Book review: Thaksin and Thailand’s contentious foreign policy
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Book review: Thaksin and Thailand’s contentious foreign policy

By John Berthelsen, Asia Sentinel

Reinventing Thailand: Thaksin and His Foreign Policy. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies and Silkworm Books. 354 pp. Paperback, available from Amazon, US$74.90.

Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s drastic remaking of Thailand’s economy and society didn’t just stop at the country’s borders. Almost as soon as he took office in 2001, he set out to drastically remake the country’s foreign policy as well, seeking to alter Thailand’s famed “bamboo diplomacy” to mould himself into Southeast Asia’s newest regional leader in the footsteps of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad.

“Thaksin aspired to transform Thailand into a regional player. To be able to accomplish his goal, he crafted an active foreign policy,” writes Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a former Thai diplomat who is currently a Fellow at the Regional Strategic and Political Studies Program at the ASEAN Studies Center, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. Pavin is the author of the heavily footnoted and scholarly Reinventing Thailand: Thaksin and his Foreign Policy. Thaksin, Pavin writes, “pushed the envelope by binding tightly the country’s foreign policy with his domestic populist programs.”

The ousted premier’s intention to use foreign relations to score political points at home became the driving force for the announcement of a new direction in foreign policy, seeking to make Bangkok a regional center of gravity for mainland Southeast Asia. But as with his domestic policy, Thaksin‘s rise posted a serious threat to the traditional foreign policy elite that had guided policy for generations, and as the domestic establishment did, they sought to cast him out.