Статья 'Political cooperation between Thailand and Russia: current trends and problems<br>' - журнал 'World Politics' - NotaBene.ru
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World Politics

Political cooperation between Thailand and Russia: current trends and problems

Poungchingngam Katima

Postgraduate at the International Relations Faculty of St Petersburg University

191060, Russia, Leningradskaya oblast', g. Saint Petersburg, ul. Smol'nogo, 1/3, pod''ezd № 8

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Abstract: The author studies such aspects of the topic as political cooperation between Thailand and Russia from 2014 till present. The concepts of national interests, the balance of power and neoliberalism are used as the analytical framework of the study. The current bilateral cooperation has positive dynamics in the political field which is demonstrated by the visits of the heads of government since 2015. These visits have led to the development of cooperation for the both countries in all aspects and dimensions. However, the political leverage hasn’t achieved the optimum level, and the cooperation between the two states faces particular problems. The author outlines some of them: first of all, political instability in Thailand affects cooperation. Several transformations in the government of Thailand, which had taken place from 2006 till 2014, as well as domestic problems caused by the coup, have affected the foreign policy of the country. The author arrives at the conclusion that the main factors, influencing Thailand-Russia relations, are the political and diplomatic mechanisms. High-level visits and bilateral discussions help deepen and strengthen the connections between the two states. Nevertheless, these relations will not progress if Thailand fails to solve its domestic problems.   


Thailand, Russia, Political Cooperation, Political Instability, Great Powers, Coup d’état, The United States, China, Problems, Visits


To proceed the relations with other states, Thailand usually pursues it by using the diplomatic mechanism as the main mechanism to help initiate and proceed with the relations such as the head of government's diplomatic visits, and the negotiation made between the leaders and ministers at the conference and international organization's forums. Moreover, the government also encourages international interaction between the private sectors and citizens.

One of Thailand's foreign policies is to initiate international cooperation with the great powers, including the United States, China, and Japan as they are influential in the Southeast Asian region. Russia is also one of the countries that Thailand has placed an interest in after the changes of international affairs that occurred after the Cold War. Although Thailand had already initiated the diplomatic relation for a long period with Russia, it had not proceeded smoothly and continuously. Thailand re-attempted to build relations with Russia in the 1990's when there was no political ideology conflict between them, and all states began to seek more cooperation and the partnership by both countries paying the diplomatic visits and initiating the Joint Thai-Russian Commission on Bilateral Cooperation. However, there was not much progress regarding the dynamic interaction as both countries were still facing the states' economic crisis. At the beginning of the 2000's, Thailand began to negotiate and proceed to the cooperation with Russia in many aspects when the state's leader ascended to the position with a goal to initiate international cooperation. Nonetheless, after the coup d’état occurred since 2006, the government prioritized the domestic affairs and sought to be internationally accepted due to the political instability from the frequent change of the political leader position. Hence, Thailand chose to interact with the United States and placed the interest in the powerful neighbor country, which is China. Consequently, the country was not in a rush to work on the cooperation with Russia, unlike in the early 2000's. In 2014, the domestically political conflicts had led to the coup d’état and the severance. The United States and The European Union expressed their concern regarding the situation, suspended ties, and demanded the return of democracy in Thailand.

After the coup d’état, great powers like the United States and the European Union's members suspended ties with Thailand. Yet, Russia, as one of the major powers, was still in touch with the state. From the diplomatic visit of the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev to Thailand in 2015 and of the Prime Minister of Thailand General Prayut Chan-O-Cha to Russia in 2016 to the discussion occurred at the conferences and visits from both sides, it was evident that Russia approached Thailand when the country was politically isolated. In addition, Russia proposed a new cooperation initiative, which was Thailand-Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement. Thailand expressed a strong interest in participating and invited Russia to join the Eastern Economic Corridor, the new special economic zone of Thailand. Nonetheless, the Thailand-Russian cooperation was not empirically successful due to other problems that both countries faced that obstructed the evolution of the relations although they were not involved in political conflicts with each other.

Accordingly, the author was interested in studying and improving the political cooperation between Thailand and Russia from 2014 until the present and analyzing both the internal and external factors; for example, the influence of the major powers that affects Thailand and the Russia-Thailand cooperation by applying the national interest and the concept of balance of power and neoliberalism as the framework for the analysis.

