Bangkok's Fine Balance: Thailand's China Debate
ASIA-PACIFIC CENTER FOR SECURITY STUDIES HONOLULU HI
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Thailand s debate about China tends to be both positive and relaxed because cooperative relations with China are perceived to be in the national interest and no significant bilateral disputes exist. This Thai debate reflects geopolitical factors, including the absence of either a territorial claim in the South China Sea or domestic tensions regarding its own ethnic Chinese population. Thailand s strong relationship with the United States allows it to pursue cordial relations with China without becoming over-dependent. Economic considerations are fundamental to Thailand s China debate particularly as Thailand seeks sustained economic security in the shadow of an increasingly powerful China. China s economic importance drives Thai policymakers to pursue good relations with the People s Republic of China PRC. Thailand is generally open to seeing China contribute toward regional security, though lurking questions remain regarding China s long-term ambitions and its transparency. Thailand will monitor Chinese cooperation on nontraditional security issues such as the drug trade and severe acute respiratory syndrome SARS to evaluate Chinese resolve in this area. The U.S.-China bilateral relationship will continue to be an influential but not controlling variable in Thailand s China debate. Thailand will accord influence and respect to both countries without sacrificing national interests or diplomatic flexibility. Thailand manages its strong relationship with the United States in a manner that facilitates closer ties with China. A primary mission of Thai foreign policy will be to position the Kingdom where it will not have to choose strategically between the United States and China yet remain important and relevant to both.
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