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Just The Facts

Introduction
Geography
People
Government
Economy
Communications
Transportation
Military
Transnational Issues
Narrative

Map of Thailand

Introduction Thailand
Background: A unified Thai kingdom was established in the mid-14th century. Known as Siam until 1939, Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power. A bloodless revolution in 1932 led to a constitutional monarchy. In alliance with Japan during World War II, Thailand became a US ally following the conflict.

OFFICIAL NAME: 
Kingdom of Thailand

 

Thailand
Location:
Southeastern Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, southeast of Burma
Geographic coordinates:
15 00 N, 100 00 E
Map references:
Southeast Asia
Area:
total: 514,000 sq km
water: 2,230 sq km
land: 511,770 sq km
Area - comparative:
slightly more than twice the size of Wyoming
Land boundaries:
total: 4,863 km
border countries: Burma 1,800 km, Cambodia 803 km, Laos 1,754 km, Malaysia 506 km
Coastline:
3,219 km
Maritime claims:
continental shelf: 200-m depth or to the depth of exploitation
exclusive economic zone: 200 NM
territorial sea: 12 NM
Climate:
tropical; rainy, warm, cloudy southwest monsoon (mid-May to September); dry, cool northeast monsoon (November to mid-March); southern isthmus always hot and humid
Terrain:
central plain; Khorat Plateau in the east; mountains elsewhere
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Gulf of Thailand 0 m
highest point: Doi Inthanon 2,576 m
Natural resources:
tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite, arable land
Land use:
arable land: 32.88%
permanent crops: 7%
other: 60.12% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land:
47,490 sq km (1998 est.)
Natural hazards:
land subsidence in Bangkok area resulting from the depletion of the water table; droughts
Environment - current issues:
air pollution from vehicle emissions; water pollution from organic and factory wastes; deforestation; soil erosion; wildlife populations threatened by illegal hunting
Environment - international agreements:
party to: Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Biodiversity, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Law of the Sea
Geography - note:
controls only land route from Asia to Malaysia and Singapore

Geography 
Area: 513,115 sq. km. (198,114 sq. mi.); about the size of Texas. 
Cities (2000): Capital--Bangkok (pop. 10 million est.), Nakhon Ratchasima (2.5 million), Chiangmai (1.6 million), Songkla (1.2 million). 
Terrain: Densely populated central plain; northeastern plateau; mountain range in the west; southern isthmus joins the land mass with Malaysia. 
Climate: Tropical monsoon.

 

People Thailand
Population:
62,354,402
note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS; this can result in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality and death rates, lower population and growth rates, and changes in the distribution of population by age and sex than would otherwise be expected (July 2002 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 23.3% (male 7,404,227; female 7,121,083)
15-64 years: 69.9% (male 21,469,186; female 22,090,520)
65 years and over: 6.8% (male 1,868,632; female 2,400,754) (2002 est.)
Population growth rate:
0.88% (2002 est.)
Birth rate:
16.39 births/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Death rate:
7.55 deaths/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Net migration rate:
0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2002 est.)
Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.78 male(s)/female
total population: 0.97 male(s)/female (2002 est.)
Infant mortality rate:
29.5 deaths/1,000 live births (2002 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 69.18 years
female: 72.51 years (2002 est.)
male: 66 years
Total fertility rate:
1.86 children born/woman (2002 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
2.15% (1999 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
755,000 (1999 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
66,000 (1999 est.)
Nationality:
noun: Thai (singular and plural)
adjective: Thai
Ethnic groups:
Thai 75%, Chinese 14%, other 11%
Religions:
Buddhism 95%, Muslim 3.8%, Christianity 0.5%, Hinduism 0.1%, other 0.6% (1991)
Languages:
Thai, English (secondary language of the elite), ethnic and regional dialects
Literacy:
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 93.8%
male: 96%
female: 91.6% (1995 est.)

People 
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Thai(s). 
Population (1999): 62 million. 
Annual growth rate: 1%. 
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--6. Literacy--96% male, 92% female. 
Health (1998): Infant mortality rate--4.5/1,000. Life expectancy--69.97 yrs. male, 74.99 yrs. female.

