actually have been transmitted from there to the rest of Asia, including to China.
The Thai are related linguistically to Tai groups originating in southern China. Migrations from southern China to Southeast Asia may have occurred in the 6th and 7th centuries. Malay, Mon, and Khmer civilizations flourished in the region prior to the arrival of the ethnic Tai.
The Thai traditionally date the founding of their nation to the 13th century, though kingdoms of Thai peoples existed in the north and in the south before then. According to tradition, in 1238, Thai chieftains overthrew their Khmer overlords at Sukhothai and established a Thai kingdom. After its decline, a new Thai kingdom emerged in 1350 on the Chao Praya River at Ayutthaya. At the same time, there was the equally important Tai kingdom of Lanna, centered in Chiang Mai, which for centuries rivaled Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, and still defines northern Thai identity; a southern kingdom centered in Nakhon Si Thammarat in the south also pre-dated Sukhothai.
The first ruler of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, King Rama Thibodi, made two important contributions to Thai history: the establishment and promotion of Theravada Buddhism as the official religion--to differentiate his kingdom from the neighboring Hindu kingdom of Angkor--and the compilation of the Dharmashastra, a legal code based on Hindu sources and traditional Thai custom. The Dharmashastra remained a tool of Thai law until late in the 19th century. Beginning with the Portuguese in the 16th century, Ayutthaya had some contact with the West, but until the 1800s, its relations with neighboring kingdoms and principalities, as well as with China, were of primary importance.
After more than 400 years of power, in 1767, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was brought down by invading Burmese armies and its capital burned. After a single-reign capital established at Thonburi by Taksin, a new capital city was founded in 1782, across the Chao Phraya at the site of present-day Bangkok, by the founder of the current Chakri dynasty. The first Chakri king was crowned Rama I. Rama I's heirs became increasingly concerned with the threat of European colonialism after British victories in neighboring Burma in 1826.
The first Thai recognition of Western power in the region was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United Kingdom in 1826. In 1833, the United States began diplomatic exchanges with Siam, as Thailand was called until 1938. However, it was during the later reigns of Rama IV (or King Mongkut, 1851-68), and his son Rama V (King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910), that Thailand established firm rapprochement with Western powers. The Thais believe it was the diplomatic skills of these monarchs, combined with the modernizing reforms of the governments, that made Siam the only country in South and Southeast Asia to avoid European colonization.
In 1932, a bloodless coup transformed Thailand from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) initially accepted this change but later surrendered the kingship to his 10-year-old nephew. Upon his abdication, King Prajadhipok said that the obligation of a ruler was to reign for the good of the whole people, not for a select few.
Although nominally a democracy with a constitutional monarchy after 1932, Thailand was ruled by a series of military governments interspersed with brief periods of democracy. Following the 1932 revolution that imposed constitutional limits on the monarchy, Thai politics was dominated for a half-century by the military and bureaucratic elite. Changes of government were effected primarily by means of a long series of mostly bloodless coups. Thailand was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War until Japan's defeat in 1945.
Beginning with a brief experiment in democracy during the mid-1970s (the so-called “October generation” between 1973-76), civilian democratic political institutions slowly gained greater authority, culminating in 1988 when Chatichai Choonhaven--leader of the Thai Nation Party--assumed office as the country's first democratically elected Prime Minister in more than a decade. In 1991, yet another bloodless coup ended his term. After a year-long largely civilian interim government and inconclusive elections, former army commander Suchinda Kraprayoon was appointed Prime Minister. The military violently suppressed demonstrations in May 1992, with at least 50 protesters killed. Reaction to the violence, including a televised meeting with King Bhumibol, forced Suchinda to resign, leading to new elections in September 1992.
Political parties that had opposed the military in May 1992 won by a narrow majority, and Democrat Party leader Chuan Leekpai served as Prime Minister until May 1995. The Thai Nation Party won the largest number of parliamentary seats in subsequent elections, with party leader Banharn Silpa-Archa serving as Prime Minister for little more than a year. New Aspiration Party leader Chavalit Youngchaiyudh formed a coalition government after November 1996 elections. The onset of the Asian financial crisis caused a loss of confidence in the Chavalit government, led to a new constitution, and returned Chuan Leekpai to power in November 1997.
