French ambassador Chevalier de Chaumont presents his credentials at King Narai's Court



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Diplomatic History of Thailand



French ambassador Chevalier de Chaumont presents his credentials at King Narai's Court.

Origin and Development

Under absolute monarchy, the conduct of foreign policy rested entirely in the hands of the all-powerful monarch. Diplomacy in those days was personal in the sense that it was identified with the person of the reigning monarch. According to Thai tradition, King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai (1279-1300) was proficient in the art of cultivating friendly relations. He has been often described as a brilliant diplomat. He established cordial relations with the Emperor of China. Many good-will missions were sent to Peking bearing suitable gifts for presentation to the Chinese court; and Sino-Thai trade soon began to flourish.

Later on, during the reign of King Ramatibodi I (1350-1369), in the early Ayutthaya period, an administrative reform was introduced whereby the whole administrative machinery which had been centralized in the person of the King, was divided into four distinct departments, namely, Wiang (Local government), Wang (Royal Household), Khlang (Treasury) and Na (Agriculture). The conduct of foreign affairs was then entrusted to " Krom Phra Khlang" although the King still retained the conduct of foreign policy.

Early Conduct of Foreign Affairs
Foreign traders began sailing in numbers to Ayutthaya early in the 16th century. As it was the responsibility of "Krom Phra Khlang" to procure needed goods and other materials for the government, and to dispose of its surplus "suai" supplies (contributions in kind in place of personal services to the kingdom), the head of Krom Phra Khlang, widely known as "Phra Khlang" and occasionally referred to as "Berguelang" or "Barcelon" by foreign authors, was brought into direct contact with these traders. Such contact gradually extended to almost all other activities concerning foreigners, including reception of and negotiation with foreign envoys. Thus, as early as 1687, for instance, a commercial treaty with France was signed by Okya Phra Sadet Surendhra Dhibodi, Acting Phra Khlang, and Okphra Sri Phiphat Ratana Rajkosa. Also, the first Thai envoy who was received in audience by King Louis XIV of France at the Court of Versailles was Kosa Pan, a younger brother of Chao Phya Kosadhibodi, Senabodi or Minister of Krom Phra Khlang.



Establishment of Krom Tha
The widening scope of contacts with foreigners eventually necessitated the establishment, late in the Ayutthaya period, of a sub-department under Krom Phra Khlang, called "Krom Tha" , to deal primarily with all port activities. The head of Krom Tha, who assisted Chao Phya Phra Khlang, was given the title of "Phya Phiphat Kosa".


By the time of the Bangkok period (from 1782 on), which coincided with the period of western colonialism, foreign affairs became an increasingly prominent feature of the Kingdom's activities, leading to the conclusion of a series of treaties with foreign powers in the reign of King Mongkut or Rama IV (1851 - 1868) . During that period, a division of responsibilities between Krom Phra Khlang and Krom Tha gradually crystallized. Chao Phya Phra Khlang, although retaining overall control of both departments, was chiefly responsible for the implementation of foreign policy as laid down by the King himself and for negotiation with foreign envoys. He was also entrusted, in co-operation with Krom Wang, with the arrangements for royal audiences and preparation of royal messages to other countries. Krom Tha, on the other hand, was in charge of foreign trade and responsible for the preliminary reception of foreign missions coming to Thailand. As disputes frequently arose among traders, Krom Tha was also empowered to render them justice. A court was set up under each of the three divisions of Krom Tha, namely, the Central Krom Tha Court dealing with cases involving Thai subjects and foreigners; the Left Krom Tha Court dealing with cases among the Chinese; and the Right Krom Tha Court dealing with cases among foreigners other than the Chinese. In addition, Krom Tha was given administrative authority over the seaboard provinces adjacent to the Gulf of Thailand.