 

Government Thailand
Country name:
conventional long form: Kingdom of Thailand
conventional short form: Thailand
former: Siam
Government type:
constitutional monarchy
Capital:
Bangkok
Administrative divisions:
76 provinces (changwat, singular and plural); Amnat Charoen, Ang Thong, Buriram, Chachoengsao, Chai Nat, Chaiyaphum, Chanthaburi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Chon Buri, Chumphon, Kalasin, Kamphaeng Phet, Kanchanaburi, Khon Kaen, Krabi, Krung Thep Mahanakhon (Bangkok), Lampang, Lamphun, Loei, Lop Buri, Mae Hong Son, Maha Sarakham, Mukdahan, Nakhon Nayok, Nakhon Pathom, Nakhon Phanom, Nakhon Ratchasima, Nakhon Sawan, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Nan, Narathiwat, Nong Bua Lamphu, Nong Khai, Nonthaburi, Pathum Thani, Pattani, Phangnga, Phatthalung, Phayao, Phetchabun, Phetchaburi, Phichit, Phitsanulok, Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Phrae, Phuket, Prachin Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Ranong, Ratchaburi, Rayong, Roi Et, Sa Kaeo, Sakon Nakhon, Samut Prakan, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram, Sara Buri, Satun, Sing Buri, Sisaket, Songkhla, Sukhothai, Suphan Buri, Surat Thani, Surin, Tak, Trang, Trat, Ubon Ratchathani, Udon Thani, Uthai Thani, Uttaradit, Yala, Yasothon
Independence:
1238 (traditional founding date; never colonized)
National holiday:
Birthday of King PHUMIPHON, 5 December (1927)
Constitution:
new constitution signed by King PHUMIPHON on 11 October 1997
Legal system:
based on civil law system, with influences of common law; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Suffrage:
18 years of age; universal and compulsory
Executive branch:
chief of state: King PHUMIPHON Adunyadet (since 9 June 1946)
note: there is also a Privy Council
head of government: Prime Minister THAKSIN Chinnawat (since 9 February 2001) and Deputy Prime Ministers Gen. (Ret.) CHAWALIT Yongchaiyut, KON Thappharansi, SUWIT Khunkitti, CHATURON Chaisaeng, VISHANU Krua-ngam, and PROMMIN Lertsuridej (since 18 February 2001)
cabinet: Council of Ministers
elections: none; the monarch is hereditary; prime minister is designated from among the members of the House of Representatives; following national elections for the House of Representatives, the leader of the party that can organize a majority coalition usually is appointed prime minister by the king
Legislative branch:
bicameral National Assembly or Rathasapha consists of the Senate or Wuthisapha (200 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms) and the House of Representatives or Sapha Phuthaen Ratsadon (500 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
elections: Senate - last held 4 March, 29 April, 4 June, 9 July, and 22 July 2000 (next to be held NA March 2004); House of Representatives - last held 6 January 2001 (next to be held NA January 2005)
election results: Senate - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - NA; House of Representatives - percent of vote by party - NA%; seats by party - TRT 248, DP 128, TNP 41, NAP 36, NDP 29, other 18
Judicial branch:
Supreme Court or Sandika (judges appointed by the monarch)
Political parties and leaders:
Democratic Party or DP (Prachathipat Party) [CHUAN Likphai]; Mass Party or MP [CHALERM Yoobamrung, SOPHON Petchsavang]; National Development Party or NDP (Chat Phattana) [KORN Dabbaransi]; Phalang Dharma Party or PDP (Phalang Tham) [CHAIWAT Sinsuwong]; Solidarity Party or SP (Ekkaphap Party) [CHAIYOT Sasomsap]; Thai Citizen's Party or TCP (Prachakon Thai) [SAMAK Sunthonwet]; Thai Nation Party or TNP (Chat Thai Party) [BANHAN Sinlapa-acha]; Thai Rak Thai Party or TRT [THAKSIN Chinnawat]
note: the Liberal Democratic Party or LDP (Seri Tham) and the New Aspiration Party or NAP (Khwamwang Mai) no longer exist as separate parties; elements of the two parties joined the Thai Rak Thai Party or TRT
Political pressure groups and leaders:
NA
International organization participation:
APEC, ARF, AsDB, ASEAN, BIS, CCC, CP, ESCAP, FAO, G-77, IAEA, IBRD, ICAO, ICC, ICFTU, ICRM, IDA, IFAD, IFC, IFRCS, IHO, ILO, IMF, IMO, Interpol, IOC, IOM, ISO, ITU, NAM, OAS (observer), OIC (observer), OPCW (signatory), OSCE (partner), PCA, UN, UNAMSIL, UNCTAD, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, UNIKOM, UNITAR, UNMIBH, UNTAET, UNU, UPU, WCL, WFTU, WHO, WIPO, WMO, WToO, WTrO
Diplomatic representation in the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador SAKTHIP Krairiksh
chancery: 1024 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20007
FAX: [1] (202) 944-3611
consulate(s) general: Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York
telephone: [1] (202) 944-3600
Diplomatic representation from the US:
chief of mission: Ambassador Darryl N. JOHNSON
embassy: 120/22 Wireless Road, Bangkok
mailing address: APO AP 96546
telephone: [66] (2) 205-4000
FAX: [66] (2) 254-1171
consulate(s) general: Chiang Mai
Flag description:
five horizontal bands of red (top), white, blue (double width), white, and red

