New Power Struggle in South East Asia: The Case of Thailand

Southeast Asia, possessing the Strait of Malacca, Sunda Strait and Lombok Strait as a strategic hub between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, continuously retains economic and political power struggle. Rising threat in the region due to the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and China’s alluring economic project; “One Belt One Road” both attract the attention of world politics especially considering the US’s interests in South East Asia. The Trump administration is now looking forward to containing relevant countries which impede US interest and is implicitly focusing on ASEAN countries to revive the organisation and obliterate the legacy of Obama’s futile “Asian pivot” policy.

However, Trump’s stance is irreplaceably different and complex which foresees rapprochement and deepening crisis strategy concurrently. For instance, in February 2017, U.S. Pacific Command chief, Admiral Harry Harris visited Thailand as none other than the top commander did before. On August 5-9, 2017, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Manila, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur and sought their cooperation in containing North Korea’s weapons and missile programs.[1] Also, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha has accepted the invitation to visit the White House from President Donald Trump who is due to visit two regional summits – in Vietnam and the Philippines – towards the end of the year.[2] In another case, the threat of fundamentalism and radical terrorism in South East Asia, on the one hand, highly concern White House and but on the other, it paves the way for Washington’s military engagement in the region by the plea of helping countries to contain extremist fighters and counterterrorism.

China is probably the only country who can overshadow US’s strategic containment policy in the region. Beijing is now focusing on the South China Sea to regain ASEAN countries and incorporate it into its domination by supporting and enhancing economic projects. Under this pretext, China has launched the “Indo-China Economic Corridor” as a part of “Belt and Road Initiative” and plumps especially for Thailand’s  economic corridor projects, one of which is the “Eastern Economic Corridor” (EEC). Bangkok, currently instituting “East-West”, “North-South” and “Southern Economic Corridor” constitutes a strategic hub in the region.

To illustrate, Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth himself linked the EEC to the Belt and Road Initiative in one of his national addresses. “Thailand is ready to be a link for the One Belt, One Road strategy as it attaches great importance to regional connectivity,” he said after one of his addresses.[3] Also, it is highly remarkable that in the past few months, Thailand has approved purchases of more than USD 500 million worth of Chinese submarines, tanks and helicopters, besides the construction of a new rail link.[4] This is also an indication that Bangkok is highly dedicated to actualise regional economic integration. However, there is also another need for justification regarding the Thai government which is under the control of the Junta regime as of military coup in 2014. Bangkok tries to cope with political pressure vigorously and disingenuously gain international legitimacy and prestige. That’s why, Thailand has tilted towards China to suppress domestic predicaments, handle the economic growth and gain reputation in the international arena. On the other hand, Bangkok looks for strategic engagement with India, US and Japan within the scope of multi-directional and independent foreign policy. In other words, Thailand, as a bridge between Asia and the Malay Archipelago, has a significant amount of importance for global power’s strategic assessments.

World global politics are now on the verge of a shift towards South East Asia. Trump’s presidency is looking for a new engagement with ASEAN countries in search of allies to deal with North Korea’s troublesome leader Kim Jong-un and the rising power of China. It is also embarking on economic dominance in the region thanks to Belt and Road Initiative and is trying to take the lead in South East Asia politics. Additionally, India and Japan have an eager interest in the region and look for investments in these countries. On the other hand, ASEAN countries are ready to engage with the World and benefit from rising economic interest thanks to recovering economic indicators. Thailand, as a strategic hub in the region, constitutes an outstanding destination for international investors and thus takes the stage around the globe. Herewith, Bangkok is becoming the mainland for the power struggle in particular between the US and China, which are long-time rivals in Southern Asia domination.

However, this could be the last rise of Asia before its fall due to growing threat of radical terrorism and weapons of mass destruction under the hand of the livid North Korean leader.

[1] “Will The US Re-Turn To Thailand?-Analysis”, Euraisa Review,, (Access Date: 15.09.2017).

[2] “Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha Accepts Donald Trump’s White House Invitation”, The Straits Times,, (Access Date: 15.09.2017).

[3] “Thailand Chases Chinese Money, But At What Cost?”, South China Morning Post,, (Access Date: 15.09.2017).

[4] “Will The US Re-Turn To Thailand?-Analysis”, a.g.e., (Access Date: 15.09.2017).

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