How Thailand escaped colonization

Before we start, here’s a quick fun tip for the road, Thailand was not always called Thailand. The Asian country was initially named Siam until the year 1939 when the name was changed to what we all know now. Good, now that we’ve gotten that over and done with, let’s talk about the day’s topic. How did Thailand (or Siam?) work a way around getting civilized when other Asian Countries were getting under the thumb of the European colonists? India, Burma, and Malaysia among others were grabbed by the British, Vietnam was colonized by the French, and the Dutch had gotten Indonesia under their control. So what was it about Siam that got them off the hook? It was a combination of a couple of factors


Smart Rulers

Around the period when the risk of colonialism was really high; Siam was lucky enough to have leaders who could make smart maneuvers, intelligently handle negotiations and look after the interests of their people. The title for Siam kings then was known as Rama, and the two kings being referred to specifically here are Rama IV and Rama V whose names are Mongkut and Chulalongkorn. First of all, under the rule of Rama IV, efforts were made to develop a form of modernism. Rather than continue with the previous feudal style system of government, the political system was adjusted to be a little more centralized, removing the authority of local rulers and concentrating the power in the capital Bangkok. Also, they developed a strong military force which indicated some level of strength and self-sufficiency to any external observers. In actual fact, this military force was so strong that they were able to attack the French as a preventive measure to avoid eventual colonization by the French.

Shrewd Negotiation

The Siam rulers again displayed their ingenuity through the various negotiations they made both with the British and the French in a bid to avoid colonialization. In 1859, after taking over Vietnam, France decided to look inwards and conquer more territory, and so they came towards Phnom Penh, an area with loyalty to Siam, the king then complained to Rama IV who tried in vain to appeal to the French, he also attempted to approach the British who conveniently ignored him since they had enough conquered territory already and also, they owed the French a favor for not interfering in some of their previous attempts at colonial conquest. It was some years after this that the preemptive military action previously mentioned was taken. Although all this did was to hold things off for a little while as Siam still ended up yielding some more territory to the French.

However, around 1895, the French and British held meetings about the area, and Rama V who had replaced his father Rama IV as king after his demise was able to lobby with the British to approach the French with the idea of keeping Siam as a buffer zone between the French and British territories. This idea was agreeable to the French. They acquiesced, and thus, Siam or Thailand remained a free territory. More Info

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