The Historical Relations

The diplomatic relations between the kingdom of Thailand and the Russian Federation have been proceeding for more than 123 years (2020 A.D.). Nevertheless, the relations between both parties bogged down due to the dissolution of Russian Empire in 1917. After the situations in both countries were back to normal, Thailand and the Soviet Union initiated diplomatic relations in 1939 and succeeded on March 12, 1941. Though, the relations were disregarded in the cold war era due to the differences in terms of political ideology.

Nonetheless, Thailand continued the relations with the Soviet Union; especially when the US troops left South Vietnam. Thailand began to prioritize the communist countries, including the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union, by proceeding with the policy that balanced out the power of Russia, the United States, and China. Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, both states' leaders had initiated the relations in the modern era, and it officially proceeded after that. After the end of the Cold war, the atmosphere between the states started to change. The political ideology, which once was the cause of the global conflict, began to alleviate. Trust-building and economic cooperation became crucial matters after the Cold War, as well as the Thailand-Russian relations. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Thailand recognized the Russian Federation as the independent state that inherited the status from the Soviet Union.

After the Soviet Union's dissolution, Thailand continued the relationship with Russia by using the prime minister as the political mechanism. For example, the official visit to Russia in 2002, which happened the era of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from the year 2002 - 2005, could be considered as an attempt to initiate the cooperation with Russia in terms of the assurance of stability, trade, investment, tourism, science, and technology that had led to the agreements of various fields between countries. Nevertheless, the coup d’état that happened forced the government reform to happen, which took approximately one year. The new military government ascended to power and the administration only followed the general policy. It was the time when international affairs were stagnant that it had affected the dynamic interaction between Thailand and Russia since the coup d’état in 2006. The political problem in Thailand is the lack of political stability due to the frequent changes of the government's leader. In terms of international affairs, only the general policy was proceeded without initiating the new ones; nevertheless, the problem was not resolved, and the country had faced the political instability issue that led to the political instability in 2014. Thailand had also faced the issue of the international affair, which was the restraint in international relations from the western countries that affected the internal affairs and the status of the Thailand internationally. Though, this coup d’état was different because of the official visit of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to Thailand in 2015 that caused Thailand to have more options in terms of proceeding the international relations.

Thailand-Russia Relations From 2014 Until the Present

Before the coup d’état occurred on May 22nd, 2014, it was planned that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra would be visiting Russia on December 8–9, 2013; however, due to domestic political issues, the visit was postponed. The delay affected the schedules and caused the Russian businessmen, who had expressed their interest in participating in the discussion at the forums, to lose interest.[1]

Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha ascended to power due to the coup d’état and stayed in the position until the general election held between August 2014 -March 2019. Although the government did not come from the election, proceeding the international relations was still crucial in order to preserve the nation's interests; especially, as the military government was seeking acceptance from the major powers, Russia was one of the countries that Thailand attempted to bond with since the country was different from the United States and the European Union that had expressed the impenetrability of the Thai government. Starting in 2015, Thailand and Russia initiated their cooperation in the matters of agriculture, energy, investment, stability, and academic exchange. On January 9, 2015, the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation Denis Mantunov visited Thailand as a guest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as the co-chairman of the 6th Session of the Joint Thai-Russian Commission on Bilateral Cooperation. Both sides managed the preparation for the 6th Session of the Joint Thai-Russian Commission on Bilateral Cooperation and agreed to hold the celebration of the 120 years anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Thailand.[2]

The important incident of the political relations of both countries occurred on April 7– 8, 2015 as Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev had accepted the invitation from Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha and visited Thailand as guest of the Thai government for the purpose of strengthening Thailand-Russian relations and expanding the cooperation in different dimensions based on mutual benefits. It was the first time that Prime Minister of the Russian Federation officially visited Thailand in 25 years, and it was after the ASEAN Summit held in Myanmar on November 12– 13, 2014.[3] The result of the visit was the success of signing 5 agreements between the governments. Moreover, there were 5 more agreements signed by the Thai and Russian private sectors; the context covered the subjects of economy, investment, and society and culture. Russia also proposed the Thailand-Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement to Prime Minister of Thailand.