Government 
Type: Constitutional monarchy. 
Constitution: New constitution promulgated October 11, 1997. 
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, including Bangkok municipality, subdivided into 794 districts. 
Political parties: Multi-party system; Communist Party is prohibited. 
Suffrage: Universal at 18.

 

Thailand
Economy - overview:
After enjoying the world's highest growth rate from 1985 to 1995 - averaging almost 9% annually - increased speculative pressure on Thailand's currency in 1997 led to a crisis that uncovered financial sector weaknesses and forced the government to float the baht.  Long pegged at 25 to the dollar, the baht reached its lowest point of 56 to the dollar in January 1998 and the economy contracted by 10.2% that same year.  Thailand entered a recovery stage in 1999, expanding 4.2% and grew 4.4% in 2000, largely due to strong exports - which increased about 20% in 2000.  An ailing financial sector and the slow pace of corporate debt restructuring, combined with a softening of global demand, however, slowed growth in 2001 to 1.4%.
GDP:
purchasing power parity - $410 billion (2001 est.)
GDP - real growth rate:
1.4% (2001 est.)
GDP - per capita:
purchasing power parity - $6,600 (2001 est.)
GDP - composition by sector:
agriculture: 11%
industry: 40%
services: 49% (2001)
Population below poverty line:
13% (1998 est.)
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: 3%
highest 10%: 32% (1998)
Distribution of family income - Gini index:
41 (1998)
Inflation rate (consumer prices):
1.6% (2001)
Labor force:
33.4 million (2001 est.)
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture 54%, industry 15%, services 31% (1996 est.)
Unemployment rate:
3.9% (2001 est.)
Budget:
revenues: $19 billion
expenditures: $21 billion, including capital expenditures of $NA (2000 est.)
Industries:
tourism; textiles and garments, agricultural processing, beverages, tobacco, cement, light manufacturing, such as jewelry; electric appliances and components, computers and parts, integrated circuits, furniture, plastics; world's second-largest tungsten producer and third-largest tin producer
Industrial production growth rate:
3% (2000 est.)
Electricity - production:
94.314 billion kWh (2000)
Electricity - production by source:
fossil fuel: 92%
hydro: 6%
other: 1% (2000)
nuclear: 0%
Electricity - consumption:
90.261 billion kWh (2000)
Electricity - exports:
151 million kWh (2000)
Electricity - imports:
2.7 billion kWh (2000)
Agriculture - products:
rice, cassava (tapioca), rubber, corn, sugarcane, coconuts, soybeans
Exports:
$65.3 billion f.o.b. (2001 est.)
Exports - commodities:
computers, transistors, seafood, clothing, rice
Exports - partners:
US 23%, Japan 14%, Singapore 8%, China 6%, Hong Kong 5%, Malaysia 4% (2000)
Imports:
$62.3 billion f.o.b. (2001 est.)
Imports - commodities:
capital goods, intermediate goods and raw materials, consumer goods, fuels
Imports - partners:
Japan 24%, US 11%, Singapore 10%, Malaysia 6%, China 4%, Taiwan 4% (2000)
Debt - external:
$69.4 billion (2001 est.)
Economic aid - recipient:
$131.5 million (1998 est.)
Currency:
baht (THB)
Currency code:
THB
Exchange rates:
baht per US dollar - 43.982 (January 2002), 43.432 (2001), 40.112 (2000), 37.814 (1999), 41.359 (1998), 31.364 (1997)
Fiscal year:
1 October - 30 September

