10 Aug 2021
No. 1/2021 | August 2021
Thanat Khoman: A Flexible Diplomat
(Download .pdf below)
This article argues that while Thailand’s foreign minister Thanat Khoman was remembered as a founding father of the ASEAN Community, his role and position as a flexible diplomat who initiated a discourse of so-called ‘flexible diplomacy’ was relatively forgotten. It aims to revisit this hidden narrative and argues that discourse – culminating in discursive anxiety and Thanat’s initiative of flexible diplomacy – was the main explanans of Thai foreign policy transformation in the late 1960s. This article proceeds in three main parts. The first discusses Thailand’s discursive anxiety and how Thanat explored foreign policy options in case of American retrenchment from the region. The second part examines a diplomatic innovation of ‘flexible diplomacy’ and its three main characteristics: increasing doubts on Americanism, regional cooperation and cohesiveness, and détente with the great powers. The article concludes with the reassessment of Thailand’s relations with the communist powers in the long 1970s. This was a paradigm shift in Thai diplomacy.
Dr. Jittipat Poonkham is Associate Professor of International Relations and Associate Dean for International Affairs in the Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University.