On the July 14– 16, 2015, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs General Thanasak Patimaprakorn officially visited the Russian Federation and discussed with Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation Denis Mantunov regarding the support for the cooperation in terms of economy, trade, and investment. On the same day, General Thanasak Patimaprakorn was also the co-chairman with Denis Mantunov at the 6th Session of the Joint Thai-Russian Commission on Bilateral Cooperation. The subject discussed was the result from the previous session in April 2015, in which both Prime Ministers had assigned the matter to be discussed in the Joint Thai-Russian Commission on Bilateral Cooperation. Thailand suggested that Russia should slacken the regulations and related processes to support the agricultural products and food imports from Thailand. In the aspect of the facilitation for trade and investment, Thailand invited Russian to invest in the Rubber Cities project and other projects for the purpose of the infrastructure development of the railway system. [4, p. 73] In addition, General Thanasak Patimaprakorn had a discussion with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov on July 16, 2015 about the celebration of the 120 years anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Thailand and Russia in 2017. They also discussed the readiness to cooperate as a stockholder and to host the 2nd security forum, and the continuity of the deliberation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from both countries. [5]

Prime Minister of Thailand General Prayut Chan-O-Cha accepted the invitation from Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev and visited Russia on May 17-19,2016, which was the first official visit of Prime Minister of Thailand in 11 years. He also accepted the invitation from Vladimir Putin to participate in the ASEAN-Russia Commemorative Summit on May 19–20, 2016 in order to strengthen the relations and cooperation concretely and thoroughly. As a result, both parties agreed to hold the celebration of 120 years Thailand-Russia Relations. In terms of trade and investment, Russia was in full support of the Thailand-Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement; in addition, Russia would support Thailand in terms of building the factory for processing the agricultural goods and other products manufactured by the advanced technology in Russia. [6]

On July 14, 2017, Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai and Ambassador of the Russian Federation Kirill Barsky joined the opening of the celebration of 120 anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Thailand in 2017 at Siam Paragon. The event was composed of the variety of interesting activities such as the exhibition devoted to the 120th anniversary of the Russia-Thailand relations, booth exhibition, the distribution of 120 anniversary of diplomatic relations between Thailand and Russia commemorative stamps, books, food, Russian souvenirs, cultural performances, and academic forums. [7]

On August 9–10, 2017, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov visited Thailand on August 10, 2017 and had a bilateral discussion with Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand. Throughout the discussion, both parties followed up with the results from the Prime Minister's visit to the Russian Federation in May 2016, and discussed other important matters; including the invitation for Russia to invest in the S-Curve industry that Russia was specialized in; for example, space industry, digital technology, and robots in order to support the Thailand 4.0 policy, particularly to invest in the Eastern Economic Corridor, to use the strategic location of Thailand in the ASEAN market, and to speed up the process of the Thailand-Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement. [8]

On September 5, 2017, Prime Minister of Thailand had a discussion with President of the Russian Federation at the BRICS summit and the Emerging Markets and Developing Countries Dialogue (EMDCD) at Xiamen, the People's Republic of China, about the solutions to improve the relations and cooperation between Thailand and the Russian Federation to become closer. Beyond that, Prime Minister suggested that Russia should increase the number of agricultural product imports from Thailand. In addition, he invited Russia to invest in the Eastern Economic Corridor and the S-Curve industry that Russia was specialized in along with the potential of Thailand as the connectivity center of ASEAN. [9] It was clear that in 2017, both countries had been discussing the same subject; hence, they brought it up when both leaders encountered each other at the international forum to let both sides fasten up the process of the matter.

On December 27, 2018, the 7 Session of the Joint Thai-Russian Commission on Bilateral Cooperation was held by and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Minister of Foreign Affairs was the chairman together with Minister of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation. Both parties discussed the important matters, including increasing the number of food and agricultural product imports from Thailand as Thailand was ready to provide food stability for Russia, sending the expertise team to inspect the livestock, poultry, and fishery product manufacturing factories, and inviting Russia to invest in the Eastern Economic Corridor and to become a development partner of ACMECS. Russia expressed interest in the Eastern Economic Corridor, especially in the aircraft, digital technology, infrastructure of the railway system, and information technology. They both agreed on supporting the cooperation to enhance the economy through the exchange and visits from the private sector, the forums and business matching between businesses from both countries, the use of local currency, the enhancement of the number of tourists, the study of the possibility in using credit cards from Russian banks, the investment, and the cooperation in terms of energy and medical supplies. [10]

On February 7–8, 2019, Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai officially visited the Russian Federation. Both countries discussed the solutions to support the matters in various dimensions, for example, the cooperation in terms of energy, trade, transportation, and industry. These also included security threats and military cooperation. On multilateral matters, Russia had assured its cooperation with Thailand and ASEAN and expressed interest in the sustainable development issue that would help with regional stability. Both parties also signed the 4th Plan of Consultations (2019 - 2021) between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand and the Russian Federation to support the cooperation between both sides in all dimensions. Thailand, as well, requested that Russia speed up the initial process of the negotiation for the Thailand-Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement. [11]

