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Thailand-U.S. Relations

On March 20, 1833, the United States and Thailand, then Siam, signed the Treaty of Amity and Commerce, the United States’ first treaty with a country in Asia. Since World War II, the United States and Thailand have significantly expanded diplomatic and commercial relations, as reflected in several bilateral treaties and by both countries' participation in UN multilateral activities and agreements. Thailand and the U.S. became treaty allies in 1954 (Manila Pact).

As a result of the contributions made to the Allied war efforts by the Free Thai Movement, the United States, which unlike the other Allies had never officially been at war with Thailand, refrained from dealing with Thailand as an enemy country in postwar peace negotiations.

The 1966 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, the most recent iteration of the 1833 Treaty of Amity and Commerce, is the principal bilateral arrangement; the 1966 treaty facilitates U.S. and Thai companies' economic access to one another's markets. Other important agreements address civil uses of atomic energy, sales of agricultural commodities, investment guarantees, and military and economic assistance. In June 2004, the United States and Thailand initiated negotiations on a free trade agreement but these negotiations were suspended in September 2006 following the military-led coup against the government of then-Prime Minister Thaksin.

The United States and Thailand were among the signatories of the 1954 Manila Pact of the former Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). Article IV(1) of this treaty provides that, in the event of armed attack in the treaty area (which includes Thailand), each member would "act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes." Despite the dissolution of the SEATO in 1977, the Manila Pact remains in force and, together with the Thanat-Rusk communique of 1962, constitutes the basis of U.S. security commitments to Thailand. Thailand continues to be a key security ally in Asia, along with Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea.

In the wake of communist takeovers in Phnom Penh and Saigon in April 1975, Thailand moved expeditiously to realign its foreign policy. Thailand's security ties with the United States — the pillar of Bangkok's foreign relations for nearly three decades—were downplayed as part of accentuating a policy of friendship with all nations. In July 1975, the Thai revoked a military accord with the United States under which American troops had been allowed on Thai soil. Thailand also agreed with the Philippines in principle that SEATO, having outlived its usefulness, should be phased out as early as possible.

The crowning moment of the policy of readjustment came in July 1975, when Thailand and China signed a formal agreement on establishing diplomatic relations. Noteworthy was the absence of a Chinese demand for the prior removal of American troops from Thailand, in striking contrast to Hanoi's insistence that Thailand should first renounce its policy of "collusion" with the United States before any reconciliation could take place.

In December 2003, Thailand was designated a Major Non-NATO Ally. Thailand's stability and growth are important to the maintenance of peace in the region. The Thai-U.S. Creative Partnership builds on existing public-private and intergovernmental relationships, seeking to emphasize innovative industry and to identify new opportunities for collaborative ingenuity between the two countries. In alignment with the Thai Government’s Creative Economy policies, this formal partnership effort intends to spur increased productivity while re-emphasizing the beneficial aspects of American presence in Thailand.

Economic assistance has been extended in various fields, including rural development, health, family planning, education, and science and technology. The formal U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) bilateral program, ended in 1995, was rejuvenated in 2010. There are also a number of targeted assistance programs which continue in areas of mutually defined importance, including: health and HIV/AIDS programming, civil society capacity-building, reconciliation efforts in southern Thailand, refugee assistance, and combating trafficking in persons.

The U.S. Peace Corps in Thailand began operating in 1962 and has had over 5,000 volunteers since that time. Peace Corps currently has approximately 100 volunteers in country, focused on primary education, with an integrated program involving teacher training, health education, and environmental education. In late 2003, the Peace Corps also established an organizational development program aimed at promoting sustainable rural development in Thai communities. The United States and Thailand, through programs with USAID, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medial Sciences (AFRIMS), cooperate closely on a range of public health initiatives, including efforts to fight malaria, tuberculosis, dengue, HIV/AIDS, and avian/pandemic influenza.

Thailand has received U.S. military equipment, essential supplies, training, and assistance in the construction and improvement of facilities and installations for much of the period since 1950; since then more Thai personnel have been trained under the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program than any other country. Over recent decades, U.S. security assistance included military training programs carried out in the United States and elsewhere. A small U.S. military advisory group in Thailand oversees the delivery of equipment to the Thai Armed Forces and the training of Thai military personnel in its use and maintenance. As part of the mutual defense cooperation over the last three decades, Thailand and the United States have developed a vigorous joint military exercise program, which engages all the services of each nation and averages 40 joint exercises per year.

By means of access to good military base infrastructure and large areas to conduct almost unrestricted operations, Thailand gives the U.S. military a platform for exercises unique in Asia. Thai leaders are far more willing to host multilateral exercises than are other countries in Asia. This has allowed the US to use our exercises in Thailand to further key U.S. objectives, such as supporting Japan's growing military role in Asia and engaging the Indonesian military. COBRA GOLD, the largest military exercise in the PACOM region, continues to advance the US goal of promoting joint and combined military operations in our partners of Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, and Singapore. Thailand's willingness to allow the United States to use Utapao Naval Air Station as the hub for US regional assistance program was key to making the 2004 tsunami and the 2008 Cyclone Nargis relief operations a success. The US military continued to use Utapao as stop off point for flights for ongoing operations in South Asia.

Thailand and the United States have longstanding cooperation in international law enforcement efforts. The large-scale production and shipment of opium and heroin shipments from Burma of previous years have largely been replaced by widespread smuggling of methamphetamine tablets, although heroin is still seized along the border. The United States and Thailand continue to work closely together and with the United Nations on a broad range of programs to halt illicit drug trafficking and other criminal activity, such as trafficking in persons. Thailand cooperates fully in efforts to return to the United States felons fleeing justice. In addition to bilateral civil law enforcement and security capacity-building through the Transnational Crime Affairs Section and the Regional Security Office, the United States supports the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) in Bangkok, which provides counter-narcotics and anti-crime capacity-building programs to law enforcement and judicial officials from a number of regional countries.

The United States is Thailand’s third-largest trading partner, after Japan and China, with more than $30 billion in trade. The United States is also one of the largest investors in Thailand. Exports to the U.S. were $23 billion in 2010, representing 10.3% of total Thai exports. Thai imports from the U.S., such as computer and electronic products, chemicals, and machinery, were $9 billion in 2010. Foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows to Thailand dropped sharply between 2007 and 2010, due to the impact of the global economic downturn and domestic political uncertainty. U.S. FDI inflows were $9.1 billion in 2010 with the manufacturing sector remaining the largest recipient, accounting for 47.5% of total FDI inflows in 2010. FDI was particularly targeted to export-oriented industries such as electrical appliances and machinery and transport equipment.

Many U.S. businesses enjoy investment benefits through the U.S.-Thailand Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations (AER), originally signed in 1833. The 1966 iteration of the treaty allows U.S. citizens and businesses incorporated in the United States, or in Thailand that are majority-owned by U.S. citizens, to engage in business on the same basis as Thai companies, exempting them from most of the restrictions on foreign investment imposed by the Foreign Business Act. Under the treaty, Thailand restricts American investment only in the fields of communications, transport, fiduciary functions, banking involving depository functions, the exploitation of land or other natural resources, and domestic trade in agricultural products. Notwithstanding their treaty rights, many Americans choose to form joint ventures with Thai partners, allowing the Thai side to hold the majority stake because of the advantages that come from familiarity with the Thai economy and local regulations. In recent decades, Thailand has been a major destination for foreign direct investment, and hundreds of U.S. companies have operated there successfully.

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Page last modified: 26-03-2017 19:21:52 ZULU