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Thailand's China Policy: Succumbing to Soft Power or Bending with the Wind?

  • Pavin Chachavalpongpun

Audio and transcript from the Southeast Asia Program event, "Thailand's China Policy: Succumbing to Soft Power or Bending with the Wind?" on Nov. 2, 2016 with Pavin Chachavalpongpun.

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.” Chachavalpongpun argues 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.