On July 30, 2019, Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai had discussed with Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov on his official visit to Thailand. They had also expressed the satisfaction with the operation progress in different aspects in the past 6 months; for example, the 10th session of the military's support committee, the purchasing of 2 Kamov Rescue Helicopters from Russia, and the agreed minutes between the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the Corruption Prevention of the Administration of the President of Russia. Both representatives agreed on the need to speed up the process of holding a meeting of the committee, the subcommittee, and the working teams in the related fields within this year, such as trade and economy, finance, tourism, energy, and environment. They also suggested including science and technology for educational stability and congratulated the 2nd Thai-Russia Business Forum that would be held on August 15, 2019, and the Forum on Digital Cooperation on September 19–21, 2019 in Thailand. [12]

On November 3, 2019, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha had discussed with Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev during the 35th ASEAN Summit and other related ASEAN Summits to strengthen the relations and increase the cooperation between two nations in terms of economy, energy, stability, science, and innovation. [13]

The Russia-Thailand relations after the coup d’état evolved around the consistent diplomatic visits between nations’ leaders and high-ranking officers from 2015 until 2019, and the meetings were held to discuss the cooperation in different dimensions and the agreement signing between the government sector and private sector. The important factors that pushed Thailand to proceed with the relationships with the Russian Federation were the counteraction from the United States and the European Unions, which was the announcement and the policy implementation directed to Thailand. The relations between Thailand and Russia continued after the coup d’état in 2006 and before the 2014 coup d’état, yet, it did not have any dynamic improvement and had not extended from the cooperation that was established since the Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra period. It is fair to say that the modern Thailand- Russian relations were supported by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra; nonetheless, they had not improved after 2006 under the new government. Nevertheless, the military government learned from the past coup d’état when the government only focused on domestic matters that caused them to neglect the proactive approach for international relations and lost the leading role in the ASEAN region. Since the 2014 coup d’état, Thailand had been greatly pressured by the western and the alliance. Consequently, the nation turned to proceed to the relations with other major powers to alleviate the pressure and to seek international acceptance. Although Russia was one of the countries that Thailand would like to proceed the relationships with, China was also the target for its strong influence in the Asian region and also the United States since it had always maintained the influence in this region through the bilateral cooperation with the alliance and the cooperation framework between countries in the region. In the following part of the article, the factors that influenced the relations between Thailand and Russia after the coup d’état will be taken to consideration. It includes domestic factors and the great powers, which are China and the United States, with the influence that has prevented Russia-Thailand relations' empirical development to become equal to the relations Thailand has with these two countries.

Political Instability in Thailand

The most recent Thai coup d’état occurred on May 22, 2014, which caused the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army General Prayut Chan-O-Cha to ascend to the Acting Prime Minister position and officially became Prime Minister on August 25, 2014. The election of members of the house of representative was held on March 24, 2019, and General Prayut Chan-O-Cha won the parliament's votes to become Prime Minister, which indicates that he has been in the position from August 2014 until the present. Before the coup d’état led by the General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, there was another coup d’état happened on September 19, 2006 by the Council of National Security led by the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Thai Army General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who overthrew the elected government under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In the era of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand-Russian relations had been proceeding dynamically and there was the cooperation initiated in various aspects, proven by the agreements and the visits between the government's leaders, high-ranking officers, and the Royal Family's members.

After the 2006 coup d’état, there had been many changes in terms of the political leaders because of the domestic political situation, including General Surayud Chulanont (November 2006 – October 2007), Samak Sundaravej (January 29, 2008 – September 9, 2008), Somchai Wongsawat (September 2008 – December 2008), Abhisit Vejjajiva (December 2009 – August 2011), Yingluck Shinawatra (August 2011 – May 2014). After that, the military government was in power. After that, the government was elected but the coup d’état leader was still influential.

