Monday, January 13, 2014

Thailand Journal VI: Southeast Asia’s Switzerland

 Roadside Map of Golden Triangle 
When you consider the history of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar, you wonder, what happened with Thailand? The Thais never were part of French Indochina, were never overrun by the Japanese, as were the Chinese. They never suffered through extremist revolutionary movements, though Thailand’s border in the Golden Triangle put it right in the line of fire. Though not a wealthy country, like Switzerland, Thailand has always carefully guarded its neutral status. The king was able to offer the Japanese access to the repository of Thailand’s natural assets during World War II and then was able to negotiate a close relationship to the allies. The neutrality which is one Thailand’s most precious “natural” resources has been aided by the presence of strong tribal societies, like the Hmong, the Hill and the Karen who occupy border areas. Today one reads about the massive and sometimes violent demonstrations against the current regime. Opponents claim that Premier Yingluck Shinawatra's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, an exiled billionaire business man, is calling the shots from overseas. The current spate of demonstrations was catalyzed by an attempt to allow him to return (“Amnesty Bill That Would Clear Ousted Premier Stirs Thai Anger," NYT, 11/3/13). Thailand is not without its history of domestic turmoil and Thais drive on the left side like the British, but the country, a constitutional monarchy, is singular in the pantheon of Southeast Asian countries, having successfully avoided being imperialized by the West or the East.

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