In January 2001, telecommunications billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra and his new Thai Rak Thai (TRT) party won a decisive plurality victory on a populist platform of economic growth and development. Thaksin’s premiership was marked by a confident foreign policy, implementation of his populist policies, and accusations of anti-democratic actions, including undermining independent bodies, limiting freedom of the press, and a 2003 war on drugs which led to 1,300 unsolved murders. In February 2005, Thaksin was re-elected by an overwhelming majority, sweeping 377 out of 500 parliamentary seats for Thailand’s first-ever single-party outright electoral victory. Soon after Prime Minister Thaksin's second term began, allegations of corruption emerged against his government. Peaceful anti-government mass demonstrations grew, and hundreds of thousands marched in the streets to demand Thaksin's resignation. Prime Minister Thaksin dissolved the parliament in February 2006 and called snap elections in April. The main opposition parties boycotted the polls, and the judiciary subsequently annulled the elections.
Before new elections could be held, in September 2006 a group of top military officers overthrew the caretaker Thaksin administration in a non-violent coup d’etat, repealed the 1997 constitution, and dissolved both houses of parliament. The coup leaders promulgated an interim constitution and appointed Surayud Chulanont as interim Prime Minister. In a national referendum in August 2007, a majority of Thai voters approved a new constitution drafted by an assembly appointed by the coup leaders. The interim government held multi-party elections under provisions of the new constitution in December 2007, and the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party (PPP) won a plurality of 233 of the 480 seats in the lower house of parliament. PPP leader Samak Sundaravej formed a coalition government and formally took office as Prime Minister in February 2008.
Samak was forced from office in September 2008 by a Constitutional Court ruling that he had violated the constitution’s conflict of interest provisions by hosting a televised cooking show. His successor, Somchai Wongsawat, PPP leader and brother-in-law of former Prime Minister Thaksin, also was forced from office by the Constitutional Court when it dissolved the PPP and two other coalition parties on December 2, 2008 for election law violations in the December 2007 elections. A split among ex-PPP members of parliament paved the way for parliament’s election of Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva as Prime Minister on December 15, 2008.
Efforts by the two PPP leaders to amend the 2007 constitution and provide amnesty to banned politicians, including ex-Prime Minister Thaksin, led to a renewal of street protests in mid-2008, some of which resulted in violence between security forces and protesters and between pro- and anti-government demonstrators. In 2008, anti-government “yellow-shirt” protesters occupied Government House from late August until early December; blockaded parliament in October; and occupied and forced the closure of Bangkok’s airports for several days in late November through early December. “Red-shirt” protests against the Abhisit government commenced in early 2009, leading to the disruption of a major Asian summit in Pattaya and riots in Bangkok in April 2009.
The “red-shirts” continued to hold short demonstrations through 2009 and into 2010 and intensified their protests on March 12, 2010, 2 weeks after the Supreme Court ruled that the government seize $1.4 billion of Thaksin’s assets. Demonstrators occupied an area near Democracy Monument and Government House; a few weeks later they established a second protest site in the heart of Bangkok’s shopping district. The tense standoff between government security forces and protesters came to a head on April 10; 25 people were killed in street clashes, 5 of them security personnel. The protesters subsequently consolidated their presence around the Ratchaprasong intersection in central Bangkok, effectively shutting down the commercial heart of the city.
Government efforts to negotiate a settlement with “red-shirt” leaders ultimately failed, and on May 14 troops began to seal off the protest site. A week of street battles ensued, climaxing on May 19 when the “red-shirt” leaders surrendered to police and in the aftermath several buildings, including Thailand’s largest shopping mall, were torched by elements of the “red-shirt” demonstrators. Protesters also set fire to government offices in several provinces. Ninety-two people were killed and over 1,800 injured during the 2-month protest. Roughly half of the "red-shirt" leaders were arrested or surrendered, with others fleeing abroad, presumed to be hiding in Cambodia. “Red-shirt” protests continued at regular intervals throughout the rest of 2010, though none approached the violence seen in the first half of the year.