In the term of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, the policy-operating results in the aspect of Thailand-Russia relations showed that Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation officially visited Thailand in July 2009, and on November 27, 2009, the 4th Thai-Russian Joint Commission was co-chaired by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister of Russia in Bangkok. Both chairmen had signed the action plan in order to support Thailand-Russian relations in 2010-2014 and witnessed the signing of the cooperation agreement between the Thai-Russian Business Council and the Russian-Thai Business Council, and the agreement of documents between the Export-Import Bank of Thailand (Exim Bank) and Vneshtorgbank of Russia. [14, p. 71-72] It could be observed that there was no agreement made between the Thai government and the Russian government, only the memorandum of agreement for the private sector. Furthermore, there was a conflict that affected the Thailand-Russian relations in the period of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for the case of extradition. Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer was extradited to the United States due to the court order with the approval from the Council of Ministers of Thailand as he was convicted of 3 crimes by the United States, including conspiracy to kill the Americans and the United States nationals, conspiracy to acquire and use anti-aircraft missiles and the conspiracy to support the foreign terrorist organization. [15] Accordingly, Russia had expressed discontentment and stated that the United States had pressured Thailand for the extradition. This case shows how Thailand struggles with balancing the power between the United States and Russia, especially when the two powerhouses are involved in the conflicts occurred in Thailand.

In the term of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the official visit to Russian Federation on December 8-9, 2013 was postponed due to domestic political issues. The delay affected the schedules and caused the Russian businessmen, who had expressed their interest in participating in the discussion at different forums and business matching, to lose interest; for instance, there were only 30 Russian businessmen participants out of 100 who joined the forum organized by the Thai-Russian Business Council and Russian-Thai Business Council at Chamber of Commerce and Industry of the Russian Federation because the leader's visits would help not only strengthen the relations but also boost the investor's confidence that any cooperation establishing will receive the support from the government. [1]

It can be indicated that the frequent political changes have caused the inconsistency in proceeding with the foreign policy, which obstructs the development of the Thailand-Russia relations. The political factors can also affect the economic relations between the two countries.

The US Influence in Thailand

The US-Thailand relations have been consistently proceeding since the Cold War due to the alliance that was formed from the anti-communism strategy that both countries had operated. For Thailand, the United States was the allied country that would save it from the communist threats; however, the United States eventually withdrew from Asian region because of the domestic resistance risen by the Vietnam War. Nonetheless, the US ally, Japan, still helped sustain the United States' influence, especially in economic relations with Thailand. When the Cold War was over, the world had shifted from bipolarity to unipolarity with the United States as the global leader. Meanwhile, the situation in Asian region began to change for the phenomenal rise of Asia. Asian countries, including China, Japan, India, and ASEAN, started to have more economic power. Although it was the United States that had the most power, the new power was gradually established and caused Asian countries, like Thailand, to be less dependent and to proceed with the foreign affairs incompletely depending on the United States. For the case of Thailand after the Cold War, the communist threats were no longer considered the stability threat. The economy had become the main factor in terms of international relations that affected Thailand to mainly proceed the relations with Asian countries in the early 1990s. Nonetheless, Thailand began to prioritize US-Thailand relations again after the economic crisis in 1997 in order to receive financial help from the United States through the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It could be indicated that Thailand tried to keep the distance from the US-Thailand relations due to the dependency that could possibly cause the country to lose its benefits. Yet, the US influence had never disappeared from Thailand as it might only get a little weaker in time; for example, the US foreign affairs in the early 2000s focused more on the Middle East than the Asian region when they were wars on terrorism. On the other hand, Thailand proceeded with the policy that reduced the dependency on the United States and established relations with other great powers after the 2014 coup d’état.

After the coup d’état, the United States in Barack Obama's presidency condemned and expressed the disagreement on the situation and lowered ties with Thailand. Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned about the incident that he was disappointed with the military's decision to put the constitution on hold and take over control without the legitimate reasons for the coup d’état. It showed the negative intention for the US-Thailand relations, especially the US-Thai Military relations as they were reconsidering the support between the soldiers and the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) according to the United States' laws. [16] The United States' reaction for the undemocratic state was considered normal as they also reacted similarly to the 2006 Thai coup d’état.

It could be said that after the coup d’état, Thailand approached and prioritized China and Russia to seek international acceptance and decrease the dependency on the United States and the western countries. In Donald Trump's presidency, the benefits in terms of the economy, politics, and stability became the main goal of the United States as he mainly focused on the economic benefits for the country by using human rights matters and democratic issues in Thailand as a tool to pressure Thailand for the economic advantages. Hence, there were policies used by the United States and the European Union to pressure Thailand to return to democracy and to reduce the trade disadvantages with Thailand; for instance, they required Thailand to resolve human trafficking issues, specifically in the fishery industry that used foreign labors. Thailand went from being on the Tier 2 Watch List after the 2014 coup d’état to Tier 3 in 2016 (however, it is now put on the Tier 2). They stated that they would not allow the fishery product imports from Thailand if the problem had not yet been solved. Consequently, Thailand attempted to negotiate with the United States and the European Union by tackling human trafficking issue as it affected the import businesses in Thailand. Moreover, the military government also tried to reestablish the US-Thailand relations due to the close military relations and benefits that Thai military would gain from the weapon purchase.

