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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 513,115 sq km (196,512 sq miles)
Population: 65,068,149 (2007 estimate)
Capital city: Bangkok (9.4 million)
People (main ethnicity): Thai, Chinese, and Malay
Languages: Thai, Yawi (far South)
Religion(s): Buddhist (94%), Muslim (5%), Other (inc. Christian, and Hindu 1%)
Currency: Baht
Major political parties: Democrat Party, Puea Thai
Government: Constitutional Monarchy
Head of State: King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Prime Minister/Premier: Yingluck Shinawatra
Foreign Minister: - Suraphong Towichakchaikul
Membership of international groupings/organisations: United Nations (UN), Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), Group of 77 at the United Nations (G77), Non Aligned Movement (NAM), World Trade Organisation (WTO), BIMSTEC, Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) (observer), Organisation for Co-operation and Security in Europe (OSCE) (observer) ),UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR).

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ECONOMY

Basic economic facts

GDP: US$293bn (2010)
GDP per capita (PPP): US$7,943 (2009)
Annual growth: 7.8% (2010)
Inflation: 3.3% (2010)
Major industries: services including tourism, manufacturing including computers & parts, vehicles and parts and electronics.
Major trading partners (ranked by value): Japan, China, US, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong and UAE
Exchange rate: £1=Bt48 (January 2011).
In the 25 years before the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997, the economy transformed from being primarily agriculturally-based to one of the most diverse in the region. Active promotion of Foreign Direct Investment from the late 80’s onwards resulted in the rapid development of export-oriented industries to meet the outsourcing trend of labour-intensive manufacturing from developed countries. Thailand subsequently developed strong capabilities in footwear, garments, appliances, electronics, automotive (world’s 11th largest), agri-business, and processed foods while also continuing to be a large exporter of commodities such as rice (world’s largest exporter) and rubber. With the rise of the newer emerging economies such as Vietnam and China at the turn of the Millenium, Thailand lost significant share in labour intensive sectors such as textiles, garments, footwear, and furniture but successfully kept others, eg. automotive industry with continued Japanese FDI. GDP had been averaging 4.3% per annum over the previous decade, mostly supported by exports. Like the rest of Southeast Asia, Thailand did not suffer a financial or economic crisis in 2008 and subsequently got back quickly on its feet after a -2.3% GDP contraction in 2009. Key challenges for now centre mainly on pressures from rising food and fuel prices, and potential discontinuity of short-term economic policies from frequent change in government leadership. Longer term, the economy needs re-balancing of domestic consumption to reduce long-term dependency exports and address unfair wealth distribution.

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RECENT HISTORY

The Kingdom of Thailand has been ruled since 1782 by the Chakri dynasty based in Bangkok. Formerly called Siam, the country was officially renamed Thailand in 1939 (although the old name was briefly reinstated from 1945-49). 'Thai' refers to the ethnicity of most of the population. Thailand is the only South East Asian country to have avoided colonisation. In 1932 a bloodless coup stripped the King of his absolute powers, transforming the country into a constitutional monarchy and handing power to a mixed military-civilian government. The military faction soon gained the upper hand and retained it for most of the next 60 years, intervening frequently to end brief periods of civilian rule. While stifling democracy, the military sided with business and bureaucrats in promoting economic development, partly to limit the spread of communism. The resulting expansion of the middle class contributed to growing pressure for civilian rule and a series of confrontations between the military and pro-democracy activists. A confrontation, in May 1992, led to the resignation of the military leadership and civilian rule until 19 September 2006, when there was a coup and a return to military rule. Elections in December 2007 brought a return to democracy. For recent political developments see ‘ Politics (http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/country-profile/asia-oceania/thailand#politics) ’.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Thailand's relations with neighbours

Foreign policy has focused primarily on enhancing ties with ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) neighbours, China and India. Thailand is a founder member of ASEAN, and takes a leading role in the region. Thailand was Chair of ASEAN in 2009 The Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dr Surin Pitsuwan, is Thai.