Thailand's southern border provinces have long been host to an ethno-nationalist Malay Muslim separatist movement rallying around a regional “Patani” identity. Since 2004, separatists have conducted an increasingly violent insurgency in the provinces of Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani, and Songkhla against symbols and representatives of central government authority, as well as against civilians, both Buddhist and Muslim, which has resulted in thousands of deaths.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy. From 1992 and until the 2006 coup, the country was considered a functioning democracy with constitutional changes of government. Generally free and fair multi-party elections held in December 2007 subsequently restored democratic governance 1 year after the coup. The King has little direct power under Thailand's constitutions but is a symbol of national identity and unity. King Bhumibol (Rama IX)--who has been on the throne since 1946--commands enormous popular respect and moral authority, which he has used on occasion to resolve political crises that have threatened national stability.
Under the 2007 constitution, the National Assembly consists of two chambers--the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Senate is a non-partisan body with 150 members, 76 of whom are directly elected (one per province). The remaining 74 are appointed by a panel comprised of judges and senior independent officials from a list of candidates compiled by the Election Commission. The House has 480 members, 400 of whom are directly elected from constituent districts and the remainder drawn proportionally from party lists. Constitutional amendments that would change the number and manner of election of House members were under consideration as of January 2011, in anticipation of elections later in 2011.
Thailand's legal system blends principles of traditional Thai and Western laws. Under the constitution, the Constitutional Court is the highest court of appeals, though its jurisdiction is limited to clearly defined constitutional issues. Its members are nominated by a committee of judges, leaders in parliament, and senior independent officials, whose nominees are confirmed by the Senate and appointed by the King. The Courts of Justice have jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases and are organized in three tiers: Courts of First Instance, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Justice. Administrative courts have jurisdiction over suits between private parties and the government, and cases in which one government entity is suing another. In Thailand's southern border provinces, where Muslims constitute the majority of the population, Provincial Islamic Committees have limited jurisdiction over probate, family, marriage, and divorce cases.
Thailand's 77 provinces include the metropolis of greater Bangkok. Bangkok's governor is popularly elected, but those of the remaining provinces are career civil servants appointed by the Ministry of Interior.
Principal Government Officials
Chief of State--King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Prime Minister--Abhisit Vejjajiva
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Kasit Piromya
Ambassador to the U.S.--Kittiphong Na Ranong
Ambassador to the UN--Norachit Sinhaseni
Thailand maintains an embassy in the United States at 1024 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Washington DC 20007 (tel. 202-944-3600). Consulates are located in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
The Thai economy is export-dependent, with exports of goods and services equivalent to nearly 70% of GDP in 2010. Thailand's recovery from the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis (which brought a double-digit drop in GDP) relied largely on external demand from the United States and other foreign markets. From 2001-2006, the administration of former Prime Minister Thaksin embraced a "dual track" economic policy that combined domestic stimulus programs with Thailand's traditional promotion of open markets and foreign investment. Real GDP growth strengthened sharply from 2.2% in 2001 to 7.1% in 2003 and 6.3% in 2004. In 2005-2007, economic expansion moderated, averaging 4.9% real GDP growth, due to domestic political uncertainty, rising violence in Thailand's three southernmost provinces, and repercussions from the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. Thailand's economy in 2007 relied heavily on resilient export growth (at an 18.2% annual rate), particularly in the automobile, petrochemicals, and electronics sectors.
Political uncertainty and the global financial crisis in 2008 weakened Thailand’s economic growth by reducing domestic and international demand for both its goods and services (including tourism). Due to minimum exposure to toxic assets, Thai banks experienced limited direct impact from the global financial crisis. Nonetheless, Thai economic growth slowed to 2.5% in 2008, with fourth-quarter growth dropping below zero. In 2009, the contraction continued. Over the first three quarters, GDP contracted by 5.0% year-on-year on average and hit bottom in the first quarter. To offset weak external demand and to shore up confidence, the Abhisit administration introduced two non-budgetary stimulus packages worth $43.4 billion focusing on key sectors such as mass transit and transportation, irrigation, education, public health, and energy. The Thai economy reversed to positive growth in the fourth quarter (5.9% year-on-year), improving the 2009 full-year average to minus 2.3% year-on-year.