Taking the US influence in Thailand into consideration, the US-Thai economic relations was the reason why Thailand has always prioritized the United States as they were the third trading partner, following China and Japan, and Thailand had always achieved the trade surplus. For example, the total trade value in 2020 was $49,196 million; the exports from Thailand were $34,344 million and the imports from the United States were $14,853 million. [17] In terms of investment, direct investment from the United States to Thailand in 2020 was worth $685.97 million as it had decreased 18.7% from 2019, which was $843.78 million. [18] From the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) status in 2018 (January – December 2018), it showed that there were 1,040 foreign investment offers worth $18,973.37 million for the Board of Investment of Thailand (BOI). In comparison with the year 2017 (January – December), the number of offers had increased 17% and the value had increased 102%. The highest investment fund was from the United States with the amount of $10,876.6 million, Japan came as the second with the amount of $2,423.66 million, and China with the amount of $1,937.05 million. Japan came first in terms of the number of offers, which was 334, and China as the second with 131 offers. [19]

In addition, the military and stability cooperation were initiated and has been proceeding since the Cold War. The Exercise Cobra Gold is largest the multinational military exercise in the Asia-Pacific region since 1982, starting from the bilateral Thai-Us practices. Nowadays, it has become the multinational forces practice held by Thailand and the United States. The practices reinforce the army to be ready for new challenges in the current global situation by including the Military Operations Other Than War according to the United Nations operation such as the Peacekeeping Operations, and the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief. [20] The cooperation previously mentioned has affected the way Thailand, particularly the government formed after the coup d’état, to proceeds the foreign policy, which means that the Thai military elite attempted to protect the military's and the nation's profits gained from the stability assurance from the United States. Accordingly, Thailand has never lowered ties with the United States and has always made an effort to clarify the political situation in Thailand. It seems that their military relations are very intimate, and no other powerhouse would be able to intervene, except China.

Although the US economic influence is inferior to the Chinese, Thailand cannot proceed with the policy to extremely approach China and abandon the United States as the US influence has been permeated in all classes and groups in Thailand for a very long time. Furthermore, Thailand seeks acceptance and support from the United States in the international forums because it is the main ally of the European Union and Japan, the trade partners that Thailand must keep the relations up with. Although the military government expressed no interest and turned to China and Russia, the punishment from the United States for Thailand had affected the Thai business groups that cooperated with the United States. More importantly, The United States had put on hold the military relations with Thailand. Thus, the official visit of Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-O-Cha to the United States on October 2, 2017, after Donald Trump had become the president, who only focused on the US economic benefits in terms of trade, investment, and weapon purchase rather than the democratic value like the previous US government, greatly affected the country's reputation that Thailand had been accepted by the United States despite not having an elected government.

The China’s Influence in Thailand

Thailand-China relation was established on July 1, 1975. The reason Thailand had only established diplomatic relations with China recently was due to the Cold War as both countries had different political ideologies. However, Thailand began to build the relationship with China and succeeded in the diplomatic relation establishment after the United States-China relations had improved and China became a member of the United Nations. The matters of international cooperation became more important after the Cold War ended and the conflicted situations between countries had ended, especially the cooperation in terms of economy and trade. Thailand proceeded with the relationships proactively with countries in Asian region, including Japan, Taiwan, and ASEAN countries. Yet, Thailand did not carry the relationships forward in the early 1990s with China because of the domestic problems within China like the incident of the Tiananmen Square protests. Until the economic crisis occurred in 1997, China had offered a loan with low-interest rates and the country did not raise the currency value to worsen the impact on the Thai exports. [21] Since then, the trade between the two countries had increased and China eventually became the major trade partner of Thailand. China has been the biggest trade partner of Thailand from 2013 until 2020, followed by Japan and the United States. Thailand always had trade deficits with China, for example, the total trade value in 2020 was $79,607 million, the exports from Thailand to China were $29,754 million, and the imports from China to Thailand were $49,853 million, leaving a trade deficit of $20,098 million. [17] On the investment side, the direct investment value from China in Thailand was $960.75 million, which had increased 34.44% from the year 2019 that was $714.65 million. [18]