Shift of Centre for Foreign Affairs from Krom Phra Khlang to Krom Tha
The principal responsibilities for the conduct of foreign affairs apparently shifted, under King Mongkut, from Krom Phra Klang to Krom Tha, the Chief Administrator of which rose to the rank of Chao Phya. While, during the reigns of King Rama II and King Rama III, it was Chao Phya Phra Khlang who negotiated with John Crawfurd in 1821-22, and Sir James Brooke in 1850, and who concluded treaties with Captain Henry Burney in 1826 and with Edmund Roberts in 1833, there was no representative from Krom Phra Khlang, for instance, in the Thai delegations which signed the treaties with Sir John Bowring of Great Britain in 1855 and with Charles de Montigny of France in 1856. Instead, Chao Phya Thiphakarawong Maha Kosadhibodi, Chief Administrator of Krom Tha, was among the five members of those two Thai delegations. Indeed, in 1869, the second year of King Chulalongkorn's reign, Chao Phya Bhanuwong Maha Kosadhibodi, his successor, was promoted to the position of Senabodi and given additional responsibilities as head of Krom Phra Khlang as well. Krom Tha thereupon assumed the status equivalent to that of a Ministry, and Chao Phya Bhanuwong thus became the first Minister of Foreign Affairs of Thailand.


Separation of Krom Tha from Krom Phra Khlang
Foreign and treasury affairs continued under the same direction until a law was enacted on April 14, 1875, separating Krom Phra Khlang from Krom Tha and making each an independent body. Chao Phya Bhanuwong, nevertheless, remained as Senabodi of Krom Tha and head of Krom Phra Khlang for another ten years. In 1885, he sought and finally obtained the King's permission to be relieved of his post due to ill health, and was succeeded by His Royal Highness Krommuen Devavogse Varoprakarn (later promoted the Kromphya).


Prince Devawongse : The Father of Thai Diplomacy
His Royal Highness Prince Devawongse, son of His Majesty King Mongkut (Rama IV), was born in 1858. Having received his education in Bangkok, he began his public service career at the Audit Office in 1875. He concurrently served as Assistant Principal Private Secretary for Foreign Affairs to His Majesty King Chulalongkorn (Rama V.) In 1878 he became the Principal Private Secretary and concurrently Comptroller General in the Treasury.
H.R.H. Prince Devawongse was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1923 at the age of 66. In recognition of his long and extensive contribution to the Thai diplomatic service the Ministry of Foreign Affairs subsequently accorded him the title "Father of Thai Diplomacy





H.R.H. Prince Devawongse
Father of Thai Diplomacy
Reorganizations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Under Prince Devavongse Varoprakarn, and before gaining the legal status of a Ministry, Krom Tha Office was divided into five divisions, namely, Senabodi Division, Accounts Division, Filing Division, Diplomatic Division, and Consular Division. As a division chief was then called "Chao Krom" or " Athibodi", these divisions might be considered abroad were directly answerable to the Senabodi himself.


Three new divisions were subsequently added. They were Under-Secretary Division, Translation Division, and Reception Division. But the Diplomatic and Consular Divisions were combined into one, thus making a total of seven divisions. Later, there was a return to the original five divisions but the Under-Secretary Division was retained. In 1910, the Ministry under went a third reorganization, whereby the Senabodi and Under-Secretary Divisions were merged into a new Command Division, performing functions similar to those of the present Office of the Secretary to the Minister. The former Translation Division was revived, and a new General Counsel Division was created. After the First World War, a League of Nations Section was also established to deal with the activities of that world body.

In 1927, two Departments-Political and Prakasit (Protocol) were set up under the Ministry to assume the functions of the various divisions already described. From 1933 to 1942, several reorganisations were introduced, based on the nature and the varying scope of activities being then undertaken by the Ministry. Thus, in 1942 there were the Office of the Secretary to the Minister, the Office of the Under-Secretary of State, the Office of the Adviser, the Eastern Political Department, the Western Political Department, the Protocol Department, and the Economic Department.

Again, a series of reorganisations, both major and minor, took place in 1950, 1952, 1953, 1956, 1960, 1963, 1970 and 1971.

In 1992, the Political Department was reorganized into 4 regional departments, an arrangement which continues to the present.

- Relations with Neighbouring Countries

Relations with Neighbouring Countries

The Nan-Chao Period (650 - 1253)

National culture is inevitably a product of a country 's traditions since ancient times. Therefore, it would be advisable to briefly examine the nature of Thai diplomatic relations during the Nan-Chao Period, before the Thai people settled in Thailand.

