U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Thailand, November 1996
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
Official Name: Kingdom of Thailand
Area: 513,115 sq. km. (198,114 sq. mi.); about the size of Texas.
Cities: Capital--Bangkok (pop. 9 million est.). Other cities--Chiang Mai
(160,000), Hat Yai (140,000), Nakon Ratchasima (190,000).
Terrain: Densely populated central plain; northeastern plateau; mountain range
in the west; southern isthmus joins the land mass with Malaysia.
Climate: Tropical monsoon.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Thai(s).
Population: 59 million.
Annual growth rate: 1.4%.
Ethnic groups: Thai 89%, other 11%.
Religions: Buddhist 95%, Muslim 4%, Christian, Hindu, other.
Languages: Thai (official language); English is the second language of the
elite; regional dialects.
Education: Years compulsory--nine. Literacy--93%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--7/1,000. Life expectancy--66 yrs. male, 71 yrs.
Type: Constitutional monarchy.
Constitution: December 22, 1978;
new constitution approved December 7, 1991; amended January 4, 1995.
Independence: Never colonized; traditional founding date 1238.
Branches: Executive--king (chief of state), prime minister (head of government).
Legislative--National Assembly (bicameral). Judicial--three levels of courts;
highest is Supreme Court (Sarndika).
Administrative subdivisions: 76 provinces subdivided into 767 districts.
Political parties: Multi-party system; Communist Party is prohibited.
Suffrage: Universal at 18.
GDP (1995): $167 billion.
Annual growth rate (1995): 8.6%
Per capita income (1995): $2,747.
Natural resources: Tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead,
fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite.
Agriculture (10% of GDP): Products--rice, tapioca, rubber, corn, sugarcane,
Industries: Tourism, textiles, garments, agricultural processing, cement,
integrated circuits, jewelry.
Trade (1995): Exports--$56 billion: textiles and footwear, fishery products,
computers and parts, jewelry, rice, tapioca products, integrated circuits,
rubber. Major markets--U.S., Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, EU. Imports--$70.8
billion: machinery and parts, petroleum, iron and steel, chemicals, vehicles and parts, jewelry, fish preparations, electrical appliances, fertilizers and
pesticides. Major suppliers--Japan, U.S., Singapore, Taiwan, Germany, South
Since World War II, the United States and Thailand have developed close
relations, as reflected in several bilateral treaties and by both countries'
participation in UN multilateral activities and agreements. The principal
bilateral arrangement is the 1966 Treaty of Amity and Economic Relations, which
facilitates U.S. and Thai companies' economic access. Other important agreements address civil uses of atomic energy, sales of agricultural commodities, investment guarantees, and military and economic assistance.
The United States and Thailand are among the signatories of the 1954 Manila pact of the former Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). Article IV(1) of this treaty provides that, in the event of armed attack in the treaty area (which includes Thailand), each member would "act to meet the common danger in
accordance with its constitutional processes." Despite the dissolution of the
SEATO in 1977, the Manila pact remains in force and, together with the Thanat-
Rusk communique of 1962, constitutes the basis of U.S. security commitments to
Thailand. Thailand continues to be a key security ally in Asia, along with
Australia, Japan, and South Korea.
Thailand's stability and independence are important to the maintenance of peace
in the region. Economic assistance has been extended in various fields,
including rural development, health, family planning, education, and science and technology. However, the bilateral aid program is now being phased out, as
Thailand becomes more developed. The U.S. Peace Corps in Thailand has about 185
volunteers, almost half of whom teach English. The remainder are engaged in
education, agricultural and rural development, and health programs.
Thailand has received U.S. military equipment, essential supplies, training, and assistance in the construction and improvement of facilities and installations since 1950. In recent years, U.S. security assistance has consisted of military training programs carried out primarily in the U.S. A small U.S. military advisory group in Thailand oversees the delivery of equipment to the Thai armed forces and the training of Thai military personnel in its use and maintenance.
As part of their mutual defense cooperation over the last decade, Thailand and
the United States have developed a vigorous joint military exercise program,
which engages all the services of each nation and now averages 40 joint
exercises per year.
Thailand is a key route for Golden Triangle--the intersection of Burma, Laos,
and Thailand--heroin trafficking to international markets, including the United
States. While Thailand is no longer a significant opium producer, money
laundering, police and military corruption, and a continuing narcotics flow out
of Burma have hindered efforts to limit its role as a transfer point.
The United States and Thailand work together and with the United Nations on a
broad range of programs to halt the flow of narcotics. A memorandum of
understanding was signed in 1971 affirming U.S.-Thai cooperation, resulting in a strengthened Thai enforcement program. With U.S. support, Thailand has a good
record in crop control, law enforcement, and demand reduction but would benefit
from greater efforts to stem money laundering.
After a 1991 coup in Thailand, the U.S. made clear its full support for a quick
return to a democratically elected government. As required by law, U.S. military and economic assistance to Thailand was suspended, with the exception of counternarcotics programs. However, after the democratic elections in September 1992, assistance was restored.
Trade and Investment
While many areas of agreement strengthen understanding and cooperation between
the United States and Thailand, U.S. calls for Thailand to play a role in the
world economic structure proportionate with its industrial diversification and
growing economic importance have led to trade frictions and strains on otherwise excellent bilateral relations.