Thailand-China strategic partnerships are based on respect, trust, and non-intervention. Thailand and China had developed their relations to “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” in April 2018 in order to strengthen the relationships and enhance the cooperation to be closer and more concluded. Both countries are intimately related by ethnicity and culture. Moreover, they have never been in historical, border, or territorial sea conflicts. [22]

Thailand and China also have intimate relations in the ASEAN-China framework, the Lancang-Mekong cooperation framework, and China is also a partner country of the development of the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy. [22] Furthermore, Thailand and China have been working together on the stability and security cooperation in terms of weapons, maintenance, training, and support for the development of the defense industry. [23]

The important Thailand-China cooperation that helps increase the Chinese influence in Thailand is the High-Speed Rail Cooperation Project. It is related to the Belt and Road Initiative initiated by President Xi Jinping in 2013. The High-Speed Rail Cooperation project with China was initiated in Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva's period in 2011 in order to construct the Bangkok-Nong Khai high-speed railway. Eventually, in the period of Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-O-Cha, the project was concretely developed. The construction began in 2017. Although the project had started in 2011, the delay occurred due to the disagreement. The military government, however, used the special law to speed up the project's process. [24, p. 50-80] The High-Speed Rail Cooperation project between Thailand and China showed the attempt of Thailand to strengthen the relationships with China. Yet, due to the domestic political conflicts, Thailand had to focus on resolving the domestic issues first. Apart from that, the China-Thailand High-Speed Rail Cooperation Project has made slow progress, yet it is more concrete in comparison to the relations with other nations, due to the obligation to balance the power between the powerhouses and to maintain the national interests.

It shows that China has a strong influence on Thailand, and it greatly affects the nation's benefits. Since China has the influence on the politics, the economy based on the political groups, and the other interest groups, and has no interest in Thai politics, Thailand had to be the one that approached China after the coup d’état. Accordingly, Thailand is more interested in proceeding the relations with the great power in the same region than Russia, which is the major power from a different region.

The Problems in Thailand-Russia Relations

After the 2014 coup d’état, Thailand faced domestic political conflicts and conflicts with the United States and the European countries due to the change of the government. The United States and the European Union used the economic measure on Thailand that affected the country greatly because they were the important trade partners and markets. Thus, Thailand began to pay more interest in Russia to balance the power among other major powers in the region. Russia only expressed the concerns about the situation in Thailand and requested the country to return to the political process and protection according to the constitution. The Russian leader did not let the 2014 coup d’état become an obstacle to the development of the relations. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev once had an interview with Thai media during his visit to Thailand regarding the influence of the coup d’état on the Thailand-Russia relations and his opinion on the coup d’état and the new government of Thailand. Dmitry Medvedev answered that “If we're talking about the situation going on in Thailand, it is the internal affair of your country. Russia views this matter with attention and respect. Meanwhile, there are many countries that are usually agitated and concerned about all the situations going on in the world. The author considers that there is too much concern, and the edification is not necessary as well. All the Sovereign nations must deal with their own problems. Both Russia and Thailand can manage to deal with them on their own.” [25] Although Russia was not interested in the coup d’état matter and continued the political relations with Thailand, the relations between both nations, including the visits, the discussion forums, and the agreement between the government sector and private sector, are not enough to make the relations become intimate to the point where Thailand could choose to proceed the relations with only Russia.

Despite the strong political cooperation, the relations would not progress to become the strategic partnership if the economic cooperation had not been improved. It means that the economic factors are the reflection factors and potentially affect political relations. Nowadays, Russia is the 29th trade partner in 2020 as Thailand had trade deficits with Russia. The total trade value was $2,537 million. As the exports from Thailand to Russia counted $719 million and the imports from Russia to Thailand counted $1,818 million, Thailand had a deficit of $1,098 million. In terms of the Russian investment in Thailand, it is still quite low in comparison to other countries. The information pointed out that the Net FDI of 2018 was $47.5 million. [26] Comparing the economic relations Thailand has with Russia to China and the United States shows that Thailand-Russian relations still have not achieved their goals. Moreover, taking the visits and discussions, especially in the aspects of trade investment and the solution of the trade obstacles between Thailand and Russia since 2015 until the present into consideration, there has not been any concrete resolution in the past 5 years such as the expected trade value of $10,000 million within 2020.