One of Thailand's biggest foreign policy challenges is Burma. The long, fluid border between the two countries sees large numbers of refugees, illegal immigrants and drugs pass from Burma into Thailand. There have been occasional border skirmishes between armed groups, with several dozen deaths. Around 150,000 Burmese refugees live in camps on the Thai side of the border. Following the Burmese elections in November 2010 fighting between armed ethnic groups and Burmese government forces caused an estimated additional 20,000 refugees to cross the border into Thailand; many of them subsequently returned home, but others were assimilated into the existing Burmese diaspora. Further outbreaks of fighting are likely to push even more refugees into Thailand.

Relations with Cambodia in recent times have been dominated by the disputed border between the two countries. Tensions between the two countries flared in July 2008 with a territorial row over the Preah Vihear temple, which is in Cambodia but is surrounded by disputed territory. Relations between the Thai and Cambodian governments were further strained in late 2009 when Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen appointed Former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra as an economic advisor. Thaksin resigned from this role in August 2010 and relations improved slightly. However, in January 2011 seven Thai nationals, including an MP, were arrested by Cambodian authorities, accused of entering Cambodia illegally close to the disputed border area. Fighting broke out between Cambodian and Thai troops along the disputed border area in early 2011. Indonesia as ASEAN chair, brokered a cease fire deal and an agreement to place observers around the disputed area. In July 2011, a ruling by the International court of Justice (ICJ) established a demilitarised zone around the temple and obliges both parties to allow ASEAN observers access to the zone.

A ruling in 2011 by the International Court of Justice ruled that Cambodia had the legal right to ownership of this disputed territory.

Thailand's relations with the international community

Thailand was a close ally of the West during the cold war and is a long-term member of the United Nations. It is increasingly active in the international arena and looks to maintain a balance between key partners: US, Australia, China, Japan, EU and ASEAN. Thai armed forces have undertaken peacekeeping duties in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iraq and Burundi. In 2010 the Thai government contributed soldiers to peacekeeping operations in Sudan. Thailand has also participated in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia. Thailand was granted partner status in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in November 2000 and held a seat on the UN Commission on Human Rights from 2001-2003. Thailand was elected President of the Human Rights Council in June 2010.The US granted Thailand the status of Major Non-NATO Ally in January 2004.

Thailand's relations with the UK

The Bowring Treaty of 1855 agreed to establish a British Consular presence in Siam. The first resident British envoy to Siam arrived in 1875. We have had constant diplomatic relations with first Siam and later Thailand ever since.

The UK/Thailand bilateral relationship is close. There is a sense of shared traditional values between the two nations, which manifests itself in close educational and cultural contacts.

UK development assistance

Small scale technical assistance is provided through the British Embassy Bangkok from Foreign and Commonwealth Office programme budgets. Recent support has covered a wide range of areas, including combating the commercial sexual exploitation of children, promoting HIV/AIDS awareness, protecting Thailand's unique biodiversity, supporting Burmese refugees in Thailand, and providing peacekeeping and Rules of Engagement training for the Royal Thai Armed Forces and professional rights-based training for the Royal Thai Police.

The Department for International Development (DFID) does not have a bilateral aid programme for Thailand although they provide support for Burmese refugee camps in Thailand along the Thai-Burmese border (see below). Thailand has also benefited from regional DFID programmes on HIV/AIDS and human trafficking. These regional programmes include work in Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as Burma, and undertake analysis and rights protection work for vulnerable women and child migrants in Thailand. They focus on advocacy for migrants who are wrongfully imprisoned or who are exploited at work as well as trying to integrate legal migrants into communities in Thailand - for example working on securing access to primary education and health. The programmes include work with sex workers, but the majority of programming focuses on protection of the far larger numbers of vulnerable migrants in other sectors (for example agriculture and fisheries, and services). Thailand is primarily a destination area for trafficking, although projects have also looked at how trafficking routes transit - and in a few cases (particularly amongst hill communities in the North) have origins in - Thailand.

