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On the surface, Thai-China relations have never been better, as the two countries work to raise their ties to a higher and broader plane. A five-year plan for strategic cooperation now under negotiation covers political, military, and security affairs; multi-sectoral trade and investment; health, education, information, technology, and culture; and regional and multilateral foreign policy. China is comfortable working with the military government that has ruled Thailand since 2014, and vice versa.
Beijing credits the exercise of Chinese “soft power” in Southeast Asia with having improved Thai views of China. Analysts characterize the warming as a new version of Thailand’s old habit of adapting to powerful outsiders by “bending with the wind.” Prof. Pavin will argue that, although the application of soft power has helped China’s cause in Thailand, it is not the main reason for the present warming of ties between the two countries. Indeed, in the long run, Chinese soft power could prove disastrous for Thailand.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun is currently a visiting scholar at the University of California-Berkeley’s Center for Southeast Asia Studies. He was recently at Stanford as a Lee Kong Chian NUS-Stanford Distinguished Fellow on Contemporary Southeast Asia (2015-16). His many publications include Good Coup Gone Bad: Thailand’s Political Development since Thaksin’s Downfall (edited, 2014); Reinventing Thailand: Thaksin and His Foreign Policy (2010); and A Plastic Nation: The Curse of Thainess in Thai-Burmese Relations (2005). He is the editor of the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia. His PhD is from the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (2003).