The lack of political stability in Thailand is one of the factors that affect the Thailand-Russian relations. The foreign policy implemented by the Thai government has not been proceeded consistently due to different priorities depending on the changes of the government's leader at that time being, and it mostly focused on proceeding the relations with the United States and China. Apart from that, the foreign policies of Thailand are said to be bamboo bending with the wind, which refers to its flexibility and adaptation to the situation that affects the country such as the competition between the major powers in the Asian region. The period after the coup d’état, Thailand had been pressured by the democratic countries, led by the United States. Hence, Thailand decided to proceed with the relationships with China and used this opportunity as Russia was spreading the influence in the region to continue the relationship after they were put on hold. It shows that Thailand perceives Russia as a secondary country. The action of Thailand approaching China, Russia, and other nations is to show that Thailand has options to proceed the international relations not necessarily only with the United States. Yet, receding from the United States and slowly progressing the political reform caused Thailand to face the economic sanctions from the western countries. Therefore, Thailand had to approach the United States after the new presidency and more sanctions Thailand received in order to resolve the problems of the relation by clarifying and negotiating until Prime Minister of Thailand was able to visit the United States in 2017 despite the government having not been elected. On the other side, Thailand got along very well with China to the point where it got criticized by different sectors and the problems with China having influence over Thailand in the aspect of the infrastructure development, for example, the High-Speed Railway Cooperation Project, that might cause Thailand to lose the negotiation power. Consequently, Thailand slowed down the project. China responded to Thailand for the slow progress by not inviting the Prime Minister of Thailand to the High-level Dialogue Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May 2017, meanwhile, the leaders from Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos received the invitation. It was possibly because of the China-Thailand High-Speed Railway Cooperation Project's slow progress. Thus, Thailand re-attempted to maintain the balance of the foreign policy and carefully proceed the relations with the powerhouses. Thailand tried to balance the power between the United States and China for the national interests that revolved around these two nations to maintain and to not get affected. It can be indicated that Russia is not taken into consideration when it comes to the foreign policy of Thailand. When approached by Russia, Thailand proceeded the relations accordingly, but the main foreign policy still revolves around the United States and China.


Thailand-Russian cooperation in the present is based on political interaction, especially the visits of the nation's leader and high-ranking officers, and on diplomatic mechanisms such as Thai-Russian Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation and Thai-Russian Political Consultations. After the late 1990s, both leader's visits had encouraged dynamic cooperation. Nonetheless, the relations did not proceed smoothly due to the situation in Thailand. There were no visits between the government's leaders, only the discussion in the international forums.

After the political incident in Thailand in 2014, there were visits from high-ranking officers from both countries. The important events were the visit of the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation in 2015 and the visit of the Thai leader to the Russian Federation in 2016. Nowadays, the visits and discussions between countries have been done consistently, which help strengthen the cooperation. Considering the history of Thailand-Russia relations, political cooperation is the beginning of the cooperation development that leads to the cooperation in other aspects, and the mechanism in politics and diplomacy are crucial to impel the other cooperation. The evident result is the agreement between countries in various dimensions of the cooperation. Yet, the results of the agreements are still not apparent in the present due to the internal and external obstacles that the relations face, which prevent the cooperation to achieve its purpose.

The factor that affects Thailand-Russian relations is political instability. The government after the coup d’état focused on resolving the domestic problems rather than proceeding to international relations. It is a must that the government deals with the matters that affect the confidence and reputation of the investment and trade in Thailand. In terms of foreign affairs, Thailand had to rebuild the relationships with the democratic western countries that opposed the military government, meanwhile Russia was not interested in the political conflicts in Thailand and was ready to proceed with the cooperation without waiting for the elected government. As Russia had offered Thailand the opportunity and alternatives, hence, Thailand began to impel the cooperation between countries that had been on hold to proceed again ever since 2015, starting with the consistent visits and discussions that had led to many international agreements. However, there has not been a concrete cooperation process due to the United States and China's influence that causes Thailand to prioritize these two nations first, then Russia as the second-important.

Thailand's foreign policy follows the omnidirectional foreign policy and the balance of power of the great powers competing in Thailand. Nowadays, the United States and China are very influential in Thailand and there has also been the intimate cooperation between these countries in terms of politics, economy, and military. Thailand has always attempted to maintain the relationship with both countries and to resolve problems whenever there is an incident that affects their relationships. It is fair to say that how Thailand deals with foreign affairs revolves around the traditional major powers. The acts committed by the two great powers greatly affect and attract attention from the Thai government. Meanwhile, the Thailand-Russia relation seems to return to the beginning. Nevertheless, there needs to be the political cooperation that the leaders play a big role in terms of the proceeding and developing the cooperation in order to deeply improve Thailand-Russian relation. When the political cooperation as the fundament is stable, the cooperation in other aspects will also improve.

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