Economy 
GDP (1999): $124 billion. 
Annual growth rate (1999): 4.2%; (2000, projected): 4.5%. 
Per capita income (1999): $1,996. 
Natural resources: Tin, rubber, natural gas, tungsten, tantalum, timber, lead, fish, gypsum, lignite, fluorite. 
Agriculture (11% of GDP): Products--rice, tapioca, rubber, corn, sugarcane, coconuts, soybeans.
Industry: Types--tourism, textiles, garments, agricultural processing, cement, integrated circuits, jewelry. 
Trade (1999):  Exports--$57 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--$48 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 Korea, EU.

 

Thailand
Telephones - main lines in use:
5.6 million (2000)
Telephones - mobile cellular:
3.1 million (2002)
Telephone system:
general assessment: service to general public adequate, but investment in technological upgrades reduced by recession; bulk of service to government activities provided by multichannel cable and microwave radio relay network
domestic: microwave radio relay and multichannel cable; domestic satellite system being developed
international: satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (1 Indian Ocean and 1 Pacific Ocean)
Radio broadcast stations:
AM 204, FM 334, shortwave 6 (1999)
Radios:
13.96 million (1997)
Television broadcast stations:
5 (all in Bangkok; plus 131 repeaters) (1997)
Televisions:
15.19 million (1997)
Internet country code:
.th
Internet Service Providers (ISPs):
15 (2000)
Internet users:
1.2 million (2001)

 

Thailand
Railways:
total: 4,071 km
narrow gauge: 4,071 km 1.000-m gauge (`2001)
Highways:
total: 64,600 km
paved: 62,985 km
unpaved: 1,615 km (1996)
Waterways:
4,000 km
note: 3,701 km are navigable throughout the year by boats with drafts up to 0.9 meters; numerous minor waterways serve shallow-draft native craft
Pipelines:
petroleum products 67 km; natural gas 350 km
Ports and harbors:
Bangkok, Laem Chabang, Pattani, Phuket, Sattahip, Si Racha, Songkhla
Merchant marine:
total: 297 ships (1,000 GRT or over) totaling 1,661,314 GRT/2,564,820 DWT
note: includes some foreign-owned ships registered here as a flag of convenience: Germany 1, Greece 1, Indonesia 1, Japan 1, Norway 24, Panama 1, Singapore 1 (2002 est.)
ships by type: bulk 34, cargo 133, chemical tanker 3, combination bulk 1, container 14, liquefied gas 20, multi-functional large-load carrier 2, passenger 1, petroleum tanker 65, refrigerated cargo 16, roll on/roll off 2, short-sea passenger 2, specialized tanker 4
Airports:
110 (2001)
Airports - with paved runways:
total: 62
over 3,047 m: 7
2,438 to 3,047 m: 10
914 to 1,523 m: 17
under 914 m: 5 (2002)
1,524 to 2,437 m: 23
Airports - with unpaved runways:
total: 49
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 17
under 914 m: 31 (2002)
Heliports:
2 (2002)

 