Thailand is a nation of warriors with a military style of government, yet she has always sought to maintain friendly relations with her neighbours. Consequently, during the Nan-Chao Period, envoys were dispatched to China and Tibet. Treaties of friendship were also occasionally signed, such as those with China in 1198 B.E. (650 A.D.), 1288 B.E. (745 A.D.), and 1330 B.E. (787 A.D.) as well as with Tibet in 1293 B.E. (750 A.D.) and 1363 B.E. (820 A.D.). Artisans were brought from China to develop various crafts in Nan-Chao, such as weaving. This demonstrates that the Thai nation has never existed in isolation, and has always sought to maintain contacts and engage in trade with foreign countries for economic benefits.

The Sukhothai Period (1238 - 1438)

The Thais migrated to the Chao Phya River basin over 1000 years ago. Around the year 857, Prince Phrom founded the city of Fang (Sawankhalok) and Thais gradually migrated there over time. After Kublai Khan conquered Nan-Chao in 1253, an even larger number of Thais began to migrate to Fang.

At that time, the basin of the Chao Phya River was settled by the Laws, Mons and Khmers, who were under the influence of Indian culture. They had embraced Buddhism as their religion Since the days of King Asoka (274 - 236 B.C.) and had also adapted Brahman customs and traditions.

The Thai people, being a nation of warriors, moved south to the Chao Phya River basin and established their supremacy in the area. They adapted the Indian culture, which was prevalent in the area, to correspond with their own traditions. The Buddhism they practised was Hinayana (or Theravada), which was a pure form of the religion. Buddhism was well suited to the nature of Thais since it preached the virtues of being independent and responsible for one 's own deeds. It also taught individuals to respect one 's fellow human beings and to have compassion towards others. In this regard, Buddhism was well-suited to the Thai style of administration, which favoured a paternalistic form of government with everyone part of the same family. Brahman customs and traditions, on the other hand, granted absolute, divine power to the rulers. Accordingly, it did not correspond with the Thai nature and initially was not accepted. However, the Thais gradually integrated with the Mons and Khmers, the original inhabitants of the area, until they were assimilated as one people.

Administration during that period was city-oriented, that is, it centred around the capital, which exercised control over the provincial towns. There also existed a number of vassal states, whose duty it was to send royal tribute to the capital as a sign of loyalty.

In 1238, King Inthrathit (1238 - 1270 s) conquered the town of Sukhothai from the Cambodians and founded the Thai Kingdom.

In 1275, King Ramkhamhaeng, (1275 - 1317) the hero who had once defeated Khun Samchon, the ruler of Chot, in a battle with both combatants mounted on elephants, ascended to the throne and proceeded to expand the boundaries of the Thai Kingdom far and wide.

Among his accomplishments, King Ramkhamhaeng succeeded in consolidating the Thai Kingdom by extending Thai suzerainty over other cities as his power and as geographical factors permitted. In terms of geography, rivers offer a natural route of communication, Therefore, in cases in which they are used as boundaries, this would be merely for the purpose of providing a clearly delimited boundary line. Mountains, on the other hand, are obstacles; therefore, they form a natural boundary which is even more clearly delimited.

The expansion of the Thai Kingdom started along the banks of the Chao Phya River and eventually reached the Mekong River basin. During a time when sailboats were still used for navigation, passage to the Indian Ocean was heavily dependent on the monsoon winds. It was therefore easier to travel by land through Tenasserim and Mergui than to journey by sea around the Malay Peninsula. For this reason, Mergui became an important trading post for advancing the economic prosperity of the Thai Kingdom. Expansion in that direction was therefore natural, especially since the local inhabitants in that area were Mon, a people who got along well with the Thais. Southward expansion towards the Malay Peninsula was also deemed appropriate. Beyond the Mekong River basin, however, were the Banthat Yuan mountains, or Annamese Cordilleras. The Yuan, or Annamese, had a culture akin to that of the Chinese. Expansion beyond the Banthat Yuan mountains was therefore considered unnecessary.