In the first quarter of 2010, the Thai economy surged by 12.0% year-on-year, the highest quarterly growth since 1995. The uptick was mostly due to strong exports (up 32%) from continued global recovery; despite the March-May political protests in Bangkok, growth continued through the second and third quarter of the year. The Thai economy expanded by 9.3% (year-on-year) during the first three quarters of 2010, the second-strongest performance in Southeast Asia, second only to Singapore. The government estimated nearly 8% growth (year-on-year) for full-year 2010 and expects growth to continue into 2011, but at a lower rate (3%-5%). Growth in 2011 is expected to be driven by exports and also domestic demand. Political risk related to the anticipated 2011 general elections, continued appreciation of the baht, and the uncertainties of Thailand’s major trading partners’ economic recovery also could affect the economy. Inflation is expected to gradually climb from the 2010 level (3.3%) to between 3% and 5%, due in large part to higher world commodity prices.
The Royal Thai Government welcomes foreign investment, and investors who are willing to meet certain requirements can apply for special investment privileges through the Board of Investment. U.S. investors may qualify for additional privileges under the Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations. To attract additional foreign investment, the government of Prime Minister Abhisit has promised to look for ways to expand investment opportunities, focusing more on green technology/manufacturers.
The organized labor movement remains weak and divided in Thailand. Less than 2% of the total work force is unionized, although nearly 10% of industrial workers and more than 59% of state enterprise workers are unionized. In 2009, efforts to restructure the State Railway authority met resistance from the powerful railways union, including a short strike that halted trains nationwide, showing that organized labor still has potential political clout. As a result of the global financial crisis and business restructuring, employers hired large numbers of short-term contract workers. While employers claimed to have done this in order to maintain business flexibility for greater competitiveness during financially uncertain times, labor advocates viewed these actions as reducing job security and attempts to weaken the organized labor movement.
Roughly 40% of Thailand's labor force is employed in agriculture, although agriculture accounts for only 12% of GDP (data based on the Thai National Statistics Office.) Rice is the country's most important crop; Thailand is the largest exporter in the world rice market. Other agricultural commodities produced in significant amounts include fish and fishery products, tapioca, rubber, corn, and sugar. Exports of processed foods such as canned tuna, canned pineapples, and frozen shrimp are also significant.
Thailand's increasingly diversified manufacturing sector is the largest contributor to growth. Industries registering rapid increases in production have included computers and electronics, furniture, wood products, canned food, toys, plastic products, gems, and jewelry. High-technology products such as integrated circuits and parts, hard disc drives, electrical appliances, vehicles, and vehicle parts are now leading Thailand's growth in exports. With stronger exports and a rise in inflationary pressure, the Bank of Thailand started to tighten its monetary policy in mid-July 2010 after having followed a low interest rate policy since April 2009. Large surpluses in both the current and capital accounts contributed to the Thai baht's appreciation relative to the dollar throughout 2009 and 2010. Machinery and parts, vehicles, electronic integrated circuits, chemicals, crude oil and fuels, and iron and steel are among Thailand's principal imports.
Through 2010, the United States was Thailand's third-largest single-country export market after China and Japan, and the third-largest supplier after Japan and China. Thailand's traditional major markets have been the United States, Japan, Europe, and ASEAN member countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam). Growing export markets include China, Hong Kong, Australia, the Middle East, South Africa, and India. Due to the global economic recovery, Thai exports in 2010 surged by 25.1% from 2009. Thailand is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters.
Tourism contributes significantly to the Thai economy (approximately 6%). The tourism industry began to recover in the last quarter of 2009, but the protests in Bangkok in April and May 2010 drove away some foreign tourists. The heavy floods during October and November and the strong Thai baht had minimal impacts on the industry. Tourism from January to November was on average 12.7% higher than 2009 levels.