Thailand
Military branches:
Royal Thai Army, Royal Thai Navy (includes Royal Thai Marine Corps), Royal Thai Air Force, paramilitary forces (includes the Border Patrol Police [including Police Aerial Reinforcement Unit], Thahan Phran, Special Action Forces, Police Aviation Division, Thai Marine Police, and the Volunteer Defense Corps)
Military manpower - military age:
18 years of age (2002 est.)
Military manpower - availability:
males age 15-49: 17,766,501 (2002 est.)
Military manpower - fit for military service:
males age 15-49: 10,660,530 (2002 est.)
Military manpower - reaching military age annually:
males: 567,659 (2002 est.)
Military expenditures - dollar figure:
$1.775 billion (FY00)
Military expenditures - percent of GDP:
1.4% (FY00)

 

Transnational
Issues
Thailand
Disputes - international:
a one km stretch of Malaysia-Thailand territory at the mouth of the Kolok river remains in dispute, despite overall success in boundary redemarcation; Cambodia accuses Thailand of moving or destroying boundary markers and encroachment, of not respecting its claims, and of sealing off access to the Preah Vihear temple ruin awarded to Cambodia by the ICJ in 1962; demarcation of boundary with Laos is nearing completion, but Mekong River islets remain in dispute; Laos also protests Thai squatters; despite renewed border committee talks, significant differences remain with Burma over boundary alignment and the handling of ethnic guerrilla rebels, refugees, smuggling, and drug trafficking in cross-border region
Illicit drugs:
a minor producer of opium, heroin, and marijuana; illicit transit point for heroin en route to the international drug market from Burma and Laos; eradication efforts have reduced the area of cannabis cultivation and shifted some production to neighboring countries; opium poppy cultivation has been reduced by eradication efforts; also a drug money-laundering center; minor role in amphetamine production for regional consumption; increasing indigenous abuse of methamphetamine

 

PEOPLE 
Thailand's population is relatively homogeneous.  More than 85% speak a dialect of Thai and share a common culture.  This core population includes the central Thai (36% of the population), Thai-Lao (32%), northern Thai (8%), and southern Thai (8%).

The language of the central Thai population is the language taught in schools and used in government.  Several other small Thai-speaking groups include the Shan, Lue, and Phutai.

The largest minorities are the Chinese--about 12% of the population--and the Malay-speaking Muslims of the south (3%).  Other groups include the Khmer; the Mon, who are substantially assimilated with the Thai; and the Vietnamese.  Smaller, predominantly mountain-dwelling tribes, such as the Hmong, Karen, and Mein, number about 500,000.

The population is mostly rural, concentrated in the rice-growing areas of the central, northeastern, and northern regions.  However, as Thailand continues to industrialize, its urban population--18% of total population, principally in the Bangkok area--is growing.

Thailand's highly successful government-sponsored family planning program has resulted in a dramatic decline in population growth from 3.1% in 1960 to around 1% today.  Life expectancy also has risen, a positive reflection of Thailand's efforts at public health education.  However, the AIDS epidemic has had a major impact on the Thai population.  Thai Government officials estimate that Thailand has between 200,000 and 400,000 HIV carriers.  Chiang Rai Province in the north may have an infection rate as high as 15%.  In recent years, the Thai Government has devoted substantial resources toward AIDS education and awareness.

Universal, free public education is compulsory for a period of 6 years.  Education accounts for 25% of total government expenditures.

Theravada Buddhism is the official religion of Thailand and is the religion of more than 90% of its people.  The government permits religious diversity, and other major religions are represented.  Spirit worship and animism are widely practiced.

HISTORY 
Southeast Asia has been inhabited for more than half a million years.  Recent archaeological studies suggest that by 4000 B.C., communities in what is now Thailand had emerged as centers of early bronze metallurgy.  This development, along with the cultivation of wet rice, provided the impetus for social and political organization.  Research suggests that these innovations may actually have been transmitted from there to the rest of Asia, including to China.

The Thai are related linguistically to groups originating in southern China.  Migrations from southern China to Southeast Asia may have occurred in the 6th and 7th centuries.  Malay, Mon, and Khmer civilizations flourished in the region prior to the arrival of the ethnic Thai.