King Ramkhamhaeng expanded the boundaries of the Thai Kingdom all the way to Luang Prabang and Vientiane on the Mekong River. In the northeast, Phayao and Chiengmai were under Thai suzerainty but were allowed to remain free, and friendly relations were maintained with the two city-states. In the central region, Lopburi and Ayutthaya remained independent as evidence by the fact that Law Hok Kok (Lawo) had dispatched an embassy to China in 1289. To the west, the boundaries of the Thai Kingdom were extended to the Indian Ocean and encompassed Tavoy and Tenasserim (including Mergui). To the south, the Kingdom 's boundaries reached Malacca.

King Ramkhamhaeng conducted diplomacy in a prudent manner, maintaining cordial relations with Phya Mengrai and Phya Ngammuang, both of whom were Thai rulers. Although some differences existed among them, especially between King Ramkhamhaeng and Phya Ngammuang, this did not lead to armed conflict, and it was usually left to Phya Mengrai to act as mediator.

In 1282, China sent an envoy to conclude a treaty of friendship with Sukhothai. King Ramkhamhaeng himself also travelled twice to China in 1294 and 1300. On the latter occasion, he brought back with him skilled artisans from China to produce the pottery known as Sangkhalok or Sawankhalok, which was later exported to other countries and which has remained renowned till the present day.

There was also intercourse between Sukhothai and Ceylon in the realm of religion. A number of Thais entered the monkhood in Ceylon and brought back that country 's sect of Buddhism. The Phra Buddhasihing Buddha image was also obtained from Ceylon.

It is therefore apparent that King Ramkhamhaeng 's diplomatic pursuits contributed to the progress of the Thai Kingdom, not only in terms of foreign relations but also in the area of religion (with Ceylon) and trade (with China).



The Ayutthaya Period (1350 - 1767)

In order to consolidate the strength of the Thai nation, it is necessary to promote the spiritual as well as economic standing of the people. Since the Thai people relied mainly on farming for a living and since foreign trade was basically conducted by sea, it naturally followed that the most prosperous area should be centred around the Chao Phya River basin. Meanwhile, the city of U-thong gradually built up its power and a new capital was eventually established at Ayutthaya in 1350.

The Thai people in U-thong had more contact with the Khmer than the Thais in Sukhothai. As the Kingdom expanded, it became necessary to tighten the regulations for governing the realm. Subsequently, Thai culture during the Ayutthaya Period embraced many elements of Khmer culture, which in turn was based on Brahman beliefs. One example of this was the adoption of the concept of a divine ruler. Moreover, in the process of consolidating the Thai Kingdom, it was inevitable that contact should be made and conflicts should arise with other powerful states in neighbouring areas, such as Cambodia and Burma.

Cambodia came under Thai rule in 1352. Since then, Cambodia repeatedly took advantage of the Thai Kingdom 's conflicts with Burma to stage periodic rebellions, prompting the Thais to take swift action to maintain their suzerainty over Cambodia. This persisted until the French expanded into Indochina.

Burma initially attempted to conquer Tavoy and Tenasserim, but the Thais always managed to regain the two towns until Ayutthaya fell in 1767. The Burmese had earlier conquered Chiengmai in 1556. This brought Ayutthaya and Burma to war, resulting in the Thai Kingdom 's loss of independence on two occasions - in 1569 and 1767. However, two of the Kingdom 's greatest heroes - King Naresuan (1590 - 1605), on the first occasion, and King Taksin (1767 -1782) together with Phra Buddhayodfa [Rama I (1782 - 1809) ] on the second - managed swiftly to win back freedom.

Diplomacy, therefore, was used as a tool to accompany war as the opportunity permitted. A similar practice was used in Europe during the same period, based on what the French called raison d' Etat, that is, the national interests of each party. One point which should be mentioned here as an illustration of Thai culture is the request from the Burmese king, Burengnong (or Bayinnaung) for two white elephants from the Thai king, Mahachakrapat (1549 - 1569). There was much debate as to whether the request should be granted, with the majority in favour since the Kingdom had a considerable number of white elephants in its possession; moreover, the Thais were not yet ready to go to war with Burma. Others argued, however, that complying with the request would only signify Thai subservience to Burma and would not be befitting for Thai dignity. They therefore advocated that the request be rejected, a proposal which won the approval of King Mahachakrapat.

