Alongside the conventional, celebratory narrative that holds up Thailand as the one Southeast Asian country that preserved its independence throughout the period of colonialism, there exists a second story that portrays Thailand as a victim of Western imperialism: forced to sign unequal treaties, to allow for extraterritorial jurisdiction, and, above all, to sign away large parts of its traditional lands to neighboring British and French colonies. In the 1930s and 1940s, this view was promoted to support military rule and Thailand’s alliance with Japan, which enabled Thailand to temporarily annex some of the territories it had previously lost. Strate’s revealing account ends in the 1960s, when the International Court of Justice rejected Thailand’s claim to the Cambodian-controlled Preah Vihear temple, a decision many Thais have still not accepted. This little-known history of an imaginary “Greater Thailand” helps explain Bangkok’s current tensions with its neighbors, its resentment of Western pressure, and its reluctance to recognize the distinct ethnicities of its minority populations.
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