Thais date the founding of their nation to the 13th century.  According to tradition, in 1238, Thai chieftains overthrew their Khmer overlords at Sukhothai and established a Thai kingdom.  After its decline, a new Thai kingdom emerged in 1350 on the Chao Praya River.

The first ruler of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, King Rama Thibodi, made two important contributions to Thai history: the establishment and promotion of Theravada Buddhism as the official religion--to differentiate his kingdom from the neighboring Hindu kingdom of Angkor--and the compilation of the Dharmashastra, a legal code based on Hindu sources and traditional Thai custom.  The Dharmashastra remained a tool of Thai law until late in the 19th century.  Beginning with the Portuguese in the 16th century, Ayutthaya had some contact with the West, but until the 1800s, its relations with neighboring nations, as well as with India and China, were of primary importance.

After more than 400 years of power, in 1767, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was brought down by invading Burmese armies and its capital burned.  After a single-reign capital established at Thonburi by Taksin, a new capital city was founded in 1782, across the Chao Phraya at the site of present-day Bangkok, by the founder of the Chakri dynasty.  The first Chakri king was crowned Rama I.  Rama's heirs became increasingly concerned with the threat of European colonialism after British victories in neighboring Burma in 1826.

The first Thai recognition of Western power in the region was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United Kingdom in 1826.  In 1833, the United States began diplomatic exchanges with Siam, as Thailand was called until 1938.  However, it was during the later reigns of Rama IV (or King Mongkut, 1851-68), and his son Rama V (King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910)), that Thailand established firm rapprochement with Western powers.  The Thais believe that the diplomatic skills of these monarchs, combined with the modernizing reforms of the Thai Government, made Siam the only country in South and Southeast Asia to avoid European colonization.

In 1932, a bloodless coup transformed the Government of Thailand from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy.  King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) initially accepted this change but later surrendered the kingship to his 10-year old nephew.  Upon his abdication, King Prajadhipok said that the obligation of a ruler was to reign for the good of the whole people, not for a select few.  Although nominally a constitutional monarchy, Thailand was ruled by a series of military governments interspersed with brief periods of democracy from that time until the 1992 elections.  Since the 1992 elections, Thailand has been a functioning democracy with constitutional changes of government.

As with the rest of Southeast Asia, Thailand was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War.  Since Japan's defeat in 1945, Thailand has had very close relations with the United States.  Threatened by communist revolutions in neighboring countries such as Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, Thailand actively sought to contain communist expansion in the region.  Recently, Thailand also has been an active member in the regional Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS 
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 since 1946--commands enormous popular respect and moral authority, which he has used on occasion to resolve political crises that have threatened national stability.

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.  Following the 1932 revolution which imposed constitutional limits on the monarchy, Thai politics were dominated for a half 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 in September 1992.  In those 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 Prime Minister.  Chuan dissolved Parliament in May 1995, and the Thai Nation Party won the largest number of parliamentary seats in subsequent elections.  Party leader Banharn Silpa-archa, became Prime Minister, but held the office only little more than a year.  Following elections held in November 1996, Chavalit Youngchaiyudh formed a coalition government and became Prime Minister.  The onset of the Asian financial crisis caused a loss of confidence in the Chavalit government and forced him to hand over power to Chuan Leekpai in November 1997.  Chuan formed a coalition government based on the themes of prudent economic management and institution of political reforms mandated by Thailand's 1997 constitution.

ECONOMY 
The Thai economy returned to modest growth in 1999, chalking up a 4.2% gain in real GDP.  This constituted a solid rebound from the sharp 10.2% fall the economy suffered in 1998, the year after financial crisis struck Thailand and spread through Asia.  The Thai have focused on restructuring their financial sector, stimulating domestic demand, and boosting exports to recover from the financial crisis.  The Thai Government expects improved macroeconomic fundamentals to translate into further growth and a 4.5%-5% rise in GDP in 2000.  The government will continue economic stimulus with a fiscal deficit of 5% of GDP in 2000.