Bangkok and its environs are the most prosperous part of Thailand, and the seasonally barren northeast is the poorest. An overriding concern of successive Thai governments has been to reduce these regional income differentials, which have been exacerbated by rapid economic growth in and around Bangkok. The government has tried to stimulate provincial economic growth with programs such as the Eastern Seaboard project and various populist and crop price support policies.
Although the economy has demonstrated moderate positive growth in recent years, future performance depends on moving up on the value-added ladder away from low-wage industries where regional competition is growing. Key reforms are needed to open the financial sector; improve the foreign investment climate, including updating telecommunications capabilities; and stimulate domestic investment and consumption to balance reliance on exports. Logistics networks and electricity generation increasingly run the risk of bottlenecks and may pose a challenge to growth. Thailand's relative shortage of engineers and skilled technical personnel may limit its future technological creativity and productivity, even as the government is pushing for an increase in the proportion that creative industries contribute to GDP from 12% to 20% by 2015.
Thailand's foreign policy includes a close and longstanding security relationship with the United States. It also strongly supports ASEAN's efforts to promote economic development, social integration, and stability throughout the region. Relations with China are steadily increasing across the board. Thailand served as the chair of ASEAN from July 2008 to December 2009 and served as host to the ASEAN Summit (heads of government meeting) in February 2009, as well as the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, Post Ministerial Conference, and Regional Forum in July 2009. At the July 2009 meeting in Phuket, the United States acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN.
Thailand participates fully in international and regional organizations. It has developed increasingly close ties with other ASEAN members--Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Burma, and Vietnam--whose foreign and economic ministers hold annual meetings. Regional cooperation is progressing in economic, trade, banking, political, and cultural matters.
On the international stage, Thailand contributed troops and UN force commanders to the international peacekeeping effort in East Timor; in late 2010, it sent naval ships to the anti-piracy task force off the coast of Somalia and troops to the UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur. As part of its effort to increase international ties, Thailand has reached out to such regional organizations as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Thailand has contributed troops to reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. In May 2010 Thailand was chosen to serve on the UN Human Rights Council for a 3-year term; in June 2010 Thailand was elected as chair of that body for 1 year.
On March 20, 1833, the United States and Thailand, then Siam, signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, the United States’ first treaty with a country in Asia.
Since World War II, the United States and Thailand have significantly expanded diplomatic and commercial relations, as reflected in several bilateral treaties and by both countries' participation in UN multilateral activities and agreements. Thailand and the U.S. became treaty allies in 1954 (Manila Pact). The 1966 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, the most recent iteration of the 1833 Treaty of Amity and Commerce, is the principal bilateral arrangement; the 1966 treaty facilitates U.S. and Thai companies' economic access to one another's markets. Other important agreements address civil uses of atomic energy, sales of agricultural commodities, investment guarantees, and military and economic assistance. In June 2004, the United States and Thailand initiated negotiations on a free trade agreement but these negotiations were suspended in September 2006 following the military-led coup against the government of then-Prime Minister Thaksin.
The United States and Thailand are among the signatories of the 1954 Manila Pact of the former Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). Article IV(1) of this treaty provides that, in the event of armed attack in the treaty area (which includes Thailand), each member would "act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes." Despite the dissolution of the SEATO in 1977, the Manila Pact remains in force and, together with the Thanat-Rusk communique of 1962, constitutes the basis of U.S. security commitments to Thailand. Thailand continues to be a key security ally in Asia, along with Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea. In December 2003, Thailand was designated a Major Non-NATO Ally.