UK support to Burmese refugees on the Thai side of Thailand-Burma border

Since 2005 DFID has provided a total of £5,138,700 to support refugees through the Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) working among displaced Burmese people in the refugee camps on the Thai Burma border. We have committed a further £1.1 million to TBBC for the financial year 2011-12. This will help to provide food, shelter, cooking fuel and non-food items for the 150,000 refugees.

DFID also supports work to ensure justice, protection and physical security within camps, in line with internationally recognised human rights, refugee and Thai legal standards. In addition, DFID fund a number of NGOs to provide basic health care, education and livelihoods to displaced people.

Diplomatic representation

The British Ambassador to Thailand, Mr. Asif Ahmad, also covers Laos. The Royal Thai Embassy in the UK opened in July 1882, when Prince Prisdang was received in audience by Queen Victoria, at which he presented his credentials as Envoy of the King of Siam. The Thai Ambassador to the UK is His Excellency Mr Kitti Wasinondh.

Recent high-level visits

We enjoy regular dialogue with the Thais at Royal, Ministerial and official level. HM The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh paid a highly successful state visit to Thailand in 1996. The then Prime Minister Tony Blair met the then Thai Prime Minister, Chuan Leekpai in 1998 in the margins of ASEM II in London. HRH The Duke of York visited Thailand in December 1999 to participate in the King's auspicious 72nd birthday celebrations, in 2005 following the tsunami, in June 2006 representing Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at HRH The King's 60th Anniversary of accession to the throne celebrations, in December 2007 to celebrate HRH The King’s 80th birthday, and in 2009 as the UK’s Special Representative for International Trade and Investment. The then Thai Prime Minister Abhisit met the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown twice in 2009 at the G20 summits in London and Pittsburgh. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg met the then Prime Minister Abhisit at the ASEM summit in Brussels in October 2010. Thailand’s then Foreign Minister, Kasit Piromya visited the UK as a guest of Government in November 2010.

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GEOGRAPHY

Country Profile

Area: 513,155 sq km, divided into four administrative regions and 76 administrative provinces (plus Bangkok).
Cities: Bangkok (pop. 9.4m), Nakorn Ratchasima (430,000), Chiang Mai (257,000)
Terrain: Central plain; plateau in Northeast; mountain ranges in North and West; Gulf of Thailand; islands and isthmus joining Malaysia in South
Climate: Tropical; three seasons – monsoon (June to October), cool (November to February), hot (March to May)
Neighbouring countries: Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade

The UK is the largest EU exporter to Thailand (although Germany is the biggest EU investor) - key UK investors include: Tesco, Boots, BG, Standard Chartered Bank, Reckitt Benkiser, Rolls Royce and Triumph motorbikes
Thai exports to the UK (2010) were worth £2.2bn; UK exports to Thailand in the same year were valued at £1.2bn.

There are opportunities for UK companies in Thailand across a wide range of sectors including agri-technology, aerospace and automotive, education & training, energy, environment, retail, transport and life sciences.

Thailand is a mature, lower middle income economy with a good infrastructure, a skilled workforce and a business friendly environment. UK companies are increasingly looking to Thailand not only as a thriving market in its own right, but also as a regional base for doing business more widely with ASEAN.

There are over 600 members of the British Chamber of Commerce Thailand (BCCT). The Chamber plays an important role in supporting UK commercial interests in Thailand

Investment

Outward

The UK has a significant presence in Thailand, particularly in the aerospace, automotive and engineering sectors. Other British investors include Boots and Tesco, who have invested £400 million and £1.5 billion respectively over the past ten years establishing their largest operations outside the UK; Standard Chartered Bank, and BG, which is the biggest UK investor in the Energy Sector.

Inward

Thai outward investment is growing in importance in the UK. In October 2010, Thai Union Frozen Products acquired MW Group, which owns John West, in a deal worth £568 million. Other investors include CP Group, Landmark, and Thai Beverages. In March 2011, Sahaviriya Steel, Thailand’s biggest steel company, purchased Teesside Cast Product’s blast furnace in Redcar from Tata Corus for £300m.

