Thailand: Shifting Ground Between the US and a Rising China

In This Review

Thailand: Shifting Ground Between the US and a Rising China
By Benjamin Zawacki
Zed Books, 2017
448 pp.
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Zawacki indicts U.S. policy in Thailand since the turn of the century for ceding influence to a rising China. Thailand is important to the United States for trade and for the U.S. military facilities the country hosts, and to China for the access route it provides to the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Even though Thai elites are polarized between the populist Red Shirt movement and the royalist-cum-militaristic Yellow Shirt movement, both sides approve of Chinese-style authoritarian capitalist development, and this has led to more trade, cooperation on infrastructure, and weapons sales between China and Thailand. Zawacki believes that the erosion of U.S. influence could have been stemmed if the State Department and the Pentagon, backed by academia, had fielded a cadre of Thai experts who spent the time necessary to understand the country and build trust. He himself has done so. Although the book overwhelms the reader with details in some places, Zawacki’s frank interviews with scores of former and current officials offer insight into the reasons why Thai elites have shifted from a pro-U.S. alignment to a tilt toward China.

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