Before the financial crisis, the Thai economy had years of manufacturing-led economic growth--averaging 9.4% for the decade up to 1996.  Relatively abundant and inexpensive labor and natural resources, fiscal conservatism, open foreign investment policies, and encouragement of the private sector underlay the economic success in the years up to 1997.  The economy is essentially a free-enterprise system.  Certain services, such as power generation, transportation, and communications, are state-owned and operated, but the government is considering privatizing them in the wake of the financial crisis.

The Royal Thai Government welcomes foreign investment, and investors who are willing to meet certain requirements can apply for special investment privileges through the Board of Investment.  To attract additional foreign investment, the RTG has modified its investment regulations.

The organized labor movement remains weak and divided in Thailand; only 3% of the work force is unionized.  In 2000, the State Enterprise Labor Relations Act (SELRA) was passed, giving public sector employees similar rights to those of private sector workers, including the right to unionize.

Roughly 60% of Thailand's labor force is employed in agriculture.  Rice is the country's most important crop; Thailand is a major exporter in the world rice market.  Other agricultural commodities produced in significant amounts include fish and fishery products, tapioca, rubber, corn, and sugar.  Exports of processed foods such as canned tuna, pineapples, and frozen shrimp are on the rise.

Thailand's increasingly diversified manufacturing sector made the largest contribution to growth during the economic boom. Industries registering rapid increases in production included computers and electronics, garments and footwear, furniture, wood products, canned food, toys, plastic products, gems, and jewelry.  High-technology products such as integrated circuits and parts, electrical appliances, and vehicles are now leading Thailand's strong growth in exports.

The United States is Thailand's largest export market and second-largest supplier after Japan.  While Thailand's traditional major markets have been North America, Japan, and Europe, economic recovery among Thailand's regional trading partners has helped Thai export growth (7.4 % in 1999).  Further recovery from the financial crisis depends heavily on increased exports to the rest of Asia and the U.S.

Machinery and parts, vehicles, electronic integrated circuits, chemicals, crude oil and fuels, and iron and steel are among Thailand's principal imports.  The recent increase in import levels (16.9% in 1999) reflects the need to fuel the production of high-technology items and vehicles.

Thailand is a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Cairns Group of agricultural exporters.  Tourism contributes significantly to the Thai economy, and the industry has benefited from the Thai baht's depreciation and Thailand's stability.  Tourist arrivals in 1999 (8.6 million) reflected a 10.5% increase from the previous year (7.7 million).

Bangkok and its environs are the most prosperous part of Thailand, and the infertile northeast is the poorest.  An overriding concern of successive Thai Governments, and a particularly strong focus of the current government, has been to reduce these regional income differentials, which have been exacerbated by rapid economic growth in and around Bangkok and the financial crisis.  The government is trying to stimulate provincial economic growth with programs such as the Eastern Seaboard project and the development of an alternate deep-sea port on Thailand's southern peninsula.  It also is conducting discussions with Malaysia to focus on economic development along the Thai-Malaysian border.

Although the economy has demonstrated moderate positive growth since 1999, future performance depends on continued reform of the financial sector, corporate debt restructuring, attracting foreign investment, and increasing exports.  Telecommunications, roadways, electricity generation, and ports showed increasing strain during the period of sustained economic growth and may pose a future challenge.  Thailand's growing shortage of engineers and skilled technical personnel may limit its future technological creativity and productivity.

FOREIGN RELATIONS 
Thailand's foreign policy includes support for ASEAN in the interest of regional stability and emphasis on a close and longstanding security relationship with the United States.

Thailand participates fully in international and regional organizations.  It has developed increasingly close ties with other ASEAN members--Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Laos, Burma, and Vietnam--whose foreign and economic ministers hold annual meetings.  Regional cooperation is progressing in economic, trade, banking, political, and cultural matters.

In recent years, Thailand has taken an increasingly active role on the international stage.  When East Timor gained independence from Indonesia, Thailand, for the first time in its history, contributed troops to the international peacekeeping effort.  Thailand's current Minister of Commerce is slated to be the next Secretary General of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  As part of its effort to increase international ties, Thailand has reached out to such regional organizations as the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE).

 

 

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