(Source: International Affairs Division, Board of Investment (BOI))

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POLITICS

Recentpolitical developments

From May 1992 to September 2006 Thailand enjoyed uninterrupted democratic governments and significant political reform, including the adoption of a new progressively-worded Constitution in 1997. Implementation of the new provisions did not always live up to expectations, but the overall impact on Thailand's political landscape was significant. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai ('Thais Love Thais') Party had held power from January 2001-2006.

Mr Thaksin, a former police officer who made his fortune in the mobile phone business before entering politics in his early 40s, dominated the domestic political landscape. However despite being re-elected with an increased parliamentary majority in February 2005, opposition to his government in Bangkok led to the dissolution of Parliament in February 2006. New elections were held on 2 April 2006, but were boycotted by the main opposition parties. In early May 2006 the Constitutional Court ruled the elections unconstitutional and ordered a new round of elections to take place. These were scheduled to take place in October, but on 19 September 2006 Thaksin was deposed by the military in a coup led by the Commander in Chief of the Army, General Sonthi Boonyarathklin.

Following the coup, the 1997 Constitution was suspended and martial law was declared. The coup leaders formed a governing council called the Council for National Security (CNS). The CNS appointed a Privy Counsellor, retired General Surayud Chulanond, as Prime Minister, tasked with heading an interim administration to draft a new constitution and hold elections by the end of 2007. The draft constitution was approved in a national referendum in August 2007 and democratic elections were held on 23 December 2007. The pro-Thaksin People’s Power Party (PPP) won with a slight majority and formed a coalition government, with Samak Sundaravej, a former TV chef and Mayor of Bangkok, elected as Prime Minister.

Political uncertainty continued, however, and in May 2008 the anti-government People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) started demonstrating against the government. In August 2008 these demonstrations grew and violent clashes took place between pro and anti government groups. These led to Prime Minister Samak declaring a State of Emergency in Bangkok on 2 September 2008. On 9 September the Constitutional Court ruled that Samak had violated the constitution due to a conflict of interest. He was removed from office. The State of Emergency was then lifted and a new government, headed by Prime Minister Somchai, took office in mid-September.

Protests by anti-government groups continued and culminated in the forced closure of Bangkok’s two main airports in November 2008. In December the Thai Constitutional Court ruled that the three main parties of the coalition government were guilty of election fraud. The parties were dissolved and their executives banned from politics for 5 years. On 15 December 2008 Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Democrat Party Leader, was voted by Parliament as Thailand’s 27th Prime Minister. His Party led a coalition Government which relied on the support of several smaller parties. The pro- Thaksin Pheu Thai party was the main opposition party.

Critics of the government, including the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) or ‘Red Shirt’ movement, argue that the Democratic-led government was formed undemocratically and wanted Parliament to be dissolved and new elections held. They have shown their opposition to the government by holding a series of rallies, most notably in Bangkok from March to May 2010 which ended in violent clashes leaving over 90 dead and more than 2,100 injured, and in April 2009 at the ASEAN Summit in Pattaya.

On 3 July 2011 Thailand held its first general election since 2007. Election Day passed peacefully with pro-Thaksin Pheu Thai Party winning an overall majority. Pheu Thai further strengthened its hand by forming a coalition with political parties Chart Thai Pattana, Chart Pattana Pheu Pandin, Panangchon and the New Democrat Party. Their Prime Ministerial candidate Yingluck Shinawatra (younger sister of former PM Thaksin) was voted in as Thailand’s first female Prime Minister on 5 August and she went on to announce her cabinet on 9 August.

Human Rights

Thailand has mixed record on human rights. Particular areas of concern for the UK are freedom of expression, policing of protests, rule of law, treatment of refugees, and use of the death penalty.