Even before the Portuguese came into contact with the Thais, the Thai Kingdom had dispatched diplomatic missions to foster friendly relations with other countries outside the Southeast Asian peninsula. Envoys were sent, for example, to China during the reign of King Boromraja I (1370 - 1388) and King Intharaja (1409 - 1424), prompting the Chinese to commence trade with the Thai Kingdom. However, such missions were aimed only at forging cordial ties between the two kingdoms and were accompanied by the costomary gifts. They were not in any way meant as a sign of subservience since the Thais continued to treasure their independence, as did the Europeans who first came in contact with the Thais over 400 years ago.

- The Beginning of Relations with Buropean Nations and Japan

Portugal and Spain

A. Portugal

In the year 1498, Vasco da Gama reached India via the Cape of Good Hope, marking the Europeans, first contact by sea with the Far East. The Portuguese arrived in Malacca in 1509 and captured that city in 1511. As Malacca had been a part of the Thai Kingdom since the reign of King Ramkhamhaeng, Portugal decided to dispatch Duarte Fernandez to Ayutthaya. That same year, the Portuguese also sent Antonio de Miranda as their envoy to the Thai Kingdom. The Thais reciprocated by dispatching an embassy to Goa, a Portuguese settlement in India. In 1516, Portugal followed up by sending Duarte de Coelho as their third envoy to Ayutthaya and promised to supply the Thais with guns and ammunition. For their part, the Thais agreed to guarantee religious freedom as well as to facilitate the efforts of the Portuguese in establishing settlements and engaging in trade. Portugal also expressed her desire that Thais national be sent to settle down in Malacca in place of the Arab traders who had left the city following the Portuguese conquest. Moreover, the Portuguese praised the Thai Kingdom as being the most powerful and prosperous state in the region.

As many as 300 Portuguese nationals subsequently settled down in Ayutthaya some were traders and some were military experts. Portugal appointed a trade representative in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Pattani to conduct trade in rice, tin, ivory, gum benjamin, indigo, sticklac and sappan wood. In 1538, King Prajairaja (1534 - 1546) employed some 120 Portuguese as his body-guards. However, Ayutthaya was not the only place where Portuguese soldiers volunteered to serve. In 1549, when the Thais and the Burmese were at war, both sides used Portuguese volunteers and cannons. In 1606, Diege Lopes de Sequeira led a group of Portuguese Jesuit missionaries to Ayutthaya for the first time.

The Portuguese who came to Ayutthaya did not only seek to engage in trade on a temporary basis but also took up permanent residence there. This made it more convenient for them to trade with the Thais. However, in 1624, it so happened that Portugal seized a Dutch vessel in Thai waters and in 1628, a Thai junk was sunk by a Portuguese ship. Such incidents were prompted by political factors, that is, the Dutch during that time had expanded into the Far East and were competing with the Portuguese for trade and ports in areas which were originally Portuguese trading centres. The armed clashed which ensued between the Thais and the Portuguese were therefore mainly a product of the above-mentioned competition between Portugal and the Netherlands.

The Portuguese were no match for the Dutch and the latter subsequently established themselves as a sea power in the Far East. The Portuguese in Ayutthaya, whether traders or missionaries, were allowed to live peacefully, although there were several incidents of foreigners being expelled from the Kingdom for interfering in Thai political affairs. This demonstrates that the Thais were always ready to reciprocate with an open-mind and to provide facilities whenever foreign countries desired merely to trade and to propagate their religion, but not to become involved in domestic politics. There was no discrimination against other religions and the door was always open to trade with other countries.

B. Spain

Spain and Portugal had divided up among themselves their sphere of expansionism outside Europe. The Spanish would expand to the West, while Portugal would focus on the East. Spain expanded her territory from the Atlantic to the Pacific, securing the Philippines Islands in 1598. Don Tello de Aguirre was then dispatched from Manila as Spain 's envoy to sign a Treaty of Friendship and Commerce with the Thais. Relations between the Thais and the Spanish were along the same lines as relations between the Thais and the Portuguese since Spain and Portugal at that time were on friendly terms.


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