Thailand has made considerable progress in improving legal protections for
intellectual property. In recognition of this progress and following passage of
a new copyright act in 1994, Thailand was removed from the priority watch list.
Thailand remains on the watch list, however, and the U.S. Government continues
to work with Thailand to secure additional improvements in its legal regime and
to encourage effective enforcement of existing legislation.
The United States also has an ongoing dialogue with Thailand on promoting worker rights. U.S. legislation links worker rights with U.S. trade policy and
continues to seek improved access for U.S. products and services in the Thai
Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Political Affairs Counselor--Barbara Tobias
Economic Affairs Counselor--David R. Moran
Public Affairs Counselor--William Kiehl
Consul General--Thomas P. Furey
The U.S. embassy in Thailand is located at 120/22 Wireless Road, Bangkok (tel.
66-2-205-4000). There is a consulate at Chiang Mai, Vidhyanond Road (tel. 66-2-
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Following a 1932 revolution which imposed constitutional limits on the monarchy, Thai politics were dominated for half a century by a military and bureaucratic elite. Changes of government were effected primarily by means of a long series of mostly bloodless coups.
Beginning with a brief experiment in democracy during the mid-1970s, civilian
democratic political institutions slowly gained greater authority, culminating
in 1988 when Chatichai Choonavan--leader of the Thai Nation Party--assumed
office as the country's first democratically elected prime minister in more than a decade. Three years later, yet another bloodless coup ended his term.
Shortly afterward, the military appointed Anand Panyarachun, a businessman and
former diplomat, to head a largely civilian interim government and promised to
hold elections in the near future. However, following inconclusive elections,
former army commander Suchinda Kraprayoon was appointed prime minister.
Thais reacted to the appointment by demanding an end to military influence in
government. Demonstrations were violently suppressed by the military; in May
1992, soldiers killed at least 50 protesters.
Domestic and international reaction to the violence forced Suchinda to resign,
and the nation once again turned to Anand Panyarachun, who was named interim
prime minister until new elections on September 13, 1992. In the subsequent
elections, the political parties that had opposed the military in May 1992 won
by a narrow majority, and Chuan Leekpai, a leader of the Democratic Party,
became Thailand's 20th prime minister. Following the dissolution of parliament
on May 19, 1995, new elections were held July 2. The Thai Nation Party won the
largest number of parliamentary seats, and its leader, Banharn Silpa-Archa,
became Thailand's 21st prime minister.
The king has little direct power under the constitution but is a symbol of
national identity and unity. The present monarch--who has been on the throne for 50 years--commands enormous popular respect and moral authority, which he has used on occasion to resolve political crises that have threatened national
Thailand's legal system blends principles of traditional Thai and Western laws;
Koranic law is applied in the far south, where Muslims constitute the majority
of the population. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeals, and its
judges are appointed by the king.
Thailand's 76 provinces include the metropolis of greater Bangkok. Bangkok's
governor is popularly elected, but those of the remaining provinces are career
civil servants appointed by the ministry of interior.
Principal Government Officials
Chief of State--Bhumibol Adulyadej
Prime Minister-- Banharn Silpa-Archa
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Amnnay Viravan
Ambassador to the U.S.-- Nitya Pibulsonggram
Charge d'Affaires --Akrasid Amatayakul
Ambassador to the UN--Asda Jayanama
Thailand maintains an embassy in the United States at 1024 Wisconsin Ave. NW,
Washington DC 20007 (tel. 202-944-3600). Consulates are located in New York
City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Travel
Warnings and Consular Information Sheets. Travel Warnings are issued when the
State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country.
Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on
immigration practices, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of
instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of
the U.S. posts in the subject country. They can be obtained by telephone at
(202) 647-5225 or by fax at (202) 647-3000. To access the Consular Affairs
Bulletin Board by computer, dial (202) 647-9225, via a modem with standard
settings. Bureau of Consular Affairs' publications on obtaining passports and
planning a safe trip abroad are available from the Superintendent of Documents,
U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at (404) 332-4559
gives the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or
requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and
countries. A booklet entitled Health Information for International Travel (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280, price $14.00) is available from the U.S.
Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs
regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may
be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in
the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).
Upon their arrival in a country, U.S. citizens are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this
publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information:
Consular Affairs Bulletin Board (CABB). Available by modem, the CABB provides
Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and helpful information for
travelers. Access at (202) 647-9225 is free of charge to anyone with a personal
computer, modem, telecommunications software, and a telephone line.
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN
provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information.
Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; Dispatch, the official weekly
magazine of U.S. foreign policy; daily press briefings; directories of key
officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at
http://www.state.gov; this site has a link to the DOSFAN Gopher Research
Collection, which also is accessible at gopher://gopher.state.gov or
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on a quarterly basis by the
U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State
Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy
information from 1990 to the present. Priced at $80 ($100 foreign), one-year
subscriptions include four discs (MSDOS and Macintosh compatible) and are
available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 37194, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
Federal Bulletin Board (BBS). A broad range of foreign policy information also
is carried on the BBS, operated by the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). By modem, dial (202) 512-1387. For general BBS information, call (202) 512-1530.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce,
the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information, including Country
Commercial Guides. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
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