In 2010, the then Thai government used State of Emergency legislation to close down community radio stations, newspapers, and magazines supporting opposition groups and blocked thousands of websites. Self censorship of the media is increasingly common. In 2010 Thailand dropped 23 places in the Press Freedom Index, ranked 153 out of 178 countries.

Public demonstrations are common and mainly peaceful but there are notable exceptions. Anti-government ‘Red Shirt’ protests in Bangkok from March to May 2010 ended with violent clashes between demonstrators and the military leaving over 90 dead and over 2,100 injured. In June 2010 the government announced an inquiry into the violence that took place and the implementation of a national reconciliation plan but little progress was made. The new government has pledged to continue with this process and cited national reconciliation as one of its main objectives. In April 2009 civil unrest occurred in Bangkok and the seaside resort of Pattaya, which was hosting the ASEAN Summit. Outbreaks of violence between anti-government protestors and military and police units in central Bangkok left three dead and over 100 people injured.

Since January 2004 there has been almost daily violence in the predominantly Malay-Muslim far southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla. Over 4,000 people have been killed and several thousand more injured. On 28 April 2004 there were attacks on security forces at 10 locations in the South. Over 100 militants were killed, as well as 5 members of the security forces. 32 people were killed in the Krue Se mosque in Pattani. An independent commission set up to investigate the mosque incident reported that Thai security forces had used disproportionate force, but cited certain mitigating factors.

Following a demonstration in Tak Bai, Narathiwat, on 25 October 2004 seven demonstrators were shot by members of the security forces and a further 78 people died while being transported by truck to an army camp in Narathiwat.. The official report into the Tak Bai demonstration named several officials as responsible for mishandling crowd control and the anti-riot operation. Three Army commanders were transferred but no further disciplinary action was taken. In May 2009, a court cleared security officials of misconduct in the October 2004 Tak Bai incident in which 80 Malay-Muslim protesters died at the hands of the authorities. The Court ruled that the victims died of suffocation and army and police officers had acted according to the law, using sound judgement and done their best given the circumstances.

In June 2009, ten ethnic Malays were killed and twelve injured in an attack on the Al-Furquan Mosque in Narathiwat. An investigation into the attack found pro-government militiamen to have been responsible. There have been no prosecutions to date. The handling of prominent cases such as these and including, for example, investigations into the forced disappearance of Muslim human rights lawyer, Mr Somchai Neelapaijit, have been viewed with extreme mistrust and suspicion by local Muslims who feel that they are being denied basic justice.

Historically the Thai Government has a good record of offering safe haven to Burmese – and other – refugees. However, recent developments have tarnished this somewhat. The forced repatriation of around 4,000 Lao Hmong in December 2009 by the Thai authorities without UNHCR supervision drew criticism from the international community. Reports in January 2009 that the Thai Navy pushed boats full of Burmese Rohingya refugees back out to sea without adequate food, water or medical supplies resulting in a number of deaths were widely condemned. An investigation into this incident is yet to be concluded. The Thai authorities were criticised for their handling of the 20,000 refugees who fled Burma following post-election fighting in November 2010.

Thailand has used the death penalty as part of its fight against the illegal drugs trade. In 2002 there were 11 executions, mostly for drugs related offences. There were four executions in 2003 for murder and drugs related offences. In October 2003 lethal injection replaced shooting as Thailand's method of execution. In August 2009, two convicted drug dealers were executed. This was the first time in six years that authorities had ordered an actual execution.

Several regional human rights NGOs are based in Bangkok and Thailand is a popular venue for international human rights meetings.

Of the core UN human rights treaties, Thailand has acceded to all except the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. Thailand has not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Thailand was elected President of the Human Rights Council in June 2010.

During its ASEAN chairmanship in 2009 Thailand contributed to the establishment of a regional human rights mechanism, the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR). It is a ten-member body, with one representative drawn from each ASEAN country. At present the AICHR has no power of enforcement. Also in May 2010, Thailand was one of 14 countries to be elected as members of the UN’s Human Rights Council.

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Last Updated: August 2011

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