Foreign policy and defense
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
245 000 men (2017)
The air Force
46,000 men (2017)
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.