Thailand's stability and growth are important to the maintenance of peace in the region. The Thai-U.S. Creative Partnership proposed during 2010 will build on existing public-private and intergovernmental relationships, seeking to emphasize innovative industry and to identify new opportunities for collaborative ingenuity between the two countries. In alignment with the Thai Government’s Creative Economy policies, this formal partnership effort intends to spur increased productivity while re-emphasizing the beneficial aspects of American presence in Thailand. Economic assistance has been extended in various fields, including rural development, health, family planning, education, and science and technology. The formal U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) bilateral program, ended in 1995, was rejuvenated in 2010. There are also a number of targeted assistance programs which continue in areas of mutually defined importance, including: health and HIV/AIDS programming, civil society capacity-building, reconciliation efforts in southern Thailand, refugee assistance, and combating trafficking in persons. The U.S. Peace Corps in Thailand began operating in 1962 and has had over 5,000 volunteers since that time. Peace Corps currently has approximately 100 volunteers in country, focused on primary education, with an integrated program involving teacher training, health education, and environmental education. In late 2003, the Peace Corps also established an organizational development program aimed at promoting sustainable rural development in Thai communities. The United States and Thailand, through programs with USAID, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medial Sciences (AFRIMS), cooperate closely on a range of public health initiatives, including efforts to fight malaria, tuberculosis, dengue, HIV/AIDS, and avian/pandemic influenza.
Thailand has received U.S. military equipment, essential supplies, training, and assistance in the construction and improvement of facilities and installations for much of the period since 1950; since then more Thai have been trained under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program than any other country. Over recent decades, U.S. security assistance included military training programs carried out in the United States and elsewhere. A small U.S. military advisory group in Thailand oversaw the delivery of equipment to the Thai Armed Forces and the training of Thai military personnel in its use and maintenance. As part of the mutual defense cooperation over the last 3 decades, Thailand and the United States have developed a vigorous joint military exercise program, which engages all the services of each nation and averages 40 joint exercises per year.
Thailand and the U.S. have longstanding cooperation in international law enforcement efforts. The large-scale production and shipment of opium and heroin shipments from Burma of previous years have largely been replaced by widespread smuggling of methamphetamine tablets, although heroin is still seized along the border. The United States and Thailand continue to work closely together and with the United Nations on a broad range of programs to halt illicit drug trafficking and other criminal activity, such as trafficking in persons. Thailand cooperates fully in efforts to return felons fleeing justice to the U.S. In addition to bilateral civil law enforcement and security capacity-building through the Transnational Crime Affairs Section and the Regional Security Office, the U.S. supports the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Bangkok, which provides counter-narcotics and anti-crime capacity-building programs to law enforcement and judicial officials from a number of regional countries.
Trade and Investment
The United States is Thailand's third-largest single-country trading partner after Japan and China; from January to November 2010, merchandise imports from Thailand totaled $20.7 billion, and merchandise exports totaled $8.1 billion, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, the U.S., and the European Union are Thailand's largest foreign investors. U.S. investment, concentrated in the petroleum and chemicals, finance, consumer products, computer components, and automobile production sectors, is estimated by the American Chamber of Commerce at over $35 billion.
Many U.S. businesses enjoy investment benefits through the U.S.-Thailand Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations (AER), originally signed in 1833. The 1966 iteration of the treaty allows U.S. citizens and businesses incorporated in the U.S., or in Thailand that are majority-owned by U.S. citizens, to engage in business on the same basis as Thai companies, exempting them from most of the restrictions on foreign investment imposed by the Foreign Business Act. Under the treaty, Thailand restricts American investment only in the fields of communications, transport, fiduciary functions, banking involving depository functions, the exploitation of land or other natural resources, and domestic trade in agricultural products. Notwithstanding their treaty rights, many Americans choose to form joint ventures with Thai partners, allowing the Thai side to hold the majority stake because of the advantages that come from familiarity with the Thai economy and local regulations. In recent decades, Thailand has been a major destination for foreign direct investment, and hundreds of U.S. companies have operated there successfully.
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Kristie A. Kenney
Deputy Chief of Mission--Judith B. Cefkin
Management Counselor--Gregory Stanford
Political Affairs Counselor--George Kent
Economic Affairs Counselor--Julie Chung
Public Affairs Counselor--Kenneth Foster
Consul General--Ronald Robinson
Commercial Counselor--Cynthia Griffin
Chiang Mai Consul General--Susan Stevenson
The U.S. Embassy in Thailand is located at 120/22 Wireless Road, Bangkok (tel. 66-2-205-4000). There is a Consulate General in Chiang Mai, 387 Wichayanond Road (tel. 66-53-107-700).