The key to understanding Thailand is the King, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has ruled since 1945. Not a simple constitutional monarch, the king has taken a very active role in running the country. By the turn of the century, Thaksin Shinawatra used modern election campaign techniques to identify voter interests, mobilize constituencies, and becomee Prime Minister. A basic deep split in society and the body politic remains, with the traditional royalist elite, urban middle class, Bangkok, and the south on one side ("yellow" in shorthand) and the political allies of ex-PM Thaksin, currently a fugitive abroad, along with largely rural supporters in the North and Northeast ("red") on the other. But the King is old, and his son is a pathetic excuse for a Crown Prince, so even in the best of times the succession would be fraught with uncertainty. On 14 May 2014 the military staged a coup, and hopes to keep a lid on things until the succession sorts itself out and the Yellow/Red politics cools off. All else is commentary.
The Kingdom of Thailand, covering an area of 514,000 square kilometers, lies in the heart of Southeast Asia, roughly equidistant between India and China. It shares borders with Myanmar to the west and north, Laos to the northeast, Kampuchea to the east and Malaysia to the south. Topographically the country is divided into four distinct areas: the mountainous North, the fertile Central Plains, the semi-arid plateau of the Northeast, and the peninsula South distinguished by its many beautiful tropical beaches and offshore Islands.
Thailand has been highly successful in maintaining its independence and national security in a part of the world where dissension, struggles for power, territorial takeovers, armed insurgency, and war have been common. The Thai managed to avoid the direct colonial rule that led many other Southeast Asian countries into years of struggle, and they remain proud of their legacy of independence and wary of international developments they perceive as threatening. As of the late 1980s, the Thai had not fought a major war on their own soil since the eighteenth century, having avoided foreign military encroachment largely through adroit diplomatic maneuvering.
The pragmatism inherent in Thai national security policy brought the country safely through World War II and into the postwar period. Rather than capitulating to the Japanese, the Thai entered into an alliance with them. At the same time, they maintained an active resistance movement that enjoyed the tolerance of the wartime Thai government. This lack of support for their wartime "ally," combined with Thai diplomatic skill, achieved a postwar accommodation with the victorious Allies. In the face of communist advances in parts of Asia after World War II, Thai leaders sought protection against a possible threat from China by joining other countries for collective security through the 1954 Manila Pact, which laid the groundwork for the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). SEATO's lack of military forces in the tradition of the stronger North Atlantic Treaty Organization, however, left Thai authorities apprehensive about depending on the organization.
In 1962 the country received the added security assurance it sought in the form of the Rusk-Thanat agreement, which stated that the security obligations under the Manila Pact were bilateral as well as collective. The agreement confirmed a long-term protective alliance with the United States, which supplied vast quantities of economic, internal security, and military aid. The close association between the two countries later facilitated United States use of Thai military bases and other facilities during the Second Indochina War (1954-75).
In the mid-1970s, however, Thai leadership began to question the wisdom of depending solely on a protective alliance with the United States. The communists had been successful in Indochina, and the United States role in the region had declined, while the Soviet Union was increasing its support for Thailand's traditional regional rival, Vietnam. Accordingly, Thailand established diplomatic relations with China in 1975, a step that harmonized with the new policy of accommodation between the United States and China. For Thailand this pragmatic course seemed wise in view of the growing threat posed by Vietnam. Once again, Thai flexibility in national security matters reflected the traditional analogy of bamboo bending with the wind.
Although Thai flexibility improved relations with Vietnam, the Thai viewed the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1978 between Hanoi and Moscow, combined with Vietnam's continued domination of Laos and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, as a serious threat to Thailand's national security.
Thailand is an increasingly important regional power playing a major role in Southeast Asia's commercial and foreign policy fields. While a longtime U.S. treaty ally and a founding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Thailand has also moved to develop a much closer bilateral relationship with China.
The present dating system in Thailand uses the Buddhist Era ('B.E.') which is 543 years older than the Christian Era ('A.D.'). To convert a BE date into an AD date, simply subtract 543. Thus B.E. 2553 = A.D. 2010. Before April 1, 1889, Thailand used a lunar calendar of 12 or 13 months (as necessary to synchronize the lunar calendar with the solar cycle), each of 29 or 30 days, with each month starting with the new moon of a cycle, very similar to the Jewish Calendar. The solar calendar of 12 months and seven-day weeks, corresponding exactly to the Gregorian calendar, including leap years, was adopted on April 1, 1889. The only difference was that the year started on April 1st. On January 1, 1941, (January 1, B.E. 2484) the calendar was adjusted so that with effect from that date, the official year commenced on January 1st. All official and most private Thai documents for domestic use are dated in accordance with the Buddhist Era calendar.
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